ALICE COLCLOUGH describes leaving her banking job to become a dairy farmer as a “baptism of fire”.
Little did she know five years ago that a fast-tracked succession plan was barely the beginning of the challenges she and husband Justin would face.
The couple’s Mitta Park Partnership Dairy Farm, established by Alice’s parents, now milks 230 cows at Tallangatta South and supplies Saputo, previously Murray Goulburn.
As a Gardiner Dairy Foundation scholar for 2017–18, Ms Colclough’s participation in the Alpine Valleys Community Leadership Program has allowed her to “reset” her thinking — “acknowledge the challenges, but don’t let them override your life”.
“It allowed me to get outside the farm gate and converse with people in other industries,” she said.
“To be able to do something that challenged me outside the dairy industry has allowed me to be more creative inside the dairy industry.”
Ms Colclough said the program, which has been a fortnightly commitment plus some additional nights away from the farm and family for the past eight months, reminded her to consciously choose to demonstrate the positive parts of the industry.
“I want to lead by example and be conscious to take other people on that journey,” she said.
“It’s going to be a challenge and you have misfortune in any job. There’s no denying dairy has some long hours, some physical elements and some tough decisions, but there are also great opportunities about where you work, how you work, and that you get gratification from.”
She said “leadership by example” was the most effective way to guide any industry, and the people in it.
“Leadership has many facets; great leadership reveals itself in many ways. And everyone has their own way of being a leader.
“If their assumption is you have to be the one at the front making all the noise, that will fit very few people.
“The people I admire in our area, they are leaders because they demonstrate the right behaviour, are open to sharing information, are humble in recognising where they need to make change if something hasn’t worked, and their path forward is based on research, not a whim.”
Having been awarded a Gardiner Dairy Foundation sponsorship for the leadership program, Ms Colclough is conscious of her ongoing responsibilities.
As a leader in the dairy industry, she wants to help others think more creatively about how to engage with people outside the industry.
That includes sharing with the public the high skill level and extensive knowledge of those that work in dairy.
While Ms Colclough appreciated the empathy shown to dairy farmers recently, she said the “poor you” sentiment had to be transformed into something else — excitement.
“I want to create a workplace that demonstrates that if you are outside the industry you should be excited to understand more about dairy farmers or the industry.
“There are some really outdated perceptions of what we do. We need to change communication with those outside the industry.”
Having a positive workplace that attracts and keeps employees is essential in portraying the industry to others, and Ms Colclough also sees it as a sustainability measure for the business.
“How can we employ people in our business to ensure we get some work-life balance so we have enough energy to keep thinking positively about what we do? How do we make our operation welcoming for other people to join at any skill level?
“If we all got better at it then the dairy industry gets a better reputation and more people would be open to participating in it.”
Work-life balance is a constant juggle for Ms Colclough, who has three children aged under six — twins Hamish and Oliver and their little sister Lily — and something else she hopes to lead improvement in within dairy businesses.
Ms Colclough said given the time commitment of dairy farming, having regular support with child care in the home, rather than away from the farm, could take a lot of the stress out of the workplace and off families.
“I have just applied a new child care system here with some in-home care, but I am shocked I didn’t know about it earlier. I want the word to be spread about it,” she said.
“We are half-an-hour away from child care, so two hours a day driving … we aren’t an isolated case, but I think it is something that can be smoothed out so when there is a time of crisis, there isn’t that added pressure as well.
“We live in a kids’ paradise, so it is delightful to be able to share parts of the job with them in the space that we work.”