Lady Farmers Day Out
Category : General News
Thank you Lyn for the introduction and thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. I feel slightly unqualified as I am a rookie at public speaking.
I come from a 2nd generation dairy farm near Gympie. I was the 10th of 11 children. Living off the land, making your own meals, clothing and just being resourceful was normal then so I had a lot of life skills by the time I left home.
In 88, because of a pet hate, I invented a product called ‘Ripper Gaiters’. These are a waterproof sock protector, I designed a new way to put them on and remove them. The number of times I had put my boots on and forgotten to slide the gaiter on first was just ridiculous. So I made a pair fastened by a Velcro strip with press studs – no longer did I need to remove my boots to get the gaiter on or off.
These became popular starting my 1st small business I was able to leave my Job at the Kilcoy Chemist. I could work anytime, allowing me to stay home and raise my three children. The product line extended into seat covers, swags, bags, clothing and repairs. There was as much variety in the products as the variety of customers I had supporting my business; servicing many locals from individual households to the Race club, Council, meat works, Taxidermist, Beef producers. My 1st paid ad was in a Sport and Shooter magazine. I was, inundated and overwhelmed with mail orders coming along with cheques or cash – to my surprise orders as far as America, Africa, and New Zealand.
Soon another pet hate started my 2nd small business. I am sure all of us here hate to be chased by bulls. Right, the bull had to go! I had to take his place. In 96, I learnt to AI and Pregnancy test practicing on my own small beef herd at Toogoolawah and local dairy farms doing 900 head in 9 months. Then I plunged into the deep end servicing extensive beef herds all over Queensland doing up to 450 head a day.
I left the cliffs of Toogoolawah when the beauty of Mt Kilcoy stole my heart. A property with rolling hills and lots of water I knew was where I would eventually like to retire. Did I want to be a dairyfarmer? Well why not, how hard could it be? This was 2007, just post deregulation of the dairy industry. An event that was causing many people to leave and we were just getting started.
Welcome to our 1st day of milking and I need an electrician to replace the rat’s nest of wiring just to turn the milking machine on, hoping tomorrow will be easier. Day 2, wasn’t any easier, I was excited to see the milk truck pick up for the first time and excitement turned to misery when the receipt read 447L. 126 cows had produced 447L or 2L/cow/day. This was a turning point for me. I either close the dairy business or something had to change and quick. We got in and improved the herd’s genetics, the farms pastures and the cow’s diet. With all of the improvements over a 10yr period the herd started producing 25L/day.
Just when you think it is getting easier, 2011 Floods hit. The house yard became an island and we shared it with the milking herd for a week. Something else we shared for a week was a generator. Driving through the paddock each day over to Retchlag’s Dairy to get the generator to relieve the cows before driving it back again so they could relieve theirs. A generator was now the number one item on the shopping list. When the QLD Gov. announced they were going to be assisting farmers affected by the floods I put up my hand and asked for a generator. Sorry Kym I can’t get you a generator. I can get you a business degree. As disappointed as I was I took the opportunity and completed a Diploma of Rural Business Management and a Diploma of Agriculture.
The floods were soon followed by Australia Day 2011, a date no dairy farmer could forget. This is the day Coles started the $1/L milk wars. This situation is very unlike a natural disaster where there is a short-lived, big impact that you can fix the problem and get back to business as usual. In 2011, this was like a tickle in the throat just a bit of a nuisance. You try a few different cough medicines, you try to squeeze a bit more out of the cows, and you try to cut cost. In 2014, my daughter Tammy and I purchased some land at Sandy Ck, an investment property for her, but for me it was to reduce our reliance on purchased feed and to diversify the business by starting a beef herd incase this tickle in the throat, now a bit of a cough, would never go away but we had plan B.
With each year passing inflation continues so all expenses are rising; our immune system is down and susceptible to other attacks. 2016, the drought hits, without the weakened immune system this would have been just like the floods where you fix the problem and get back to business as usual. We installed 26 water troughs that December and we weren’t yet drought declared so we couldn’t get any financial assistance. Three months later we were drought declared but it was too late. At this point I had tried every cough remedy there was; the drought along with $1/L price war had the business strangled. The milk processor at the time said their business was forced to announce a 2c/L drop in price. 2c we couldn’t afford. This was breaking point, in a family discussion we all agreed we would be happier, if we closed the dairy, ran a beef herd and supported ourselves by working in town. In finally making that call a big weight was lifted off all of our shoulders and surprisingly we were looking forward to what might be next.
The herd clearance sale was booked in and advertised for a Thursday in February 2017. The last day we would be milking cows. One week out we received a phone call, a rumor another processor might have an offer for us. I told my children, but we all said no way, we have made our decision we are not going back to milking now. My youngest said they would have to pay at least 10c/L more for us to even consider staying. A few phone calls later and we had an offer of 11c more. A 20% price rise something we never thought was possible. So much to the auctioneers dismay the sale was cancelled.
This boost meant we were able to start investing back into improving the dairy again and it ignited our passion for the cows and for the industry. Last year we put in two center-pivot irrigators the first for the Kilcoy district. Now Ashley is able to water the pastures by pressing a button on his phone. Freeing up his time or having him available to do other jobs and freeing up my time. It is amazing the significant improvement two irrigators have made to our lives. It also mitigates a huge risk by significantly reducing the amount the business relied on my son. The business is now safe, if or more like when he injures himself.
There is a lot to be learnt in dairy farming and I like having the opportunity to pass some of this knowledge and the whole farming experience onto the next generation. Both Torie & Ashley completed a cert 3 in Agriculture winning trainee ship awards along with our business winning host awards and then followed by a few of their friends and a few quickly turns into a dozen. I started hosting a few Vet students and again a few quickly turn into a dozen. I have taken high school students for their work experience and participated in the cows create careers program where I lend a couple calves to the school and teach the students how to raise them. I was also proud to have myself, the farm and cows selected to feature in the Cream of Australia tv ad. The campaign run by QLD dairyfarmers’ Organisation is all about celebrating their farmers and thanking customers that continue to support QLD dairy. Teaching the next generation and raising awareness for our industry is something I’m passionate about and enjoy.
So that’s my experience being a woman in agriculture and in writing this speech I found a strong theme of hardship followed by triumph, a tale of recovery and resilience and it is impossible to avoid. If you were to write a story about any one of the ladies in this room you would find the same thing because that is what rural women are. You are all resourceful, you are all bloody tough and we have to be.