Wairarapa shepherd Flynn Wilkinson’s a country boy through and through.
The 20-year-old proved just how far he’s come in his four-year career by winning the John Daniel Memorial Trust Wairarapa Shepherd of the Year 2020 competition in April.
Wilkinson works at Bush Gully Station, an 1800-hectare sheep and beef property near Hinakura, in the southern Wairarapa.
He said it was a surprise to be named the winner out of the four finalists, but he was rapt.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was a good challenge, and it was hard mentally not knowing how the others had gone, but you just have to try your best and hope you are better than the next person.”
Contestants undertook four 45-minute practical modules which included sheep, beef, shearing, homekill, fencing and an interview.
The initial interview process to name the finalists was the toughest part, while on the competition day he felt the fencing and homekill modules went the smoothest, he said.
Wilkinson grew up rurally and loves being out on the hills. Bush Gully is an intensive hill country property running Perendale sheep and Angus cattle with plenty of good work for his dogs.
He takes great pride in seeing his young dog team progress.
“I broke them all in myself, and it’s quite rewarding when you are breaking them in rather than buying them.”
His advice for aspiring shepherds was to find a supportive employer and give it a go. Wilkinson wants to progress into management, with his overall goal property ownership. In the meantime, the competition has been a real confidence booster.
“It was good to get out of my comfort zone, good for me to give it a go – it paid off.”
Competition organiser Kurt Portas of Palliser Ridge Station said the competition attracts about 10 applicants, which is whittled down to four finalists following initial interviews.
The competition has evolved since Portas has been at the helm.
“When I took it over four years ago it was more just a drive round [with the contestants], and it was about who could chat up the biggest storm,” he said. “But some of the good shepherds don’t say much – they are humble, hard-working guys and we need to reward that. So we said ‘show us how to do a mutton, show us how you shear a sheep and show us how you work your dogs’.
Portas said it’s about raising the profile of shepherding as a career.
“It’s about rewarding the labour force that make farms tick, encouraging personal development in our shepherds and recognising the best shepherds in our area. That’s why it was started.”