Guess whose in the moos

Today’s guest blog post comes from 2013 Dairy Young Farming Champion Cassie MacDonald. This young girl from the burbs has turned her talents into a winning formula to fight the good fight on behalf of dairy farmers everywhere

I wanted to show people everyone can make a difference by sharing their story

I wanted the message to reach as many people as it can.

I wanted to show that if you have an important story to tell people will listen

I hope consumers will stop and think about what exactly is happening.

I hope they think about the choices they make

I grew up in suburbia on the South Coast of NSW, born to a chef and a TAFE teacher/mechanic. We lived a typical ‘city’ life, small house, small backyard; no real exposure to agriculture.

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My older brother and I in front of our family home in Albion Park Rail, early 1990s

Except for the odd trip to a family friend’s farm where I was too mesmerised by the Clydesdale horses to notice if anything else was going on. We rode our pushbikes until the street lights came on, and we were warned about stranger danger. We had one tree on our block. The closest thing I came to agriculture was gawking out the window on our many trips to see family in Bungendore. And still, the cattle were too far away to really see anything!

I developed a fascination with animals at a young age, especially livestock, however this was completely unlived. I was lucky enough to be given a pony at this stage- which was the closest chance I had of getting up close with a large four-legged animal. Except at ANZAC day parades where mum would threaten to leave me homeless (jokingly of course) if I didn’t leave the Lighthorsemen alone, after standing staring at them all day, when it was time to go home.

In 1999, a massive family move to the Snowy Mountains when I was ten saw the start of the the change in my life, most significantly moving closer to the opportunity to be exposed to agriculture. I still couldn’t quite get my hands on it, but we were a step closer, living on a 15 acre block, astride my trusty little Welsh Mountain Pony, staring at the neighbours Herefords over the fence. The galahs and cockatoos would entertain us at breakfast time, and I loved for the first time in my life not having next door neighbours breathing down your neck. I was hooked on that ‘country’ thing! The fresh air, the space, the freedom. Walking down the driveway took no more than 2 seconds to catch the school bus, and mum would let us play in the paddocks all afternoon after school. My longing to return to the place where we grew up was quickly forgotten and replaced with the knowledge that the country was where I wanted to call home. Although, changing from a school of 800 students to one of 300 certainly came as a shock!!

The final push came when I went off to boarding school at age eleven. After hearing about an agricultural high school when in year six, I decided I wanted to go there to learn about farming so I could become a vet. On my first day there I was eager to sign up to the Rural Youth Club and enrol in the calf rearing program. I got to look after my first show heifer, an Ayrshire named ‘Agapantha’. I spent months teaching her how to lead and tie up, spending all my spare hours on the school farm. From memory, some of the teachers were concerned that this behaviour was abnormal and antisocial. How wrong they were! If only they can see where this has got me to now.

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Showing cattle at Sydney Royal ( me on the left) with Hurlstone Agricultural High School

At the end of that year I attended my first show, a calf show at the school- I was hooked! I didn’t miss a show from then on. I broke in a heifer, or two, every year and after learning the ropes, in my senior years I ran the group, organising young students, heifers and even the show teams.

Cassie Macdonald Semex Challenge

Winning the Semex Youth Challenge at Sydney Show in 2011

Those six years of living on a farm alongside a great agricultural education and involvement in the Rural Youth club and the stud Ayrshire cattle team built the foundations for my love and commitment for rural Australian and our agricultural industries. I  desperately wanted to become a veterinarian to continue my work with cattle, and ultimately agriculture.

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Ayrshire calf day as an older teenager

After finishing high school I began studying Animal Science after being knocked back from entry into Veterinary Science. I started showing cattle for an Ayrshire stud (Mayfield Farms), and was mentored by my great ‘second family’, Paul and Vicki Timbs. They saw something in me and subsequently helped me every step of the way to gaining experience in the show scene, on the farm and in animal husbandry. These foundations have allowed me to come such a long way. In this time I also started working at the Working Dairy at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. After learning the ropes I graduated to Assistant Manager in 2008 and love every moment of educating the public about where our milk comes from, from looking after the health and wellbeing of the cattle to the harvesting, processing and marketing of milk and its products. Education is something I am extremely passionate about, as I believe we need to form partnerships with consumers so can work together to ensure agriculture has a bright and sustainable future.

