A Victorian dairy farmer whose family has been farming in Gippsland for 164 years has walked away from his Denison farm because of ongoing stress from the dairy crisis, which led to his late diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome.
Sixth-generation dairy farmer Brad Missen was calm but concerned as he said goodbye to his 300-head herd before they were sold at auction.
- A person with Tourette syndrome will have physical and vocal tics lasting more than a year
- It is a neurological disorder with symptoms that are made worse by stress
- Treatment includes medication and behavioural therapy
- Tourette’s does not have serious complications, but it may be accompanied by other conditions, such as ADHD, and these can cause learning difficulties.
“It’s a sad day to see them go. They’ve been part of our family for so long but it’s time to move on,” Mr Missen said.
“I think I’ve done my grieving a few weeks ago, so today hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would have been.
“It’s a major thing to do but I think it’s been done at the right time.”
End of an era for family
As he walks through the saleyard it is clear Mr Missen knows these cows well — after all, he and his family have been looking after them for decades.
His grandfather started the herd in 1951 and Mr Missen said the family had formed close bonds with the animals.
“People don’t realise how diverse their temperaments and personalities are.
“We’ve hand-reared some through droughts, hand-fed all the way through until they’re 12 months old.
“You’re well aware of who they are, what they do and what they’re like.”
Stress creates health risks
Since then, many farmers have exited the industry or cut back their operations.
For Mr Missen, the stress of the past two years has had a significant effect on his health.
“When the crisis hit it was pretty stressful for quite a few weeks, and at this point that’s probably the most stressed I’ve ever been,” he said.
“We just sat down as a family and we sort of said we’ll ride this one out and reassess in a couple of years.
“We thought we would have got through it without too much trouble, but we just didn’t recover as well as we thought.”
Tourette Syndrome diagnosis
Shortly after the dairy crisis, a visit to the doctor led to Mr Missen being diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.
“It was probably the stress at that point that brought the symptoms on much stronger,” he said.
“It changes the way I’ve got to do things; I can’t really write anymore and I can’t type really quickly because I just keep pressing the wrong buttons all the time.
“Hopefully once the stress is gone I might get back to where I was.”
Mr Missen said the diagnosis explained much of the behaviour he had been experiencing.
“There’s a lot of issues with that I do tend to swear at people and myself a lot and click my tongue and stuff,” Mr Missen said.
“I actually recently found out that leaves you a bit more susceptible for stress
“Maybe that’s why I’ve felt it more than others.”
Mr Missen said the diagnosis was the catalyst for change, and it had forced him to make a significant change and step away from the farm.
Leaving the farm part of a wider trend
Earlier this year a report from Dairy Australia showed one in five farmers reported they were making plans to leave the industry.
Mr Missen said he was normally an optimistic person, but he was concerned about the future of Australia’s dairy industry.
“I think the potential’s still there to have a vibrant industry, but we’ve got to do a better job of looking after the families in it,” he said.
“A lot of business people don’t realise that a farm is not just a farm and a business, it’s a farm and a business and a family, for family-owned farms.
“If the family’s not doing well, the farm’s not doing well. We need to do a better job of supporting farming families.”