‘There is something magical about watching a newly born calf take its first steps'

In the first of a new series, dairy farmer Emily Spicer explains why she left the corporate world to run the family farming business

I took over the family dairy farm from my parents in 2012, when I was 27. Dairy farming may not seem an obvious transition from my former role as a project manager at AgustaWestland, a helicopter-manufacturing company, but both my partner and I were excited by the business opportunity. The current market conditions are undeniably tough, but we’re glad we took on the challenge.

Our position is different to many others in the UK, as we’re part of the UK’s largest dairy cooperative, Arla, which supplies 25% of the UK’s milk. It’s owned by more than 12,700 farmers across Europe, including 3,000 from the UK. Being a farmer-owner means we benefit directly from every drop of Arla’s milk and dairy products sold.

In addition to running the farm, I am one of the democratically elected farmer- owners sitting on Arla’s UK joint society council, meaning that I act as the link between other farmer-owners and the UK board to ensure the cooperative delivers the greatest benefits to its owners. This means that I often have to attend meetings once I’ve closed the farm gate, but it’s important as the dairy industry fluctuates, which impacts the price we receive for milk. I can help influence decisions and understand what measures are being taken to help us through this challenging time. For example, Arla recently launched a farmer-owned product marque and a quality-assurance programme. Together, these help to demonstrate our commitment to producing milk that is of high quality, sourced in a sustainable manner and from animals that are well looked after.

A dairy farmer needs to be an accomplished business person. My role involves managing budgets and working with planning authorities to modernise the farm, in addition to assuming the roles of vet, nutritionist and midwife. While it may be challenging at times at least I never get bored.

A typical day for me starts at 6am. I first visit the calving area to check on the expectant mums and newborn calves. Our cows are milked robotically so the next stop is the office to round up any cows late for milking. We then feed the cows and calves, clean up the sheds and rake their sand beds. Then it’s time for our breakfast.

The rest of my day depends on the weather and time of the year, but tasks range from animal husbandry to building work and administration, to name just a few. We go to the cow shed at 4pm and repeat the morning routine. We usually finish about 7.30pm but during the summer months we will harvest or carry out ground work in the fields until around 10.30pm. So it’s a long day all year-around, but I know it’s not dissimilar to many other industries, where people have to bring work home, or check their emails at all times of day.

Farming is traditionally seen as a male-dominated industry, but it is a very rewarding profession, whatever your gender. There is something magical about watching a newly born calf take its first steps, or seeing the tanker collect your milk, knowing it will land on breakfast tables across the region.

Farming is also hard work, and many of us work seven days a week. I often struggle with work-life balance, particularly during tougher times when the milk price is low but I’m hoping that better times are around the corner.

To help us, it’s crucial that consumers and the government continue to support the dairy industry, which employs around 80,000 people in the UK. Buying dairy products is the very best way to ensure the continued existence of family dairy farms like ours.

Emily Spicer

The GuardianTramp

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