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Milking on the Timbs’ farm

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Learning about calf husbandry at the Timbs’

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 Working hard at the Sydney Royal Easter Show Working Dairy

After a second knock back in 2007, I finally gained entry into Veterinary Science in 2008. I am now in my 5th year of my degree, and graduation just around the corner. I am a proud member of Ayrshire Australia, the ASC Youth Group, Wagga Wagga Show Society and the RAS of NSW. Representing Wagga in the Sydney Royal Showgirl competition finals in 2011 was a particularly proud moment. I am very happy to tell my friends that I earn my money milking cows (and I am happy to persuade them to have a go at it too!).

I am also very happy to stand up for the industry that I have become so passionate about. When I saw the Coles’ video “Our Coles Brand Milk Story”, I was infuriated with the way they had spun the truth and misrepresented the facts. I suppose any dairy farmer or dairy industry employee could tell you this too. I wanted to reply but knew that words, especially to Coles, would get me nowhere and would get to no one. I thought about it for a second- how can I reach the consumers and have an effect?

I decided to put a skill, that usually only made my school teachers angry for ruining my books, and my mother for using all the paper up in the house, to go use. So I put pen to paper, sitting on the living room floor, underneath my iPad balancing carefully on the edge of a chair. Fifty-two clips later I had completed all the drawings. Five hours worth of work over two afternoons. Two weeks later my video has attracted almost 16,000 hits on YouTube

“The response has been unbelievable, but it’s exactly what I wanted

I wanted to show people everyone can make a difference by sharing their story

I wanted the message to reach as many people as it can.

I wanted to show that if you have an important story to tell people will listen

I hope consumers will stop and think about what exactly is happening.

I hope they think about the choices they make if they buy supermarket brand milk, and how it affects others.

Ultimately it would be great if more people boycotted generic brands and bought branded milk products instead so we can really combat the problem.

I also want shoppers to think about the information they are being fed, especially by such big powerful companies.

As you can see I am extremely passionate about the dairy industry, its future and the opportunities it can give you. I am a walking talking example of the joy you can get from working in and the doors that it can open for you. I will continue to advocate for this wonderful industry that has made me who I am, so that other people can see the exciting  opportunities out there. The dairy industry is full of amazing, talented and supportive people and I want to help make a difference to someone else’s life like the people I have met in the dairy industry have made to mine.

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Giving the thumbs up to a career in dairy

We are all born superstars

Art4Agriculuture Young Farming Champion Jess Monteith is a walking talking testament to phrase “life is what you make it”.

She was recently awarded the prestigious Shoalhaven Young Citizen of the Year Australia Day honour for her inspiring AGvocay for Agriculture and her work with the Hands Across NSW Charity

Jess Monteith Shoalhaven Young Citizen of the Year 2013

In today’s guest blog post Jess shares her work with the Hands Across NSW Charity

For 7 years I have been an ambassador for Hands Across NSW. Hands Across NSW began as a charity organisation during the severe droughts to assist farming families and their communities.

Our vision and missions statements are to

“assist the rural communities in NSW affected by the drought and any other issues by providing help with dignity and to be a dynamic organization dedicated to assist those in need as well as providing a hand of friendship in times of distress, thereby ensuring our prominence as one of the leading, friendliest, and effective charitable organizations in this field originated in the Shoalhaven”.

Over the years we received donations of financial help to support our farmers to be resilient through grants of up to $5000 per individual. We also took donations of fodder and other feed products to provide for livestock in areas severely affected.

In 2009 we received a massive donation from the Bonds factory which supplied 30 different families with new underwear. Something we may take for granted, yet something so important as some of the women in remote communities could not afford new underwear  and were too embarrassed to even visit a Dr because of the state of their underwear.

Between 2007 and 2012 we used donations from local communities to provide children with Christmas presents. It was so rewarding to see the looks on their faces

Hands Across continues to provide financial support to those in need through monitoring progress. This is essential as it indicates the degree of help that needs be provided in the future as well as monitoring the changes in the type of help required. This means our charity is under constant review so it can deliver what farmers need on the ground as soon as thye need it

I am very excited by the next phase that ongoing donations and support has allowed us to develop a program that provides scholarships for students in my local community who face financial hardship in transferring from primary school through to high school. The scholarship program is run in conjunction with the Berry-Gerringong Rotary club who have also raised funds

Check out Jess’ latest video which shares her amazing journey to date

 

 

FOLLOW JESS ON TWITTER https://twitter.com/jm4589

Cows Create Careers

Wow what exciting group our 2012 Young Farming Champions are. Tom Pearce is the latest addition to #teamdairy. We cant wait for our next workshop to meet the team. Just talking to them on the phone inspires me

This is the Tom Pearce story ………..

