International Women’s Day: Celebrating women in the red meat industry
To celebrate International Women’s Day (8 March), we spoke to women from across the Australian red meat supply chain to find out their greatest achievements, their best advice and why they love what they do.
Here are their stories:
The beef producer and MLA producer advocate
Leah Vella, along with her husband Ray and their three children, own and operate ‘Bald Hills’, a cattle property in Queensland’s Marlborough region.
Leah is passionate about facilitating a strong connection between the producer and the consumer, giving true meaning to the term ‘paddock-to-plate’. She and Ray are both MLA producer advocates and use the program as an opportunity to tell the story of how their beef is produced.
Check out Feedback magazine’s March/April 2020 edition for more on the Vella family’s advocacy work.
Determination, focus and goal-setting.
I also got to where I am by sharing knowledge of the land and cattle with Ray. When he was awarded with a Nuffield Scholarship, I too learnt so much about the beef industry and farm management practices.
Paddock rotations, water runs, school bus drop-offs and pick-ups, processing and recording cattle through the yards and gardening, right through to the record keeping of our biosecurity, animal treatment and accounts.
I’m forever learning and not one day is the same as the next. I enjoy the vastness of the landscape, as well as the opportunity to have time to myself – working in the paddock to reflect and appreciate what we’ve achieved.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Have confidence in your own ability, knowing that it’s ok to make mistakes.
Traceability. When you have traceability of your herd and pastures, you minimise risk in your business. To have evidence of what you’re producing, where it was raised and cared for – this is what will provide security and faith in our industry. I believe it’s a win-win for both producer and consumer.
The lamb producer
Fiona Aveyard is a fifth-generation producer based in Tullamore, NSW, and holds a degree in Agricultural Business.
After spending a number of years working in the horse racing industry both at home and overseas, Fiona now runs her own successful business, Outback Lamb, from her family farm. She’s a firm believer in the importance of community involvement and is involved in a number of committees and organisations.
Keep an eye out for the May/June 2020 edition of Feedback magazine for more on Fiona’s journey with Outback Lamb.
Reading constantly, educating myself, making my own luck, believing in myself and, most importantly, surrounding myself with a pretty amazing group of girlfriends and immersing myself in their wit, their wisdom, as well as their good company.
I believe it’s what I was born to do. Although, I have to confess – this drought has me questioning those convictions. The dust, the stress, the pressures, are all-consuming at times.
To marry a man who values (most of!) my crazy ideas and who provides invaluable perspective and balance. He gives me the opportunity to shine and doesn’t hold me back.
At kids’ sports, at the races, in the vegetable garden or maybe just having a little nap.
I used to drive harness racing horses. I even won a Drivers Premiership at the Forbes Diggers Harness Racing Club ages ago, maybe back in 2002 or 2003.
The goatmeat producer
Tracy Bonython grew up on a farm in the Barossa Valley, where her family ran a sheep and cropping operation, as well as a small vineyard. After finishing school, she spent time studying, travelling overseas and teaching agriculture before making her way back to the Barossa to be involved in the family farm business.
In 2016, Tracy and her husband launched their own business, Bon Chevon. They breed Boer goats and sell goatmeat to butchers and restaurants, as well as through the local farmers market.
Making the most of every opportunity thrown at me. Early on, I didn’t have a clear vision of where I wanted to end up – I just knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture. I studied a Bachelor of Agriculture before getting the chance to live and work in Canada on a beef cattle ranch.
My time in Canada changed me....a lot. Let’s just say a little run-in with an Angus cow changed my physical appearance (resulting in an expensive new smile), but thankfully the same experience also changed my way of thinking when times get tough.
The goats have their busy seasons as well as their quieter ones. Most quiet days include general livestock checks, feeding out hay and grain and possibly removing a goat from a fence where it has got its horns stuck.
We yard our meat herd most weeks to weigh them and select animals to fill that weeks’ orders, before transporting them for slaughter and later delivering meat on to the customer.
Our busiest times of the year are April/May and October/November when our does are kidding. These days include morning and evening doe and kid checks, tagging new kids on arrival and even the occasional goat caesarean to keep us – and our local vet – on our toes!
It’s different and challenging. I can’t say I purposely went out and looked to start this business, but I can say that I’m very glad the opportunity arose.
Goats are characters and they have such personality. There’s never a dull moment working with them and just when I think we’re getting the hang of things, they throw something new at us. I love the lifestyle they create for us and I love watching my son laugh and play with them.
Running around after my son. We love regular trips to the library, as well as weekly swimming lessons. In my spare time, I also enjoy growing my own vegetables and doing some cooking and baking for my family.
A growth in the domestic consumption of goatmeat. Goatmeat is delicious meat and is so widely consumed in other countries, but unfortunately many Australians don’t see it as a red meat option.
The lot feeder and sustainability champion
Tess Herbert wears many hats in the Australian red meat industry – she runs two cattle feedlots and a mixed farming enterprise alongside her husband, she’s the chair of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework and is a board member for the Central Tablelands Local Land Service. Previously, she’s also been a director and chair of Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) and a director of the Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC).
No one day is ever the same for Tess, but you can usually find her on-farm, at the feedlot, spending time with family or studying for her Master’s degree in Agribusiness.
