The Award was added for the first time to this year’s Wairere Central Districts Red Meat Farmer of the Year Award and presented at a gala evening event in Palmerston North.

Central Districts Shepherd of the Year winner Baylee Hodges with the silverware

Wanganui shepherd Baylee Hodges snared the win after a two-day intensive final stage which involved the four finalists coming to Manawatu for a series of meetings with local agribusinesses and last year’s Wairere Central Districts Red Meat Farm Business of the Year winners, Kiwitea farmers Ian and Steph Strahan.

Contest organiser Aaron Hunt says the intention was to take the finalists outside their comfort zone to see how they engage with others and how well they can build relationships.

“We want to grow and inspire these young ones. Hopefully these are the ones who will buy their own farm one day,” Hunt says.

The final stage of judging followed a visit by the judges to each entrant on their own place of work to do an initial assessment of their capabilities and provide feedback on their performance, particularly areas for further development.

Hunt says the two hours with each entrant covered day-to-day farming activities such as health and safety, animal health, livestock management, and included practical skills such as drenching and dog handling.

“It was awesome to see how skilled all the entrants were. We then had a discussion about each one and provided feedback to them, which is a really vital part of the competition for them.”

“It’s important to understand that we wanted to grow these shepherds. This competition is not about stapling a fence – we have to assume they know how to do that. It’s about giving these young shepherds help with developing their own goals and the ambition to achieve them.”

Baylee Hodges (26) works on her family’s 440ha property at Kai-Iwi, east of Wanganui, running 2200 ewes and 600 replacement hoggets plus cattle.

The other finalists were Hannah Rae, who works for Hamish and Carla Blackburn near Ohakune, Taumarunui casual shepherd Jorge Copplestone, and Taylor Trott who works on one of the stations owned by Atihau Incorporation, also near Ohakune.

Winner Baylee Hodges, with finalists Hannah Rae, Jorge Copplestone and Taylor Trott at the Awards evening for the Shepherd of the Year contest.

Hodges says the experience of entering and then winning the competition was incredible.

“Apart from having three great mates now, I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge from the experience,” she says.

All four finalists have farm ownership as a goal for the future.

“I’m lucky enough to have grown up on our family farm and one day I hope to own it,” Hodges says.