I live in Bega on the far south coast of NSW, and whilst some may say we are a little isolated I have a different perspective. I am 25 minutes from the beach, 2 hours from the snow, 2.5 hours from Canberra, 5 hours from Sydney and 7 hours from Melbourne and 5 minutes from the nearest fishing spot. There are not too many places that can boast that combination! Top that off with the international reputation of Bega Cheese, I’m proud to say I live in Bega and that I am one of the farmers whose cows supply the milk that goes into cheese!

Narelle Norm and Tom Pearce photo by Simone Smith Weekly Times

Narelle, Norm and Tom Pearce on the family farm – photo Simone Smith The Weekly Times

Growing up on the farm I soon realised this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Everywhere the farm beckoned me, the green pastures, the sound of a calf bellowing, the love of the clean crisp morning air, riding “shotgun” in the tractor with dad. I was born and bred a dairy farmer and being the 4thgeneration to farm here I had dairy farming in my blood.

Whist being tagged a farm boy at school may have been a little disheartening at the time I now realise it wasn’t all that bad. While others finished school without a clue in the world where they were headed, I knew what I wanted to do! While school definitely wasn’t my favourite place to be, I stuck it out realising the importance of bringing as much knowledge as I could back to the farm

Every afternoon I raced home, had a quick snack and then headed straight to the dairy to see where I could help! No spending hours indoors playing video games for me, I was always on the motorbike moving cows, helping dad in the dairy or in the calf shed!

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I finished school in January 2005 and how pleased was I to see the end of those language textbooks and the beginning of the real world! No assignments, no exams just plenty of time to spend on the farm and not to mention the countless hours of free time to spend fishing! University wasn’t for me. My father had generations of knowledge and expertise to share with me and I had a 940 acre textbook to study. I was happy with that and I reckon I’ve done alright since!

My interest in cows really got a kick along when Michael Boyd invited me to attend International Dairy Week (IDW). “Boydy” has always been quick to spot a keen kid and give them a helping hand on their journey to build up a high genetic meritherd of show cattle. So in 2005 this very keen kid attended his first IDW, a week of hands on experience; working with the best of the best in the stud cattle arena to help prepare elite Holstein cows for the show ring. IDW is the largest exhibition of dairy cattle in the southern hemisphere with 3500 people attending in 2012 and all talking cows in the one location. I became addicted after my first show and haven’t missed a year since!

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The Mecca for all dairy cattle enthusiasts is on the other side of the world. World Dairy Expois held in Madison, Wisconsin, USA for one week every year and features some of the best dairy cows in the world. I attended my first Expo in 2007. That was 5 years ago and I have been back every year since! The 24 hours’ worth of travel time all seems irrelevant when you’re hanging around these awesome creatures and spending time with like-minded people. Over the years I have made so many great friends and industry contacts both locally and abroad all through a mutual love and respect for dairy cows!

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I was keen to get involved myself and join all these young people out in the ring showing their cows. You quickly learn success doesn’t come overnight and getting to the top of the class and staying there is easier said than done! It’s very rewarding to see your own show successes improve and start to be competitive at the highest level.

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Over the last few years in local competitions we have achieved a number of supreme champion awards. The last 2 years our family has achieved 2 first place ribbons at the Royal Melbourne Dairy Show, and that was pretty exciting and recognition that you are breeding good cows and continuing to lift your standard. Working our way from the bottom of the class to be now mixing it with the “old hands” of the show ring is quite rewarding!

Have a good eye for cattle is essential and being able to pick out a “good one” is the key to winning in the show ring. To hone my skills I have been to numerous judging schools and participated in many judging competitions.

A highlight was winning the National Junior Dairy Cattle Judging Competition in 2008. I have been invited to judge at numerous shows around the country and most recently at the Royal Sydney Easter Show. It was quite the honour to come back and judge the dairy youth competitions that I once competed in myself!

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In 2009 I was named as one of the seven RAS Rural Achievers, or as we called ourselves “the Top 7 in the state” This competition identifies highly motivated young people all with keen interest in promoting agriculture. It was a jam packed week of fun and learning at the Sydney Royal Easter Show which gave me new friends and great memories for life.

