Tararua Shepherd of the Year Ben Galloway has long-term plans with the family farm. Rebecca Harper reports.

The end goal for Ben Galloway is to work his way into the family farming business. But for now, he’s gaining valuable experience and learning as much from others as possible.

Ben, 24, works as a shepherd for Shaun and Tracie Baxter at Pongaroa and won the 2019 Tararua Shepherd of the Year competition.

This year, entrants attended a practical day, as well as completing an interview.
The judges said Ben performed well across all facets judged and excelled in the cattle handling and butchery modules, where he worked efficiently under time pressure and completed his work to a very high standard.

Ben was able to highlight a planned approach to his career development, with an awareness of his current skill set and those skills he felt he needed to gain to progress toward achieving his goals. They said he had actively sought an employment role that was helping him gain those skills.

Growing up on the family sheep and beef farm 10 minutes north of Woodville, Ben knew from a young age that a career in agriculture was for him.

“From about the age of 10 I took more of an interest. It was sport early on, like every young fulla I thought I was going to be an All Black, but soon realised that wasn’t going to happen.

“The farm has been in the family for about five generations and hopefully in the next year or two I’ll go back and work with dad and try to work my way into the family business,” he said.

His dad has been a big influence on him. “The old man for sure, he’s always been hard but fair on us growing up, and pushed us to do as best we can. Dad has brought us up having high standards, he and mum have been huge for me.”

Ben believes it is important to gain experience working for others and learn different approaches to farming.

“There’s a thousand different ways to skin a cat and I feel it’s important to learn different ways to farm.”

‘I really enjoy working with the stock and seeing animals  grow is the rewarding thing about it. I don’t think an office job would suit me – being outside is an attraction as well.’

After school Ben attended Smedley as a cadet for two years.

“It was a brilliant experience. In terms of a pathway into an agricultural career I don’t think you can get many better first steps… once I started high school and found out more about Smedley I worked towards that and it was my goal to go there.

“Smedley was great for me, you get the complete range of farm skills – sheep, beef, deer. The staff are some of the top in their field and you’re learning from the best. Also the comradeship with mates, you make lifelong friends there.”

Following Smedley, Ben went south and completed a Diploma in Agriculture at Lincoln University. He then gained experience shearing and used that as a platform for his OE.

“When I was at Smedley I won the Affco UK scholarship, which is for a cadet to go to the United Kingdom with Affco for three weeks to follow the lamb from the paddock to plate. That opened my eyes to the big wide world and I went shearing after that because it worked well with travelling.”

For two years Ben alternated between main shear in New Zealand and working on farms and shearing in the UK. He worked in Scotland on a beef farm and also shore in the south west of England in Somerset.

After two years the time was right to move back to NZ and find a permanent farming job.

“I was keen to get back into farming fulltime. I do enjoy shearing, but I don’t love it. Farming gets me leaping out of bed in the morning and I see it as more of a challenge (than shearing) – it’s a good skill to have on-farm though.”

He landed his current role with the Baxters, who have won many farming awards including Tararua Farmer of the Year and the Ballance Farm Environment Awards for the Horizons region, and has been there for a year.

“I really enjoy working with the stock and seeing animals grow is the rewarding thing about it. I don’t think an office job would suit me – being outside is an attraction as well.”

His day-to-day role as a shepherd involves stock shifts and animal health, some maintenance and fencing. As well, they do all their own dagging, where his skill on the handpiece comes in handy.

Ben lives on the home farm, Wairakau Station, but the Baxters also have a block under the Puketoi Range and one closer to Dannevirke, where Shaun’s son Mark lives and works. When called on, they move around the blocks and help each other out.
His aim is to learn as much from Shaun as possible and set himself up to take the next step in his farming career.

“I’ll start building myself financially as well, to get ahead once I get home. It’s not going to come on a silver spoon, I’ll have to work my way into the family business.”
A successful farmer like Shaun has plenty of knowledge to impart and Ben says the biggest thing he’s learned is attention to detail and observation skills. “Like when you’re driving around, not just watching your dog work or looking at the views, but identifying something like a crook animal and what you can do to fix it.

“Shaun has a lot of attention to detail with his stock. As soon as something comes up and I notice it, he’s always two steps ahead of me. He’s a self-made man, he started with nothing, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about how he’s got to where he is and ideas about what I can do in the future to have a good career in farming.”

Ben had always been keen to enter the Shepherd of the Year competition and knew several previous winners.

“I thought it would be good to challenge myself. You can always take something from a competition that can make you better in the future. The experience was great, it was a mix of practical and an interview scenario, so it was good to test both skills and knowledge.

“Operating under pressure was the big thing I got out of it. I tend to rush myself a little bit, it’s my biggest weakness, so just slowing down and taking in everything around me. You can always be better.”

He says he would definitely recommend other young shepherds have a crack at the competition. “You can only gain something from it – feedback and how to improve. It’s good to challenge yourself to get outside your comfort zone.”