For Liz Haines, raising her children on a farm was a lifestyle choice and she is passionate about the role of women within the industry. Here she tells Hannah Park about her journey, her motivation and her recent speech at the Women in Dairy conference.
Sitting down with a cup of tea to chat to Liz Haines, the scene at their farmhouse in Shropshire is one that most families across the country will be accustomed to.
It is homely and cosy, but as mother and a strong advocate for women in farming, carving out a career for herself and family has been no mean feat.
Farming was not always on the cards for Liz who, equipped with degree in English literature after graduating from Oxford in 2009, begun a career in publishing in London while her husband, Nick, spent some time in New Zealand.
After joining him on the other side of the world, the pair finally decided that city life could not give them the future they wanted and on returning, Liz gave up her job and the pair took on a contract farming agreement at the Hardwick Estate in 2013.
This meant Liz taking the leap into farming full-time, which, by her own admission, was a baptism of fire at first.
But it was something she was willing to give her all to knowing that firstly, this kind of opportunity does not come around all that often and secondly, it was where she wanted to start her family.
Running a 325-head cross-bred herd across 170 hectares (420 acres), Liz, 30, makes no bones about the hard work that has gone in to getting the farm to where it is at today, voicing her thoughts on women in the industry via social media. And all the while bringing up two small children.
She says: “Nick has a passion for cows and grass which lends itself perfectly to a career in agriculture, whereas for me, it has been more about a practical decision about where I wanted to raise children and have a family.
“I do enjoy working with livestock and living in the countryside – it is all part of it.
“But there were other considerations which were important to me alongside the practical farming element."
After helping Nick out in the years before, Liz learned the basics and was not afraid to get stuck in.
“Life on the farm has given us opportunities I wouldn’t have had up to now if I’d stayed in publishing,” she says.
“I wouldn’t have been able to run my own business with my husband and have the flexibility with my family.
Since the two children, George, two, and Rory, 14 weeks, were born, Liz helps with day-to-day jobs on the farm on what she says is a more ‘ad hoc’ basis to fit around childcare, and has taken on more of the paperwork side of the business.
But although she now takes a slightly different approach, she has always dedicated herself to making the business a success, relishing in the hard work she, alongside her husband, have put in, regardless of her initial non-farming background.
She says: “In the first year I just threw myself into things I hadn’t done before, rearing all the calves myself, milking and all the other day-to-day jobs. We would both be out there all day, everyday.
“I do think we were a bit naive at first, thinking we were going to manage the whole thing on our own, all of the time.”
And although to take on such a new challenge without that initial background in the industry must have been overwhelming, this was never a barrier for her, says Liz, and the challenges she faced applied to Nick as well.
“We moved to the area as a young couple trying to get our business off the ground and we have had to work hard to build up our reputation,” she says.
“There was pressure to prove we could do a good job and now that we have the children too, it can be a balancing act.
“Sometimes there is pressure for woman in agriculture to do it all, but it’s the same for those from all walks of life.
“In some ways I am luckier than most, as my husband is around to help a lot more and both our parents are supportive. He can pop back to the house during the day, or take the kids out doing jobs around the farm, either in the pickup or carried in a sling.
“Of course, life is hectic, but the farm gives us a pretty good work/family/life balance.”
Both of her sons have accompanied her to conferences and events and for Liz, networking is a priority; a chance to meet like-minded farmers and she truly credits the farming community for the acceptance she has felt towards her young family.
Having recently appeared on stage at the Women in Dairy conference with baby Rory strapped to her chest, it was undeniably an image that resonated with farming women far and wide.
There was much acknowledgement from other key speakers attending the conference that day, who noted how refreshing it was to see Liz up there doing her own thing, albeit something which, Liz feels, is just an everyday reality for many working mothers out there.
Liz maintains a humble demeanour though, taking all of this in her stride, barely batting an eyelid to the complimentary comments.
The Women in Dairy network as a whole is one Liz has found to be a good, positive platform to meet other farmers in her local area.
She says: “It has really found its direction and promotes the diversity of skills woman can bring to the industry.
“I hate stereotypes like woman are better at calf rearing because they are more nurturing or have better attention to detail. We have those qualities just as much as the next person.
“I enjoy calf rearing and can do it to a high standard, but I wouldn’t say that’s my forte.
“It’s about finding what your niche is on the farm and the element of the business you can bring skills to, whether that be in the office or in the field – that’s regardless of whether you are a woman.
“That doesn’t really come in to it. There is a role for everyone and nothing has to hold you back, but the biggest thing is having confidence.
“If you consider gender inequality an issue, the same instances apply regardless of the industry you are in.
“I would have encountered what I could have viewed as barriers if I had stayed in the publishing sector.
“Building up a good reputation for yourself is crucial, but put yourself out there because if you don’t ask you don’t get.”