Meet Holly

You may already know Holly Atkinson by a different name.

Her Instagram account, @cups.on.cows has amassed a strong following and, as an advocate of both farm safety and mental wellbeing, we are delighted to have Holly on board as a 10th Anniversary Champion.

Coming from a non-farming background Holly had an interesting journey into the industry.

“I wanted to be a palaeontologist for years!” she says, “But somewhere along the line, I thought I should probably think of a more realistic career path. I loved animals and I loved science, so I set my sights on being a vet.”

After years working on a variety of farms including beef, sheep and even water buffalo, Holly attended Bristol Veterinary School, before working in practices covering both farm and small animals.

Whilst working on a dairy farm in Somerset, Holly met her husband, Adam, and in 2017 they moved to Devon where Adam manages a collection of farms, and where, in 2020, Holly began her new role as the farm’s calf-rearer.

“It has grown year-on-year,” she explains. “This is my fifth season running the calf rearing, and I now have two other team members who I manage.”

With close to 650 cows in the herd and calving over 200 heifers in a spring block system, this is no mean feat.

Testing Times

Like many the herd has faced ongoing challenges with bTB, and it’s a disease that has certainly left its mark on Holly.

“We’ve lost hundreds to bTB.”

“It’s been a big part of my career and I’ve seen it from both sides. As a vet, you never know how people are going to react, having to break the news is horrible. But I have also lost my own animals to it.”

Holly has also seen the risks bTB can pose to Health and Safety. “As a vet, bTB testing was definitely one of the riskiest jobs, and if the handling facilities and equipment wasn’t up-to-scratch this could spell disaster. It’s stressful for the farmer and stressful for the animal.”

Holly’s experience as a vet has influenced her own practices on farm now. “I always say it’s better to put in the extra half an hour and get things set up properly, than spend two hours trying to deal with escaped animals. Try asking: what is the worst-case scenario? What could happen? And where might something break?”

Be Safe Be Seen

Clear protocols and policies make it easy for everyone working on the farm to know what is required of them. “Everyone has to wear an element of high viz,” explains Holly. “We get quite bad sea fog and sometimes you can’t even see from one end of the parlour to the other, so we’ve provided vests, hoodies and hats, and are looking to get caps and t-shirts for the summer. We’re also very strict about wearing a helmet on ATVs and quads. Even if someone is just going across the yard, they must wear a helmet and have it properly clipped up.”

Introducing two new members to the calf rearing team this year gave Holly fresh perspective. “The cake and straw can get quite dusty so I’ve made sure dust masks and goggles are available. I’ve also prioritised training as we use big milk trailers for the calves which can be quite tricky to handle.”

Take A Break

Holly is also careful to monitor working hours and encourages staff to take breaks. “I want to make sure everyone has a comfortable place to take rests. As spring block calvers there are certain times of the year that can be incredibly busy, so we’re in the process of sorting out a rest room – somewhere for staff to have a place that’s comfortable to relax or have a shower before driving home.”

Creating a good working environment is advice Holly would give to other farmers. “You see so much on social media about the importance of getting time away from the farm, but I’m conscious that for some farmers, that’s just not possible. I think focusing on making life as easy and pleasant as possible is really important.”

Give Yourself a Break

At busy times of the year, you just can’t do everything. “I always say, at this time of the year, anyone can turn up to the calf houses at anytime, but if you want to knock on my door, give me a couple of days warning! It’s important to take the pressure off, be honest with friends and family about how busy you are. It’s not always possible to have a pristine house and perfect social life, and that’s ok.”

Holly is keen to do her bit to promote good mental wellbeing across the industry. Being kind, to yourself and to others, is important to Holly. “No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes but, as long as we are honest with our teams, and with ourselves, we can learn from those mistakes. So, let’s all do more to big up people’s assets and use those. Working together, we can get the best out of everyone.”

stephanie_berkeley_zl4u2oa9Meet Holly

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