Award-winning farmer supports farming’s next generation

Catherine Pickford’s management of her low input dairy farm in Somerset has seen her named 2022 Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year. We speak to her about her experiences and the approach she takes on her farm in Lovington.

Four years ago, Catherine Pickford was at a crossroads with her dairy unit. The tenanted farm she took over from her father 30 years previously needed investment, but the landlord was negative about the future of farming.

“My farm business tenancy (FBT) was running out and I decided we needed to move, but it was quite tricky to find a new tenancy,” she explains. Fortunately, her farm consultant heard of another holding in Lovington and put her in touch with the landlord.

“It’s just 10 miles as the crow flies from the previous farm,” she explains. “It’s bigger, with 500 acres here compared to 280 acres before. We moved everything across lock, stock and barrel.”

There was no parlour at the new farm, so Catherine took out a loan to install a 40:80 swing over. “To justify that, we needed more cows, so I bought 50 more animals with my second-in-command farm manager Nathan Crocker to increase the herd.” Nathan now owns a proportion of the herd and Catherine supports him in his plan to increase this further.

The new parlour also meant increasing to milking twice a day. “We had reduced to once a day in 2014 when Nathan went to New Zealand for six months and I was milking on my own. With this new parlour, we were able to increase again.”

The spring calving herd now stands at 400 cows, which are New Zealand Friesian cross Jerseys. Catherine and Nathan’s preference is a small cow of around 500kg, producing yields of around 5,500 litres/year with high milk solids for their contract with a local cheesemaker.

“Our system is very low input and we don't push for yield,” says Catherine.

Growth can come on and off the family farm

She joined her parents on the farm in 1995 after school. “I failed my A Levels and went to London to retake them. I stayed on afterwards doing various jobs for several years before coming home.

“I think it’s very important to experience life and work elsewhere and not to go straight back to the family farm,” she says. This is particularly important with knowing how to manage staff, she stresses.

“I'm also very keen for young people go off and see the world. One of our female employees is now going to New Zealand to work, and I really encourage that.”

“If you are keen, the opportunities are there”

Catherine believes attitudes have changed regarding women in farming. “When I first took over, people would ask for the farmer and walk straight past me, but now it is becoming more accepted. I have never considered it a big thing. There is no reason why women can't do just as good a job as men.

“It is not as physical anymore,” she continues. “What we lack in brawn, we make up for in brain. There is always another way of doing things.”

The industry needs to be more attractive to all young people, she says. “They should not be expected to work 60 hours a week with minimal days off.” She would like to see more flexibility for part-time working too. Catherine’s aim is that full-time employees typically work a 40 to 45-hour week or 50 hours maximum during the nine-week calving period. “They always have two days off a week and are well paid,” she adds.

Catherine believes the opportunities for women are plentiful. “It depends on the person, but if you are keen, the opportunities are there. It's not just milking cows, there are many other related jobs too. If you want something enough, it is up to you to go and get it.

“I love working in agriculture. It gives me the flexibility to do what I want and it pays the bills. I like working with people and animals and am proud to produce a high-quality product that is used locally.”

Image credit: Kathy Horniblow


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