When Rachel Parsons’ husband Sam passed away two years ago, their Mansfield farm, which he predominantly ran, was thrown into her lap.
The operation had only been in the young parents’ hands for three years, when Mr Parsons, who had been diagnosed with cancer, began to deteriorate quickly.
Ms Parsons had always enjoyed, and still does, helping out on the farm that had been passed down to them by Mr Parsons’ parents, who had retired “as much as any farmers do”, but it wasn’t something she felt comfortable running by herself.
Thankfully, a rational succession plan and supportive family and community networks meant she was able to overcome a long list of hurdles.
She said when her late-husband began treatment for his melanoma, serious succession talks began taking place.
And when he passed away in January 2017, Ms Parsons, who had also just become a single mother to Angus and Ollie, now six and three, enacted this plan.
Her parents, Vaughan and Bernadette Semler, quit their jobs in South Australia, and moved to Mansfield, to help run the farm.
Ms Parsons said this was a “massive” sacrifice, but one she couldn’t have done without.
She said her father, who came from decades of experience running a farm in SA, had taken on a managerial role.
She said it was difficult for her dad to adapt to conditions in Victoria, being different to what he was used to, but that he had “enjoyed the challenges”.
She is also supported by John O’Halloran, who works full-time on the farm.
But she said it was little things, like having the support of locals, that got her through the extremely tough time.
“Everybody around us was so supportive, we were lucky that we were friends with the local vet, local agronomist, and local Rodwells agent, who we could call at anytime and they’d have an answer to a question when we didn’t know what we were doing,” she said.
She said the team had learned a lot from Mr Parsons’ parents, Bill and Sue, who were still heavily involved.
Ms Parsons runs the finances of the farm, which she said had been a big learning experience, but one she’s been able to work through thanks to everyone’s support.
“As a family, we make these decisions together, if Dad says we need to buy more sheep, we discuss the costs and work out the best way to do it,” she said.
Today, the family run 3500 ewes and 400-500 Angus cattle.
And they’re still working to achieve the goals Mr Parsons had set out on before his diagnosis.
“Sam’s passion was farming, and his top priority was growing grass, and that’s where we’re aiming a lot of our energy,” she said.
She said the property was hilly and ran from north to south.
The north-side typically loses pasture quicker, as it gets hotter with more sun.
So to maintain these pastures properly, they have fenced off particular paddocks, and built multiple dams.
And thanks to insight from their farmhand, Mr O’Halloran, Mr Parsons has still been able to have an influence on the farm.
“Just through little conversations that John and Sam had when driving around before Sam passed away, John knew where Sam had wanted to put a dam, or build a fence, and now John’s able to bring that up and we can do it,” she said.
This work has been particularly important this year, as dry conditions have ravaged the property.
Ms Parsons said while they had been fortunate enough to get through the tough conditions, it meant they had to sell some stock earlier than normal.
“We probably sold steers about four to six weeks earlier, when it was looking like it was going to rain, and we sold one load of lambs earlier, but then it rained and we held off selling the rest,” she said.
She said monitoring this rainfall was important, as one half of the property received 200 millimetres less than the other for the year, which dictated stock movement.
Another priority moving forward was restocking.
“Our stocking rates had dropped because Sam wasn’t able to do the work, and one of the biggest challenges has been increasing these numbers again with sheep prices so high,” she said.
“It’s been very gradual, we’ve started buying ewe lambs to try and get an extra lambing out of them.”
She said it was something they planned to complete over the next five to 10 years.