Companions on the road

May 26, 2022

Lynda Young-Kennedy knows the gravel roads, the steep tracks and the dead-ends of Southland’s back country better than most people.

She has travelled many thousands of kilometres in her 26 years of asking farmers to donate calves and other stock to the IHC Calf & Rural Scheme.

The numbers tell the story. In 40 years, the scheme has raised $40 million from 10,000 farmers. Donating calves is something farmers say is easy and the right thing to do for their communities. When the animals go to the sales, the money goes to support people with intellectual disabilities.

On many farms, pledges to the Calf Scheme are renewed every season and they are often continued from one generation to the next.

In the early days when Lynda was a canvasser, she travelled with a notebook and pencil when she visited the farmers who made regular pledges and to sign up new ones.

“I would keep two journals. One was the dairy number and the other one was under the farmer’s name,” she says. Technology and databases make keeping track of farmers a lot easier now.

“I was lost more times than I can even think about,” she says. There was one time around Kirwee in Canterbury when a GPS took her kilometres on a roundabout route to visit a local canvasser.

Lynda says her family have always been keen to help. In the early days her father, former builder Richard Young, travelled with her to mark all the isolated roads on a map. But it was her mother, Florence, and one of Lynda’s Airedale terriers who were her constant companions on the road.

“Mum came away on every trip. She used to say, ‘If the wheels are turning, I am going to be there’. She contributed massively to the scheme. She would go to the sales and fill out all the average numbers and help with canvassers’ supplies,” Lynda says. “She loved helping IHC.”

The rides became easier in 2011 when Volkswagen New Zealand signed up as a major Calf Scheme sponsor and supplied two vehicles, one each for the South Island and North Island. Lynda says the high clearances of the VW Amarok she drives now, and the reversing camera, have got her out of a few sticky on-farm situations.

Based in Invercargill, Lynda is now national coordinator of the IHC Calf & Rural Scheme. She organises a team of canvassers who visit farmers throughout New Zealand to encourage them to donate to IHC the proceeds from the sale of stock – dairy, beef or sheep.

She liaises with PGG Wrightson livestock reps and keeps track of the pledges, the sales and the animals. PGG Wrightson Livestock has supported the scheme from the start, handling the sales for IHC.

“I used to go up all around the South Island and even travelled in the North Island. I would catch up with transporters, sponsors, canvassers and supporters.”

Lynda is at her desk a lot more now, but she visits canvassers over winter, and she likes to attend as many stock sales as she can to make sure things are running smoothly.

The outbreak of Mycoplasma Bovis in New Zealand in 2017 hit farmers and the Calf Scheme hard. “We had to do our best to keep our farmers safe with moving animals around and grouping animals together,” she says. “M. Bovis stopped a lot of my travelling. And then there was COVID.”

The trips will be lonelier these days. Florence, 86, died unexpectedly last year in hospital, under Level 4 restrictions during the pandemic. Lynda was not able to visit her before she died. The hospital had been restricting visits from her family, and then it was too late.

Lynda says Florence travelled with her right up until the end. Their last trip was to deliver Calf Scheme supplies to a canvasser in Gore. “We had a cup of coffee and a cheese roll with him. She had this kind of connection with all the people we met on our travels.”

Lynda spent time as a small child on her grandparents’ Dipton sheep farm and later helped when her uncle took over the farm. He also ran some beef cattle. What her Calf Scheme friends may not know is that her first encounter with cattle as a young girl was a terrifying ordeal.

She had gone out to get eggs on the farm when she was surrounded by cattle and had to hide from them in the hen house. “The gates had been opened and they wandered in from one paddock to another and came into where the hens were.” She remembers finally plucking up enough courage to run back to the house.

The family farm was sold and absorbed into dairying like many sheep farms in Southland.

Years ago, when her IHC manager asked her to take charge of the pledges from dairy farmers he told her he didn’t think the scheme would take off in Southland because it was sheep country. Dairying is now a big part of Southland’s economy.

Later Lynda lived on a dairy farm for a number of years. “I must have become annoying with all my questions, but I was eager to learn. I certainly have an appreciation of all the hard work that goes into dairying and sheep farming.”

Lynda has two children, Jason and Marlena, and five grandchildren all living in Invercargill. She is looking forward to a great granddaughter in July.

She plans to keep on doing the job she loves and values. “If you are going to see canvassers, or the PGG Wrightson reps at the sales, or if you are going to visit the farmers, it’s always really pleasant. I think that is why I have been there for 26 years. Some people retire with regrets. I won’t. I think I have made a difference.”

Caption 1: Lynda Young-Kennedy and her Airedale terrier Yakira on the road.

Caption 2: Lynda and her mother Florence Young enjoy Lake Tekapo on their travels.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members. Read the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.