Local Legendairy women fly the dairy banner in Melbourne
WHEN Wildwood Dairies was first carved out of the bush in the 1870s, the pioneer women worked shoulder to shoulder with their men.
Today, it’s the same story on the Lardner dairy farm, where Deborah Parkes works side-by-side with husband Ted Bingham on their 175 hectare property, just south of Drouin.
The Legendairy couple have managed to buy back the original family farm, which now milks 475 Holstein cows.
“Ted’s family settled here in the 1870s, they cleared land which normally will get divided up among family members, but we bought everything back off the family in 2009,” Deborah said.
With her daughter Connie now a full-time farm employee, the strong family links on the property have remained – as has the prominent role played by women.
Deborah runs the Artificial Insemination (AI) breeding program on the farm, while also managing herd health and keeping the accounts in order. She is also Victorian president of Holstein Australia.
This month, Deborah and Connie are both being profiled in Melbourne as part of the Legendairy ‘Personalities of Dairy’ pop up gallery at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s Urban Dairy Hub in Queensbridge Square, bringing a taste of country life to the city.
And as a city girl who swapped life in the suburbs for dairying, Deborah’s an appropriate choice for the Festival to feature.
Deborah’s focus on animal husbandry would be no surprise to anyone who knew the little girl growing up in Glen Waverly in the 1960s.
A Girl Guide exchange program saw Deborah spend a summer on a small dairy farm near the South Australian border – and from that moment she was hooked.
“It was only supposed to be one summer, but I just kept going back. I suppose I’ve always had a passion for animals.”
While raising four children, Deborah managed to complete an Associate Diploma of Farm Management at Glenormiston College, helping her turn her passion into something more concrete.
“I started my own AI company for dairy and beef farmers in the Yarra Valley and Pakenham area, which I ran for 15 years,” she said.
“They told me I wouldn’t last a month.”
Her energy is now directed towards her own 475 cows that provide four million litres of milk each year; every drop destined for local and international dairy consumers.
Even on a relatively large farm, Deborah insists that she knows every animal in the herd, if not by name, then at least by nature.
“People think on an almost 500 cow farm we couldn’t possible know every cow, but we do,” she said.
“Because we know them all, we can tell when a cow is doing something different, which might mean something is wrong with her.
“If a cow is sick, she will get treated. We don’t wait and see what happens, we try to be proactive.”
Even during the hard work and long hours of the calving season, the birth of a calf from a favourite cow can prompt a small celebration at Wildwood Dairies.
“, We still get excited when a good cow has a calf and she’ll probably get a pet name,” Deborah said. .For Connie, life on the farm is all about the challenges and rewards that come with learning something new every day.
“I have no background in mechanics, but now I can confidently change oil and do a lot of things like that,” she said.
“I love tractor work and making sure things are done right.”
Having worked in a city office, the 29-year-old appreciates the opportunity to work outdoors among the magnificent landscapes of West Gippsland.
“We have amazing sunrises here,” she said.
“Sometimes I’m just sitting on the bike and I look over and think ‘what an amazing place to live’.
“Back in the old days the women worked beside the men … they didn’t just turn up with the lunch,” Deborah adds.
“We love working here, so it’s not a chore. It’s just what we do.”