Turning an interest in cattle into a career in the beef industry 

Seedstock cattle producer and Angus Australia Extension Manager Jake Phillips was recently selected as the recipient of the Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association (ARCBA) Arthur Rickards Young Breed Leaders Scholarship.   

The Scholarship provides a vehicle for a representative from the registered cattle breeding sector to conduct a study tour to investigate the latest cattle breeding trends internationally.   

Alongside his wife Emma Phillips and son Angus, 3, Jake runs a Murray Grey and Angus seedstock operation, Phillips Cattle Company, at Walla Park, SA.     

The presentation of the Scholarship to Mr Phillips took place during the ARCBA Young Breed Leaders Workshop, which was held in Brisbane, QLD, from the 24th – 25th of October.   

As a former alumnus of the Angus Youth program and the person leading the current Angus Youth program though his role as Angus Australia Extension Manager, Jake has a passion for supporting young people who wish to forge careers in the beef industry.   

As such, through the Scholarship Program, Jake will now partake in a customized tour, which he plans to utilize to investigate better ways to get first generation farmers into the industry at large, as well as seedstock production.   

Jake is a first-generation farmer himself and has a great story to share with other aspiring farmers about how he was able to forge a career in the beef industry and in doing so hopes to inspire others.  

I first had an interest in agriculture growing up as a young child, spending time on family and friends’ cattle stations, I was fairly exposed to country life and regional areas, so I had an interest in agriculture, but didn’t actually come from a farming family,’ he said.   

‘From that interest I went to an agricultural high school, which is actually in the middle of Adelaide, and it was during high school that I got a particular interest in the different parts of agriculture I was exposed and the one that I became obsessed with was beef cattle.’  

Jake noted that a lot of young people get their interest in beef cattle from showing steers with their schools, but while he appreciates that that was part of his journey, it was thanks to the fact that the school had a breeding herd that he discovered a real passion and interest in breeding and genetics, AI programs and the whole production cycle of the year. 

‘It was from that interest that I then began working in that part of the industry on different properties for different cattle studs, primarily through the Adelaide Hills. I pretty much started out as an inexperienced farmhand and worked my way through to effectively looking after and managing different aspects of their programs.’ 

During this time Jake went on to do a Bachelor of Agriculture at The University of Adelaide and purchased some of his first cows, along the way getting involved in youth programs, primarily the Angus Youth and Murray Grey Youth Programs. 

‘I became involved with those programs as much as I possibly could, not only as a participant but also on management and organising committees.’  

The South Australian Junior Heifer Expo was another program that had a huge impact on Jake’s career progression. 

‘I attended the Expo for four years and in 2009 I won the Senior Champion Herdsperson title which was a three-month study tour to North America which was when I went from, ‘this is really a good interest’ to actually knowing I want to do this for the rest of my life.’ 

‘Following that I effectively ramped up the involvement that I’ve had with the beef industry and carved out a career over the last 15 years with all sorts of things in the beef industry, from genetic evaluation at ABRI, to carcase grading and looking after the MSA supply chain while working at MLA for various processors and different parts of the industry.’  

‘I was a cattle buyer for five years buying prime and feed lot cattle on the East Coast, based out of Naracoorte in South Australia and then also spent three and half years in the processing plant in management positions from food safety to animal welfare, to importing country requirements.’ 

Jake now works for Angus Australia as the Extension Manager and has been in that role for two and half years.  

In the background, while his career has taken him across the supply chain in its entirety, Jake and his wife Emma have brought their own property, 60 acres near Naracoorte, and invested in their own stud cows, none of which was inherited.  

‘I am not sure if it’s the harder way or an easier way, but we certainly had to do it from scratch, it’s a deep passion that we have, and it complements what we do in our careers.’ 

When asked about the people, mentors or leaders in the industry that have helped Jake along the way, the first one that came to mind was one of his high school teachers, Cath Evans from Urbrae High School. 

‘She was particularly hard on me in terms of my cattle handling and how I’d go about feeding the cattle or judging the cattle. She was a really tough judge, if I’m being honest. But I think the hard skin she gave me effectively encouraged me that hard work will beat talent all the time.’  

‘I came into this industry with no talent and no experience, so I had to work harder than anyone else if I wanted to achieve something, so she was very encouraging of that.’ 

Fast forwarding, Jake went from purchasing his first Murray Grey cow to purchasing his first Angus cows and has been very thankful to those that have supported him and looked after his cattle during this time when he didn’t have a property of his own to have those cattle. 

‘The ability for those established studs to allow me to have one or two cows there while I was building my career and building my numbers, that was really amazing and an inflection point for me going from someone with an interest, to actually having some skin in the game.’ 

Having people support him and help him out where needed, whether it be financially, providing sires for joining or though giving their time has been pivotal for Jake. 

‘I could talk forever about the value of mentoring, but at some stage someone probably actually has to go out of their way to help you by financially standing you up and that might not be a significant amount of money, it might actually just be their time that’s really important,” he said, ‘the ability for someone to allow you to have a cow on their place and support you to go and  find the time and the money to get the next one.’ 

‘That I think is the difference between school kids coming out with interest and then young adults actually owning a few cows, that point there is the hardest to work through.’ 

