Roots to success: Karen Halton

Roots to success: Karen Halton

Not everyone follows the same route into the industry, so we are speaking to a range of farmers and growers about how they got started in their careers.
Dairy farmer Karen Halton explains how robotic vending machines have helped her farm drive sales.
Dairy farmer Karen Halton explains how robotic vending machines have helped her farm drive sales.
Dairy farmer Karen Halton explains how robotic vending machines have helped her farm drive sales.
Dairy farmer Karen Halton explains how robotic vending machines have helped her farm drive sales.

Dairy farmer Karen Halton reflects on her career and explains how robotic vending machines have helped her farm drive sales.

Name: Karen Halton

Age: 53

Location: Cheshire

What do you do? I run a 220-hectare (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 youngstock rearing, to dealing with the management and HR sides. One of our enterprises is a raw milk vending machine at the farm, so the public can visit us to buy milk daily. We've also launched 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 and independent and had a strong drive; within a short time, I managed 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 while 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 over as a newcomer to farming, but I stayed true to who I was, learning as much as possible by asking lots of questions and bringing my 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're creating fantastic, nutritious food, and it's 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 buying.

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 cafe 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 possible while also keeping my head and staying true to my approach, people started to recognise and speak 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 by managing the calves after initially being quite sceptical of me as a newcomer on the farm!

What training have you needed to follow this path successfully? 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've also brought the business skills l gained in my former career, and Tom would agree that, without that, we wouldn't have progressed half as much or had the profile we do today.

I've 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's working to make the business a success.

What are your future career and training/CPD aspirations? I'm 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'm not sure what my next challenge will be, but I’ll seize it enthusiastically.

What advice would you give to others looking to follow a path into farming? I'm 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.

Keep up to date

Want to find out more about how we're helping to develop the skills and knowledge of the farming and growing workforce?

Then subscribe to our mailing list and you will receive all our future updates.