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In July 2009 I was hit with the travel bug and after pooling my resources and contacts I embarked on the journey of a lifetime. This 6 month sojourn featured time in both North America and Europe. I did the tourist thing and saw the sights, but the majority of the time was spent working voluntarily on dairy farms, attending dairy shows and honing my craft. I learnt so much from the people I worked with, they appreciated my willingness to work hard and they noticed my eagerness and were only too happy to share their knowledge. Its one thing you’ll discover about the dairy industry and I guess it applies to all forms of agriculture; farmers love to promote and teach young people. If you show you are interested and motivated and prepared to listen farmers are only too happy to give advice and point you in the right direction .

On returning home I have put my new found knowledge and enthusiasm into practice on the farm, and shared my knowledge with anyone willing to listen. I have taken our breeding program to the next level, incorporating imported embryos from North America and using the best dairy sires available to mate over our herd. I have actively marketed our cattle in breed magazines, exhibited at major shows and sold heifers at elite dairy sales. My family’s stud Warwick Farm Holsteins and my own Progressive Holsteinsare I hope on their way to becoming household names within the Australian dairy industry.

Something else I am also ardent about is my involvement with the National All Dairy Breeds Youth Camp. This event is designed to nurture the future of the Australian dairy industry. I am one of a handful of camp leaders who eagerly share their knowledge with the young participants. My passion for the dairy industry has also landed me in a number of positions including Cows Create Careers presentations, the Holstein Australia Youth Committeeand the RAS Dairy Youth Committee all involve fostering and encouraging the next generation of farmers.

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My interest in exhibiting dairy cows has taken me to various dairy events and royal shows around the country where I am often bewildered by the lack of basic agricultural knowledge shown by our city counterparts. I have been asked all types of questions and in most cases I’m only too happy to answer but there a couple of times and I think it’s out of frustration I may have been guilty of leading a few city folk astray answering particular questions they ask!, Yes it was good for a laugh but it sheds light on a bigger issue. The fact is there is a fair majority of the population that doesn’t realise how their food gets from paddock to plate.

It also saddens me in this age of technology and innovation in agriculture that farming is too often brushed aside as too much hard work and long hours with little financial return.Yes it is hard work and more often than not it’s not a 9-5 job but there is an incredible feeling of accomplishment when you watch something grow and produce something that provides society with its most important needs!

If we want agricultural production to double over the next 30 years to feed the predicted 9 Billion people we have a big task ahead of us. This will require farmers and communities working cooperatively for mutual benefit.

I believe a great start to communities valuing what farmers do and giving them access to the tools to do it would be to make Agriculture a compulsory subject at school. Today’s youth are the next generation and they have many decisions to make about how best to feed an ever growing population with many third world countries still struggling to feed themselves. If we are going to tackle these complex issues we not only need these young people to support our farmers we also need these young people to see the great career opportunities in agriculture that lie outside the big cities! I can assure them all there is no more rewarding career

From the udder side of the fence

I would like you all to meet our latest Young Farming Champion – Jessica Monteith

How lucky is the dairy industry to welcome this young lady into our midst

Jessica’s story ………..

My life motto has always been “To live with Passion” and I have always focused on the words of Nelson Mandela – “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”.

Nelson Mandela Quote

In other words I throw my self 100% whole heartedly into everything I set out to achieve. A life without goals is a life without passion.

Growing up my best friend lived on a dairy farm only a short push bike ride from my house. Right from the start I was always fascinated by the dairy and the cattle and we would follow her dad and grandfather around the farm pestering them with questions and always wanting to help, or more likely hinder their efforts when it came time to feed the calves. I never realised it at the time but these are the cherished memories that inspired me and determined my life goals

I have been lucky enough to meet many people over the years who have helped me achieve many accomplishments that I never would have thought possible, these people I see as mentors whom have shaped my understanding and fuelled my passion for Rural Industries in particular the dairy industry to which I am now devoted.

This passion began when Graham and Jane McPhee of Hillview Park Holsteins in Finley  asked me to join them to help prepare their cattle for International Dairy Week. This annual event  draws around 2000 head of cattle from across Australia. Not only are Jane and Graham the roots of my passion they have helped kickstart my own dairy herd by giving me the best gift ever – the pick of a calf from their calf pen. This calf Hillview Park AJK Eve was my first Holstein and foundation dam of my own Curramore Park Holstein stud.

