Answering the call for dairy
By day, Lauren Peterson is a Legendairy farm manager, mum and student, but every weekend she also keeps the community safe as a 000 emergency call centre supervisor.
It might seem like an odd and busy combination for a self-confessed city girl, but Lauren has taken to farming like a cow to grass.
Before moving to south west Victoria with her partner Tony Hassett two years ago, Lauren admits she knew milk came from cows but not much more about dairy farming.
“I always knew there was the potential to move to the country and farm,” said Lauren, who has a background of working in welfare; is in the final year of a social sciences degree at university; and, has also enrolled in a Diploma of Agriculture course.
Tony, who also works full time in emergency services, was raised in Melbourne but dreamt of following his grandparents who were dairy farmers at South Purrumbete.
“Tony kept talking about it, so I said if I have to hear about cows they should be our cows so go and do something about it. He came home the next day and said he’d found a farm to lease.”
Now relocated to a second leased farm at Boorcan where they milk nearly 100 of their own cows plus an additional 30 for the retired farm owners, Lauren and Tony are determined to ride through the industry’s tough times.
“Obviously it’s a rollercoaster,” she said. “We poured all our savings and liquidity into buying cows and like any new small business there’s a lot of start-up debt, but we’re using that as inspiration.
“We haven’t worked this hard for the past two years to just walk away. I love that we can work as a family. We’re outdoors and I love the challenge and there’s so much to learn,” Lauren said.
She admits it has been a steep learning curve. “There are so many balls to juggle. I thought I would be a relief milker; I didn’t expect to be a farm manager or need to know chemistry, physics and accounting. There’s a lot more to it than people realise.”
In a short period of time, Lauren has become a passionate advocate for the industry and hopes her welfare background will help her to make a difference.
She has joined Dairy Australia’s Young Dairy Network, become involved in discussion groups and is active on social media promoting the needs of farmers.
“We need to stick together and make our voice heard,” Lauren said. “Australia produces such amazing fresh produce and that’s under threat if we don’t look after each other.”
Lauren believes community support in the wake of the recent farmgate milk price cut could be the start of major changes for dairy farmers.
“Once we started spreading social media posts and putting the human factor into it, people were saying this isn’t right; what can we do?”
Lauren was pleased to see branded milk selling out in local supermarkets.
“We know the domestic market is small compared to the international market, but in the big scheme of things, it does impact. This was a chance for consumers to show they support and value Australian dairy and send a message that $1 milk devalues our product. People have really taken to it.”
Lauren and Tony are Fonterra suppliers and say they’re lucky they have off-farm income to help them survive the price cut.
Lauren has worked at the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority 000 for 10 years, originally in Melbourne and more recently at the Ballarat Centre which looks after regional Victoria. Her role is to oversee 000 emergency call-takers and the radio despatchers who review and prioritise jobs.
“It’s very rewarding but it’s a bit like agriculture; you need to be resilient and resourceful and have good communications skills,” she said.
With Audrey, six months, and Paddy, two, life is busy for Lauren who drives every Saturday to Ballarat for her 12-hour shift, and Tony who continues his full-time work.
“We don’t get much sleep and at times it can be a bit overwhelming,” Lauren said. “We love the sense of community. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support from everyone around us.”