Michelle Axford, Loch - March// 2024 Mental Health Calendar

by Gippsland Jersey

Michelle and Michael’s dairy operation is a prime example of how two contrasting styles can merge to create a successful farming enterprise. From a story that began between a young beef farmer on exchange and an academic with a rich family farming tradition, they have managed to navigate the ups and downs of farm life through comprise, persistence and community support.

The transition of Michael's family farm from beef to dairy coincided with Michelle's decision to make a permanent move to Australia. “It was a bit strange to think about actually moving to Australia. That was quite foreign and unexpected.” Thankfully she had the support of her Canadian community back home, whose symbolic gifts of a custom portrait and hand-made quilt serve as beautiful reminders of her heritage.   

Adjustments were required early on for Michelle, who’s familiarity with Canada’s shed-based dairy farming, was not yet accustomed to the often rain-sodden paddocks of Gippsland. Michael chuckles recalling her first calving season: “She got stuck walking across the paddock and left the boot stuck in the mud. She couldn't believe that we would try and have cattle calving in these conditions and not in the shed.”

The couple’s union is a balance of give and take. Michael is more involved with the day-to-day physical tasks, while Michelle, who’s work sees her spend a lot of time off farm, brings her academic expertise to the genetic, breeding and managerial aspects of the business. “I think we worked out pretty early on that we probably aren't great at working side by side like 24 seven…figuring out each other’s strengths and weaknesses…it's going to work much better.”

Their story is not without its share of typical farming challenges—climate volatility, price instability, and the constant juggle of farm management. Yet, their perspective remains that these challenges are intrinsic to the allure of dairy farming. “That’s probably what makes dairy farming in many ways.

If it was easy, lots of people would be doing it.”

As well as participating in dairy discussion groups, a strong local community has been a significant support system for them, providing a network to lean on during tough times. “We've been really lucky in terms of having a very strong community around here. When things get tough, you know, those are the people that you kind of turn to…talk things through…and try and sort it.’

Whilst the couple jokes about their contrasting personalities: “Michelle does get things organized and is more time efficient. And whereas I'm a lot more laid back about time.” They manage to complement each other beautifully, creating an operation which is a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, pragmatism and academia, Canadian heritage and Australian practicality. Their story showcases how diverse skills and personalities can come together to navigate the complexities of farm life successfully.

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