Thomas Chatfield Dairy Farm Manager of 2016

December 2016

Thomas Chatfield is a physiotherapist who became an award winning dairy farm manager

Thomas Chatfield won the Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager of the Year for 2016 and then went on to win the National Dairy Manager of the Year title, up against 10 other regional winners, in Wellington in the middle of May.

After studying to be a physiotherapist in Wellington and Dunedin, Thomas qualified and worked at Tauranga Hospital, before travelling overseas. On his return he became interested in dairy farming and made a dramatic career move, working for one year as a farm assistant. “I love animals and the lifestyle, especially here in the eastern Bay of Plenty, ” he says. He then moved to the 142ha (effective) farm of Bruce and Judy Woods on the Edgecumbe Plains, where a herd of 500 Jersey cows is now milked. Promotion to farm manager followed and Thomas has just begun his fifth season in dairying.

The farm is managed by Thomas with two other employees; a 2IC and a farm assistant, both of whom have been working with Thomas for the past two years. It has a 20-a-side herringbone farm dairy, with automatic cup removal, teat sprayer and Protrack drafting.

The farm also has a big barn, used to prevent feed wastage and protect cows from the weather. The farm is a System 3, feeding cows with grass and maize silage, distillers grain and palm kernel for a total around 740kg/cow/year. Pasture eaten is 16 tonnes/ha DM and milk production 410kg/cow milksolids.

Thomas entered the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards for the first time in 2013 in his first season, when he won the Bay of Plenty trainee of the year and placed second nationally. Three years later he entered again and won the BOP Dairy Manager of the Year and the national title, collecting about $35,000 in prizes overall. He entered again this year because of the valuable feedback from the judges. He is still learning in the dairy industry and thinks the awards procedure ensures he is thinking about every aspect of the farm and how to improve it.

“Thomas enjoys what he is doing and has the attitude and personality that will take him where he wants to go,” said dairy manager judge and Westpac agribusiness manager Hamish Taylor. “He showed and expressed opinions about the farming system he manages and is passionate about what he is doing. He is making a tangible difference to the business he is involved with and was engaged with the owner. He has a capable team working with him and was working with the team on a succession plan, should he move on. He can see massive opportunities in the dairy industry,” Mr Taylor said.

Thomas’ farming goal is to be ready with the cash to take on his next farming job whatever it may be – contract milking, 50% sharemilking or an equity partnership. “I want to build my assets to one day own a farm,” he says. He would like to stay in eastern Bay of Plenty, with family living in Tauranga and friends nearby. His off-farm interests include water skiing at nearby Lake Rotoma.

With farm owner Bruce Woods’ encouragement, Thomas is looking for another challenge next season. He looked at buying cows and leasing them to Bruce, but he would prefer crossbreds or Friesians to Jerseys and the return on capital invested wasn’t that good, so he has held on to the cash. He has a two-wheeled farm bike and is looking to buy a small farm tractor, plus other equipment that would be useful in his next position.

He has completed Level 4 Dairying with the Primary ITO and studied for two years at Level 5, but is not studying at present. He will enter the Kellogg Rural Leadership Course later in 2016.