Dairy farming not just jobs for the boys
Dairy farming is far from being a job for the boys on the Sherborne family farm in the southern highlands, south of Sydney.
Grant and Jane Sherborne want to dispel the myth that dairy farming is just a job of last resort for strong lads, and their farm at Burrawang proves that’s no longer the reality.
Eldest child Georgia, 19, now works with her parents and the farm’s roster of casual employees is almost exclusively female.
The Sherbornes never set out to prove a point by hiring female workers; it’s just evolved that way.
“Girls seem to be the only applicants we have at the moment,” Grant said.
The female workers have ranged from international backpackers to university students and they consistently help the Sherbornes to maintain their high standards for quality milk production and environmentally efficient farming.
“Maybe if you go back years ago, farm work was thought of as a basic labouring job,” Grant said. “But one of the reasons I employ girls is that they don’t have to be physically strong to do this today; they just have to be smart and want to do it.”
Grant believes the job market would improve if dairy was seen in the positive light it deserves.
“The perception of dairy needs to be lifted,” he said. “The student we have here loves what she’s doing but she doesn’t know how to tell everyone that she’s gone to uni and is not using that degree. It’s got to have more appeal to their peers. If you say you work in a dairy they might think that you can’t do anything else.”
That’s why Grant and Jane are strong supporters of Dairy Australia’s Cows Create Careers program that introduces school students to the many jobs available in the dairy industry, and the Legendairy initiative that aims to improve the profile and reputation of dairy farming.
“There’s a terrific amount involved in dairy,” he said. “We had a policeman work here for a while and he found it was a bit beyond him with all that’s involved in animal health and working with cattle – he said police work was far easier.”
One of the great things about dairy farming is family involvement.
In addition to Georgia, son William is finishing Year 11 at school and will follow in his sister’s footsteps on the farm. Youngest Samuel, 14, is still at school as well but already has his eyes on entering the farm business through calf rearing.
“Georgia’s been on the farm for the past 12 months,” Grant said. “She could have gone to uni but she wasn’t keen. She said the farm is what she’d like to do and she seems to be more interested in it as time goes on.”
The Sherbornes are doing their part to change negative perceptions. Their involvement in Cows Creates Careers takes them into local and Canberra schools to help students raise calves and learn about the importance of, and opportunities in, the dairy industry.
“We’re trying to get kids out of the idea that ‘if I can’t get into anything else I might be able to get a job on a farm’. We show them how much is involved in dairy farming,” Grant said. “It’s working quite well,” he added.
A career dairy farmer, Grant sees a bright future for the industry.
“If you can get everything right on-farm there’s a good future. There are a lot of farms out there who are spot on and they’ll do well,” he said.
The Sherbornes maintain high standards to ensure they produce top quality milk while caring for their animals and land.
“I do have high standards,” Grant says. “If someone gets a bit slack I say: ‘no, it’s got to be done this way’. We want top quality production and top quality milk.”
This has always been the successful philosophy behind the Sherborne farm.
When Grant was 13 his father, a potato and dairy farmer, was killed in a tractor accident. His mother was able to carry on the dairy until Grant left school to help.
“I could have gone further than Year 10 but I had more interest in coming home and doing stuff on the farm than going to school.
“Teachers used to say I should go on and do engineering or something like that but farming’s an engineering thing as well. If you’re interested in it, it’s amazing how much you can learn.
“When I left school I had more interest in growing pasture and the machinery than the cow side of it. I’d help, but my mother was still running the dairy.”
Grant was particularly interested in irrigation and at 17 he became the first dairy farmer in the district to have a travelling irrigator.
“A lot were saying: ‘he’s a young kid, he’ll go broke spending all this money’, but it worked out all right. Every dairy around here has irrigation now.”
Grant still likes to innovate, especially when it comes to farming to maintain the land for future generations. The farm has introduced a mirror-image feedpad to more efficiently feed the cows after milking, a slurry tanker to pump out sludge and recycle it to paddocks, a new large dam and expanded irrigation system, and more recently a mobile phone app that is used for taking milk cell counts and detecting bacteria.
Grant has converted some of his extensive experience into an Advanced Diploma in Agriculture, and he’s also joined the Board of the Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative to give something back to the industry.
His innovation and quality work pays off with the mainly Holstein herd producing about five per cent more this year.
“I think it’s looking good into the future. The top farms will continue to do well,” Grant said.