When Laura mentions how she was ‘parachuted’ into spring calving at the beginning of the year, you get the sense she wasn’t just speaking metaphorically.
After an eight-year career in the Army, including an operational tour in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Laura has brought a real sense of military adaptability and planning to her role in the dairy.
Her systematic approach has made it easier to coordinate the staff effort and get things done within the resources and time available.
“Calving has a few set pieces and a lot of moving parts; especially on an operation which has such a significant geographic footprint. There’s a lot going on and predictably; it doesn’t always go to plan. As long as you have made time to rehearse the sequence of events ahead, trained the staff, resourced the plan correctly and have the right kit in the right place at the right time, with a couple of viable contingencies in your back pocket, the team can perform well.” she explains.
“Agriculture is well known as a family-run industry with a reputation for staff working long and somewhat unpredictable hours. We want our staff to have balance and a life outside work, which is better for both their personal and professional development in the long term. This means we have to streamline what we do, sequence carefully, plan in advance and work together as a team efficiently.
“The dairy is an operation which centres on milking in the Parlour for 3-4 hrs twice a day. There are times when the team is sprinting and times when we are jogging. The deliberate change of pace is targeted, which enables us to de-heat and de-conflict activity on the farm and give better balance to the staff whilst achieving our goals.
“People can get sucked into the tactical level which is fun and can be addictive, but often will work against solving problems in the long term. You need to be able to think across levels; tactical, operational and strategic and know what your contribution is to fitting in to the overall plan and what is appropriate in the given situation.”
Laura was a Captain in British Army, did two tours in Germany, one in Afghanistan and one in the UK. She always longed for a career which pushed both her brains and her body to the limit and was based in the natural environment.
“I don’t come from a military family so I wanted to get some first-hand experience before joining. I was offered a placement as a gap year officer in Germany. The physical challenge based in the outdoors, combined with the opportunity to investigate and problem solve in a dynamic environment was attractive. I was sold on the idea and proud to serve during my career.”
“In Afghan I worked in a Taskforce Helmand HQ HQTFH and Headquarters Joint Force Support HQJFSp(A) supporting deployed troops, enacting incident management, inputting into operational planning cycles, coordinating with other stakeholders and coalition partner forces and acting as a liaison officer.
“It was a job which pushed me, so when I came to Sansaw it was clear that James understood how to make the most of my skillset, especially as he’s served in the military too.
“Yes, I didn’t have an agricultural background but James very quickly got who I am and what motivates me, which has made it easier with transitioning out of service into something new. I was also very lucky to be working in support of Chris, who has been both extremely patient and kind.
Taking on someone who has different reference points to your own and can on occasion be a bit sharp, is not an easy thing to do.It’s been easy to find my feet working for these two and I’m grateful for it.”
Laura loves solving problems and believes firmly in the ‘plan, execute, analyse, evaluate’ as a working cycle.
“It’s important to be well prepared and agile,” she explains. “Having military experience helps to frame issues quickly and objectively without getting bogged down or side-tracked. Self-discipline, teamwork and a common understanding built by doing things together off an agreed framework rather than in your own way supports the cohesion and effectiveness of the whole.
“People are sometimes fearful of things being systemised because they can see it as an attack on individuality, but what I’ve suggested is that protocols done well enable flow and allow people to do something repeatedly, consistently together. My favourite African proverb goes some way to explaining this; If you want to go fast; go alone. If you want to go far; go together.
“Hopefully it means we can pivot easily and confidently as a team to solve problems with minimum fuss. If you don’t plan an event to the finish and then set out to test it with 700 cows+ you either fumble your way through it taking longer than you should or you cause chaos. We don’t want either – we want to be well balanced, well organized, surge to cover peak periods and maintain, rest, recover and train in-between.”