Nicole and Brendan Saunders, Maffa - December// 2024 Mental Health Calendar

by Gippsland Jersey

Nicole and Brendan, a couple from New Zealand who grew up on family farms, moved to Australia in 2018, with Brendan having first arrived in the early 2000s. After visiting Australian dairy farms on a scholarship farm tour, Brendan fell in love with the industry in Australia and decided to move, eventually meeting Nicole and convincing her to join him.

The couple started their Australian farming adventure on Brendan's father's farm near Maffra. Their arrival coincided with the last year of a drought, which presented significant challenges but also taught them valuable lessons in adaptability in farming practices. “We found this season isn't necessarily going to be the same next season. If payout drops, it turns to drought…you've got to kind of adapt to suit.” 

2022 was a period of expansion and extending finances for Nicole and Brendan. Not long after successfully purchasing their own farm, they found a way to incorporate a second lease into their operation despite initially thinking it was unfeasible. “April 2022 and I'm just like, ‘We can't make that work.’” Not only did they find a way to make it work but by the end of that year they had stretched their resources to the limit, buying yet another property – taking their operation to 3 dairies milking 1600 cows.

Owning a farm changed their business dynamics; share farming became less practical. Despite the complexities, they committed to running all three farms, supported by a strong team. However, as cow prices fell and export markets crashed, they encountered financial stress, creating a tough situation over several months. “It's been hard work…definitely the last few months we're probably being a little bit extra niggly at each other.”

Despite the pressure, Nicole and Brendan remain positive, driven by their end goal and the ability to plan through difficult cash flow periods. They take pride in what they've built and where they are heading. Nicole acknowledges the high levels of stress, but feels “it would be a lot different than if you're stuck in the middle of a drought and you're just like, ‘when on earth is my payout going back up or when is it going to rain?’”

Whilst admitting that her stress management strategy is unsustainable long term: “I'll be the first to admit I don't probably deal with stress in a healthy way.” Nicole is taking steps to improve her stress management by seeking professional help, equipping her with better tools whilst remaining 100% committed to the success of their farming ventures. “We're proud of what we’ve built and where we're going. I think that's what keeps driving us to get through the stress.” 

Ultimately it is the strength of their partnership, where each partner supports the other whilst individually specializing in their areas of expertise, which culminates in their success as a team in the challenging world of dairy farming.

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