Thursday, April 25, 2024

Confronting fears to pursue a dairy farming dream

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It took a while, but Laura Murdoch overcame the phobia that was one of the obstacles between her and her beloved cows.
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It took a while, but Laura Murdoch overcame the phobia that was one of the obstacles between her and her beloved cows.

Hopes of becoming a dairy farmer were dashed for Laura Murdoch when she was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome at the age of 19. 

She had discovered cows while visiting a friend at work a couple of years earlier and dreamed of a cow-filled career.

“It was gutting to know I wouldn’t be able to work with cows, but I have a medical phobia and I couldn’t deal with the idea of having the surgery [for carpal tunnel syndrome],” Laura says.

“I was too stubborn to accept it when I was told I couldn’t go farming, so started relief milking on the side, but I was pushing my body to the boundary limit.”

She had been working for a local Southland business when she was still in school and with farming off the table, that evolved into a full-time job. She also started studying IT alongside work.

But she lost interest pretty quickly and picked up a role as an in-house accountant at HW Richardson in Invercargill before setting up her own contracting business, where she was doing some bookkeeping and dabbling in relief milking “even though what I could handle was dwindling”.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t avoid surgery any longer, it was affecting my life so much, so I finally did it and it was a huge difference.”

After surgery she knew it was time to give farming a proper crack but she was very conscious that her CV lacked farming experience.

“I got in touch with Primary ITO to build my skill set and make me more appealing during job hunting.

“But when I got to Level 4 I needed to be attached to a farm, so one of the farms I was relief milking for picked me up as a 2IC.”

When she felt ready to hit the job market she took a different approach.

“I reverse advertised, by posting about who I was and what I wanted.

“People came to me with opportunities and I was able to choose where I went and I could follow my gut.”

She picked a role with Chris Reilly. He wanted a hand but was still working out what that could look like. So together they shaped it.

“He originally thought he just wanted a hand with milking but once he realised what I could do he got me doing more and I managed to complete my Level 5, gaining a Diploma in Agribusiness Management and Production Management.”

Laura Murdoch is happiest when she’s with the herd on Chris Reilly’s farm near Invercargill.

That same year she did both diplomas, she also entered the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards and won the Southland Otago Manager title.

“It was a pretty awesome achievement and a good confidence boost, and confirmation that cows and farming was my thing.”

Laura lives in a house she owns in town and travels the 15km to work each day.

“I have a Batt latch [an electronically timed gate] so when I arrive the cows are usually in the yard ready.

“I milk, put the cows away, set up the next paddocks and Chris tends to do the tractor work.”

She typically has holidays during June and July when the cows are dry as the herd is wintered off, but this season 50 of the 250 cows will stay on farm.

“Typically if there isn’t a lot to do. Chris will just do it as he’s already on farm, to save me the drive.

“But we’ve got a good system going and I really enjoy it.

“I’ve been in jobs where there’s tiers of management but it’s so much easier just having one person to discuss things with and ask questions.”

She has developed a reputation for being “LouLou the cow whisperer” with a keen social media following. 

“The cows are more like pets, they’re my mates and I really enjoy spending time with them, I don’t think I could go anywhere and leave them behind.”

Happy where she is, Laura is not striving for more responsibility or stress. 

“I’m really comfortable where I am, there are so many paths within farming, you can just pick what you like.

“Every farm is different, find what you like and I always advise people to remember setbacks will help you learn your non-negotiables.”

This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

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