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Will Colbert's success story

When Will Colbert left school he became an apprentice butcher, but he soon missed being outdoors

When Will Colbert left school he became an apprentice butcher, but with a childhood of working on his parent’s dairy farm at Yarram, Victoria, he soon missed being outdoors. 

At twenty-two years old, Will became a Farmhand on a dairy in South Gippsland. After eight months he got a job on another farm, which allowed him to progress to a Senior Farmhand position.

As a Senior Farmhand, Will was responsible for cell counts, feeding, pasture management and health of a 700 cow herd. He was keen to build his skills and learn so he taught himself how to work out income over feed costs: he would look up the milk price, estimate bills, and equate how much income the cows were producing a day.

Will has always been conscious of planning and saving money. In 2013, while a Senior Farmhand, he purchased 22 Jersey heifers at a good price when the milk price was low.

“A friend milked the cows, calved and reared the heifers,” Will said. “You need to have a business-brain early. You have to save money and learn how to budget to make sure you’re making money everyday. The investment into the heifers wasn’t earning money so I was keen to start share farming.”

Will initially looked at a farm in Northern Victoria that milked 400 cows, but he needed to own half the herd and felt that it was too big of a first step into share farming.

He then saw an advertisement for a share farming position in Ripplebrook. He met the farm owners and they both discussed their expectations. Will admits stepping up to share farming was initially daunting, but it was a step he needed to take for career growth.

Will managed the farm, milking 170 cows on 100 hectares. He purchased a motorbike, a second hand tractor and a Ute; “it’s best to buy what you can afford, work out your limits and stay within them,” he said.

After two years, Will was keen to progress his career further. With a goal to milk 300 cows, he moved to a bigger farm at Nilma North as a share farmer. He owns most of his own machinery and currently milks 280 cows.

“I own 200 cows and needed to get to 280,” he said. “I didn’t want to borrow money so the farm owners said that they’d finance the cows. We have a 5 year plan of monthly payments to pay off the cows.”

Will believes having a good relationship with the farm owner is vital – for the partnership to work, both parities must share the same goals.

“A key element to the working relationship is understanding what the farm owners want and what they’re wanting to achieve. As a share farmer, you have to be confident in the job, but you also have to be willing and open to learn and take on advice,” he said.

“Employees have to take responsibility for their own careers, plan where they want to go, and discuss their career path with their employer.”

Will enjoys share farming as it allows him to own cows, manage feed diets, grow summer crops, and he enjoys growing grass. He especially likes running a business and seeing it progress.

In 2013, Will was selected to go on a Dairy Study Tour of New Zealand, which opened his mind to how different dairy farms operate. He has also completed the Certificate IV in Agriculture through the National Centre for Dairy Education (NCDE) and is a member of GippsDairy’s Young Dairy Development Program. Last year, he completed the Turning Milk Into Money course.

“The Certificate IV in Agriculture gives you good knowledge and skills to bring back to the farm. It’s also important to get hands on learning, because you can learn from your mistakes.”

Will believes share farming is a good starting point for future farm ownership. He wants to keep progressing and growing in the industry, and he is currently considering future diversification opportunities that could compliment the dairy.

Will’s tips for stepping into share farming:

- Plan your goals: if you want to progress in the industry, you have to plan how to get there.

- Discuss your career path with your employer: talk about your career and/or if you wish to step-up your position on-farm.

- Learn business skills early: as a share farmer, you have to budget to ensure that you make money everyday – learn how to be ‘business-minded’ early.

- Save money, buy what you can afford and stay within your limits: find a good Accountant.

- Open communication between the Share farmer and owner is vital: understand what the Farm Owner wants to achieve for the farm.

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