Animal wellbeing top of mind in tough times, say winning farmers

by | Mar 18, 2022 | News

During challenging times, top Share Farmers are driven by the well-being of their animals and staff team.  “We get up every morning to ensure the animals are milked, well-fed and happy” says Antje and Soenke Paarmann. The couple were named winners of the 2022 Northland Share Farmer of the Year at this week’s region’s annual awards.

The 2022 Northland Share Farmers of the Year identify their cows as their biggest asset and say looking after them in the best possible way is their greatest motivation.

The third-time entrants believe the benefits from the Awards programme include making smart goals, forward-planning and using the judges’ feedback to improve weaknesses.

“It is beneficial to sit down and work on your business instead of in your business.”

The couple have been sharemilking since 2009, with a five-year contract milking position during that time.  They entered the dairy industry in 2006 with no farming background, after emigrating from Germany.

They now 50/50 share-milk 450 cows on Scott Meacham and Paula Brocklehurst’s 186ha Okaihau property.  They won $6,750 in prizes and four merit awards.

Soenke and Antje both hold a degree in agriculture from Germany, and chose New Zealand farming after getting a taste of it during their OE.

“Both of us enjoy working outdoors and with animals and we could see opportunities in New Zealand that we wouldn’t have had in Germany,” they say.

“We enjoy being self-employed and working as a team.”

“It would be great to show the general public what a fantastic industry it is, where everyone is really supportive and help you to get ahead to achieve your goals.”

Future farming goals include farm ownership and the Paarmanns aim to achieve this either through buying a smaller farm on their own or through equity partnership in a larger property.

During more challenging times, the couple believe sharing the load is important.  “We always try to make a joke or have a laugh to keep spirits up.”

“Often in tough times, such as drought, a lot of fellow farmers are affected also.  Knowing we are not the only ones going through this helps.”

Soenke (41) and Antje (43) describe walking through their own herd in their first sharemilking position as a proud moment and a great feeling.

“We’re also proud we moved to a new share milking job without borrowing extra money from the bank to increase our herd size by 140 cows after three tough years.

The couple enjoy spending time with their three children Janna (14), Thore (13) and Henner (11) and try to go back to Germany regularly.  They’re looking forward to returning once border restrictions allow.

“Even though we have been through a few tough times we still feel it was the right decision to come to New Zealand.”

“It’s a great country for dairy farming and for raising a family.”

The New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards are supported by national sponsors DeLaval, Ecolab, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Honda, LIC, Meridian Energy, Ravensdown along with industry partners DairyNZ and MediaWorks

The other major winners on the night were the 2022 Northland Dairy Manager of the Year Phillip Payton, and the 2022 Northland Dairy Trainee of the Year Macee Latimer.  Runners-up in the Northland Share Farmer of the Year category were Stuart and Deana McGregor who identify their cows as one of their business strengths, as they enable them to have diversity in their breeding programme.

The McGregors entered to learn more about the business aspects of farming, which has helped them to run their company in a more efficient manner.

The couple have been sharemilking for three seasons, with Stuart beginning in the dairy industry in 2013, after training as a furniture maker and spending several years overseas building the interiors of superyachts.  Deana is from an accounting background and grew up in South Mississippi, USA.

They now 50/50 share-milk 385 cows on Nick and Camilla Forster’s 203ha property at Hikurangi.  They won $2,900 in prizes and three merit awards.

“We chose dairy farming as a career because we love working outdoors and working with animals.  Every day is a bit different,” say the couple.

“We try to give back to our community and will continue to do so.”

The McGregors would like the public perception of the dairy industry to change. “There are a lot of excellent farmers that love their animals and most do everything they can to keep them both happy and healthy.”

“We’d also like more mental health support available when times get hard.  This would be for both the farmer and the staff.”

During more challenging times, the couple are driven by the well-being of their animals and staff team.  “We get up every morning to ensure the animals are milked, well-fed and happy.”

“We also like to ensure our team are meeting their professional and personal goals.  The team’s happiness is very important to us,” they say.

A healthy work/life balance is also important to Stuart (37) and Deana (48), who say it doesn’t happen as much as it should currently.

“We’re proud our business is growing and believe our team is one of our strengths that enable u to do what we do.”

Winner of the 2022 Northland Dairy Manager of the Year category is 35-year-old Phillip Payton who is farm manager on Greg and Ingrid McCracken’s 175ha Te Hana property, milking 350 cows. He won $5,750 in prizes and three merit awards.

Phillip admits to entering the Awards reluctantly. “We are newbies to the Northland region which has been challenging in both positive and negative ways.”

“We are quite private people and wanted to use the Awards programme to network and build industry relationships in the area.”

Phillip entered the dairy industry as a farm assistant in 2008 and has progressed through the industry, making the recent move north to be nearer his and partner Leef’s family.

He took time out from dairy to experience goat milking. “It was an educational experience in itself, from mating through to kidding, rearing and maintenance.

After witnessing the joy his father’s farming contracting position brought him, dairy farming seemed like an inevitable career choice.  “I too am able to share that joy with my family.”

