Finley farming women are doing it for themselves

By Daniel Hughes

THREE GENERATIONS of women from the same family are now working at the Finley dairy farm Glenbank.

Helen Clark has fostered a love of the industry in her daughters Kristen Clark and Donna Lucas, and now Donna’s daughter Eliza is working at the dairy to earn a little extra money.

Kristen has worked on the family farm for the last 11 years, and said their story helps highlight that there are “plenty of opportunity for women in the dairy industry”.

The produce from their Tuppal Rd dairy is supplied to Riverina Fresh.

Family succession is actively in play at the farm, with Kristen and Donna slowly taking over “front of house” duties from their mother.

Helen has run the dairy for more than 40 years and has acted as a mentor for her daughters.

“Donna and I share the management and our mum oversees the whole thing,” Kristen said.

“The dynamics work well. “There are some things I’m better at and there’s some things Donna’s better at, so by sticking to our strengths we complement each other well.”

The sisters also have help from seven full-time employees on the farm, and have 900 cows and 1000ha of land to manage.

They have faced their fair share of challenges during the last few years, including reducing the herd size and changing feeding methods due to the ongoing drought and water availability issues.

“We currently produce about eight million litres of milk a year under drought conditions,” Kristen said.

“Before the drought we were increasing our production, with plans to reach nine million litres-plus, but because of the drought we’ve cut back.

“We had to reduce our herd size because of the cost of feed.

“We feed our cows conserved fodder on the feed pad.

“We can’t grow any grass because of the zero general water security allocations (in the NSW Murray Valley) and it’s too expensive.

“In spring we harvested some of our crops and bought a lot of the neighbour’s failed crops, and we just feed that to the cows.”

Kristen said while she was always drawn to dairying because of the passion shown by her mother, it was not the first career path she followed.

She returned to the family farm 11 years ago after moving to Sydney straight out of high school.

She said it made her realise where her true passion lay.

“I used to work as an engineer in Sydney, but an office job wasn’t for me,” she said.

“I decided to come back to this because I like the variety of the job.

“The city life just wasn’t for me.”

Kristen said she enjoys the culture of the industry, and has watched it evolve to offer more prominent roles for females in the industry.

“My favourite part of the dairy industry is perhaps the community and the support within the dairy industry. If you’ve got a problem you can just go to another dairy farmer and they’ll help you out.

“There’s a network of dairy farmers and we all support one another.

“There’s a lot of couples that run dairy farms out there and the wives are pretty hands on.

“There are a few like ours too — female only enterprises.

“It’s probably changed a bit over the years that women are more actively involved in the management.

“To all the young women who are looking at dairy farming as a career path, I’d say it’s hard work but there’s a good career path in it if you’re willing to get in and have a go. There’s a lot of opportunities for the right people.”

Eliza graduated from Finley High School last year, and while she cannot see a full-time career in dairying in her immediate future, she won’t discount it altogether.

“I watch Aunty Kris and Mum and they work really hard; it’s inspiring to see them,” Eliza said.

“It’s a little bit hard at the moment to see a future in dairy especially with the drought, but hopefully things will improve.

“Maybe somewhere along the line I’d like to come back to the farm.”