Dayanne's sharing a love of sheep

Dayanne Almeida is passionate about farming, sheep farming in particular, and for the past two years has been in New Zealand learning all she can about the industry. Since arriving in Central Hawke's Bay from Brazil in 2009 she has been working for Robin Hilson and Joy Gray at the One Stop Ram Shop in Takapau —adding practical knowledge to her Bachelor of Animal Science degree.

She studied in Sao Paulo, and to complete her papers had to find somewhere to do a six-month internship, the pursuit of which brought her up against some frustrating attitudes amongst Brazilian farmers.

"I got a job offer from the Dorper Sheep Breeder Association in Brazil. For three months I worked there trying to do things differently. These guys are not farmers; they are businessmen who run sheep as a hobby. It's about having star sheep, which they will pay up to $500,000 for at auctions, but they are not at all production oriented. This did not make sense to me from what I had learnt at university. But as a young woman just finished my studies with no family connections to the farming industry or freezing works, I was of little value to them and felt very underestimated."

She then set her sights further afield. With the help of a friend who translated her Portugese into English, Dayanne sent out over 350 emails, one by one, to sheep associations across New Zealand and Australia requesting an internship. She didn't want pay, only food and accommodation and the chance to learn.

"I got no replies at all until one day I got an email from Robin who said it was rare to have people from overseas get in touch who were really interested in working with sheep, and had a degree in it. At that stage I wasn't worried about whether he was going to offer me a job, it was just great to get a response. When he and Joy offered me an internship at the One Stop Ram Shop, I was over the moon — someone had finally listened to me."

Dayanne arrived in April 2009.

"I said to myself this it, this is my chance and now it's up to me — I arrived here to a new country, new culture, new food, new people, new language. It was so cold — I had not expected cold like this, but beautiful too, with snow, wind, rain . . . and everywhere I parked my eyes there were sheep — it was heaven."

Robin says he was intrigued with the enterprising young woman, born into a bar-owning city family, with a passion for sheep which matched his own.

"I really enjoy helping people who are keen to learn — coming from the city myself I know what it's like to learn about this industry. I love sheep and here was this girl who wanted to learn all about them too —it was logical to say yes and work out how to make it happen."

After the six month internship, Robin offered Dayanne a job and now there is no holding her back.

"It's so different here — I have been learning to work with stock and develop a stock sense. Robin gave me a dog which really helped with that, given that it had eight years more experience than me! It was amazing — I had to reset my brain and delete most of the things I had learned and start from scratch."

On a daily basis she either helps on the farm with the jobs such as docking, lambing, weaning and mustering or works in the office.

"I help produce the catalogues, and have started working on Portugese language ones for South America."

She is also studying for an Agribusiness Managment Diploma with AgIto and aims to round that off with a masters and doctorate, so ultimately she is armed with the qualifications and experience to return to Brazil.

"I would like to form a sheep consultant agency and get people together and change things, like breaking down the hierachy in the industry."

Change is on the way
Brazil is known primarily for cattle (about 200 million of them), and grain export, but sheep are on the increase, up to around 15m in number now, says Dayanne.

There are three main sheep areas: the south, where there is extensive farming but no technology is used or performance breeding is carried out; the north east, an arid, desert area comprising both commercial and small community growers; and the south east, which used to be a coffee plantation area. When the coffee market plummeted, more cattle were introduced, though the land is now being shifted increasingly towards sugar cane.

"Land in the south east is very expensive — Sao Paulo is not the best area to have sheep. With the prices they charge for land and sheep it is very hard for the ordinary farmer to make their money back. It's only good for the consumers —Sao Paulo is one of the most populated states and there are lots of restaurants and meat boutiques that want lamb, but there is not enough supply so 90 per cent of our lamb comes from offshore —mostly Uruguay."

Although things are changing slowly, the country's farmers are stuck because they do not have the knowledge of genetics, she says.

"We are babies in this industry. At the moment most farmers have multinational companies in Sao Paulo and can afford to bring in animals from overseas; but they are more focused on what the sheep looks like and getting prizes than on production. The other farmers cannot afford to buy top rams so end up with poor quality."

Dorper is a particularly popular breed because the climate is similar to South Africa, and other breeds include Texel, Dorset, Suffolk. The cross breed, however, is still uncommon.

"People are not used to having something that is not pure—New Zealand is 40 years ahead of us in that regard and, although we don't want to compete with New Zealand, we do need to be sustainable and start to change people's thinking about genetics so we can feed our own population."

Dayanne has set herself the challenge to return to her country, start small within her community and try to change attitudes.

"To do that I have to have worked in New Zealand and have the high qualifications—knowing my country, that's what will work."

Robin, for one, has no doubt Dayanne's future is bright and she can reach her goals.

"She has amazing ability and is very focused. When we went to Brazil together last month it was her first real opportunity to talk to Brazilian farmers and they showed nothing but respect. Even without understanding Portugese, I could tell they were very impressed and interested in what she had to say."

Nicki Harper writing in the CHB Mail, FARM FOCUS, May, 2011

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