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Young Colac farmer steps up

Every time Sarah Chant steps on to her farm near Colac, she brings a piece of her father Steven with her.

Steven passed away a year ago leaving Sarah, now 26, with big boots to fill. However, he did his best to make sure she was ready to take the reins.

Sarah started the process of running the farm a year before her father died and a diary he kept continues to show the way.

“Dad had cancer for a long time so I’d been gradually stepping up,” Sarah said. “We knew it was terminal so he started keeping a diary for me and jotted down little notes of things I’d need to run the farm. It wasn’t easy but it was easier knowing that it was going to happen. It wasn’t like I woke up one morning and was in charge of a 250-cow dairy farm.”

Losing her father at age 55 might have made Sarah stronger in many ways, but it still hurt. “It was infuriating,” she said. “He was fit and strong, barely drank and quit smoking when I was a little girl because he realised how bad it was for his health. He had a healthy, active lifestyle and still got cancer.”

Sarah grew up on the farm at Warrion, 20 minutes north of Colac and had just returned from Canada when she learned of her father’s illness. “I probably would have travelled for a couple more years but I was always going to come home on the farm,” she said. “I’d wanted to do it since I was a little girl.

“I have older brothers but they didn’t want the farm so it went to the youngest daughter. We broke tradition there.”

Sarah’s Mum Roslyn does the books and Sarah runs the farm business supported by long-time employee Joel Kirkman.

“When I was first in charge I was a bit nervous,” Sarah said. “Joel knows the run of the place so when I started making the calls I’d ask if it was the right thing and he’s say `whatever you think Sarah’. I’m getting more comfortable with it now.”

From a dairy perspective, Steven’s death couldn’t have been at a worse time. “We got news of the milk price drop the day Dad died,” Sarah said. “I know it was terrible for farmers but it didn’t upset me that much; we had bigger things to deal with.”

The Murray Goulburn supplier has weathered the storm. “We’ve coped quite well,” Sarah said. “There was a bit of cost cutting and we’re not spending where we don’t have to, but having such a fantastic season has saved a lot of local farmers who buy in feed. We cut more hay and silage than ever before with the good spring. If we had the milk price drop and a tough season it would have been a lot worse.”

The farm at Warrion, 20 minutes north of Colac, was purchased by Steven’s parents when he was 18. It’s on the northern edge of Western Victoria’s dairying region but irrigation and “amazing soil” make it good dairy country. 

“Growing up on a dairy farm you’re born into loving it,” she said. “It’s a job you can never perfect. You’re always learning new things.

“I love working with the cattle and rearing calves; I’m a sucker for going back to the calf shed after hours if anyone is sick. I love being outside on the farm. Having lost Dad, it’s a bit of a connection to him.”

Sarah was recently a finalist in the Best Employee category of the Great South West Dairy Awards.