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How Tess Herbert became an inspirational leader in ag

Tess Herbert is known for her many roles held during her expansive 20-plus years in the feedlot industry.

Co-owner of Gundamain Pastoral with her husband Andrew, Tess is a past ALFA Councillor and was the first female ALFA President. She also spent three years as Chair of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework steering group, and now she’s helping emerging leaders through the Drought Resilience Leaders Mentoring Program.

Her resume reads of hard work, self-investment, and being open to opportunities when they come knocking.

Be that as it may, how does one go from a teaching career, to being dubbed ‘an inspirational leader in agriculture’ by her peers?

“I started teaching at Forbes and then met my husband there. He was a mixed farmer at that stage and had a small cattle feedlot,” Tess said.

Flash forward a few years and three kids, Tess’ career pivot came about by way of difficulty finding childcare so she could keep teaching and their farming operation being on the verge of expansion.

“Andrew suggested that I stay and work with him on building a larger feedlot, so we built our home feedlot, Gundamain, in 2001,” Tess said.

“A couple of years later, we went into partnership with agents AJF Brien in Coonamble at a 10,000-head yard and then we bought a 6500-head capacity feedlot near Wagga Wagga.”

The Herberts have since sold their interests in those two feedlots, with the 6000-head Gundamain and other farming interests being their focus.

Several years after building Gundamain Feedlot, Tess was shoulder-tapped for a position with the industry’s peak representative body, Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA).

“I’d been working in our business for about 10 years by then, mainly in compliance, and I was asked if I’d like to be involved,” she said.

“I was elected to sit on the ALFA Council and after several years, took on the Vice Presidency. At that stage, I had also applied for the Australian Rural Leadership Program and was awarded the ALFA/MLA Grain Fed Beef Industry Scholarship to participate.

“After that experience and because I’d completed the 18-month course on leadership and developed some skills through that process, I felt ready to take on the position of President.

“As the President of ALFA, you’re also a director of the Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC) and when I finished my term as ALFA President, I took up the position of Chair on the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework for three years, which I finished in late 2021.”

Since hanging up those hats, Tess has moved into a mentoring role as part of the ARLP Drought Resilience Leaders Mentoring Program – a process that she really enjoys.

Tess Herbert says "everyone can be an advocate for the industry, it’s just one conversation at a time".

Asked what advice she would give to young lot feeders, Tess admitted it was hard to nail down.

“It depends on the day and the people you’re with and the circumstances, but you need to be a good listener,” she said.

“You need to have the capacity to deal with really complex situations because often there’s not one defined, black-and-white answer or response to a lot of the issues that you’re confronted with.

“You need to have an ability to deal with crisis calmly and reasonably.

“You also need to be able to develop the skill of having difficult conversations with people, not just leaving it and thinking ‘oh, that’ll disappear’ or ‘that’ll fix itself’; problem solving and being able to get to a successful outcome which may not necessarily please everyone but is still the best possible outcome.”

The 6000-head Gundamain Feedlot is the "heart and soul" of Andrew and Tess Herbert's Gundamain Pastoral operation.

Despite the current staffing challenges, Tess said it’s an exciting time to be in the industry and the initiatives that are in place are encouraging people to learn more.

“The opportunities are there and the pathways that the Feedlot TECH hub provides, whatever level you’re at there’s an option there for you,” Tess said.

“We recognise that some people don’t have leadership aspirations, they just want to do their job and do it well; Feedlot TECH provides training opportunities for those who just want to do their job better.

“And for those who are interested in extra training or leadership positions, those opportunities are also there. Programs like the Young Lot Feeder of the Year Award and the MPM Program, all of those are creating a pathway for people who are interested in what else they can do.”

Whether you’re happy where you’re at or have leadership aspirations, Tess said industry advocacy is the responsibility of every person involved in lot feeding.

“Everyone can be an advocate for the industry, it’s just one conversation at a time.”

If you would like to learn more about feedlot-specific training courses that are available or professional development opportunities, visit the industry’s dedicated online careers and training hub, Feedlot TECH.