When 25-year-old Ellen Arney stepped into the role of Farm Manager of her family’s sheep stud, she knew there was going to be a steep learning curve ahead. Whilst some may consider her young to be managing a farm business, Ellen has a deep appreciation and enthusiasm for sheep breeding and together with a love of farming, she was ready to take the ram by the horns.

“I’ve always been interested in farm work, pushing sheep along. As I grew up, I just learnt how to read them and loved going around the paddocks with Dad,” explains Ellen.

Inverbrackie Border Leicester Stud is located in Finniss, South Australia. For her thirteenth birthday, Ellen was gifted ten stud ewes from her parents. Perhaps this was the start of the succession plan, because if you ask Ellen, she was always going to come back to the farm. However, there were some conditions that had to be met before this happened.

“After finishing boarding school, I did a gap year where I worked on the farm for part. Dad said to me before I come back permanently, he wanted me to work away for a bit. I was already enrolled in a Bachelor of Agriculture and Business and Armidale University in New South Wales so off I went.

“The study showed me that there are so many opportunities in ag, so many ways to specialise if you wanted to. But with farming, you kind of do all those bits in farming itself, not just doing the one thing all the time and using all your skill sets.”

When COVID hit in 2020, Ellen moved back to South Australia and completed her final year part-time, whilst also working on the farm. Her Dad, Lynton, was ready to start the succession, and Ellen was offered a managerial position the following year.

“Mum and Dad decided to buy a house off the property. Dad comes out most days and asks what jobs I want him to do for the day. I’m not mechanically minded, and there are still things I can’t do like fix a tractor, but he can teach and show me.”

 

Ellen Arney and her dog

WoTL’s Stepping into Leadership Program

Following her participation in Livestock SA’s Agri-Silience program, WoTL’s Stepping into Leadership (SiL) Program came highly recommended by several people to Ellen as an ideal leadership course for women in agriculture.

“I was looking to participate in a leadership course because I knew I was young to be taking over the farm at 25. At the time, I was only just old enough to do the SiL Program!” explains Ellen.

“Many successors don’t get offered this opportunity (taking on the management of the family farm) until they’re in their 40s so I knew I was going to be doing things so much earlier.”

Ellen had a few reservations about participating in an all-women’s program. Whilst attending other rural women’s events has given her a greater appreciation of the vital role rural women play in the agricultural sector, she was often left feeling like she didn’t quite fit the mould.

“I guess for me, I don’t have that support of a husband or farmer.  I am the farmer whereas a lot of the women played more of a support role, which is great, and they absolutely have an important role to play. But I associate myself with being a farmer, so these events didn’t quite resonate as much for me.

“What I liked about the SiL Program is that it wasn’t just a two- day course like some of the other (leadership) courses on offer. It required an ongoing commitment, and I was going to be made accountable, which I guess is what pushed me into it.”

As it turns out, Ellen realised she had more in common than she realised with the diverse group of participants, who whilst all connected to agriculture, all had unique backgrounds and stories to tell.

“When we first met, I felt like everyone had known each other for months which made us feel more at ease and allow us to be more vulnerable together. We can just talk at another level.

Susie Green, Ellen Arney, Minister Clare Scriven

Above: WoTL Chair Susie Green, Ellen Arney and Minister Clare Scriven at the 2023 Stepping into Leadership Graduation.

Following her completion of the 2023 SiL Program, Ellen is forging ahead and continuing to learn the ropes in her Farm Manager role under the guidance of her dad.

“Since finishing the program, I find that I communicate differently. The way I communicate with Dad is different. I often find myself stopping when something is hitting a nerve and thinking before responding. Learning how to reframe questions and conversations has been such a vital skill.”

Lynton has also noticed changes in Ellen.

“Dad has said things to me like ‘I’ve noticed a lot of differences in you. You’ve changed quite a bit.’  But I’ve also noticed that I’m not so upset all the time, I used to take a lot of things personally. The dynamic between Dad and I has changed.

“One of my pet hates used to be him talking over me to the dogs. One time when this happened, I took a breath, and offered a boundary. I just said “Next time, whoever’s with the dogs gives the instructions.

“All the expectations that were put on me, were by me. I’m still learning new things. I have to remember he’s had 50 years of experience whilst I’ve had five!”

“Understanding different personality types has been incredibly beneficial. Whilst I can see the benefit of doing the SiL Program later once you have the experience behind you, I’m glad I know a lot of this stuff now, the life skills and learning how other people work is so valuable. It’s really set me up for the future.”

Ellen acknowledges that the SiL Program can be confronting, as a large focus is developing an understanding of yourself.

“It’s really rewarding to have that level of awareness. It just changes how you approach life going forward by offering a different perspective.

Ellen’s gift of ten ewes has now grown to her managing a flock of 2000. Whilst she can’t necessarily claim ownership of them all (yet), she did recently purchase her first parcel of land from her parents as the succession continues. Whilst she is still growing and learning, Ellen continues to lean on her SiL network for support.

“We try to catch up every year. We’re just able to talk at another level after our shared experience.”