Farmstrong caught up with Laura Murdoch, the “cow whispering” Southland/Otago Dairy Manager of the Year for 2022. She shares how she manages the challenges of a job she loves.
Tell us about your farming operation
I’m milking 250 cows on an 80ha farm about 15 minutes out of Invercargill. I’ve been farming full time for six seasons. I initially trained and worked as an accountant, but ever since I was young I always wanted to go farming. I visited my first milking shed when I was 17 and I absolutely loved it. So, the lure of farming was always there.
What do you like about the job?
I love the variety. When I was just doing accounting, every month was pretty much the same, but in farming you get that change of seasons from calving to mating to milking, which is great. There’s a routine to farming but there’s also a lot of change.
I also love animals, especially cows. I guess you could I say I have a natural bond with them. I can tell you all their names and love spending time with them.
You’re “LouLou the Cow Whisperer”, aren’t you? Your cow-whispering videos have racked up tens of thousands of views on social media.
[Laughs] That’s right, yeah. I’ve created my own wee world, I guess. I enjoy chatting away to the cows. When I’m doing cupping the cows at milking in the shed, some of them will stop and wait for me to say hi. That’s how I’ve managed to make so many of them my mates. Even though these animals don’t have a voice, we seem to have a shared sense of understanding.
What are your main challenges and pressures on farm?
Well, I’m a one-man band on farm, and set up the schedule and do all the milking myself. I work for a farm owner and we work together as a pair to run the show. But during the week I’m pretty much my own boss. I work an “11 on and three off” roster, so life is busy.
How do you make sure you keep well and stay on top of the game?
Sleep’s really important. I put my phone on “do not disturb” mode at 7.45 at night so I can get a proper rest. “Fuelling” yourself properly is vital too. I try to make sure I eat well. I’ll get the crock pot going at midday so when I come home tea’s ready and there’s dinner covered for the next few days. I’ll also pop cooked meals in the freezer so I can quickly grab something to eat when I’m busy.
These things sound simple, but it’s easy to neglect the basics when you’re busy, isn’t it?
Yes, but you’d never drive a car or a tractor without enough fuel in case it conked out. It’s the same for our bodies. You’ve got to think of the big picture – exercise, food, sleep – to keep going. Lack of sleep is an obvious one. That has a huge bearing on your system and mood.
What about the early starts and breakfast?
In the morning the last thing I feel like is eating a big breakfast, so to get going I just make a protein shake. Something that has enough substance to fuel me up.
Do you get lonely working by yourself all day?
I think I’m different to other people, I actually enjoy the solitude. I get on really well with my family too. My brother also farms, so I’ve got a good support network.
What about exercise? How do stay farm-fit?
I used to be into multisport and do duathlons, but Saturday events don’t suit my work schedule anymore. So, when I’m on farm I’ll often walk instead of jumping on the quad.
What about those days when nothing seems to go right? How do you handle the mental side of things?
If something’s not going right, sometimes the best thing is to just stop and take a few deep breaths and refocus on what you need to do next. If you’re drafting a cow and it’s not working, instead of getting frustrated, stop and figure out a different way to approach things.
What sort of mindset is helpful in farming?
You need to be pretty flexible. It’s easy in farming to create your own barriers and obstacles in your head. You’ve got to be able to call yourself out on that stuff. Shit happens from time to time and you’ve got to be able to stop and reset. Take five minutes out. Hop off the tractor and go for a walk. Re-programme your head and change your thinking.
If I’m having a tough day, I just need to see my cows in a paddock and look at their faces. Five minutes doing that will change my whole day.
How do you manage the workload on your own?
For me, it’s about prioritising. Nothing is ever that big a task that it can’t be broken down into much smaller, manageable bites that you can slowly work through and tick off.
What’s your main message about keeping well on farm?
You need to be honest about how you’re feeling and share that with others. Find people you trust – whether it’s a friend, family member or the people you’re working with. If something’s not right in the mix, do something about it. That’s going to be better for you and the farm. If I feel overwhelmed or tired, I know I can share that with the owner and change things up.
I’ve learnt to be very proactive about looking after myself, because there’s only one “me” and I really love this job. I’ve found something in life that makes me happy to get out bed each morning. It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but to me it’s the whole pot.
Farmstrong is a nationwide, rural wellbeing programme for farmers and growers. To find out what works for you and lock it in, visit www.farmstrong.co.nz
This article first appeared in the November edition of our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.