GIPPSLAND Jersey’s 2023 ‘Farming Conversations’ calendar includes the stories of 12 Gippsland farmers, who speak with Gippsland Jersey co-founder and director, Sallie Jones about rural mental health.

The free calendar is available from Gippsland Jersey’s website.

August’s story features a chat with Lauren Masters, a dairy farmer from Kilmany.


Sallie Jones: Where are you from Lauren and how long have you been in the dairy industry?

Lauren Masters: I grew up in Stratford and have been in dairy about eight years.

How did you get into dairy farming?

My sister had a milking job on a farm in Maffra and I forced her to take me along a couple of times and I enjoyed it. I did a fair bit of work experience throughout high school on dairy farms and in Year 11 I took up an in-school apprenticeship, completing a Certificate III in Agriculture. Once I finished school, I went into it full time and I guess I’m still here.

What do you love about the dairy industry?

I love the cows and calves. I like watching their progress and growth and the quality of the animal at the end of the line; knowing that I was a part of that journey.


What’s your work situation now?

I currently work at CB Livestock and Property for Colleen Bye as a stock agent and livestock hand. I started working for her in April 2022 across her and her partner’s properties. She runs a small dairy farm as well as her own herd of Angus cattle. Lately, though, I have been more into the stock agent side of things, also helping out in the dairy as required.


Do you have a personal story that you are comfortable to share?

In 2020 my baby nephew passed suddenly which was heartbreaking for my family. I had personal struggles going on at the time alongside his passing, so I was trying to juggle all of these emotions, as well as having to work and pay the bills. It was a lot to handle.


Tell me about the fundraiser?

I supported a fundraising campaign for Heartfelt; a company that goes around to families who have lost newborns and take photos for free. They photographed my nephew. We all thought it was such a great cause to get around and promote. I feel, as a family, that’s the last thing you want to think about having to organise during such a hard time, but these photos are something we will cherish for the rest of our lives. They’re beautiful. That whole time and situation, whilst devastating, has brought us closer together as a family without a doubt.


And what about you, Lauren? How are you?

During this time, I had sought out counselling to help deal with my emotions and grief, and the counsellor was really good. She helped me understand that I didn’t have to feel guilty for days that I felt happy. She helped me work through the emotions and figure out ways to cope with it. I think I’m going alright now, although there are still times where I get upset, but I think that’s normal.


You went to a counsellor, tell me about that experience?

I had stuff going on in my personal life that I was struggling with, especially with my mental health and mindset, so she helped me try and sort all that out too.

I was seeing her for quite a while from what I can remember, not just during this time but before it as well. I was battling a bit of depression for a couple of years that I never really spoke to anyone about, that’s why I started seeing a counsellor in the first place.

I don’t think it was necessarily anything specific. Just a lot of things going on in my life at the time and it was just too much for me to deal with and it sent me into a bit of a depression. Between having some unhealthy relationships, working a lot of hours, not getting time to myself, horrendous body image issues, and hating where I was in life, it all caused so many issues for me mentally. I just sort of got into a bit of a rut. I started questioning, ‘what am I doing? Why am I doing this job’? I think a lot of people unfortunately go through these thoughts in this industry; questioning if it’s all worth it.


Making a call to ask for help is big. How did you make that step?

After a few suggestions from friends, I made the decision that I needed to speak to someone and get help.

I was sick of feeling a certain way. I knew my mindset was very poor and if it continued the way it was going, it wasn’t going to result in anything good. I didn’t really like people knowing, and still struggle with that, but I think it’s an important issue to be talked about and more people need to. There is such a stigma around it, especially in the agricultural industry; that farmers are seen as tough and as people who experience hardships without any emotional impact.

Although farmers are some of the strongest people I know, bottling up these issues and emotions will never bring about a good outcome.


How do you manage yourself now? What tools are in your toolbox?

I reached a point in my career a year or two ago where I just couldn’t do dairy farming anymore. I quit my job because I wasn’t happy with my life, and I thought leaving dairy was going to fix all that. Then I found my job with Colleen and I haven’t had a bad day here since I started.

Towards the end of 2021 I joined a 12-week mindset course. It focused a lot on how to heal past trauma, focusing on parts of yourself that you’re uncomfortable with and working out why and how to fix those issues. How to find the best version of yourself.


Tell me about Colleen.

She just appreciates her employees. She treats us as investments, not expenses. She values every single one of us as people and I think that’s a massive difference that sets her apart from other people in the industry. She is just a fantastic boss to work for and I think that made the biggest difference in my mental health.

I love working for Colleen. Everything I do I enjoy. I can comfortably say she’s a massive inspiration to me; I aspire to be as humble and good at my job as she is and I hope one day I am at least half the agent and person she is.


What makes Colleen such a rockstar boss?

Well, for example, we had had a massive day one day; I had to milk that afternoon and I ended up milking an hour and a half late. Colleen brought a drink to the shed and just chatted to me for a bit. Simple things like that.

We’ll have team meetings at the office and have a beer. Every now and then I’ll pop into her house, and we’ll have a cuppa. She’s really welcoming and supportive. I know that if I’m struggling with something she’ll be there to help me in any way she can.

It goes a long way towards our mental health when we feel good about our job doesn’t it?

Feeling so valued makes you want to get up and go to work. It makes you want to put in effort, try hard, and know that you will be rewarded for it.

Colleen has never let me down. I believed for a long time that I would never own a farm, that it wasn’t possible for me. However, since I started working for Colleen, she has really made me dream big and realise that dreams are achievable with the right support network.

I think the moral of the story is, you get staff that love working for you if you invest in, and care for them.