Jason Smith – Dairy Farmer

"Both my great great grandfathers started dairying at the turn of the 18th century, so it’s in my blood." Says Jason Smith, the winner of the VFF Apprentice of the Year and NCDEA dairy farming apprentice awards.

While Jason comes from five generations of dairy farmers, he doesn’t work on his own family farm. “The farm was sold before I could take them on,” Jason says a little mournfully. Instead, he manages a dairy farm in Northern Victoria.

“I started working here part time as a holiday job as a kid. I did my school based apprenticeship here.” Jason says. “I went to uni, came back, did my Cert III and IV. We milk approximately 300 cows here, on about 3000 acres.”

Jason certainly has a lot on his plate on the job. “I run the dairy side of the operation. From artificial insemination, calving the cows, aspects of milking, herd heath, maintenance, irrigation – which is less and less these days – also aspects of cropping and feed lotting of beef cattle here. I run a small stud here as well.”

Work in dairying is very seasonal. “Calving day is a different to a joining day… they’re all pretty much full on. I get there at ten to five in the morning, I check the calving cows in the morning before I start milking. I start milking. I watch the cows to see which are season. I divide them out. I finish milking and feed the calves.”

“In season calves are artificially inseminated. We give feed rations to cows and move the electric fences. We might drench and tag calves, and then it’s about milking time again. By that stage we milk, feed calves, leave out hay. We’d be finished by ten past six.”

“It’s great to see all your work that you’ve put in come out. You can see the results at the end of every day. If you’ve looked after the cows, you can see the results right here when the milking truck pulls up. You can see how well you’ve looked after your cows by the amount of milk produced. Other agricultural jobs you need to wait a while to see results.”

“It was always animals, always dairy.” Jason says that he’s always seen himself working with cattle. “Always loved it. I’m very passionate about my own cattle and breeding top quality genetics,” says Jason. “My biggest kick is that I do all the breeding. I’m a qualified dairy judge, from breeding one generation to the next, I can see the benefits in the cattle. I can see a daughter improved on her mother. I can see four generations of one generation of cows, and see how deciding on the siring of the cow has improved the generations.”

Jason shares that you don’t need to be raised on a farm to get involved in the Dairying Industry. He shares one program in Victoria which gives kids interested in Dairying hands-on experience in the industry. “Money in Milk days are held around Victoria, where we get people who may not be that knowledgeable in diary and we teach them what’s involved. Then we link them to employment agencies - and hopefully farmers looking for workers. It’s a good thing to show people what’s involved in a hands-on way. It’s not enough to read books and articles, but hands-on gives great insight.”

“People are discouraged by early mornings and long hours, but you are rewarded by quite good pay and you get to see the rewards.”

Jason shares some surprising facets to the industry – like the opportunity for international travel. “Australia is leading the world in dairy technology and genetics. The world is looking to Australia for technology, information and workers. I’ve been offered a job in Argentina and Europe through dairying – there are prospects for travel – because Australia is well knows for our dairying. But in saying that - we don’t want people to leave!” laughs Jason.

Jason has won, and been nominated for, many awards in the industry. He’s won the Dairy Apprentice Of The Year, he attended a rural leadership course, has been shortlisted for trainee of the year, a Finalist in the State training awards and has even been elected to a board of Young Agribusiness representatives.

Despite these awards, he feels most proud of his achievement in producing great cattle. Jason enters his cows in the Great Southern On-Farm Challenge, which is a Cattle judging show, without having to travel to a show. “We have cows judged from a farm. Judges travel around in cars and see cows in their working clothes. I’ve started entering some of the cows on the farm in the competition. I won a Class in this competition.”

“I’ve been going up against breeders who have been going for 60 years. It wasn’t the prize I was after, but the ability to say to other breeders that we’re breeding great cattle. It’s a great opportunity for farmers who can’t get to a show to exhibit. It’s fantastic to compete with people who wouldn’t usually have a chance to compete against.”

Jason says that while it might be hard to get hold of a training course in dairying, if you’re interested in it as a career, keep trying. “You may need to travel a bit, or correspondence, or go to a farm monthly.” Jason says, “If you’re passionate about it, do all you can to succeed, go to as many field days and discussion groups as you can and keep your ear out for the likes of Your Money in Milk dairy development program.

Contact the UDV and ask if there’s someone they can direct you to find a job in your area. Perhaps go out to a farm and ask a farmer to help do some milking to get to know if you like the job. More than likely he’ll put you on as a relief milker. It’s a great job - try it out and see if they like it.”

“You can make as much or as little of it as you like. I show cattle in my spare time, I research pedigrees and all that. Consider dairying if you’re just looking for a good honest job - and there can just be weekend relief jobs, or all week milking or farmwork. Just research it and get involved. Dairying is great fun. Everyone helps everyone else. We’re all working for the same goal of a sustainable dairying future.”

Personal qualities needed?
You need to be dedicated, because it’s a job you can’t call in sick. You need to be strong-willed, and patient - like when you’re teaching a calf to drink. You need to have a good work ethic, be willing to work long days. If you put in and have the education, there are a lot of benefits to be had by it. The dairy industry is always looking for new people. It’s a great industry - dynamic, with loads of technological changes.