ATRANS-Tasman polocrosse visit 10 years ago led to Western
Australia gaining a dedicated agricultural advocate, with a strong knowledge of the sheep and wool industry and a definite flair for creating positive, entertaining and honest social media content.
Mandy Matthews is from a farm an hour inland on New Zealand's central North Island, in the hills near Whanganui, where her dad still farms with a manager, running Romney-Perendale cross sheep, with Suffolk rams over the terminal ewes and beef cattle, over about 1200 hectares of land.
They also have a finishing farm a couple of hours' drive north, near Taumaranui, where her dad is based.
"I grew up on a sheep and beef farm, I had a real love for the land from a very young age," Ms Matthews said.
"Most of dad's family are sheep and beef farmers."
It was a lucky turn of events that resulted in what has become nearly a decade of involvement in the WA sheep industry.
After finishing high school, Ms Matthews stayed and helped on the family farm before completing a six-month stint in Queensland playing polocrosse.
After that trip, in 2013, she decided to move to WA.
"I came to WA to stay with a family who I had met through polocrosse and they provided me with a horse to play on for the season and looked after me," Ms Matthews said.
"In return I helped look after and exercise their horses.
"From there I started my first job at Amberley, Livestock Shipping Services (LSS), pre-export quarantine feedlot at Kojonup.
"I loved working there, it was always busy and there were always so many different things to do."
Staying at Amberley for two years, Ms Matthews enjoyed working with sheep and decided to continue living in WA, working at farms across the Great Southern and Wheatbelt.
"It's hard to see a future for farming livestock in New Zealand anymore," she said.
"Carbon farming, red tape and the cost of land - because of pine plantations and kickback carbon credits - have made it so difficult.
"I also love living and working in WA, especially with Merino sheep as where we are in New Zealand it is not a suitable environment for Merinos.
"It has given me so many opportunities and I wanted to show people how great the industry is and educate them by being honest and capturing it in real time."
Ms Matthews briefly worked as a farmhand for Steve and Andrea McGuire, at Kojonup, before being offered a job as a sheep manager at Corrigin.
"Those days would involve checking and feeding the sheep, a lot of checking water because most of it was on scheme and your general management practices such as shearing and yard work," Ms Matthews said.
WAFarmers general section vice-president Steve McGuire said Ms Matthews was absolutely crazy - in the best possible way.
"Mandy was a great worker and loved working with sheep," Mr McGuire said.
"I remember thinking she was crazy because we had 3000 ewe hoggets to drench and she told me I could go and get other jobs done, she was happy to do it all the marking by herself.
"I just thought 'wow, I do not know a single person willing to do that on their own' she is a breath of fresh air, a real go-getter, it took all day, but she completed the drenching.
"She is willing to put the effort in and work hard."
Ms Matthews moved on to a sheep and cropping farm at Brookton, owned by Murray Hall, which has about 7500 breeding ewes.
"I worked with the sheep, looking after their welfare and carrying out management practices, I worked there for five years," she said.
Having grown up in the industry, Ms Matthews has always been a passionate advocate for farmers, the industry, best practice management and wool.
This inherent connection to livestock and, in particular sheep and wool production, was the driving force behind her becoming an agricultural influencer, or 'agvocate' as it has become tagged, and it all started with Instagram before adding a TikTok account to her arsenal of tools to spread the enthusiasm to a wider audience.
"I started posting pictures to Instagram to show how picturesque farming and the Wheatbelt can be and then I started posting videos to TikTok to show people why we do, what we do, and what we're doing to improve our systems," Ms Matthews said.
"There are always ways to improve through management practices such as selectively breeding our Merinos so we can move away from mulesing.
"It is just that no one, other than farmers, knows about it or understands it, but through social media it is a way we can try and bridge the gap."
As an agriculture influencer using her popularity on social media to help educate people on the various aspects of rural life and the livestock industry, Ms Matthews has been described as a viral success story.
She said the popularity of her accounts came about organically and led to 16,100 Instagram followers and 459,500 people following her on TikTok - where her videos have been viewed more than 15 million times.
"It's just being open and honest about our industry," she said.
"Honesty is the best policy.
"I think people respect the raw truth, not the sugar-coated, edited version.
"I just started by posting random videos from the farm.
"Once I started seeing some of the comments from people about the industry, I realised there was a need to create a connection between urban areas and the country.
"I use a lot of videos because they are definitely a better way to get things out and explain things more, it really shows people how it happens."
Ms Matthews said her participation in The Livestock Collective's leaders workshop was invaluable in teaching her how to have conversations with people who might not completely understand the industry or who disagree with some of its more controversial aspects.
More than 100 alumni have been put through the course which helps young people working in agriculture advocate for their industry via social media.
"It's been a really supportive network for me and really helpful when my own social media blew up," she said.
"It helped me to manage how I responded to people's different views."
Acknowledging that a lot of time goes into being a social media influencer, Ms Matthews said it was worth it, providing a platform for industry to get its message across in a relevant and popular way.
A video of her kelpie border collie-cross dog, Blue, jumping up on hay bales to the song 'The Real Slim Shady' went viral, attracting about six million views.
This resulted in a dramatic increase in her number of TikTok followers, the video continues to be shared on various social media networks and online pages, making its total audience hard to determine.
In more recent footage and pictures, Ms Matthews shared her experience working on a live export ship, something she plans to do more of, since deciding 2023 was the year she would take a chance and start working for herself.
"I still have to do one more voyage to get full accreditation as an onboard stock person," she said.
"It was such a rewarding trip, I hopped on the boat in Fremantle on April 4 to help with loading and travelled to Kuwait, Dubai and Oman."
It was on this voyage that Ms Matthews spotted a familiar ear tag in one of the sheep she was offloading.
"I was able to trace some sheep from a property I worked on in WA," she said.
"They definitely came off the boat fatter than they went on which showed how content and well fed they had been on the voyage and seeing animals I had a personal connection to was such a great experience - it was too great a story not to share."
Working for herself not only includes her onboard stockperson role, it includes a plan to have her own sheep contracting business, as well as incorporating her Merino clothing and products business.
"I am still figuring it all out," Ms Matthews said.
"Ultimately I want to get my own sheep handler and set of portable yards to build on my contracting business.
"Having the right facilities and equipment helps make the work easier and faster."
Her clothing and baby products business is another new instalment to Ms Matthews involvement with Merino wool.
Both her contracting and Merino wool products are available through her Instagram @rattle.ya.dags
"I really love Merino wool, it is a natural fibre with so many benefits," Ms Matthews said.
"I sell New Zealand wool, New Zealand-made workwear from MKM originals and Australian Merino, Australia made
@merineobaby baby products.
"I wear the products myself and love them, the workwear jumpers are perfect for winter - but probably something a lot of people don't know is the natural properties of wool make it breathable, temperature regulating, sweat wicking, and is odour, fire and UV-resistant.
"I find the 100pc Merino wool shearers singlet way more comfortable than 100pc cotton work shirts."
The workwear range includes socks, beanies, jumpers, t-shirts and shearers' singlets, while the Australian Merino baby products include infant sleeping bags, natural shaped lambskins for prams and cots and sheepskin toys.
This popular advocate also had a stall at this year's Wagin Woolorama and has attended some regional events, but utilises Instagram to promote the products.
Ms Matthews is truly invested in the sheep and wool industry in WA and her enthusiasm and positive attitude is evident in her posts, but what really shines through is her future aspirations - because she sees the potential for the WA sheep and wool industry and wants to remain a part of it.
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