Roots to success: Karen Halton

Karen kisses a calf on the nose.

Name: Karen Halton

Age: 53

Location: Cheshire

What do you do? I run a 550-acre, 530-cow dairy farm, Halton Farms, in partnership with my husband, Tom. I’m very hands-on and get involved in multiple aspects of the business, from the practical, like overseeing the young stock rearing to dealing with the management and HR sides. One of our enterprises is a raw milk vending machine at the farm, so we have the public visiting us to buy milk daily. We also have lunched a dairy processing and milk delivery strand to the business which I have been leading on.

Describe your career path so far: I grew up around horses, and, after a stint working in a racing yard, I changed path entirely and took a job aged 22 as a receptionist at an osteopathic clinic. I’ve always been confident, independent and had a strong drive and within a short time, I was managing the clinic! When the owner sold the business, I fell into legal recruitment. My career progression was fairly rapid – I was
headhunted twice and ended up in London as a company co-director, helping the business expand into Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. I was still eventing with horses and through this was re-introduced to my teenage sweetheart, Tom. We got back together, and I spent several years helping out on the farm whilst working full-time in my demanding recruitment role. I decided to give up that career when I got married the day before I turned 40! I had quite a few hearts and minds to win as a newcomer to farming but I stayed true to who I was, learned as much as I could by asking lots of questions and brought y management and business knowledge into the farm business, which helped it grow.

What is the best part about your job? I absolutely love farming – we are creating fantastic, nutritious food, and it is such a privilege to have a duty of care to the land we look after. When people come to the farm to buy raw milk from our vending machine, I enjoy talking to them, answering their questions and sometimes changing their perceptions about dairy farming. We’re really proud of how we farm and our welfare standards,so we feel it’s right to be able to let people in to see what we do so they know all about the product they are purchasing.

What has been the most challenging part of your job, and how do you tackle it? In the early days, as a newcomer to what at that point was a very male-orientated industry, I had to prove myself and step out of my comfort zone. For example, when I first took my calves to market, I used to sit alone in the café while all the buyers sat in a large group on the other side of the room! But eventually, through talking to the experts and learning as much as I could while also keeping my head and staying true to my approach, people started to recognise and talk to me. I became part of the farming community – even though I continue to stand out in my Gucci sunglasses! I knew I was making progress when one of our longest-serving employees started to take on a new approach I suggested to managing the calves after initially being quite sceptical of me as a newcomer on the farm!

What training have you needed to successfully follow this path? I never sat on my laurels and worked hard to learn as much as I could about dairy farming every day by speaking to farmers, vets and other experts. But I have also brought the business skills l gained in my former career and Tom would agree with me that without that, we wouldn’t have progressed half as much, or had the profile that we do today. I have brought a more business-focused approach – such as considering our milk prices with a focus on what’s best for our business, developing a vision and mission statement for the business and ensuring regular team meetings take place so our staff team can share ideas and everyone is working to make the
business a success.

What are your future career and training/CPD aspirations? I am always learning new things. Our milk delivery business has been an exciting learning process. It has involved developing new skills, such as learning about software packages as we built a bespoke online ordering service and an app for our delivery drivers. I am not sure what my next challenge will be, but I’ll seize it enthusiastically.

What advice you would give to others looking to follow a path into farming? I am very passionate about the new, younger talent coming into the industry and would encourage younger people to consider farming as a rewarding career option. I would also encourage those in the industry to promote and develop those people – not just in terms of qualifications but also in people and life skills.