By Catherine Forge (Curator, Invisible Farmer Project, Museums Victoria) with Emily Mueller (Farmer, Murray Bridge, South Australia)
Industry: Dairy farming
Name of enterprise: Glenbrook Dairy
Location: Murray Bridge, South Australia
‘I’ve been around farming my whole life so it’s second nature to me… I guess it’s hard to get it out of your blood when you’ve been around it so long… I’m just passionate about the farm.’
24-year-old Emily Mueller [nee Miegel] was born in Murray Bridge, South Australia, in 1994 and spent her childhood and teenage years growing up in Coonalpyn and Murray Bridge with her family. Emily’s family were livestock and grain farmers, and Emily reflects that farming was in her blood from a young age. As a child and teenager Emily worked both indoors, and outdoors. 'I have fond memories in the shearing shed and being in the piggery doing daily duties', she recalls: 'The best part of living on the farm was walking up through the paddock to Grandma's house to do some baking, and I also loved tractor rides with my Dad, and having little lambs to look after.'
With her passion for agriculture only growing as she got older, Emily was educated at Urrbrae Agricultural High School and subsequently completed a TAFE certificate 3 in Business. ‘I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to be a farmer’, reflects Emily: ‘I guess it’s just that interaction with the land, interaction with the livestock, and just that feeling of being on the farm is an incredible thing. You just can’t put it into words.’
Emily holds a firm belief that there's ‘something magical about farming’, and in many ways her own journey into dairy farming has a magical element to it. ‘I always had dreams to marry a farmer’, Emily reflects, and these dreams became a reality when she married her dairy farming husband Trent in 2015. The wedding was held in Murray Bridge with photos taken on Trent’s parent’s farm. ‘We wanted our wedding photos to reflect us’, recalls Emily, and ‘were so happy our photographer was happy to work the farm into our memories.’
The fairy-tale for Emily and Trent began years before the wedding though, back in 2009 when the young couple got to know each other through a chance meeting at the Royal Adelaide Show. Trent’s family were presenting a dairy heifer named Begonia at this Show, and Emily took a liking to the sweet-natured, mild-tempered cow:
I went up to Trent’s family, and I asked them if I could borrow this cow, Begonia, to participate in a handlers class… A couple of years after she kept coming to the Adelaide Show and she’s become quite a pet to us now. Trent and I both look at her as being a bit iconic, because she got us together in many ways. She’s a bit special I think.
Since marrying in 2015, Emily and Trent have welcomed a daughter, Renae Alma Mueller, and the young family now live and work together – alongside Trent’s parents – on the family farm. Named ‘Glenbrook’, the enterprise produces approximately 3 million litres per year and is spread across three properties; the main dairying operations in Murray Bridge (approximately 500 acres), the cropping and pastures down the road (approximately 1000 acres) and another property in Meningie holding livestock.
Emily currently works on the farm in a number of capacities, both indoors and outdoors, including bookkeeping, accounting, farm safety awareness, cooking, domestic duties, yard work, tending to the animals, maintenance and management of staff. Indoors, she spends more and more time helping her mother-in-law with the book-work: ‘I’m starting to help out doing some book-work, starting with doing some wages and invoices.’ Emily enjoys spreadsheets and computer work, and has been pleased to bring the skills she learnt studying her Certificate 3 in Business at TAFE to the farm business.
Emily is increasingly involved with the outdoor operations on the farm, including the research that goes into milk productivity, breeding and nutrition: ‘I’m starting to learn the milk side of it now, the nutritional side of it – different things that they change in the feed, to different aspects that we can change in the dairy, and to one day make it more productive.’ In order to enhance their farm skills, Trent and Emily attend local Leading in Dairy courses, as well as Farm Safety courses. They have also been actively learning about cow knowledge, and cow breeding, from Trent's father: 'It's incredible the amount of cow knowledge that Trent's Dad has accumulated over the years. I hope we can keep this knowledge alive as well as we can.' Emily believes that there are a lot of benefits from inter-generational farming, and sharing ideas between older and younger generations: 'there are so many various things to learn off the older generation, but then I still also believe there's a lot of things that us younger people can help with, such as doing the wages electronically and so forth.'
More recently, Emily has attended some women’s dairying events, including the 2017 Dairy SA Ladies Luncheon, where she has been able to mingle with other like-minded women in dairy. Emily believes that her connection to the local community has grown through attending courses, events and workshops, and in doing so, she feels that this community networking has helped to enhance and grow her confidence on the farm. ‘I definitely feel like the networking has helped me to learn more about my role on the farm, and to grow more confident in my abilities’, she says.
