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Nick Henderson's success story

Nick Henderson is Second in Charge (2IC) of a 360 cow dairy farm in Harvey, Western Australia.

Nick Henderson is Second in Charge (2IC) of a 360 cow dairy farm in Harvey, Western Australia.

He grew up on a 250 cow dairy farm in Southland, New Zealand, where he was interested in the machinery side of the family operation, as well as silage making and cultivating paddocks. During senior school Nick relief milked for local farmers and when he finished year 12, he moved into a full time Farmhand position on an 800 cow dairy.

After eighteen months, Nick got his truck license and carted livestock for a local transport company; “When I was nineteen, I shifted to WA on my own to drive road trains, carting grain and livestock for three years,” Nick said. “I then had a change and went to the mines exploration drilling for eighteen months, but decided it wasn't for me.”

Nick had always wanted to work on a cattle station, so he traveled north to the Kimberley to work two seasons mustering and transporting cattle to Broome.

“I was 24 and the station manager was only 32. I was amazed how someone of that age could manage such a huge operation so professionally. It encouraged me to take a similar pathway and dairy farming became very appealing again,” Nick said.

With a new mindset and motivation, Nick moved south to Harvey. Through word of mouth he was put in contact with farm owners Dale and Leanne Hanks, who operate a 360-cow dairy. Nick now works as 2IC and it’s a working relationship that he highly values.

 “Having a mindset of wanting to learn and a boss who wants to teach, works hand in hand, and a career in the dairy industry is a fantastic thought,” Nick said.

Each day Nick wakes up early to milk the cows; “Depending on the season, I could be spreading fertilizer and dealing with pasture management, carting livestock with the farm truck, artificially inseminating cows or dealing with young stock.”

Outside of work, Nick has completed a certificate of Artificial Insemination (AI) and is involved in Rumen8, a cow nutrition group that deals with seasonal changes in Western Australia and transition feeding for cows.

Nick is also a Dairy Australia’s Western Dairy Young Dairy Network (YDN) committee member and in 2015 he participated in Western Dairy’s Young Farmer Tour to Tasmania.

“Training and industry courses are important, so I definitely take opportunities when they come along,” he said.

In 2016 Nick’s enthusiasm for Agriculture was recognised. With just ten months working as 2IC, he was nominated by an industry leader for the WA Young Dairy Farmer of the Year awards and placed second in the Employee of the Year category. 

“It was a huge surprise but it’s nice to be recognised. Being a finalist has inspired me to learn more about the dairy industry,” he said.

Nick believes to work in Agriculture, a person must be reliable, passionate, and willing to listen and learn. He is always learning on the job and enjoys the responsibilities of his role; he especially likes planning daily tasks and working outdoors with healthy cows. However he admits that there are also challenges.

“The biggest challenge is adapting quickly to a very different dairy operation to what I am use to,” he said. “New Zealand and Western Australia are almost complete opposites – there’s seasonal calving in NZ and twice yearly in WA - but I really enjoy a challenge and learning different systems. I think it’s interesting that WA can have full pasture based systems through the mild months but can then transition into a supplement feeding system during the hot months with minimal loss of milk production.”

The business has also faced challenges. Due to an over supply of milk, its processor was unable to continue using some dairies in the region as a supplier, which included Nick’s farm. However Nick remains optimistic about working in the dairy industry.

“It will take a couple of months to sort it all out and hopefully we find a home for our milk,” Nick said. “My employers have been supportive and we have spoken about different options; if we are forced to stop milking our cows, I may go and drive cattle road trains and cart grain for a few months and then come back into the industry at a 2IC or Farm Manager position.”

Nick’s long term aim is to gain some equity; “In five years’ time, I see myself firmly in the dairy industry and hoping to gain some equity to achieve future goals,” he said. “Everyone needs an ambitious goal and farm ownership would be the ultimate. I am a realist though so like to set achievable goals as building blocks - one foot in front of the other.”

Nick’s tips:

- Be friendly and have a good sense of humour

- Be willing to listen and learn

- Step outside your comfort zone to find your true potential

- Be reliable and passionate about a role

- Be able to think outside the box

- Ask questions and take an interest in every task on the farm - showing a genuine interest opens doors

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