When Dayanne Almeida first landed in New Zealand in 2009, the words “sheep” and “hot dog” were the extent of her English language skills.
Brazil-born Dayanne arrived in the country on a month-long visitor’s visa – hoping to intern on a sheep farm, to “get more experience, and pick up English as a bonus”.
Eight years later, the bubbly zootechnician and self-confessed “sheep nutter” makes her home in rural Wairarapa, working for one of New Zealand’s largest and most sought-after ram breeders.
Dayanne, from the Sao Paulo region, is research and development manager for Masterton’s Wairere Rams. Known for its hardy Romney breeds, Wairere sells about 2,600 lambs annually from Cape to Bluff.
With a background in animal husbandry, Dayanne’s role includes finding ways to improve Wairere’s breeding lines, creating stock with the strongest constitutions and ability to survive in tough environments.
She is also studying towards a Master’s degree in sheep genetics – part of which includes a study measuring the body conditions of 4000 ewes to predict their offspring’s success.
Not bad for someone who taught herself English by watching Disney films.
When not engrossed in study, Dayanne can be found at the 1070 hectare Wairere Farm at Bideford, helping with mustering, drenching and pregnancy scanning.
The farm is tough country – steep, inhospitable hills, rising over 530 metres above sea level; bone dry in summer, freezing in winter, with winds of up to 350kmh. Not a soul for miles.
But for Dayanne, coming from a country where it’s common to be stuck in traffic for over four hours, it’s heavenly.
“The view is amazing – you can see Mt Ruapehu on a clear day,” she says.
“Even when I’m shifting sheep, I take a few minutes to stop and just appreciate the landscape, and the quiet.
“It’s so beautiful, so peaceful. I can’t get enough of it.”
Dayanne was first drawn to farming while studying Animal Science at Sao Paulo State University when, as part of an extracurricular business club, she did work experience at a local sheep station.
After graduating in 2008, she decided to try her hand at sheep farming overseas – New Zealand being an obvious choice.
With help from an English-speaking friend, she sent emails to 300 farms, hoping at least one would offer her an internship.
“I’ve still got them all on my Gmail account,” she says.
“At first, no-one replied. I got a job, and forgot about New Zealand for a while.”
The next year, she decided to revisit her Kiwi dream, and sent a further 200 emails.
She then received the message that would change her life: an offer of work from Robin Hilson, principal at Hawke’s Bay Texel breeder One Stop Ram Shop.
Thrilled, Dayanne booked her passage to New Zealand – but, afraid of “losing the opportunity”, she neglected to mention her spoken English (bar a few words from American pop songs) was poor at best.
“At Auckland, I was stuck in customs for four hours, and they had to get an interpreter. Then, Robin picked me up in Napier – I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.
“I thought, ‘well, he can’t send me back now.’”
After several months, where she would rely on instructions via drawings and diagrams, Dayanne’s English improved – helped by her “repeating everything [her] colleagues said”.
Most helpful, she says, were Robin’s grandchildren, who let her spend hours with them watching Disney movies in an effort to expand her vocabulary.
“We’d watch The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast – the works.
“Kids are so patient. For example, I would pick up something, like a pair of sunglasses, and ask them ‘what do you call this?’
“The only way I was going to learn anything was to completely immerse myself in New Zealand farm life. I learned things like riding a farm bike, and how to round up sheep with dogs. I’d never even owned a dog before!”
Dayanne stayed with One Stop Ram Shop for five years, working her way up from shepherd to assistant farm manager. In 2014, while travelling in South America, she met Wairere Rams principal Derek Daniell on a bus tour. Hearing of her interest in sheep genetics, he offered her the chance to work with and add value to his renowned flock and award-winning clients.
These days, Dayanne is occupied with various research projects, including gathering data on Wairere ewes’ weight at mating, scanning, and weaning to eventually inform improvements to rams’ maternal lineage.
She also keeps busy with her passion project – empowering her fellow Brazilian farmers.
Brazil, with its flat terrain and warmer climate, is well-suited to sheep farming. But growth is stunted, Dayanne says, largely due to attitude.
“Owning a farm in Brazil is a status thing.
“Often, the farm owner will live in town and own several other businesses, which pay for the farm. They’ll show up every few months, tell everyone what to do, and go straight back to the city. Farming isn’t taken seriously.”
To help inspire the next generation, Dayanne returns to Brazil to deliver educational seminars to young farmers – last year speaking to 20,000 people across 18 cities.
She also has a Facebook page, The Sheepnutter, which she updates with videos of her tasks around the farm – everything from mustering sheep in gale force winds, to rounding up newborn lambs in several feet of snow.
“We’ll be scanning, the wind will be howling, and I’ll be filming. My colleagues think I’m crazy.
“The point is to show people back home how we manage when the weather goes bad. We have to breed sheep to survive in the snow, and when it’s dead dry in summer.
“With this knowledge, Brazil can use New Zealand like a crystal ball.”
Though there are many things she misses about Brazil (especially the food), she feels right at home in Wairarapa – where she relishes the peace and quiet.
“There’s a lot of crime in Brazil – people build big walls and barbed wire fences around their homes.
“But here, I can have my own place, with no neighbours for miles, leave the keys under the mat, and not fear for my life. The peace is priceless.
“I love the people, too – they’re so humble. It’s not about what you have; it’s about who you are.”