Timboon farming veteran shares stories at Australian Dairy Conference
Timboon dairy farmer Jan Raleigh has never been one to buckle under pressure.
As a woman running a dairy farm, she’s defied the odds to develop one of Australia’s top herds. Now as she grows older, she’s continuing to defy those who tell her it’s time to retire.
“People say, ‘why don’t you sell the farm and go into Timboon?’ but I’d be bored out of my brain,” Jan said.
“The more people say to me don’t do something, the more it makes me determined to keep going.”
At 73, Jan has used her stories of resilience and determination to inspire a new generation of farmers as part of an Australian Dairy Elders panel at the Australian Dairy Conference in Canberra last week.
“If people tell you that you can’t do it, just do it, have a go,” she said.
“Any woman is capable of doing anything they want. If they can’t lift something, they work around it, use the tractor or get someone to help.”
Farming and her previous career in nursing have offered a lifetime of learning for Jan and she says others have the same opportunity to develop their skills.
“You should go to as many courses as you can,” she said.
“You never stop learning as long as you live. There are simple rules around farming but sometimes they need to be reinforced.”
After school Jan had planned to work on the family farm but her parents told her to pursue a different career. She chose nursing, started in 1963 and focusing on caring for children.
Jan’s father Bob died in 1983, leaving her mother Sylvia to run the farm.
“I’d work four nights at Geelong hospital and then go home when I had three nights off because Mum needed someone to help. In the end I gave up nursing and came home around 1985,” Jan said.
The next year she completed a farm management course at Glenormiston College.
“I tried to learn as much as I could about farming; there wasn’t a lot I didn’t know but it helped to hone my skills.”
She had to make major changes on the farm on the Timboon-Scotts Creek Road to ensure its survival.
At the time, the dairy shorthorn cows were producing only 50kg of butterfat per cow per year.
“We had to try to improve the cows or we’d go broke, and I saw an article about Aussie Reds so thought that’s the way I’ll go.”
Jan kept using the best bull every year, doing her own A.I. until 2000. The herd improved significantly, and it’s now the fifth top BPI Aussie Reds herd in Australia.
“I had the number one herd at one stage, but others have come with small numbers of cows but good cows,” she said.
In March, Jan will host a tour group as part of the International Red Dairy Breed Federation conference.
Jan ran the farm on her own for about 15 years but in more recent years has sought the help of share farmers.
Despite some unwanted advice, she has no plans to move off her 165 hectares, which is boosted by a leased 190-hectare out paddock.
“I’ve planted heaps of trees and done a lot of drainage and would love to see it improve more.
“The hardest part is finding suitable people to become share farmers but I still enjoy it, I’ve had a hip replaced, a knee replaced, but you get over those and you just keep going.”
At the conference, Jan shared stories of the good old days on the farm, while not ignoring how things have changed for the better.
“I could go on for hours talking about the things we did on the farm,” she said.
“Mum and Dad told me when they bought the farm, I was only six months old and they used to put me on a bassinette on the horse and sledge – they had no tractors back then – to go and milk the cows because the dairy was so far away. They’d milk the cows by hand and separate the cream in those days.
“When we were kids my brothers and I had horses and would ride and get the cows and go catching rabbits.
“It’s changed and improved a lot with better pastures and breeding; the only thing to catch up is the milk price.”
In 1994 Jan was part of one of the first Women on Farms gatherings, teaching women about fencing and “cracking them up” with stories about hiding use of A.I. from her mother.
She also featured in the Women of the Land book and was rewarded at last year’s Great South West Dairy Awards for having the top BPI herd in the district.
“I still enjoy it; I’m happier being out in the paddocks with the cows and calves than being indoors,” Jan said.