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Backbone of Britain: Dairy farming and engaging with the public - finding the balance

Dairy farmer and communicator Amy Eggleston may have only returned to family farming life two years ago, but she is already making her mark at home and within the wider industry. Hannah Park finds out more.

Amy Eggleston works on the family dairy farm while also running her own communications business.
Amy Eggleston works on the family dairy farm while also running her own communications business.
Backbone of Britain: Dairy farming and engaging with the public - finding the balance

Moments into a conversation with Amy Eggleston and her positive, friendly and down-to-earth attitude is abundant.

She instantly resonates as someone with the mindset for taking on new challenges and, testament to this, the past two years have seen her carve out a role in the family business, establish her own public relations and marketing company, and build a growing social media platform – thedairydaughter – which she uses to engage with the farming and wider community on a regular basis.

Amy, 25, is now back at home farming and working to get her communications venture off the ground on the family dairy farm near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, but if you had asked her five years ago if this would have been her path in life, you may have got a very different answer.

“Although I’d grown up involved in the farm, helping here and there, it was never full-time and I’d never really given it much thought as a potential career path,” Amy says.

After settling on Leeds University, studying for an international business degree led Amy into doing a year’s work experience in London, working in events and later public relations and marketing.

"Somehow, I’ve found two things I enjoy and I genuinely want to do both"

Amy Eggleston

Options

 

“Everyone thought I would hate working in London,” she says.

“I’ve always been a countryside girl and suddenly I was working on Oxford Street.

But I knew I didn’t have one specific thing I wanted to do after university, so I wanted to keep my options open when I chose my degree.

“Working in London was totally different to anything I’d experienced before, but it opened my eyes to a totally different world and I definitely gained some really valuable experience in communicating with customers.” After this, circumstances during her final year at university saw Amy spend more time at home than she may have originally planned.

“I had a skiing accident and managed to break my neck, so ended up doing my last semester of study at home while recovering.

After graduating, I spent a lot of time at home and missed the countryside, so I decided to give farming a go.” But, despite the familiar environment, Amy says those initial months were still daunting.

“I think everyone was expecting me to know what to do when it came to day-to-day jobs, milking and basically just the everyday routine, but I didn’t.

I started going to farm groups and meetings in the area to try and learn more, but I was almost always the only female in the room and certainly the youngest.

There’s still some quite old fashioned views out there and I did feel a bit out of my depth.” Not one to be defeatist, she stuck at it and two-and-a-half years later, Amy says she wouldn’t look back.

“I’m lucky because I farm with my dad and those who have worked on the farm for more than 10 years, so they were all really willing to help me get started and teach me on the job.

But setting up my Instagram and Twitter platforms has definitely helped too.” Originally set-up after chats with non-farming friends, Amy hoped her pages could be a platform for creativity and education as well as provide an insight into life on the farm.

That remains the case, but they’ve also helped her, she says, in meeting like-minded, similar aged woman in farming.

“I’d come from a job where creativity was a big part of what I did and I wanted to keep doing that to some extent, going into a very practical, hands-on job “I remember brainstorming ideas for social media pages with my friends and at the start it was that they were just interested in seeing what went on day-to-day on the farm - not being from farming backgrounds, some of the things I would talk about baffled them.

Connected

 

“It started as way of keeping everyone in the loop, but as I spent more time on it and posted more, it connected me with other woman in agriculture.

“I’d also joined my local Young Farmers club but it really helped me meet more people working in the dairy industry.

It was, and still is, nice to feel like part of a community which I hadn’t had any previous exposure to.” Now, with more than 8,000 followers on Instagram, Amy says that while it is time consuming to keep up with, the network it has provided her with as well as opportunities which have since arisen make it worthwhile.

“I do put quite a lot into it to try and educate and teach people new things, with content like quizzes, while also promoting milk and British food as a whole.

“I’ve also signed up for the FaceTime a farmer initiative, organised by Leaf, where I’m currently paired with a secondary school of year 10s and a nursery school.

This has been entertaining in itself as the conversations I have are polar opposite.

The kids give me a really raw perspective on everything, I think in some ways it’s as valuable to me as it is to them.” And while Amy has experienced some negativity from anti-farming activists online, she says it’s most definitely a minority the good has always out-weighed the bad.

“Speaking to kids and getting messages from people who are genuinely enjoying my content makes it worth it, you just have to look past the negativity in some ways.”

 

Farming life

 

Now working at home full-time, Amy has thrown herself into family farming life alongside her parents, Paul and Claire, and brother, James, which she does alongside building up Pastures Green Communications, her public relations and marketing company which she launched last year.

Run over 295 hectares (725 acres), Bridge Farm is now home to an almost 500-head herd of spring block calving Freisian KiwiCross cows run on a grass-based system, looking to maximise milk from forage.

The herd averaged a yield of 6,500/ cow last year, with milk supplied to local Long Clawson Dairy, Melton Mowbray, to make Stilton Cheese.

The system has experienced some change though, growing from a 250-cow, high input, high output yearround calving herd over the past 10 years.

“Moving to the current system has been a gradual process,” says Amy.

“But luckily it has mainly been going on while I’ve been old enough to know what’s been happening, so I do feel like I’ve been involved along the way.” Last year, Amy’s first full year working at home saw a new cow housing facility put up as well as a new 24:48 parlour installed parallel to the farms existing, identical model.

“It was an idea my dad and I saw on a goat farm while we were visiting New Zealand and we thought could work for us.

We already had the building space which lent itself to the design and with one person milking in each now we’ve halved daily milking time to under 2.5 hours each end of the day.”

 

Grazing

 

Alongside milking and other day-today jobs, Amy highlights one of her main tasks as managing the rotational grazing platform for the milkers, measuring grass weekly with a plate metre, tracking grass growth and planning which paddocks cows should graze each week.

“Working on the farm and being part of the agricultural community has definitely got easier as I’ve got to grips with the practical side of the job,” she says.

“But also, as I’ve learned more, I find it easier to get involved in discussions.

“I know I’m lucky too to be able to be flexible when it comes to working on the farm and in the office for my communications company.

I try and split my time, but it’s flexible if one or the other is busy for a period.

“Somehow, I’ve found two things I enjoy and I genuinely want to do both.”

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