Turning up, knowing my stuff, years of working in my own businesses on the ground before I began to work on industry issues. I’ve also been fortunate enough to participate in the Australian Rural leadership Program, which helped with my confidence, courage and leadership development.
It’s so different every day. I can be out checking cattle, checking bunks, or in my office checking our cattle software, inducting new staff, reviewing standard operating procedures, getting ready for shearing – the list seems endless.
We now have two of our three children working alongside us (the third is still at university). I love the fact that what we do is for the next generation, that there’s a point to all our hard work. I also enjoy the thrill of doing things differently, the challenge of an expanding business and the strategic decision making that goes along with it.
I enjoy my industry involvement because of the people I work with – and the fact that what we do – providing food in a sustainable way – is a decent thing to do – a contribution to people’s lives.
Take time to get to know your stuff on-farm before you branch out. Be prepared: passion, while laudable, is not enough.
Sustainability, sustainability sustainability – in all its forms – environment, animals, people, community, economic. Let’s take back the binary narrative around red meat consumption and production.
I have a Master’s degree in Literature (Victorian – not used much now!)
The industry leader
Erin Gorter is a leading rural industry consultant and holds many years of experience as a sheep and grains producer in south-west WA. Erin runs her own business providing business and industry management advice to rural areas.
Since 2015, Erin has been a Director of MLA, MLA Donor Company and Integrity Systems Company, as well as Chair of the Remuneration Committee and a member of the Audit and Risk Committee. She was awarded the WA RIRDC Rural Women’s Award Runner Up in 2010 and is a director of AgVivo and the WA Grower Group Alliance.
Saying yes to opportunities that come my way – specifically the ones that helped me to understand more about activities and opportunities that happen beyond the farm gate, that benefit producers’ businesses.
I also actively listen to all around me – everyone has something valuable to give.
To back myself and say yes to a complete stranger who gave me the opportunity to share my production knowledge and experience with a group of strangers. This decision led to a deeper knowledge and understanding of our livestock systems than I could ever have imagined.
Learn to have confidence in yourself (easy to say, but hard to do). If someone thinks you can do it, you probably can – so just say yes!
Also, aspire to learn something new every day, even if it seems random or trivial.
Driving down a country road with the windows down, checking out who’s growing what in their paddocks! Although, I’d likely still be thinking about and planning ‘work’– as that’s what I enjoy.
When I really want to clear my head, there’s nothing better than a ride in the paddocks on the motorbike.
Embracing the myriad of opportunities for Australian red meat to be the tastiest, most nutritious, most sustainably grown red meat in the world across the value chain, enabling all businesses in the chain to thrive and grow. This will enable future generations to be able to continue to eat red meat grown and processed in Australia.
I’m passionate about ensuring that there are still people who want to continue working across the red meat sector into the future. My industry vision is to have the whole of our value chain working together to ensure that Australian red meat is available (and the preferred choice) to our domestic and global markets.
I’m a qualified primary school teacher, which seems like a lifetime ago.
LinkedIn: Erin Gorter
Hayley Norman is a Senior Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO, researching opportunities within farming systems to improve ruminant productivity and environmental health. She currently sits on the WA Livestock Research Council and the WA Soil and Land Conversation Council.
Hayley has a wealth of industry knowledge, and attributes much of her success to a strong passion for the work she does.
Eight years of university training, a passion for my work, working with incredibly talented teams and some wonderful mentors.
I get to work with a diverse bunch of highly skilled people to solve problems and achieve on-ground impact. In the last couple of years, I’ve really enjoyed driving past a flock of sheep in a large paddock of Anameka™ saltbush.
Dr Hayley Norman was one of the researchers behind the launch of the Anameka™ variety of saltbush.
To get out of my comfort zone and start working on international research for development projects. I’ve been involved in projects in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan and Tibet/China. In these projects, we’ve looked for opportunities for smallholders (often women) to reduce the impact of feed gaps on small ruminant productivity.
I’ve also developed a better understanding of farming systems, made some great friends and have seen some fascinating places.
Don’t worry so much about what people think of you and don’t waste time interacting with people who don’t respect you.
I had a mini mid-life crisis at 30, bought a horse and started jumping and eventing. I fell off a lot. It was a ‘grounding’ experience.
A profitable, vibrant, ethical and environmentally positive livestock sector. I think the foundations are there, but we can do more to sell our story to the wider community. It’s great to see so many strong, intelligent women talk about their production systems.
CSIRO profile: Dr Hayley Norman
Working closely with MLA’s Business Manager of Foodservice, Samuel Burke, culinary chef Julie Ballard is responsible for literally giving consumers a taste of the Australian red meat industry.
You can find her cooking up a storm in the MLA kitchen, preparing delicious spreads for international delegations, designing and preparing food photo shoots, and conducting red meat masterclasses at royal shows and food festivals across the country.
Passion, hard work and study! I studied commercial cookery at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney.
There’s no better job – I love food and making people happy. I want to continue to spark joy and happiness through meaningful food and experiences.
Changing careers from nursing to food.
Don’t limit yourself. Follow your dreams and passions. Have confidence in yourself – confidence is not arrogance. Do the thing you love most.
In the kitchen at home, cooking with my grandchildren – or in a cookbook shop.