FROM a four-year-old feeding calves to a 13-year-old starting her own jersey stud on her parents’ Gippsland farm, Beth Scott has always loved being in the dairy industry.
Now she’s on a study adventure that she hopes will lead to benefits for all farmers.
Over the next two years Beth will study a Masters in quantitative genetics at Wageningen University in The Netherlands.
The course is recognised for its excellence and Wageningen is ranked as number two in the field of agriculture on world university rankings.
It’s heady stuff for a 23 year-old from Wonthaggi in South Gippsland but she’s up for the challenge.
“The course is going well and I’m really enjoying it, however it’s quite intense,” Beth said.
She has already taken bridging courses in animal genetics, and breeding programs and statistics, and in the next period will take genetic improvement of livestock and genomics.
She’s also joined a hockey club and is learning to speak Dutch.
“I’ve been put in contact with a dairy farm so I was able to go get my farming fix,” she said.
“I really hope I can use genetics to improve my own small Jersey herd,” she said.
“I’ll be doing a research project on Australian Jersey data and hope to learn something that helps our industry.
“My uni degree only touched on genetics so I’m looking forward to learning a lot more about a very specific aspect of dairying that I’m quite passionate about.”
Beth also has a broader goal in mind.
“I hope to develop something that will directly benefit all dairy farmers,” she said.
“I’ll have a niche qualification in Australia in quantifying genetics between different bulls and it could lead to further research in a PhD when I get home.”
Her study has been supported by Dairy Futures Cooperative Research Centre, Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme (ADHIS) and Jersey Australia.
Jersey Australia has been active in the area of dairy research for many years and its members have contributed to a fund that they hoped in time would be utilised to support Jersey specific projects.
“Beth Scott, with her background in Jerseys and passion for dairy science, seemed the perfect fit for us to support,” said Jersey Australia president Peter Ness.
“It’s important for Australia to develop its own dairy scientists and Beth is a wonderful candidate.”
While Beth needed good marks and went through a rigorous enrolment process, her farming background also helped her to get into the elite course.
“I think it helped that I’m from a dairy farm,” she said.
“Virtually all my childhood memories are of being with either mum or dad out on the farm after school.
“My earliest memory is of helping with the calving.”
Beth’s interest in genetics was sparked when she started her own Jersey herd at age 13.
“As a young person I quite liked showing,” she said.
“At that stage it wasn’t necessarily genetics; it was more just a passion for dairy cows and being with like-minded people with the same passion.”
Even though Beth grew up in a rural area, not many of her school friends shared her background or her passion.
“I lived and breathed it but not many kids my age came from dairy farms and they didn’t really like it. It’s different now; a lot of people I went to school with work on dairy farms.”
At their peak, the family had 700 cows on one farm and 300 on another. Although most were Holsteins, Beth preferred Jerseys.
“I liked their unique personalities and I’ve still got a soft spot for them,” she said.
Her four siblings followed other career paths but Beth always had dairying in mind.
Last year she completed a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience at the University of Sydney, looking at preventative health issues with a focus on animal welfare to improve productivity and profitability.
Since finishing her degree Beth has been working on the Gippsland farm owned by her father John Scott where she’s been analysing data to improve on-farm health management, such as reducing mastitis.
“It’s my first opportunity to use aspects of my degree to directly have an impact on herd health on farm,” she said.
“I love working with animals. They don’t have to be pedigree animals; I just like the individual care you can give to animals.”
Although her father’s primary focus isn’t on genetics, Beth is trying to change his mind.
“We’ve seen an increase in milk production through the use of improved genetics of up to 3000 litres per cow per year.
“If you can increase milk production and select bulls that have daughters who are more fertile, more likely to get in calf and less likely to get mastitis for the same price as a bull that doesn’t rank as high in these traits, to me it makes sense.”
Beth hopes to improve the community’s knowledge of dairy and is a strong supporter of the Legendairy communications initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the industry.
“It’s a really good campaign and will reduce separation between people on dairy farms and people in the city,” she said.
“We need people to know we’re passionate about our farms and our animals, and see the positive influence dairy has on the wider community.”