“I’ve worked my way up to management and we have planned out our progression pathway,” says Phillip.

“We’ve encountered many challenges these past few years and some have altered the path, but we have reassessed, overcome what was within our abilities, made peace with what wasn’t, and kept ticking off our goals.”

Phillip acknowledges the challenges of mental health support within the dairy industry.  “For an employer, best practice need to extend to their workforce.”

“So much of an employee’s livelihood is intertwined with the farm.  Worker-friendly rosters, training, pay rates, healthy housing are just the basics and should be seen as investments.”

“Employers and employees alike need to be honest with their intent and future goals.”

With a short-term farming goals of contract milking and a longer-term goal of incorporating teaching and education into the business, Phillip has set SMART goals towards farm ownership and operating a calf-rearing business.

“We also aim to have a viable contracting business that provides short-term relief staff capable of running the entire operation,” says Phillip.

“The service will be specifically aimed to give owner-operators, contract milkers and share milkers time off-farm.”

Phillip describes he and Leef as homebodies, with free time spent visiting family.  “I do enjoy golf, fishing and camping and we travel to Great Barrier Island as often as we can.”

“One of the most confronting truths is that for the majority of my farming career, the work/life balance just wasn’t there or wasn’t an option,” he explains.

“We had the ocean and a beautiful coastline one kilometre down the road and I never managed to dip my toes in.

“I advocate for better rosters and milking schedules which is why we implemented 10 in 7.”

Phillip identifies the great reputation of the business he works for as one of its strengths.  “It makes you feel proud to be a part of it.

“Education is not only encouraged, but employees are well-supported in their pursuits and progression,” he says.

“It’s been a welcome change to be able to work for a business that is set up not just for its own success, but also yours.”

The Northland Dairy Trainee of the Year is Macee Latimer who is Farm Assistant on the Puketitoi Farms Ltd 470-cow, 200ha property at Purua. She won $5,500 in prizes and one merit award.

The first-time entrant only found out about the Awards late last year. “I’m in my second year farming so I thought I’d enter,” she says.

Macee grew up on a dairy farm and just decided one day when she was watching cows walk onto the platform that she really liked what she was doing.  “My favourite part are the cows.”

“I’d like to try more sustainable ways of doing things that have less impact on the environment.”

Macee wishes she could change the negative public perception of the dairy industry and is passionate about animal health and welfare.

The 18-year-old says small wins can be big wins, such as fixing the irrigation hose, and loves being with animals and stock work.

“I believe a work/life balance is hugely important and that maintaining good mental health is key to everything.”

An avid runner, Macee has a specific goal of running the length of New Zealand in her gumboots to raise awareness for mental health.

Runner-up in the Northland Dairy Trainee category was Michael Everitt who is farm assistant on Kerry Cutler’s 380ha Kaitaia property, milking 500 split-calving cows. He won $1,500 in prizes and one merit award.

This was Michael’s first year entering the Awards programme and he did so to gain knowledge to assist him with his career pathway and to push his limits of achieving.

In his second year in the dairy industry, Michael chose farming as his career as he loves to be around animals and enjoys the physical work.  “What I love most is the lifestyle as it suits my family very well.”

Growing up in Gold Coast, Australia, Michael admits he always thought milk came from the supermarket, not from cows!

A former quality assurance technician with Downers Ltd, the future of the dairy industry excites Michael.  “There’s so much innovation and change happening and we have to adapt.”

The 21-year-old has specific future farming goals of farm ownership and says he wants to continue to gain the skills and attributes to help him climb the ladder and achieve that goal.

Currently studying towards PrimaryITO Level 3 Dairy Farming, Michael identifies a challenge he has overcome as adapting to system changes on different farms.

During harder times, he draws motivation from his family and within himself. “I’m not going to get where I want to if I don’t put my head down and do it.”

“I’m really proud I’ve put myself out there to experience the Dairy Industry Awards programme.”

Bill Hamilton was third placegetter.  The 23-year-old is a Farm Assistant on Richard and Sharon Booth’s 174ha Titoki farm, milking 392 cows. He won $1,500 in prizes.

Bill holds a Bachelor of Agricultural Science majoring in Agriculture from Massey University, an achievement he is proud of, following a head injury.

“I had to withdraw from my studies for a year which allowed me to really question whether I want to continue this career pathway, and it confirmed it for me.”

A born-and-bred Northlander, Bill loves the physical side of farming and is excited about the changing industry, especially in the environmental space.

“I’m looking forward to turning some perceived threats into opportunities.”

“I’m passionate about this industry remaining socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.”

The Northland Dairy Industry Awards field day will be held on 06 April 2022 at 1630 Waiare Road, Ōkaihau, S/N Fonterra 10493, where Northland Share Farmers of the Year Antje and Soenke Paarmann sharemilk, beginning at 10.30am. Also presenting at the field day will be the region’s Dairy Manager of the Year, Phillip Payton and Dairy Trainee of the Year, Macee Latimer. Further details on the winners and the field day can be found at

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