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Never a dull start to the day on the dairy

The moment dairy farmer Brad Fairbrass stops wanting to jump out of bed and head to work in the morning is the moment he’ll be concerned.

But five years into what he sees as a long career in the dairy industry, there seems little chance he’ll be snoozing the alarm clock any time soon.

“Within the first six months I realised there hadn’t been a day that I didn’t want to go to work,” Brad said. “I was getting up early every day and everyone was telling me I was working horrible hours but it dawned on me pretty quickly that I enjoy it.”

The 25-year-old thinks dairying can get a bit of a bad rap.

“There’s a perception out there that dairying is quite hard, unrewarding and dirty,” he said. “But I think once you’re in, and in with the right people, they help you grow and they work with you to set out your goals to where you want to be. It’s a great industry to be involved with.”

For Brad, those people were Rob and Ruth Poole, family friends who ran a dairy farm 20 minutes from Busselton, on Western Australia’s south-west coast.

“Rob and Ruth were pretty good to me. They let me go about things with a bit of guidance, but let me make my own mistakes and learn from it. I think that’s the best way. As long as you’re always learning and striving to do the best job you can, and knowing why you’re doing things, you put yourself in a good position to succeed.”

Brad’s path to dairying has taken a couple of interesting turns. His grandparents on both sides were dairy farmers. His parents, however, worked in the wine industry in Margaret River, where he grew up and went to school.

“I planned to do Sports Science at university in Perth. I took a gap year and when I came to the end of it I decided Sports Science wasn’t for me. I took a job up near Geraldton on a beef feed lot for two years, then got a bit homesick. The Pooles had a job going and that’s where I ended up. It’ll be five years in February.”

The Pooles supported Brad to complete his Certificate III in Agriculture (Dairy Production) through the National Centre for Dairy Education Australia (NCDEA). About 12 months ago, as part of their succession plan, Rob and Ruth leased their farm to their daughter and son-in-law, Claire and Andrew Jenkins, who have continued to encourage Brad’s thirst for education.

“I’ve nearly finished my Cert IV with Andrew and Claire. They’ve always given me the time to participate and go to industry events like Dairy Australia’s ‘Cups On Cups Off’ training, doing my AI certificate, pasture workshops and so on,” Brad said.

Educational opportunities are an important part of progressing in the industry. According to the NCDEA, dairy farmers need more than 170 different skills to run successful farm businesses.

“We’re trying to encourage all of our staff to do some form of training,” Andrew said. “We could see Brad was pretty keen to further his education in the industry. His knowledge keeps improving and he’s embracing that knowledge and applying it to what he’s doing day-to-day on the farm.”

It’s clearly paying off. Brad recently achieved the second-highest individual score in the inaugural National Dairy Challenge, held on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula in early December. The event saw seven teams of four young farmers face off in a range of skills and knowledge-based dairy challenges.

Brad is interested in learning as many skills as he can on the farm.

“I need to be across everything, from calving to pasture management to feeding, which is the way I like to work. I don’t like to be micro-managing. I think you need to have the whole picture in mind.”

His motivation is evident.

“I like to work hard at seeding, or fertiliser spraying, or cropping, those sorts of things, then put the cows into good pastures at the end of the day and see the end product,” he said.

“It’s sometimes hard to justify why you’re not going out on a Friday night with your mates or not up early going for a surf on a Saturday morning,” he acknowledged.

“But once you show them the rewards you’re getting for your hard work, and not just money but the lifestyle too, they come around and are pretty understanding. In my circle of friends not many are dairy farmers. I think they take pride that they know someone producing the milk that’s on the shelves in the supermarket.”

As a member of the Young Dairy Network Australia’s WA Reference Group, Brad is also keen to give back to the industry by encouraging others to consider dairy as a career.

“If I can help change a few minds and set a few people on the right track, it’s probably worth it. They can definitely see where I’ve come from and realise your parents don’t have to be dairy farmers for you to have a successful and enjoyable time in the industry,” he said.

“I think there’s definitely a future for people like me in the industry. That’s the beauty of it, there’s room to grow and accelerate your assets. I think in WA the future is really positive. There’s strong demand from processors and good supply, so it’s a win-win situation.”