At 5am every day when most of us are still tucked under the covers, sleeping and keeping warm, Irene Baker walks out her back door in gumboots, warm clothing, a beanie and snow gloves. She mounts her motorbike and heads out to the pastures to round up 250 cows, to steer them to the milking sheds.
Becoming a dairy farmer
Three-and-a-half years ago Irene gave up her tertiary education job to enter one of the most challenging primary industries in Australia and become a dairy farmer.
“I always grew up thinking I wanted to be a dairy farmer and my (dairy farmer) grandparents told me I should do something else. I went to uni and got a Bachelor of Applied Science degree and worked as a stock inspector for the Department of Primary Industries. But I just enjoyed milking cows and I thought ‘why don’t I do this for myself?’” Irene said.
It took her and her husband months of knocking on farmers’ doors before they found a farm to lease. Now she works 12-14 hours a day, every day, producing milk for a small cheese factory.
“We have to work 365 days a year so that people can have dairy products on their shelves,” Irene said.
“I’m blown away that people don’t understand we milk twice a day every day.”
The morning milking round is followed by getting the kids ready for school then driving to Dairy Australia’s office where she works part-time as the Young Dairy Network coordinator for Gippsland.
The job involves organising seminars and information sessions to help the district’s 450 young dairy farmers enter and remain in the business with the hope they will, in time, become industry leaders.
Dairy industry future
“I want to see the industry continue. At the moment it’s really tough so being able to support people is important. If we don’t band together there won’t be an industry,” Irene said.
Low rainfall, hot temperatures and a shortage of fodder have seen food supplies plummet.
There’s also concern a recent decision by dairy processor Murray Goulburn to drop their milk prices because of a huge fall in the co-operative’s profits, could send some farmers to breaking point.
“But there’s no point in blaming anyone because these things happen. We do what we have to do to keep going. We have to be positive,” Irene said.
“There is a future in it and you have to make yourself a future.”