A Holsworthy dairy farmer is set to be among a select few in the running for a prestigious farming prize.
Sarah Devon, is a regular milker on a dairy herd of 135 and a volunteer facilitator for Devon Women in Dairy.
She’s one of three individuals up for the award of dairy industry woman of the year award and was nominated because of her drive for positive change and passion for helping and supporting others.
Coming from a non farming background hasn’t affected Sarah in the slightest, earning her role with sheer determination, resoluteness in the face of adversity and beginning as a volunteer.
Sarah spoke to the Post about her farming adventures to date. She said: “I don't come from a farming background at all. We moved from London to Devon in May 2000 at the age of 6 and that was the first time really I saw rolling hills, sheep and cows.
“I went to college and studied sports science and sports coaching. It wasn't until 2016 I thought I'd give cows a go after my long term relationship broke down, I needed something to put my mind into. I was a manager at a Tennis centre and had 2 days off each week.
“I went onto google, searched for all sorts of farms and businesses and emailed them all asking for someone to take me on as a volunteer - I just wanted to know a bit more. I drew a blank on every email! So I took to Facebook and pounded the farmers free ads pages - all of them! I was contacted by someone who had a robotic dairy farm in Woolsery which was great as i lived in Hartland at the time.
“On my days off I'd go along and learn all about the farm. From hours of organising passports into order, scanning websites for talks, ear tagging calves, feeding calves, vaccinating, picking cows out for the robot, robot maintenance, helping move cattle on TB days, yard work, scraper driving (badly), mobility scoring, watching vet visits and calvings. I was absolutely hooked and i knew that if I could get covered in muck and stand out in the rain and cold all day and come home with a smile, this was the job for me!
“I did a lot of work experience/volunteering on the robot farm and also found new opportunities, I travelled up to Wiltshire for work experience on a dairy herd, this was my first experience of milking cows as well as manual yard work in the mornings - all these years on, i can still feel the blisters on my hands from scraping out so many cubicles! From here I found more milking on rotary and herringbone parlours. I did all of this because my goal was to become a VetTech.
“My 'big break' came when I secured a veterinary receptionist position with a local vet practice in 2018. About 18 months into my role, a VetTech position came up and I got it! I was on farm most days, helping farmers with health tasks on both adult cows and youngstock. From here I trained up and became a TB tester. I loved working on farm, with the cows and the farmers, to know I was making a positive difference by improving their herd health was the real driver for me.
“I've never been content with where I am and have always been very ambitious. December 2021 I started milking with the Jenkins at Cleverdon Farm in Bradworthy, which came about as I did their VetTech work! I milk mornings and still continue to do so now and love it. I'm really thankful to Steve, Junior and Olly for being so flexible and allowing me to be a part of their team. Some evenings I say 'oh I'm tired I don't want to milk in the morning' but my alarm goes off at 5 and I'm up and really look forward to seeing my girls in the parlour...especially when Junior or Steve bring me a coffee! It's a great start to the day and puts me in a good mooooood.
“All joking aside, it's these small gestures of kindness that mean a lot and make a happy team.
“I left Penbode Vets in March 2022 to explore a new avenue with NMR - I was offered a position of Account Manager for Dairy Processors south of the M4. This job was something completely different - I wasn't working with farmers and animals anymore. I thoroughly enjoyed learning a new role and developing knowledge and good relationships with the diary processors. December 2022 saw me move to the Field team of NMR. I now work as an Area Field Manager (AFM) and look after 125 customers across West Devon, North Cornwall and South Devon. I love this job!
“It's great to go out and meet customers, speak to them and learn about their farms, as well as offer them a great milk recording service that works with their herd management plans and goals. I also still milk in the mornings as well as do some milk recording for my NMR customers.
“I started the Devon Women in Dairy group as a voluntary role in October 2022 and the group has grown in numbers and popularity since then. Funnily enough, the ex colleague and now friend that originally roped me in to help with Devon WiD was the colleague that I approached at a fertility and breeding meeting. She gave me the email address for my application for my vet interview so I have Katy to thank for a lot!
“ I've been so thankful to all the fantastic businesses who have worked with me to host meetings, provide refreshments and goodies. Hours and hours go into planning a meeting and it wouldn't be possible without the help of others so thank you!
"The Women in Dairy Industry Woman of the Year award is something else. To even be nominated is a huge deal to me, but to be shortlisted as one of three finalists - it's a bit bonkers and I still feel a little delusional when people ask me about it. I just do what I do because I get real enjoyment out of it, it's really rewarding to bring a group of strangers together and allow them to connect and grow as individuals and then they leave as friends.
“Or they come away learning something new or wanting to try something new. The same goes for the cows, she comes in and you notice she's got a hot swollen quarter, so you mint her, see her again in the morning and she's loads better. It's these moments where you know you're making a positive impact and even if you're completely exhausted, it's those moments that make everything worth it. And I'm a nightmare, because I often take on perhaps more than I should, and I get exhausted but I don't want to stop doing any of it! There are so many incredible women in the dairy industry, all deserving of recognition so I'm extremely proud and honoured to be a part of it. I think my journey/story is a good example that if you want something, you can make it happen! You don't need to be in the industry already you just need to put yourself out there and make the most of every opportunity.
“In my head, I don't think I'm going to win as I never think that! But if I do, I will be over the moon. I'd look forward to what other opportunities are out there and hopefully be able to continue to make positive change throughout the dairy industry but on a bigger scale! It's been a pretty overwhelming 12 months, and whilst there has been fantastic news in that I'm now engaged and planning a wedding for June next year, it's also been plenty tough and exhausting so it's so amazing to feel recognised for all the things I do when there have been days I've not even wanted to get out of bed let alone leave the house.”