A pet-sitting job on a friend’s dairy farm took Sarah Smart from dental assistant to dairy worker 15 years ago, and she has barely looked back.
Formerly from Milton, Ms Smart was looking for a new career path after returning from her OE in Scotland.
Ms Smart had become a teacher aide after leaving school, and then worked as a dental assistant for six years before travelling.
Although she had no farming background, a seed was planted.
“I’d never been near a cow before,” she said.
Her first dairy job was milking with Landcorp, in South Otago, where she worked for three years and also met partner Sean Bloomfield.
“The manager at Landcorp said ‘I’ve got a girl who wants to milk cows – I don’t think she’ll last very long’,” Ms Smart said.
“Fifteen years later . . .”
Ms Smart and Mr Bloomfield moved to South Canterbury and she worked on a farm in Ikawai for five years, before taking on a job as farm manager at Hillbrook Dairies, in Enfield, in 2014, when it was converted by Nick and Kate Webster.
A bad accident in 2012 meant Ms Smart found the “physical hours” of the management role more demanding than she felt she could handle, and so after two and a-half years, she took a step back.
The Websters were keen to keep her on board, though, so found her a new position, as “sort of assistant manager”. She said she takes care of the animal health side of things, while manager Micky Todd looked after the rest.
“Nick and Kate have kept me on. They’ve created a role for me. You wouldn’t get that on many farms.
“They’ve been very supportive.”
Mrs Webster said Ms Smart was a very important part of the team, and a great team player.
“She’s passionate about dairy cows and has an extensive knowledge and experience within the field, and in animal health. Subsequently, she is very good at what she does.
“She also really enjoys sharing this knowledge with others, which is highly valuable.”
Ms Smart said her favourite part of the job was working with the cows.
“I love the cows. I just like how they have their own personalities. They’re all individuals in the herd.”
She spends her spare time with her own animals at her home in Enfield, where she has a horse, two sheep, three cats, a puppy and three foster kittens.
“So that pretty much takes up all my time.”
Working in the dairy industry was a great career path with “heaps of opportunities” for women as well as men, she said. Most of the females involved in dairying were in partnership with the owner, rather than in management. But there was a “heap of industry support”, she said.
For any women considering it as a career option, she encouraged them to “give it a go”.
At present, she was providing mentoring through ITO (Industry Training Organisation) and was keen to offer help to any others interested in dairy farming as a career opportunity, male or female.
“I’m always willing to take work experience kids, or help anybody who wants to do it.”
As for future plans, Ms Smart said she is keen to “keep learning”.