Jen Ribolli never asked nor was she invited to run their family farm, instead she just assumed she would be the one to manage “Woodcote” into the next generation. Unlike her mother, her father never discouraged her decision, she doesn't recall even discussing it with him, so the day after her final HSC exam, Jen became known as his “right hand man”.
From 1981, Jen was indentured to her father under a 4 year Farming Apprenticeship, being the first female to complete that at Sale Technical School and being awarded Top Apprentice every year. It was a man's world in which she worked and she never really noticed.
"I felt little discrimination apart from one cocky who questioned my stamina to work all day in a shearing shed, as if!!" Jen loved the challenge of rousing and developed a passion for wool, so she also trained to became a Professional Woolclasser.
The reality of working the farm with her Dad was not all she thought it would be. The work was hard and involved early mornings and less horse-riding than anticipated and Jen found sheep highly frustrating. Regardless, her heart kept her on the land.
The next fifteen years saw Jen travel overseas, complete an Associate Diploma of Art (Wood Design), marry and have two beautiful daughters. Both eventually moved off farm into the town of Maffra for their education, leaving Jen commuting to the farms to work.
2001 marked seven years into a fifteen year drought. By now her youngest sister Ruth had married a young man who had done farm work experience with them. He was employed full-time in the business by her father, with Jen and Ruth both busy with small children and part-time on the farm. Many dollars had been spent grain-feeding their self-replacing merino sheep with large-scale destruction to their sandy soils and struggling grass base, not to mention the severe psychological struggle they found that goes with that.
They were introduced to Resource Consulting Services who taught Grazing For Profit including the practice of cell-grazing: high-density rotational grazing allowing plant recovery before regrazing. They “mobbed up” and began to break their large paddocks up into little ones. Shortly afterwards began their rethink on conventional chemical-based farming. They were disillusioned with lack of grass productivity, declining human and animal health, and increasing costs. So began the journey of discovery into regenerative farming with a focus on soil health. "Education is a wonderful thing!"
Enter ongoing interaction with Principle Focus, Soil Food Web Institute, Holistic Management and the KLR team offering Low Stress Stock-handling. By now Jen's sister Ruth, her husband David and herself were the “management team”. Jen's father eventually passed the farm on to her and her younger sister. He expressed great approval and satisfaction with the direction they were taking the farm business and felt that he was leaving it in good hands. "Dad was very proud of his mobs of self-replacing Merino sheep and Angus beef cattle so, out of respect to him, we waited until after his death to sell all that breeding and embark on livestock trading using KLR Marketing principles, focusing on the sell and replacement of grass, money and livestock."
To sell all their livestock wasn't really necessary in order to trade however it helped sever the sentimental tie to those animals and they discovered that there are a lot of really well-bred animals out there. Working as a team and focusing on their skills and interests plus good communication, meant their business has a balanced approach to its operations with individual roles naturally developing. Jen has become Chief Cattle Buyer and attends at least 3 cattle markets per week. "Buying at auction is a challenging and somewhat exhilarating experience. I love it, despite feeling nervous and anxious at each bidding contest. It is so satisfying purchasing quality under-priced animals then giving them the happiest lives possible for the time they are in our care."
With both her children now adults, Jen and her husband plan to build a house and 'retire' to one of their farms. "Why do I love it Agriculture? It's the earth ingrained in my skin, the black under my nails, the wrinkles on my face and the scar from the melanoma on my neck. It's the myriad of smells and sensations, of cold and heat and wind and dust and rain. It's the physicality and the peace, there's death and there's life and growth. It's watching the dogs play and the cattle quietly grazing and the horse snorting and galloping with her tail in the air like an idiot because she loves it too. It's the sense of achievement of building something and of giving. Of being a tiny particle in a vast landscape to which we contribute and nurture. It is nature at her finest and then throwing us her extremes and that's so challenging. And it's the legacy of the generations gone and the generations to come, and it's mightier than us all yet fragile in our hands."
You Jen, sound like you were an AgWomen from day one. You obviously live and breath the land which means your perception of a life in agriculture is so honest. For that we are so happy to see you doing what you do best. Congratulations on running such a successful business.