By Natalie Lewis. As featured in The Country Web 2020 annual
Renae Connell laughs at the suggestion that there must be milk in her veins, but as a fifth-generation dairy farmer, it’s a strong possibility. It’s a lifestyle that chose her, rather than the other way around.
As the youngest of three children and the only daughter of Lloyd and Rowena Walker, her family didn’t push them into farming.
‘My parents had a Jersey stud dairy at Bowraville. It was an average-sized farm and we ran about 90 milkers. My parents didn’t push us to follow in their footsteps, and I just helped out when I wanted to.’
Her husband Scott also grew up on a dairy farm. They took over his parents’ place 12 years ago and now run Valley Rose Jerseys near Megan on the Northern Tablelands with a herd of 350, milking about 190 cows.
‘I said I wasn’t going to marry a dairy farmer but here I am. He was green keeping when we met. We were together for five months when we both moved in with his parents and ended up buying his parents’ farm.’
On that journey, Renae has looked up to her mother and grandmother as role models.
‘I have a lot of respect for my grandmother. Dad was the youngest of nine children and he and my grandmother took over the farm after my grandfather passed away. They were on the edge of bankruptcy but Dad and Grandma pulled it back from the brink.’
Renae said her mum always inspired her to care for animals and lovingly refers to the cows as her ‘girls’.
‘I’ve always loved animals. Mum taught me that it’s about their welfare—if you treat them well, they’ll treat you well. That’s really stayed with me and it’s how we run our business now, it adds that extra care factor.’
As well as looking after their general wellbeing each day, the Connells have added a concrete lane way and creek crossings to aid foot care and accessibility for the cows.
Ensuring their herd is well cared for is something Renae hopes to share with her two children, Layla and Makayla.
‘We’re really keen to teach the girls what we know. They are now raising their own calves and feed them before school—it’s been a great teaching tool.’
Last year Renae was named 2019 NSW Young Farmer of the Year. It was a title that she embraced once she saw that it was about recognising women as farmers.
Since receiving her award, Renae has expanded her network by joining the Women in Dairy, NSW Branch. She said it has been nice meeting new people and being a representative for others.
Renae also acknowledged her husband, saying that she couldn’t do what she does without him. ‘I’m only as good as I am because he’s here. It’s both of us and how we work together. We rarely fight. If you can travel a successful road, it’s much better to do it with someone.
‘What I’m most proud of is what we have achieved and the passion we have for it, even though we’ve been dairying for years.’
Like every pathway, being a dairy farmer does have its obstacles and Renae said the biggest challenge is that it never stops.
‘It’s hard to switch off because your brain keeps going. You need a whole variety of skills to be able to do it every day but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I love all of it, I’m living the dream and we’re enjoying our life. It’s second nature to me.’ ■
NSW Farmer of the Year Awards
Women in Dairy NSW