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A very dairy education

Ask veterinary student Amy Cleggett what she enjoys most about the dairy industry and her response is immediate.
“I love being with the cows, they’re awesome. My friends often tell me off for only posting pictures of my cows on Facebook. I love my selfies with my cows!”

But the 23-year-old, who is midway through her vet degree at the University of Adelaide’s Roseworthy campus, is quick to add that her love of dairy cows runs far deeper than just snapping some selfies.

“I wanted to be a lot of different things as a kid but was always out working with the cows,” Amy said of growing up on the family farm in Glencoe, near Mount Gambier in South Australia.

“At one stage I wanted to take over the farm but dad said ‘wait, go to uni and get an agriculture degree, then come back’. I then did my high school work experience at a vet clinic and realised that was what I wanted to do. I’d always been involved in helping dad with the herd health side of things, doing bits and pieces with treating animals, and when the vets came to visit, I always found it very interesting.”

Her interest in being a vet isn’t without precedent in the Cleggett family. Her great-grandfather, Friend Cleggett, was a self-taught vet who helped out other farmers in Langhorne Creek, on the coast south of Adelaide.

“He had a lot of different animals but was most notably known for his Clydesdales,” Amy said.

“My grandfather, Gil Cleggett, then started our Guernsey herd nearby at Williamstown in the 1960s. He wanted to be a vet but couldn’t study because of the war. So I guess the family history is there.”

Amy’s father, Lyndon, moved back to Langhorne Creek in a sharefarming arrangement before settling the family in Glencoe in 1998.

“Dad also knows a lot about animal health and I’ve learnt so much from him,” Amy said.

The on-farm learning, combined with her study, has helped her in the day-to-day management of the family’s herd of 550 Guernseys.

“Dad said recently that I’m starting to talk more like a vet every day, which I find quite funny because I guess I don’t notice myself doing it,” she laughed.

“I probably do look at things a bit differently because of what I’ve learnt, and I notice a lot more when I’m looking at the cows. In terms of herd and animal health, my approach has definitely changed because I have a lot more knowledge now in that area.

“I’ve been left at home in charge a couple of times on my own and you don’t realise how much you know and how much you’re able to do until you’re faced with a situation of having to manage or fix something. You realise all this untapped potential.”

She also sees connecting with other young farmers as a way to learn.

Through the industry’s Young Dairy Network Australia (YDNA), she was recruited to help organise the inaugural National Dairy Challenge event on SA’s Fleurieu Peninsula in early December. The event brought together teams of young farmers from across the country to compete in a dairy-related skills competition.

“I think it’s just so important for young people to be involved in industry events,” she said. “We are the future of farming. You need to keep people keen and involved. There are so many people leaving the industry and you see the average age of farmers going up.

“Events like this, and the showing circles, which I’m also involved in, are a really good networking opportunity,” she said. “To make friends with other young farmers from across Australia and share ideas about the industry – it’s not something you’d get otherwise.”

For Amy, education and promotion, such as the industry’s Legendairy communications initiative, go hand in hand with the industry’s survival.

“We need to get young people involved who’re keen on farming and get interest from outside the industry as well.

“All the media coverage out there, especially social media, has such a big impact on the way people perceive us. Being a consumer-driven industry, it’s just so important that we put out a positive image of the dairy industry. So is getting people educated about what happens on the dairy, how and why it happens and our animal welfare responsibilities.

There’s a lot of programs already in primary schools and through Legendairy, but we need to do more to change perceptions.

“Dairy is such an important food source, not just in Australia but around the world. And it’s not just about milk. There are so many products dairy is used for, and there’s so much potential. International markets are opening up too. It’s important that it’s recognised.”

While Amy is clearly on the rise in the industry, some things do remain constant.

“I love to go out and give the cows a cuddle, and I have a few pet ones in the paddock,” she said. “I always have to go and find them and give them a pat and stuff, that hasn’t changed at all!”

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