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Dairy farming: I can’t imagine doing anything else

South Australian share-farmer Beck Middleton says she has the best job in the world.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I’m a vet, a mechanic, a milker, a pasture specialist, a soil scientist and a midwife. I get to do this huge variety every day.”

Having lived and worked on dairy farms in two other countries, the British-born 30-year-old has some good perspective on why Australian dairying is the industry for her.

“Australian dairy farmers have a global reputation as superbly adaptable, resilient and innovative,” Beck said. “To have had the opportunity to learn and develop my skills here is something I am immensely grateful for and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this amazing industry.”

Twelve months ago Beck and her partner Duncan began share-farming on Wendy and Malcolm Crossman’s Greenplains Dairy, a 2000-hectare dryland lucerne property at Meningie that milks 450 Holstein-Friesian crosses on an effective milking area of 1100 hectares.

“I love working with dairy cattle and I love the science behind it,” she said. “That’s my number one. What we expect from them every day and what they manage to achieve – they’re super-athletes. Just astounding animals.”

She has taken an interesting route to reach this point.

Born in Aslacton, north-east of London in the county of Norfolk, Beck grew up on what would be considered a hobby farm by Australian standards: a 1.5-hectare pig farm that also produced soft fruit and Christmas trees.

When she was five, the family moved to an 80-cow indoor dairy in Norrfjärden near the Arctic Circle in her mother’s native Sweden.

After three years the family was on the move again, this time to Malta, where they settled on a boat for a decade.

“My grandparents retired there,” Beck said. “We went to visit and ended up never leaving. I didn’t set foot on a farm for the entire time.”

But after finishing high school in Malta, she grappled with what to do next.

“My parents suggested I travel so I went to Israel to a kibbutz,” she said. “I only meant to go for three months to volunteer on the dairy there.

“The first day I thought ‘I love it. This is what I want to do’. I ended up staying for nearly a year.”

Her next stop was Australia, where she spent a year fruit picking before starting a Diploma in Agricultural Production at the University of Adelaide’s Roseworthy Agricultural College in 2003.

“I finished after the second year because I wanted to get in at the bottom on a farm, work my way up and learn as I went,” she said. “I’ve been making my way in the industry ever since.”

She certainly has. After starting as a farmhand on an Illawarra dairy in Mount Gambier, Beck then worked as a herd manager before doing relief herd management and milking, followed by stints for a couple of AI companies. Eventually she settled at Meningie, SA.

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