Young Farmer Focus: Sophie Barnes, Taupo, New Zealand

Young farmers

Travels: When I left the UK 16 months ago, the plan was to travel New Zealand’s two islands, learning about extensive farming systems they are so well at here.


The irony is not lost on me when I now say I work at an intensive sheep milking farm with a Scottish farm manager.


I suppose I should have guessed I would not be able to shift my British ways when my first job upon arrival to New Zealand was lambing triplets inside. Definitely not a common occurrence over here.


The farmer scanned at 237 per cent that year and wanted to improve survivability in his ewes and lambs, so bought his highest risk girls indoor at lambing time – an idea stemmed from a trip to the UK.


Once I had finished lambing, I spent summer as the only worker on a farm with 4,000 ewes and 175 cows.


Lessons: We would be weaning, shearing, worming and vaccinating thousands of sheep all at once. It left me exhausted to the bone, but taught me so much.


Next, I headed to the South Island, where I became part of a team of 21, shepherding 45,000 sheep and 3,000 cattle.


I arrived just at calf weaning. Before I came to New Zealand, you would not have caught me in a paddock with just three cows in, and here I was, drafting cows from calves in a pen of 80 beasts.


I would be lying if I said I was not absolutely petrified, but I was there doing it which is what counts.


One evening, I phoned an old boss from the UK, who was now managing a sheep dairy in New Zealand.


I recall him saying ‘well, when you come to work for me…’


It is funny, I hadn’t known until then, but it was meant to be. But, when someone offers you a job as a production manager for 5,000 youngstock on an exciting new venture such as Spring Sheep, you really do not say no.


Regardless of the fact you want to experience extensive kiwi systems.


So, I packed up my car and drove north for 29 hours and started my job at the dairy.


We are milking 3,200 sheep this year and I was in charge of all of their offspring, which is no small task.


Team: It is a different challenge every day, but I work with a great team, and despite it being a very UK-based system, I am learning something new all the time.


The plan was to come home in August 2017, but with this job before me, I would be silly to give it up. If things were to change, I would love to get back into the swing of it in the UK again.


However, I might just have to stop off at a few farms in Australia, Chile, Canada and the USA first.

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