Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year Katrina Roberts, a vet and consultant, is a champion of the bond between veterinarian and farmer.
Healthy animals and farms a priority for award-winning dairy woman
Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year Katrina Roberts wants her award to highlight the importance of the relationship between farmers and those who work in veterinary and farm advisory services.

Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year Katrina Roberts, a vet and consultant, is a champion of the bond between veterinarian and farmer.

The bond between veterinarians and farmers is a unique, understated relationship that is critical to the success of a farming business.

It goes beyond just caring for sick animals and is something this year’s Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year, Katrina Roberts, hopes is treated with greater importance.

Based in Waikato, Roberts is a herd health veterinarian for Anexa Veterinary Services.

For the past 22 years she has provided farm consultancy and has been involved in the redevelopment of many DairyNZ programmes, including InCalf, FeedRight, and body condition score accreditation.

Roberts and other vets are sounding boards, at times consolers and advisers on the constant stream of new information that farmers get bombarded with daily. Winning this award showcases that relationship, she said.

“I don’t think it gets talked about and I feel really privileged to be in this position to be able to say, ‘Look at what we can do.’”

Vets and rural advisers sit at the coalface of helping farmers deal with new regulations and economic and animal health issues.

It provides immense satisfaction to Roberts when that relationship leads to better outcomes on the farm. This is what has driven her over the course of her career.

It’s also personal. Roberts’ farmer-clients know how she likes her coffee, and she knows the names of their children. It extends into the local community where neighbours are clients and see each other when dropping their children off at school.

That relationship personifies what rural communities are – the connectivity where everyone helps each other out, she said.

“The strength of that relationship can lead to amazing changes on farm and it’s really rewarding for us as vets. I don’t think that gets heard.

“It’s really special to be able to say, ‘Look what we can bring to the farm team.’

“It’s often the vet or the farm adviser sitting around the table with the farmer trying to figure it out. ‘This has been thrown at us, how are we going to move forward?’”

This role is the reality of working in the modern rural sector.

Australia-born Roberts studied for her veterinarian qualification in Melbourne. While working towards her degree, she worked alongside Jock MacMillian, who suggested that she head to New Zealand to do practical work.

One of the people she worked was Scott McDougall, who established the research centre of the Animal Health Centre (now Anexa Animal Health) and now heads Cognosco, Anexa’s research service.

That evolved into a full-time job as a clinician-researcher and Roberts then went on to complete a Master’s in epidemiology at Massey University.

Over the past 22 years Roberts has worn multiple hats at Anexa, including collaborating with industry organisations including DairyNZ as well as speaking at Smaller Milk and Supply Herd group events.

Around 2011, Roberts started training with farm consultancy company Headlands after realising that herd health issues were often linked to farm system issues.

Often, one could not be improved without changing the other and it meant discussing issues that fell outside what was traditionally a veterinarian’s remit.

“I realised I needed to be around the table talking about the finances and the supplements being bought in and the grass and feed budgets.

“It was a logical progression because I couldn’t help my farmers anymore.”

Roberts quickly realised she could have a much bigger impact on farms by helping farmers with larger decisions.

“It’s super rewarding, moving into the farm consultancy space.”

Getting into the consultancy space also coincided with her decision to get more of a work-life balance on the lifestyle block she lives on with husband Adrian and her three daughters. Her eldest was born just before she started consultancy training.

The past few months since she was named a finalist have opened her eyes to the work the Dairy Women’s Network (DWN) does and the information it gets out to its members.

“They are another group that puts out webinars and conferences and make connections and help people tap into information as required.”

The annual conference, this year in New Plymouth, was Roberts’ first and she said she was blown away by its positive atmosphere.

“It brought women together to talk about what’s possible. The whole conference was about ‘What can we do?’

“I definitely think there’s space for the vet profession to be more closely involved with the DWN because I think there’s a lot of common ground there.”

The award includes a scholarship to be part of the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme. Roberts said she has a few ideas for what to base that programme on but has yet to finalise it.

She said there are a lot of people who have supported her over the years to achieve her goals and she does not believe she would have won Dairy Woman of the Year without them.

Neither Katrina nor Wales-born Adrian have family in New Zealand.

“Our friends are our whanau. They are our support. I’ve also had a lot of mentors on the way within Anexa.”

She is also heavily involved in the community, volunteering with Cambridge Riding for the Disabled and an active member of the Walton School Board of Trustees and netball coaching, and Matamata Pony Club.

Roberts is hugely grateful to Fonterra and the Dairy Women’s Network for the award.

“There are so many amazing women in the dairy sector. Everyone’s working so hard and so positive and contributing to their community and I definitely feel pretty humbled being selected as I don’t feel any different to anyone else.”

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