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Chester and Kevin Game's success story

Brodie Chester and Kevin Game have a passion for animals and love of the farming lifestyle. They met while working on a dairy farm and now lease a farm together.

Brodie Chester and Kevin Game, Lessee – Bega, New South Wales

Brodie Chester and Kevin Game have a passion for animals and love of the farming lifestyle. They met while working on a dairy farm and now lease a farm together.

“Dairy farming is very rewarding both on a personal and financial level. There are very few industries that you can enter and grow your assets and skill base as quickly as dairy farming,” Brodie said.

When Kevin finished school he completed a dairy apprenticeship and the Certificate IV in Dairy. Over twenty years he has worked on several dairy farms, gradually progressing his career from a Trainee up to a Farm Management position, before becoming a Lessee.

Brodie got her first taste of dairy farming through high school work experience. Before becoming a Lessee with Kevin, she worked at a few cattle studs and with the livestock team at Landmark, Wagga Wagga.

In 2010 while living in Cootamundra and working full time, Brodie and Kevin purchased two dairy cows and a single cow milker; “We milked the cows twice a day and used the milk to rear Holstein and XB bull calves which we bought from dairy farmers direct and through saleyards. We found a market to sell the calves at an age of three months. We then purchased a further three cows to allow us to rear more calves,” Brodie said.

In 2012, Brodie and Kevin were offered a share farming position at Bega and used the funds from the calf sales to purchase 100 cows. However after four months of share farming they experienced a low milk price coupled with a disease outbreak and decided to move to a lease agreement.

“We had a short stint of share farming on our current farm before some unforeseen circumstances led us into a lease agreement. Our arrangement was discussed with both parties – Farm Owner and Lessee – to ensure that the interests of both parties were put in place,” Brodie said.

Brodie and Kevin leased the Bega property for over three years, milking 240 cows on 300 acres. They worked full time and managed one full time and one part time employee. The couple then decided to move to a bigger property just outside of Bega.

“We are currently milking 320 cows with one full time staff member and two casuals,” Brodie said.

“We moved to this farm for a few reasons: it’s a bigger property which means we can milk more cows. It has a newer dairy, so we have less issues with mastitis and lower repair bills and, a more reasonable lease price will put us in a better position to deal with whatever the milk price is going to do.”

Brodie and Kevin enjoy leasing because they can have full control of the operation while having time to pay off the herd. To be a successful Lessee, they believe a person must be hardworking, patient and passionate, “farming isn’t something you can do easily unless you have passion. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” Brodie said.

They also appreciate that their role also has challenges, such as finding reliable and caring staff.

“We have put a full time staff member through the Certificate III in Dairy,” Brodie said. “As a young couple starting off, our heart and soul – as with any other farmer – is in our business. It is really important for us to find staff who respect that.”

“When we first started leasing, we thought staff wouldn’t be a issue but we soon realised that it’s one of the biggest hurdles that we have to overcome. We had to find people who we could not only rely on and trust, but who would also take a degree of responsibility in our business.”

When employing, Brodie and Kevin set criteria when looking into a potential employee’s previous work experience.

“We learnt that we had to have criteria for employing staff. It’s also much better to weigh up several candidates rather than employ the first person that came along,” Brodie said.

“Being very specific in a job advertisement seems to filter through the people who only want to do certain things on the farm. In interviews we are also upfront, for example: the position includes weekends, you will have to spend a lot of time in the dairy to begin with as it’s the centre of our business, our cows are our family, and you can’t disrespect our animals or our business. We do expect a lot from our staff but we feel this has encouraged them to step up and to take on more responsibility.”

Brodie and Kevin believe involving employees in the business is vital to operating a successful operation. They involve employees in their decision making process and provide positive feedback.

“When we involve employees in the decision making of the business, they feel more involved. They are willing to take on responsibility and are more aware of the direction we are heading,” Brodie said.

“Positive feedback when a job has been done well has been an excellent tool for us. When a job has been done to a high standard, we have found that a pat on the back or ‘thank you’ has a bigger impact than increased wages or any form of reward. When our employees feel appreciated they tend to do a better job overall.”

Off farm, the couple regularly attend discussion groups held by Bega Cheese. Brodie is also studying Agricultural Business Management at University and is Secretary of the Dairy NSW Far South Coast Dairy Development Group.

“These groups are vital in our area. They not only get information out to farmers but they also provide a social scene in which farmers can get off farm and interact,” she said.

The couple’s future goal is to one day own their own farm, “ideally we will own our herd, producing high quality animals and milk and hopefully we’re on our way to purchasing our own dairy farm.”

Brodie and Kevin’s tips:

– In a lessee arrangement, good communication is vital: without proper forms of communication situations will be more stressful than they need to be

– There is no such thing as luck, it comes down to preparation and opportunity: we were prepared to take an opportunity when it was presented to us

– You can achieve anything but you need to get out there and do something about it: talk to farmers and get involved in groups and activities. The dairy industry is passionate about its young people and most farmers are happy to support you along your journey.

– When first starting off we had very little knowledge of what was required with staff, any information that is readily available (like PiA) is a huge asset and getting experience from others really is very valuable.

– People don’t always see things the same way that you will – have clear communication and it will become easier for others to see where you are coming from.

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