NZ Dairy Spring 2021

4 | nz dairy DAIRY PEOPLE » Clovalley Farms: Donovan Croot & Sophie Cookson Breaking the chain of Photos: Sophie Cookson holds Thomas, 2, and Estelle’s hand, while Penelope, 4, sides with her father, Donovan Croot. Photo: Rebecca Inns. Production is heading towards 700kg MS this season. Donovan Croot helps a young cow calve. Dianna Malcolm L eaving a life of addiction behind him in Auck- land has transformed Donovan Croot’s life into one of incredible possibility. Today, Donovan, his fiancée, Sophie Cookson, are sharemilking 190 cows on 91 hectares (which includes a 30ha run-off 1.5km up the road) in Manutahi in South Taranaki. Together with their three children, Estelle, 6, Penelope, 4, and, Thomas, 2, this family is today a pin-up couple for Xero accounting, and they are pushing towards a 700kg Milk Solids average. However, it could have all been so very different. Donovan wasn’t reared on a dairy farm. His upbringing in the semi-rural Manawatu was uneventful and his hard-working parents set a great example. But, Donovan would eventually head to Auckland and it was there that he started running with an addictive lifestyle and poor choices that became destructive and – at times – illegal. “It turned my world upside down,” he said. Three months rehab At 22, he voluntarily submitted to three months of residential rehabilitation. As he exited the centre his uncle, who was a dairy farmer, found him an opportunity as a dairy apprentice in the Taranaki. He didn’t have to be asked twice. “I shifted down here with a suitcase and a shitty old car,” he said. “I started right at the bottom coming out of the city with absolutely next to no experience, outside of staying at my uncles in the school holidays.” It would put him on a career path he could never have imagined when he was struggling with his personal demons. “I feel very lucky. I’d say that 80% of the people I was kicking around with during that difficult stretch are still caught in that rut, or they’ve gone to jail, or they’ve passed away. I just feel so very fortunate that I got out of it … because not many do.” A private story He said his past followed him for a while, but once people realised how strong he was in his sobriety they drifted away and he drove forward. “I haven’t shared my story with a lot of people, apart from my close friends,” Donovan said. “But I guess I’m at that stage now where it’s something I can be proud of. It is something we have considered writing a book about.” This young couple have much to be gratified about. Not only are they sharemilking with their first staff member, Tomás Comunello, they have invested in cows from established profile herds, and they are building on those bloodlines. Their herd – under the Clovalley prefix – includes 100-head from the registered and former top BW and production herd in the country, Waiau Trust Hol- stein Friesians and Taramont Crossbreds (who sold a number of bulls into AI). Both entities were the lifework of Jim and Sue Webster in North Taranaki. Donovan said they were able to buy cows from the Websters by selling the bottom end of their herd to the South Island as M.bovis replacements. Management within three seasons Donovan did an agribusiness diploma while he was working his way up the ranks. Sophie – an ani- mal lover who Donovan describes as his “absolute rock” – did her vet nursing diploma in Otago and worked for a few years for the Coastal Veterinary Services in Karponga. Last year she joined an AI run (76%), and this season she will establish her own AI run. As Donovan quickly outgrew his positions he found himself managing a big corporate farm in his third season. People who make it out of tough situations, or build from a standing start always have a moment where someone stretches out their hand, and gives them a leg up at a game-changing time. That happened in Donovan’s fourth year when they went contract milking for three years with Bruce and Honey Grindlay. The couple would allow them to rear their surplus heifers on-farm and lease them out. It helped them grow their equity. “That is what sort of allowed us to consider sharemilking, because we owned 80 cows ranging from yearlings through to in-milk cows by that time,” Donovan said. “We ended up borrowing about half the money we needed to buy the balance to bring us to 220 cows and the equipment. Our first position in north Taranaki wasn’t great. But, we learned a lot about resilience, and we grew a lot during that time because of that. “Plus, we made some great friends up there that we’re still very close to. We also met Jim and Sue (Webster) up there, who we bought the herd off when we came down here. “Banks are quite hard, especially nowadays, they look at IRD book values so really they are valuing the cows at $1400 which was tough because we’d bought quality cattle. Our accountant has been pivotal for us in those conversations.” “I feel very lucky. I’d say that 80% of the people I was kicking around with during that difficult stretch are still caught in that rut, or they’ve gone to jail, or they’ve passed away. I just feel so very fortunate that I got out of it … because not many do.”