Waipaoa Farm Training

April 2009

An agricultural training programme on a commercial farm

The Waipaoa Farm Cadet Training Trust runs a two year Agricultural Training Programme on Waipaoa Station, a commercial sheep and beef farm 70km inland from Gisborne, with the primary objective of training our future agricultural leaders.

The farm training course is based on the Smedley farm training course in Hawkes Bay.

Rob Telfer and his wife Jenny have a background in dairy farming. They bought the place six years ago and immediately set about investing money to bring houses and farm buildings up to speed. Next step was subdivision – from 20 to 70 paddocks with more fencing on going.

Rob has been there for about 5 years and says he came up with the idea of turning some of the stations facilities over to a training area. The station has 9 houses and various stables, sheds and outbuildings. Rob also had two Smedley station graduates working on his farm and they impressed him.

Background and Farm Stats

At one time the station had 25 staff living in the nine houses. But in 1995, the 8,500 hectare property was broken up for forestry and subdivided.

There are now 1760 effective hectares. 18,000 stock units. 7,000 breeding ewes, 600 breeding cows. The sheep are ¾ Romneys crossed with Finn. Rob is going back to full Romneys. The cows were originally South Devons but he’s breeding them into Angus crosses.


The five juniors arrive in the middle of January and after a health and safety course go straight into work on the farm.

There’s also a crop of second years that start at the same time. The course got underway in 2007 – so there was an inaugural graduation at the end of 2008.

The juniors are rostered on with staff on a daily basis, individually and in teams, working on specific skills training during the course of the job in the areas of conventional fencing, tractor work, water system maintenance and slaughtering.

There are specific training days on ATV safety and operation, tractor safety and operation, tying fence wire and slaughtering.

The junior cadets also help out in the woolshed with dagging, which is followed up by a shearing course in March.

Juniors also get a weaned pup to start to train .

The rest of the practical year for the juniors involves consolidation of general skills backed up with skills training sessions, full involvement in animal health operations and theory work.

The senior cadets have returned with a broken-in huntaway and work with station owner Rob Telfer on horseback, mustering and lamb weaning as well as doing regular stock shifts.

The seniors will play a full role in Waipaoa’s farm programme as well as keeping their hand in on general work during off periods.

At the hostel complex, each junior is teamed up with a senior cadet for the year in a mentoring roll.

They are rostered on weekly to carry out hostel duties including cleaning, repairs and maintenance, milking the cow (by hand), feeding the pig, tending horses, and attending cooking training in the afternoons with the cadet cook Leigh McIlroy.

Throughout the year, various industry experts visit and deliver talks on topics backed up by field trips and seminar visits. At the end of the two-year programme cadets will have achieved a National Certificate in Agriculture level two and three, level three fencing and a certificate in rural safety.

Funding and Structure:

When Rob first came up with the idea of running something modelled on Smedley they needed to come with a funding structure that would work. Smedley was donated as a training farm and is supported by the farm’s income. Rob and a group of local farmers came up with the idea of a charitable trust administered by a board which is run separately from his farm.

The Board chaired by Pete McCarthy, until recently general manager of the large Tauwhareparae Farms, and comprises Ted White, J.P. a retired farmer with a background in farm administration; James Brownlie, a high country farmer associated with the Agriculture ITO; Peter McKenzie, a farmer, farm supervisor and who is also on the board of Smedley, together with George Williams, regional manager of Williams & Kettle, plus station owner Rob Telfer.

It operates on donations from contributors, mostly private ones involved in the farming industry such as trusts, stock firms, businesses, BNZ, Meat and Wool.

Rob charges a rental for the premises and the trust charges him for the labour of the cadets.

Rob has three staff who agreed to act as trainers. It is hard work for them and slows them down on the job until the cadets start becoming more useful after about 6 months. However they all said they enjoyed watching the cadets blossom into competent shepherds etc.

The manager does 90% of the actual tutoring. He has a classroom with a few computers and audio visual equipment. He invites people in from Polytechs and industry etc to give them tuition too. Lawrence trained at Smedley. He organises the papers for the unit standards and liaises with Tai Rawhiti Polytech. They are doing level 2 and 3 papers now but next year they hope to do Level 4 as well. These level four papers are more technical and relate to management, IT and cash management etc. Lawrence goes to field days and talks to secondary school agriculture classes. Sometimes he takes one of the cadets along to help and give them some public speaking training.

Rob teaches them horsemanship. They learn how to break in their horses and to train them. Rob also teaches them how to train a dog. He has a senior with him each day.


The cadets are paid an allowance of $38 a week but because they are getting fairly skilled they are able to get extra work at weekends on neighbouring farms, shearing and fencing etc.

Rob and the board are looking for school boys straight from school who have not picked up any bad habits. They are strong on the work ethic – choosing boys who will really get out there and go for it. One girl has applied so far. She was not chosen. There are no preferences for gender or cultural background. Merit is all that they are looking for.

The catchment is anywhere in New Zealand. One of the seniors is from the South Island. The board, especially Lawrence, canvases schools for suitable kids. They advertise in rural publications. Lawrence says this sort of training is very important because there is constant grumbling in the rural sector about a lack of trained people and poor work ethics etc.


There is no alcohol allowed at the hostel and no drugs. They’ll go instantly if any is found. The boys accept that and agree with it. If they want to have a few drinks they go out for the weekend somewhere. Sometimes they get a drink at another farm where they are working at weekends in their spare time.