A Harper Adams BSc(Hons) Animal Production Science student has made a significant contribution to her family’s farm and local community by introducing safe yet engaging farm tours during the lockdown.
Fiona Wilshaw, 22, alongside her sister, Alison, has started providing tours of their family farm in Cheshire so that members of the public can feed lambs and learn about food production.
Fiona admitted the idea of offering tours was “slightly nerve wrecking.” but with dedication they made it work
“We always try to show customers our animals to help offer factual farm information – however time is often limited,” said Fiona.
“This venture offered a structured way to enable families to understand lamb production along with a hands-on experience to pet lambs and meet our other animals.”
The Covid-19 pandemic did pose a few problems: “We were very careful to keep families distanced and provided hand sanitiser. For us, another important element was ensuring everyone disinfected their feet before the tours started – to maintain our biosecurity and prevent diseases.”
Fiona, who has been awarded a Lord Leverhulme Charitable Trust Scholarship this year, and her family weren’t sure how many takers they would have for the tours - but the response to initial, limited offerings designed to gauge interest was “Overwhelming!”
“We couldn’t believe the final drop of tour tickets sold out in around 2 minutes! We had to get three friends to help with the smooth running of the tours”, Fiona explained
Even though the lambing season is at an end, and open water swimmer Fiona is amid assignments, she is still thinking about the farm’s next ventures. As well as potentially offering ‘Meet the Chicks’ tours she “would also like to offer an after-school club and to promote sustainability challenges to consumers and older children to help them understand what’s occurring on farms and how that influences the food they are buying.”
It was this passion for animals and food production that led Fiona to use her placement year to join the McDonald’s Progressive Young Farmers placement scheme at Irish milk supplier, Kerry Agribusiness. While there Fiona “milked cows, reared calves and learned all about the dairy supply chain from ‘farm to front counter’ and saw products such as milkshake bases and cheeses being made.”
While on placement, Fiona also completed a project investigating colostrum management, which she progressed further for her Honours Research Project – also known as a dissertation. Fiona’s time in Ireland was cut short due to Covid-19, so the findings of her project were fed back to Kerry Agribusinesses in short videos over the spring.
It was not all business for Fiona during her time in Ireland. “I integrated into the local social scene. I joined a rugby team along with Macra na Feirme (the Irish Young Farmers equivalent) and a swimming club”.
Fiona chose to attend Harper Adams because “it felt like an extension of young farmers” and “absolutely loved the vibe of the campus” after attending the Harper Adams Experience, a residential event that gives future students the full Harper Adams learning and living experience over two days.
Fourth year Fiona has enjoyed her time at Harper but if she could pass on some advice to future students, it would be to “get a balance between the library and socialising and get as much work experience in ancillary companies and local farms as possible, as this may provide contacts for assignment help or future career opportunities.”