'We always came back to dairy'

Investing in cows grows wealth in dairy

Business Management
Megan Nicholson with her 15-month-old grandson Albert at their Taree dairy in the Manning Valley. Photo: Rachel Nicholson

Megan Nicholson with her 15-month-old grandson Albert at their Taree dairy in the Manning Valley. Photo: Rachel Nicholson

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Meet the women who are driving dairy forward.

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It might have taken the Nicholsons 30 years to put their name on the mortgage but it was an investment well worth the wait for the next generation.

Megan and Geoff Nicholson started their dairy journey as lease farmers in 1989 having moved back to her home town of Taree, NSW, from the United Kingdom where they met.

"Geoff was from a beef, sheep and cropping farm but neither of us had particular dairy experience but we decided to give it go and loved it," Mrs Nicholson said.

They started milking 30 cows on a 48-hectare farm.

"Looking back it was a huge learning curve for both of us," she said.

"Geoff has always loved cropping and growing pasture so it wasn't too much trouble transferring his knowledge from the UK to here. It was just learning about cow health and breeding systems with a milking herd."

The Nicholsons put any money they had into building their herd numbers.

"Investing in cows was a way to grow wealth and we thought that was a good return for us," she said.

Related reading:Game on! Meet the women driving dairy forward

At the peak of their leasing days, they milked 300 cows and employed two full-time staff. But in 2015 when their lease was not up for renewal, they had to make some tough decisions - stay in dairy or look at the alternatives.

"Every time we looked at different options we always came back to dairy," she said.

"The whole cycle is what we love of looking after the land, growing pasture and feed for cows and seeing that come back into the production while rearing the offspring with genetics and producing food for people."

With the stock numbers on their side, they purchased their first farm with son Sam and his wife Rachel.

"Our dream was to always to own our own farm," she said.

"At times it was hard and times were tough, we've gone through floods and droughts.

"And sometimes I thought we would never get there but we promised each other that we would always work together and in farming so it stuck."

Related reading: Culture change embraces women in the dairy industry

They now milk 180 cows all year round on 101ha located on the banks of the Manning River.

Their season has seen an "amazing turn around" since the start of the year where they are now able to cut silage and conserve winter feed. But while it's green and they've had rain, they are still feeling the effects of drought.

"The drought hasn't finished for us, we had to buy in hay every six weeks and are paying that off from six months ago," she said.

What has helped is that Mr Nicholson and his son run a contract silage business in addition to the farming operation.

Currently they are also going through succession planning with their son Sam with considerations for other sons Richard, who is a beef farmer, and Chris, a cabinet maker.

"It's important to get this right,' she said.

"For me the future is bright with Geoff and I here to support next generation through the transition, who are positive about future in dairy. It gave us 30 years of a great life and we want to be able to give back."

As chair of the newly formed NSW Women in Dairy, Mrs Nicholson said women's roles had changed on farm.

"Thirty years ago you were the farmers' wife, you raised the kids and reared the calves and were not regarded as an equal part of the business," he said.

"But within that 30 years there has been positive changes and the next generation is emerging with skills that they contribute to each business.

"They have shown how many women hold dairy businesses together as they seek leadership and advice in tough times."

The NSW Women in Dairy Bale Up committee, whose vision is making sure women in dairy are supported and connected, are working towards the next conference, which was postponed due to COVID-19.


The story 'We always came back to dairy' first appeared on The Land.

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