Jake’s involvement in cattle youth programs was a driving force behind his passion and helped him to discover his place in the Angus family. 

‘My first involvement with Angus Youth was applying for the Michigan State Scholarship sponsored by Semex, which I applied for with support from the South Australian Angus Group and travelled to Sydney Show for the interview. While I wasn’t awarded that scholarship, what it did open me up to is the world of the Angus family, the Angus Youth movement and all of the different other opportunities.’ 

Following this experience Jake attended the Angus Roundup in Glen Innes in 2011, heading over with other South Australian competitors. 

‘I didn’t know too many people at all, so that was a real eye-opening experience to see that there were close to 200 young people that were very capable and enthusiastic.’ 

‘All I really knew was the South Australian heifer show and to have a world like that where a single breed was so well supported and where a lot of the young people were so capable, that was really quite inspiring.’ 

Jake was fortunate at that Roundup to come away with the TransTasman Exchange, the Senior Herdsperson title and the opportunity to become an Angus Youth Ambassador.  

‘While I walked away with some accolades, I actually walked away with some support and endorsement to keep going.  Encouragement I suppose, is the word.’ 

A pivotal moment for Jake during this process was when he was interviewed by Hugh Munro from Booroomooka Angus and Peter Parnell, CEO of Angus Australia at the time. 

‘Peter asked me what attracted me to the Angus breed because I didn’t come from an Angus background. I told him that I felt that the Angus cows were the most relevant beef cows for the Australian beef industry. And that’s why I was there, to learn about the Angus cows.’ 

‘Peter responded to me to say that the reason he joined the Angus world was the same, that he actually really enjoyed the Angus cows, but it was the people that made him stay in the breed. And if I fast forward, 13 years, I agree with that. It was the cows that brought me to Angus, but it’s the people that are the reason that I’ve stayed in the Angus breed.’ 

When questioned as to what the driving force behind applying for the Arthur Rickards Young Breed Leaders Award was, it was the fact that the award was a grant to organise something around the recipient’s interest. 

‘Other than having a child I have effectively devoted every minute of every day to learning about and contributing to the beef industry. There are not too many things that I haven’t investigated or looked at or gone to, both though employment and personally.’ 

Based on his experience in forging his path, one of the burning aspirations or challenges that Jake sees is that while there are many opportunities in agriculture for young people to get involved in, it is actually really quite a limiting or challenging industry to get involved in past being an employee. 

‘When I looked at the Arthur Richards Scholarship application, because Arthur Richards actually gave me my first job out of Uni and because it was based on devotion and commitment to the Australian beef industry and commitment to helping young people in the beef industry, it really jumped out to me.’ 

‘There’s probably nothing I enjoy more than helping young people in the beef industry, and I’m very fortunate to be able to do that in my work life, but also just as much if not more in my personal life.’ 

Jake acknowledges that he has great access to breeding and genetic technology and some of the best cattle breeders in Australia on a regular basis and so wants the beef industry to be able support people who to go from having an interest and passion to having a life in it. 

‘I am inspired that we do have the right people in the industry to help young people, so it’s just about hopefully joining the dots between those young people that come with the right passion and the right attitude. We must help them find where the opportunities are to carve out the right careers,” he said. 

‘So I applied for the scholarship because there’s not a great deal of scholarships and opportunities available to beef industry people that are over the age of 30, but more importantly, I feel like I’m at a maturity level now where I have experienced quite a number of things in the beef industry and I’ve really got crystal clear clarity about what I wanted to get out of this and be able to take what I learn and pay it forward to other people.’ 

Jake plans to use the scholarship to travel through North America and share his learnings. He wants to find the answers to questions like how the beef industry is operating? How do people make farming decisions?.. How do people get into cattle ownership?.. How do people go from managers to owners? All the questions that people in the Australian beef industry are asking every day. 

‘The trip will involve a combination of industry events, educational conferences and property, ranch and business visits.’  

‘This will include things like Denver National Western Stock Show, time at Kansas State University, the American Angus Association, the University of Illinois, the United States Cattlemen’s Congress in Orlando, FL and attending the cattlemen’s college educational sessions there.’ 

 ‘There will also be a two-week road trip through the southeastern states and then up to the Dakotas and Montana. These will all be largely ranch and business visits with the theme to all of the visits being either first generation ranchers or smaller farming family operations that are expanding in today’s environment.’ 

In doing this trip, Jake wants to look at what skills or processes people are putting in place to be able to do that. Is it off farm income? Is it diversification of what they’re doing on the ranch? Is it collaborators or share farming, is it different finance opportunities. He wants to know the whole range of things that different operations are putting together to enable them to expand. 

‘The reason I’m looking at those kinds of segments around first generation or small farming family enterprises is obviously from a personal aspect, but more so I think that that is of interest literally to thousands of young people in the Australian beef industry. I know that even though it’s myself with the opportunity to go and try and find some answers in that space, I do feel there’s a lot of people behind me that will be very interested.’ 

– Diana Wood, Marketing & Communications Manager

 Feature Image: Jake Phillips with Nancy Crawshaw, Angus Australia Extention officer