Developing confidence has been of importance to Emily, particularly given that both her farm work, and her off-farm work at a local pig abattoir, have both seen her working in a ‘very male-dominated sector’. According to Emily, she has sometimes felt the need to prove herself to her male bosses, or break through stereotypes that women can’t perform as well as men:
I think sometimes women aren’t particularly looked favourably on in the farming sectors... Women sometimes find it a bit harder to talk and to portray themselves to male bosses. Just personally, it can be a bit daunting. The males can be a little bit dominating. But it’s good that the women are standing up, and it’s an equal playing field out there now, which is good for the older generation and the males in our industry to see as well. I think males now are starting to realise that if there wasn’t females around, there wouldn’t be much happening. Without the females in their lives, it would be a whole different story. And I guess the older generation is starting to see the capabilities that women bring to the farming industries, which is really good to see.
Reflecting on the older generations in her own family, Emily notes that things are different for her own generation when compared with her grandmother’s generation: ‘I’m thinking back to my grandparents that were on the farm. My grandma stayed inside and cooked and looked after the children.’ Now though, according to Emily, more and more women are taking on multiple roles on the farm and increasingly balancing the domestic roles her grandmother performed with more hands-on outdoor and manual roles. In doing so, Emily believes that these women are helping to change public perceptions about farming and farm life: ‘it’s the women who get out there and really give it a go who are changing the minds of people in the future.’
At Glenbrook Farm, the family’s dairying enterprise has received resumes for contract work from female milkers, and Emily has been happy to see that ‘one: women do put in their resumes for farming and two: it’s not looked negatively upon.’ The farm currently operates with four milking contractors, two of them women:
Half our workforce here on the dairy farm is now female which is just amazing, compared to how it would have been 20 plus years ago. The dairy industry tends to be male-orientated unless you’re born into it or married into it, but it’s good that two of our milkers out of four are female, and they are doing a great job. They are good to the animals, and good to the farm.
Emily herself doesn’t regularly milk cows, and when asked the question, ‘would you call yourself a farmer?’, she initially responds with hesitation: ‘I wouldn’t technically call myself a farmer’, she answers, ‘but I guess it’s still the stereotype of people thinking that a farmer has to be out on the tractor or milking all the time. When you start thinking about it though, what I do on the farm is really a full time job.’
Emily’s job with Glenbrook Farm is multi-faceted, and her roles are varied and diverse, indoors and outdoors, on-farm and off-farm, domestic and technical. Farming for Emily – and for many women in dairy farming – is a job that incorporates multiple and diverse roles. So while Emily might not always be out milking every day, she plays a vital role on the farm – a role that she hopes will only increase more and more as time goes by:
In the future I want to still be farming. I guess it’s a pretty simple, straightforward answer. It’s something that I’ve always dreamt of continuing to do… I’d love to be a productive farmer and be able to have something which can give back to us in a positive way. Having good, happy, interactive workers, both male and female. Going forward, I’d just love to be able to carry on the good work that our grandparents and parents have set forward for us, and take it into the future.
As she ponders her future and the likelihood of one day inheriting the family farm, Emily is aware of the challenges and hardships associated with dairy farming; the long hours, the tough times, the variable and ever-changing climate and the difficulties that come with working 24/7. ‘You have your hard times’, comments Emily; ‘you’ve got climate to worry about, you’ve got milk prices to worry about, and you’ve got workers to worry about.’ With the recent dairy crisis, Emily is also increasingly aware of mental health concerns among farmers, and the fact that ‘depression in farmers can be very traumatic.’ She hopes that more can be done in the dairy industry to support farmers, and that more can be done to increase consumer awareness of the hard work that goes into producing milk. ‘I guess some people just expect that cows get milked and its simple and just happens’, she says, ‘but they might not be aware of the background work that needs to be working well to be able to produce good milk from good cows.’ Emily has recently been working on a program called the Little Foodies Program, and ‘getting little kids aware of where their food comes from.’ She hopes to get more involved with consumer awareness into the future, and help play a role in promoting the hard work of dairy farmers.
Towards the end of my interview with Emily, I ask her one more time: ‘would you call yourself a farmer Emily?’. She responds more surely this time:
Yes, now that I’ve had time to think it over, I’m definitely a farmer and I’m a farmer because it makes me feel happy. That’s about as simple as I could put it. Yes, there’s always a lot of long hours that has to go into farming, but I don’t think that I could imagine not being around the farm now. I’m just passionate about it all – the animals, the land, everything! And I hope we can do our family, and the wider dairying community, proud.
Want to Know More?
- This story was based on an interview conducted between Catherine Forge and Emily Mueller in 2017. Visit Museums Victoria's Collections Online to see a record of this interview, here: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/2243744
- Learn about Dairy South Australia here: https://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/about-dairy-australia/dairy-regions/south-australia