AJK Eve First calf

I have found the dairy industry is full of people who are very keen to open doors and nurture new entrants and introduce you to others who share your passion.

One of these is Natalie Cochrane of Eagle Park who owns a dairy farm with her husband Tim at Terara just north of Nowra. After I began showing cattle with Natalie I began to fall in love with her signature breed – Illawarra cattle.

Sydney Royal 2012

Sydney Show 2012 and a gorgeous Illawarra Cow

Whilst I had not grown up on the land I found there are plenty of farming people like Natalie who will work with you and show you the ropes and support you to live your dream. My little herd of registered Holsteins and Illawarra’s which now live at Terara on Tim and Natalie’s property continues to grow slowly between breeding and purchasing new genetics from local breeders.

As part of my involvement in the dairy industry I have been lucky enough to compete and succeed in youth events and attend shows across 5 states of Australia meeting many wonderful people along the way who have become friends for life.

My first trip to Sydney show saw me come home with a blue ribbon from competing in the Youth Challenge. This team orientated event involves a group of young people working together in a range of activities that show how well the team can prepare a team of cattle for judging at the show. I came home with a renewed sense of accomplishment and next year went one further winning the  paraders class against others in my age group who had many more years  experience.

One of my biggest achievements was mentoring the South Coast and Tablelands Youth Challenge team to our first ever representation at International Dairy Week and coming away with success. The smiles and excitement of the team after beating some of the best dairy youth in the country will stay with me forever.

Youth Challenge Team

The IDW Youth Challenge Team

Whilst breeding and showing dairy cattle first spiked my interest in the dairy industry, it is the diverse range of opportunities that agriculture provides which keeps me actively involved now.

Sydney Royal 2009

Sydney Show 2009

My role in working with youth in agriculture is helping young people understand the important and pivotal role that farmers and agriculture play in our past, present and future. I also hope it is influencing them to realise the opportunities that agriculture and agricultural related fields can hold for them.

I am now completing a Traineeship in Financial services through Horizon Credit Union whilst also completing full time study for a double degree in Agricultural Science as well as Agribusiness Finance through Charles Sturt University. I am hoping to follow a career path in finance related to and working one-on-one with our farmers to develop their industries and operations to work to full capacity as well as continuing to work with the next generation. The fact that I don’t come from a farming background helps show that exciting agriculture related careers and opportunities are available to everyone.

Once I have all my qualifications I aim to specialise in Succession Planning and Share Farming in the hope of not only keeping the next generation of farmers on the land but also keep generations of farming history, skills and knowledge maintained by giving young people the opportunity to work on land without the need to buy the land they farm on.

The past 5 months have been a whirlwind of achievements and success for me. After winning the Berry showgirl competition, I then made the top 15 in the state out of 650 young women from across NSW. From there it was off to the Sydney Royal Easter Show where I was awarded First Runner up in The Land Sydney Showgirl Competition. This is a feat that still amazes me and when people ask me if I have come down yet I reply that I have no yet had the chance to go up!

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1st runner up Sydney Royal Easter Showgirl 2012 with Jane McPhee

From humble beginnings I honestly did not even expect to do well in the local competition and when I see the Runner Up sash stretched across my bed I have to pinch myself to make sure its real. Showgirl was always something I wanted to have a go at after seeing many inspiring young women from our area do well in the competition and witnessing how it helped them get to where they are today. I did not quite understand though just how many opportunities being involved in the competition held for me. The people I have met and networked with along the way will undoubtedly be further influencers in helping me reach my full potential and allow me to give back to the community that has supported me .

The Showgirl competition has inspired me to get even more involved by recruiting and inspiring other young women to step outside their comfort zone and have a go. I will also use my award as a vehicle to share the great story of Australian farmers and agriculture with the community.

Year of the farmer ambassador

But most of all I want to be a real life example of the doors that agriculture can offer to exciting career pathways and inspire other young people who may have never considered a career in agriculture. Sadly when I was at school the consensus was and it still seems to be that many students are deterred away from considering tertiary education options by careers advisers due a perceived lack of opportunities and lack of money in the industry.

I want to debunk these misconceptions and promote the many facets of agriculture and career options not just on farm but the many people and businesses who support agriculture in rural communities.

Not coming off a farm makes me even more driven to prove that you do not have to be born on a farm in order to pursue and succeed in an agricultural field.

Follow Jess on Twitter @jm458