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Award-winning farmer Abi Reader is grateful for GEA’s game changer
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Award-winning farmer Abi Reader is grateful for GEA’s game changer

GEA customer Abi Reader is a third generation, award-winning dairy farmer based just outside Cardiff. In addition to the accolades she has won for her contribution to the Welsh, and UK, farming communities, Abi also received an MBE from the Queen in 2019 for services to agriculture. However, she says one of her most life changing moments came when GEA installed a new milking parlour at her Goldsland Farm in Wenvoe

Tell us about your farming background

I am the third generation running our family farm which started when my grandfather moved here after he got married in the thirties. I work in partnership with my parents and uncle. I’m proud that we’re continuing that family tradition and the bloodline of our herd of 180 Holstein Friesian and Dairy Shorthorns have descended from those generations.

What are your other roles in the farming industry?

Chairperson for CHeCS (Cattle Health Certification Standards), NFU Cymru Dairy Board Chair, vice-president of the local Young Farmers Club, part of the Welsh Dairy Farm innovations Group, South East Wales TB Eradication Board, I also sit on the NFU national dairy board, am a proud host of Open Farm Sunday and co founder of Cows on Tour which visits schools in Wales and England.

What is a typical day on the farm?

Our morning is taken up milking and with the herd coming out of their winter routine for summer grazing there’s a lot of paddock management as well as demands on foot trimming - I’m honing my foot trimming skills at the moment in case our foot trimmer can’t get to us. The days are quite demanding and long, Recently I never seem to be off the phone a lot of the time, but there’s nowhere else I would rather be. It’s a privilege doing what I’m doing – it’s a great job.

Any drawbacks?

The days can always be grueling if you get off to a bad start – scraper tractor breakdown or a bad calving are never welcome, but especially not at 5am.  Also our dependence on the weather has led to some particularly testing times over the last 3 years; flooding, drought, snow; these have all been difficult and costly issues.

Tell us more about Cows on Tour

Cows on Tour is an initiative that mostly visits primary schools to talk to inner-city children in Wales and England; to get the message out there about how their food is produced. Last year the core CowsOnTour team of 12 decided to do a roadshow around Wales. We had over volunteers and reached 2,100 school children to help them understand the world of farming. We were planning to do some different events this year but unfortunately we had to cancel because of the COVID-19 crisis.

What GEA equipment is operating at the farm?

We put in a GEA Westfalia 20:20 EuroClass800 milking parlour five years ago and its been totally life-changing compared to the equipment that we had used before. It saves so much time and is so easy to work with, it’s fantastic. As well as the excellent design layout and the .mod cons‘ the parlour provides us with data on cow activity for breeding and health, and a feed to yield programe so we can accurately control the individual nutrition of each cow. The cow standing is extremely well designed and the cows look so comfortable. The equipment has made a huge difference to us - our day is made much easier due to the GEA kit. GEA is a very supportive supplier; they even backed a successful Business Day we held on the farm, and other events we have planned.

What are your future plans for the farm?

My aim is to increase the herd and also to look at ways of improving our grazing management and utilising more home grown protein. I am also considering local milk vending as shorter supply chains look more secure lately and traceability is becoming increasingly important to consumers who want to know where their food and drink is coming from, especially in the current climate. I have also entertained the idea of supplying goat or sheep milk since i have visted a few of these farms. I know this is quite a niche market but with a population on the doorstep i continue to give it serious consideration.

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected your business?

The negatives of the virus have been unbelievable for everyone.  On this farm we have been asked to reduce our milk production by 3% which is a huge challenge ahead of the spring flush; although nowhere near as challenging as the issues some farms are facing.  We are also concerned for the health of our staff and family members and are very careful with reducing number of people who come onto the farm these days.  On the positive side dairy products are now earning the excellent reputation they deserve.  Supermarket shelves are struggling to remain full, cheese in particular is flying off the shelves. There has been an uplift in interest of people wanting to find out more about dairy farming. There is no doubt the dairy market is in crisis right now and potentially it is going to take a long time for the markets to rebalance, however we are starting to see some relationships building in the supply chain.  In spite of the lockdown limiting methods of communication I can genuinely say communication has never been more vigorous.

Have you faced any particular challenges being a woman at the forefront of dairy?

Personally, I haven’t been treated any differently being a woman. In some ways its probably been an advantage. You’re a little bit unusual, so you stand out and people make an extra special effort to make sure your voice is heard. I never felt I was treated any differently, especially by the farming community.

Any advice you would offer other women considering a life/career in dairy farming?

Sometimes we can put up barriers ourselves which are not really there. We need to forget our own predjudices and ignore those of others as this can hold you back. Have a positive attitude. It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female if you think you can do the job just get on with it. But I would advise anyone considering a career in farming to go to college, or travel, or do both. Learn about business and the industry, expand your horizons.  When you meet people it’s amazing what doors can open for you. If you have a positive attitude people will support you going forward and there is plenty of opportunity out there.

If you have any free time, what do you like to do?

I just love farming. Cows on Tour I suppose is my escape, it’s a really positive thing for me to do – it’s where I put a lot of my energies. When I can, I also love to visit my God children, it’s always nice to spoil them. I do also enjoy taking a holiday once a year usually to America, but even during that trip its quite tempting for me to call on a farm and see what they’re doing, especially the more obscure farms like water melon farms!

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