Livestock

Hard work and diplomacy help rural women get it right

BUSINESS IN A BOX: Swan Creek's Heather Weeks has her own lamb supply business - Lamb-in-a-box.
BUSINESS IN A BOX: Swan Creek's Heather Weeks has her own lamb supply business - Lamb-in-a-box. Toni Somes

SOMETIMES, says Swan Creek lamb producer Heather Weeks, the smartest thing you can do as a woman working in the very blokey world of agriculture is be pleasant.

And continue to be pleasant, she laughed, when your male counterparts query you about your livestock choices and wonder at your ability.

"The good thing is if they can see you are honestly trying, then they accept you," she said.

You have to be honest about your capabilities, but on the same hand you have to be prepared to genuinely give things a go.

"Even if they were a bit doubtful at the start."

Feminine, educated and articulate, Ms Weeks juggles full-time work in the finance and administration section of the Transport and Main Roads department with a prime lamb production and wholesale business east of Warwick.

She said one of the essential ingredients for women in agriculture was a realistic understanding of personal strengths.

Sure, she said, she capably handled a great proportion of the heavy jobs on the 50ac intensive holding she owned at Swan Creek.

But she admitted knowing when to ask for help was integral to success.

 

"For example I can handle most of the livestock work," Ms Weeks said.

"I also do the tractor work like slashing and weed control.

"But half my property is under lucerne or other crops and I don't have the expertise or the machinery to handle the deep ripping and planting so a lot of time I get contractors in.

"I believe you have to be honest about your capabilities, but on the same hand you have to be prepared to genuinely give things a go."

And the latter is something this Southern Downs woman has never been afraid to do.

She grew up in New Zealand, where her family was involved in the sheep industry.

Then she married an Australian school teacher and for three years the couple and their young family were based at Kioma State School, a country school located on a mixed farming property, north of Toobeah in the Goondiwindi region.

"I had three little children while we lived out there and used to drive the school bus.

"But I found time to rear little orphan lambs and I loved being involved with station activities."

When her husband got a transfer to Swan Creek State School, east of Warwick, they shifted and bought a small property at Swan Creek.

For a while the couple ran a sheep and emu business regularly opening the doors to the public.

When the marriage ended she kept the property, selling off two titles to reduce the holding's size along with her mortgage.

Today the infrastructure remains in place, but her focus has shifted with an off-farm job and a lamb meat supply business keeping her "more than busy".

Four years ago she launched her own wholesale label called simply Lamb-in-a-box.

It is a niche operation where she breeds and fattens the lambs, transports them the 5km to Carey Bros abattoir at Yangan and then organises the meat delivery around southern Queensland.

"At the moment I sell between four and six lambs each week," she said.

"This is an amount that works really well for me and I think it works for my processors.

"For a time I had a regular order for between 20 and 30 lambs and that was too busy."

She believes her business success is a direct result of the tenderness of her meat product and being able to provide a consistent product to her regular customers.

"My lambs live a very low-stress life," she explained.

"I feed the ewes, I have about 50 at the moment, so they are very used to me and when it comes to handling them it's dead easy.

"My clients always comment on the tenderness and they only thing I can put it down to are low-stress conditions."

She sells Dorper lambs weighing between 40-45kg live and dressing out between 18 and 22kg.

One of the highlights for her was when well-known lamb producer Joe Browne, bought one of her lambs and the animal went on to win the carcase competition at the Brisbane Ekka.

Today she also sells lamb in conjunction with her partner, Lindsay Goodwin, who runs a specialist beef and pork wholesale operation called Warrego Meats.

Topics:  lamb producer, queen of the paddock, rural women, women on the land


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