Fifteen-year-old Darby McClaren was inspired by the Cows Create Careers program to pursue a career with cattle and already has practical dairy experience under his belt as he studies towards his goal.

“We did Cows Create Careers for three years while I was at St Joseph’s in Nagambie,” he said. “We had three lots of calves and I really got into it from there. It was a very good learning experience and inspired me to work in the cattle field.”

The program exposed him to the joys of raising dairy cows and Darby now has his own fledgling stud, Derryvale Illawarras. He has 15 Angus beef cows and this year bought 15 Illawarra dairy steers to rear for the dairy beef market.

On school holidays he has enjoyed working on Raymond and Sarah Parker’s dairy farm, Glencliffe Illawarras at Undera, near Shepparton, Victoria and he’s now returned to study at Yanco Agricultural High School.

“He’s been staying with us at Glencliffe, with Raymond mentoring him during school holidays, since he was eight years old and he’s now studying at Yanco for a career in agriculture and it all came from Cows Create Careers building his enthusiasm,” said Sarah.

Gardiner Dairy Foundation provided seed funding in 2005 to launch Cows Create Careers across Victoria and recently returned as a sponsor of the program.

In 2021, Cows Create Careers is being delivered to 68 schools and about 2,380 students across Victorian dairy regions, giving students an insight into the different skills and capabilities required for a career in dairy and the different job opportunities that abound.

Usually, students get to raise calves as part of the program but that was curtailed in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, although the program continued on Zoom and it’s hoped calves will return to schools in 2022.

For Darby the program has forged a clear path ahead to a career connected to cattle, potentially as a stock agent.

“I just feel it’s where I belong,” he said. “I really enjoy working with cattle. I’ve had a passion for cattle since I was a little kid.”

While keeping options open, he will also consider a dairy traineeship. He had started a traineeship with the Parkers when he couldn’t return to school during lockdown but has since been able to return to college.

Darby recommends the Cows Create Careers program to a new era of primary students. “I’d love to see more kids getting into it,” he said. “It’s good learning for everyone. If they’re anything like me, they’ll just absorb it all and hopefully in the future they can buy their own calves like I did.”

Raymond and Sarah have been staunch supporters of Cows Create Careers since buying their farm at Undera in 2006 and initially Raymond forged a bond with Darby when providing calves for Cows Create Careers at his school.

While Raymond started in the program supplying calves and speaking to classes, Sarah joined later wearing a different hat – as an industry advocate while working as a Milk Supply Manager.

The industry advocate role within the Cows Create Careers program provides a great opportunity for those in off-farm roles to get involved.

As a team, Raymond and Sarah were able to offer students a unique experience where they learnt about the role of farmers, raising calves, animal health and welfare and nutrition from Raymond, followed by post farm gate roles in the industry and the value of processors in the industry from Sarah.

The students were also able to try a variety of cheese and dairy products, with Sarah talking about the processing off-farm and Raymond talking about the many impacts on-farm systems have on milk quality and production.

“We wanted to get involved to give back to the industry and we also realised the need to start educating those interested in the industry from a young age and offer them opportunities to develop and learn and engage with farmers,” Sarah said.

“Some of the kids in urban areas like Shepparton never get an opportunity to go on a farm.”

Sarah said the program helped to engage students and give them a different learning experience.

“The kids respond really well to the calves,” she said. “It gives them structure because they’re working in teams and have to feed them morning and afternoon, and the calves come back here healthy and very friendly.”

Darby is a prime example of the program’s ability to engage young people. “He’s dead keen on cows and developed that interest through Cows Create Careers, which was an enriching experience for him,” Sarah said.

“He was able to work with other dairy farmers and industry professionals as part of a show team.  These people, from around the world, mentor the young people, enabling them to learn about cow health and nutrition, animal management and teamwork.”

Raymond and Sarah are both beneficiaries of Gardiner Foundation’s investment in building the capacity of people and leadership in the dairy industry. They were both Gardiner recipients for the Fairley (Goulburn Murray) Community Leadership Program, and both have gone on to leadership roles in the industry, holding executive positions with their state breed society. Raymond is a cattle judge and served on the Classification and Production Committee at a national level while Sarah has served on state, national and regional boards including the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority.