What inspires a young man to become a dairy farmer?

We received an unusual phone call the other week. A vet student with no family connections to dairy, Andrew Dallimore rang out of the blue saying he was keen to become a dairy farmer and wondered if he could ask us a few questions.

Well, what a series of questions! What were the challenges we faced becoming dairy farmers, why did we choose it, the ups and downs, where we look for knowledge and what are the pros and cons of raising children on a farm? At least, these are the ones I remember. And he took notes.

It felt like being at confessional, somehow. You have to be totally honest with someone so earnestly and diligently researching his future. Wayne and I were both immensely impressed, then gobsmacked when he offered to do a few hours work on the farm with the payment of just our thoughts and a banana!

Later, I had a look at the extraordinary “project” Andrew undertook last year and was impressed all over again. Andrew is a truly remarkable Australian so I was very pleased when he agreed to write a guest post about what inspires him to become a dairy farmer. Maybe we can learn a little about how to attract other young Aussies to follow in his footsteps. If you’re on Twitter, follow Andrew on @Farmer_vet.

Aspiring dairy farmer, Andrew Dallimore

Aspiring dairy farmer, Andrew Dallimore

I admit, that when Marian asked me if I would like to write a post for her blog that I was flattered, albeit worried. If you’ve read any of the content on here, you’ll realise that she is a bit of a bright spark (not that she’ll admit it). So hopefully I don’t kill too many of your brain cells (with my drivel) that you have spent so much time refining.

As a vet student at the University of Melbourne I have had the privilege to visit many different agricultural enterprises. Yet, dairy farmers and their families standout as some of the most inspiring people in Australia. It’s not their dashing flannelette shirts, crap splattered wellies, or even their everlasting pursuit to race the sun up every morning (and beat it!), but something else extraordinary.

Over the past 3 months I have been on a pilgrimage of sorts. I’ve been hunting down dairy farmers to hear about their pathway to farming. I feel inextricably drawn to dairy, and I’ve found these people are to be tough, dedicated, and generous beyond measure. Without knowing me from a bar of soap, dairy farmers have welcomed me into their homes, sat down and had targeted chinwags with me, and treated me as an equal while their kids watched telly, ate their tea, or just run amok.

Any question I had, as basic as it was, they answered and discussed enthusiastically. Eagerly, I listened to the trials and triumphs they went through to be successful while working, raising a family, settling into a completely different lifestyle, or turning a rundown farm into a thriving business and family home. From inherited farms, to sea-changers, and sharefarmers, they all shared similar traits. The stories were incredible.

For example, on a farm I visited up in northern Victoria I was completely blown away. A family of four milking about 300 cows on an inherited farm, with grins bigger than you can measure were some of the most astounding farmers I had met. It wasn’t the adults (who were the typical intelligent, driven, and happy dairy farmers), but the kids!

At the ripe old age of 14 their son had well over $10K in his bank from selling cow poo by the roadside, a part-time employee who helped him bag up the stuff (one of the kids from school, who unfortunately got the sack after his 3rd warning for not filling up the sacks properly), and a brilliant work ethic. His younger sister, at age 11, was being given orphaned merino lambs to her by farmers (otherwise the poor little buggers usually die in the paddock), was rearing them at home, and then selling them back to the farmers for a good profit.

These kids had impeccable manners, were bright, charismatic, and treated people as respectful equals.

Hearing and reading about people’s pathways to dairy farming has made me realise something incredible. Dairy farming isn’t just a way of life; it is life itself. It is survival by learning, adapting, producing, recycling, cooperating, and teaching on a day-to-day basis.

It is working with spectacular animals to feed the world sustainably, and support Australia. It is about raising a strong, healthy, intelligent, and generous family with humane ethics and values. There are few causes in our country that are greater than these.

Marian asked me what inspired to me start pursuing a life in dairy, and the answer is simple: Dairy farmers.

Marian also asked me what my dream is, and this answer more complex: I want to own and run my own rural veterinary practice; help run a dairy farm; heavily invest in the community I live with; and raise a strong, healthy, intelligent, and generous family on the land.

How I will get there on the other hand, is another question altogether… Hopefully with a large smile, a strong work ethic, good mentors, a little time, and plenty of elbow grease!

John Mulvany tells how young dairy farmers can make it work

It’s official: buying your own dairy farm may no longer be affordable but some entrepreneurial young dairy families are finding other paths to prosperity.

The answer is to farm without the farm, says John Mulvany of OnFarm Consulting. Ahead of his address to the Australian Dairy Conference on Thursday 23 February, I invited John to write a guest post especially for young farmers.

All dairy farmers at the Australian Dairy Conference will be somewhere on this dairy farmer life curve: it’s about balance between skills acquisition, growth, life style and eventually discretionary involvement.

FarmerLifeCurve

SA – Stuffing Around

FTCF – Focus, tight cash flow

TAF – Tight arse factor

HD – High debt

HEQ – High Equity Cons – Consolidation

DI – Discretionary involvement

Many dairy farmers are asset rich and energy poor. At the same time, many young dairy farmers are energy rich and asset poor. With land prices increasing while profit margins fall, landowners will find it harder to find young farmers capable of buying their farms.

Three young dairy couples I’ll introduce at the Australian Dairy Conference have taken their cue from many successful retailers: they don’t own the farm. Instead, they lease land to operate profitable dairy businesses while investing the returns from their dairying in high growth assets beyond the farm gates.

Warren and Kerrie Redmond, for example, entered the dairy industry with no assets in 1989 on a third share of 167 cows. Today, they lease just under 1000 hectares with 486 hectares milking area for 900 cows over three farms. Off-farm investments include three houses, FMD’s and shares. Last calculated return on asset was in 2010/2011 at 22%. Lifestyle is now very much a priority.

Gems of Advice for Young People in Dairy

• Keep an eye on the big picture – it’s easy to get lost and discouraged in the daily crap.

• There will be a minimum 8 -10 years where the pressure will be on and you’ll wonder if you are going anywhere.

• Build your reputation so people seek you to rent their assets.

• Keep your bank informed; they are your best friend when investing in high-risk cows and plant at the start.

• Spending is restricted to sensible money making assets – no shiny red toys.

• Purchase off-farm capital growth assets as soon as your debt level allows.

• You will have to make some sacrifices and initially be prepared to work hard manually while balancing decisions.

• In re-working arrangements, think outside the square, keeping the interests of both parties in mind.