Backpacker experiment

By Dairy News

PETER COLLINS’ foray into employing his first backpacker on his Tennyson dairy and beef operation has been a positive experience for both him and Irish visitor Aishling O’Hara.

Mr Collins runs a 270-cow dairy herd and 180 Angus breeders on 285ha. He has two full-time workers, but finding quality labour is a problem he has been grappling with for quite some time.

“It is hard to find anyone willing to work the hours on a dairy farm and it is hard to find someone willing to have a go,” Mr Collins said.

It may have been risky employing someone who came from a sheep farming background and no dairy experience at all, but Mr Collins said in the end it had been a positive experience and he hoped to continue to employ backpackers in the future.

“Ash came with no experience but she has learnt a lot over the time and it has been a really good pleasurable experience in the end,” he said.

“She has great work ethic, is willing to learn and because she had no dairy or beef knowledge I was able to teach her the way we do things.

“I really wasn’t sure about going down the backpacker route because I had heard both good and bad reports, but for me it has been extremely positive.”

Mr Collins said running a family operation made communication easy and he liked to treat his employees as part of the family.

“I am a firm believer in the importance of communication and you get what you give back. Ash pulled her first calf the other day and I was really proud of her — she has come such a long way from where she first started.”

Mr Collins said at the start she was scared of the cows and would get him to put the cups on any that moved their leg, but now she milks like a professional. Ms O’Hara laughs and said initially she was petrified of cows.

“I was so afraid of cows,” she said.

“I had a bad experience with one back at home at Ireland but since I have been working here on the farm I have overcome a lot of my fears — I pulled a calf and I never thought I would ever do that either,” she said.

Ms O’Hara said her duties on the farm included milking, rearing calves, tractor and truck work and helping with the beef operation.

“This has been a great experience for me. I have heard of some backpackers who have worked really long days and I am lucky and grateful to have had this job — I dread leaving the country to head back to the city (Sydney) in December.”

Ms O’Hara said it had always been her dream to come to Australia and she is hoping to obtain residency down the track.

“I love the big open sky and the weather out here, it is just beautiful,” she said.

Mr Collins said the additional pair of hands around the farm has freed him up and enabled him to focus a little more on the beef side of his operation, Merridale Angus Stud. Originally a beef farmer, the business diversified into dairy about 25 years ago.

“I think our diversity has allowed us to grow our business. There have been times when the dairy industry has held our business up and other times it has been the beef operation, but annual bull sales are a big part of our income,” he said. 

The business cuts all its own silage and milking hay, and it purchases cereal requirements. Pastures consist of a mixture of permanent and annual pasture, which includes lucerne for both grazing and hay. Looking to the future Mr Collins hopes to continue to employ backpackers and he hopes Ms O’Hara will be able to recommend other backpackers to him.

“If we can develop some sort of relationship and if Ash can recommend people to us then we are happy to continue down this path,” he said.

A backpacker must complete 88 days of specified work in regional Australia while on their first Working Holiday (417) visa (there is no requirement to do further specified work on the second visa).