In the spotlight for this week's Women in Agriculture feature is the much admired Sophie Harvey, who is proving to be a shining example for all young women in the farming industry.

She opened up to The Scottish Farmer about her career in livestock to date and her passion for the industry.


Being brought up around show cattle, it wasn’t long before I got the 'show bug' after winning my first young handlers competition at the grand age of three – the cute factor apparently won the judge over, not sure what’s happened since! I haven’t really looked back.

The shows became a massive part of my childhood, attending the summer ones while also pulling a 'sicky' so we could attend the winter fat stock shows, like Smithfield. On leaving school at 17, I studied agriculture at SRUC in Aberdeen for three years, where I gained a lot of friends for life and learnt a lot – especially how to socialise.

After leaving college I returned home for a while before taking on a part-time lambing job in Cumbria. I was only there for 10 days before I was asked to stay permanently. So for the next two years I worked for Hodgson farming, calving 200 cross cows and overseeing the lambing of 400 pedigree Dorsets and 1200 Herdwicks off Scaffell Pike.

I then made the decision to return home and work alongside Dad, focusing to our pedigree Herefords and Limousin cattle. I had been gifted my very own cow, Harveybros 1 N1, for my 21st birthday, which opened a door to becoming a business partner with our Harveybros Hereford herd. In the recent months I’ve also found a new love for Blue Texel sheep having purchased four foundation females for my Rogue flock.

Can you tell us a bit about your job/s and what it entails?

I am currently working at home and part time for Ian and Moyra Nimmo with their Maraiscote Limousin herd. At home I check all our sheep and cattle and do all the basic livestock husbandry. I spend a lot time working on my own with just my dog so when it comes to halter breaking stock, they need to be quiet enough or they end up in our freezer!

I mainly halter break, wash and clip all the sale bulls on the run up to bull sales and shows, but I do get roped into doing sheep work every now and again.

Favourite agricultural show to attend?

A little controversial but my favourite show is The Royal Welsh as it always lands on my birthday and you are that far away from home that you can’t deal with any problems that might be happening while you’re there. And Builth is always a good 'sesh!'

What has been the best and worst advice you have received?

There's no such thing as bad advice but the best advice I’ve ever been given is from the showring – it’s one person’s opinion on the day. You get to take your animal home and if you're happy with that, it doesn’t matter what judge thinks.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Breeding, feeding and turning out bulls to make a good average at sales. Halter breaking something that’s got 'character' and becomes the biggest pet. Also, seeing my father's face burst with pride when we do well at shows.

Biggest disappointment in your career?

Showing and owning livestock is full of disappointments, from losing the best calf you’ve ever bred to not winning the class you should of. If these things didn’t happen what else would drive you to come back to try again and keep improving.

Favourite animal you’ve ever shown?

Without doubt my Hereford show heifer from 2019, Harveybros 1 Crocus Rose. I was gifted her mother for my 21st after annoying the family for months about wanting her. Crocus Rose was her first calf and attended 10 shows last year, picking up nine first prizes, seven breed championships, two reserve breed titles and an inter-breed championship at the most important show of the Hereford diary – the National Poll Show at Perth.

Another animal that sticks in my mind is Manorpark Hansome, a Simmental bull I clipped and showed for the Houldey family. He ended up topping the bull sales at 22,000gns that day and was a proper gent of a bull.

Most influential person in your career?

There are many people who have influenced me and still influence me today and I wouldn’t have enough space to write them all down. For me, my unsung hero is my uncle John Harvey. He is the reason I do what I do, as he took me under his wing and taught me how to show livestock.

What's been your biggest achievement to date?

Winning the Hereford National Show with my first ever home-bred heifer would be my biggest. However, I would also say winning the young handlers at The Royal Welsh, in 2014, where there were 68 entries was a great achievement. Since then I have also won The Welsh Winter Fair young handlers – it is believed I am one of only a few people to win both.

What’s been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome in your career?

This is a tough one as there have been a few but I’d say the biggest has been getting a job after leaving college. There were a few people that wouldn’t let me work with their bulls because I am female and they were worried I would get hurt. I’d say a lot of this is down to me being 5’2, but regardless of my size and gender, anybody can get hurt so I was disappointed that this went against me.

Another challenge has been coming home and working alongside my father. As anyone will know working with a parent isn’t easy, especially when you are so close. We have different ideas and tend to clash at times on what we think is right. He says I am stubborn; I think he forgets whose daughter I am.

What’s your favourite breed of cattle or sheep and why?

My two favourites are Limousin and Hereford cattle, mainly because these are the two breeds I’ve been brought up with. Limousins are intelligent cattle that have width and muscle. I enjoy working with them as they have great style in the show ring.

Herefords on the other hand are totally different, and they do occasionally seem to lack the brains of other cattle but they have the best temperament of all the breeds I have worked with. They have the ability to get fat while at grass and new born calves have the vigour to get up and suckle in a matter of minutes. I do however appreciate a good animal regardless of its breed.

In your opinion, what are the main problems in the agricultural industry?

There is a massive gap between field to fork and the government doesn't seem to want to back us. With Brexit being overshadowed by Covid for most of the year, a lot for what we stand for relating to traceability and animal welfare has been pushed to the side and almost forgotten about.

I think there is serious lack of education within schools about farming and where our food comes from. Unfortunately, after reading a couple of false articles that circulate through social media, many people these days think all farmers are cruel to their animals and that we are the main cause of global warming. A greater education on farming at a younger age would help to prevent people being misled by this kind of propaganda.

Out with farming, are you involved in any other organisations?

I wouldn’t say it’s out with farming but I am currently vice-chairperson of the Young Limousin Breeders Club. It's proven to have its challenges over the years but it’s a great youth programme and we are hoping to improve and take it further for the breeders of tomorrow.

I’m also an active member of the UK Hereford Youth of which I really benefited last year in being lucky enough to be picked to go to New Zealand to represent the UK at the Hereford World Conference. It was an amazing experience and I’ve made friends from all over the world through it.

To anyone that’s thinking about joining any youth programme I couldn’t recommend it more, the things you learn and the people you meet along the way are just second to none.

What do you think are the main challenges that the younger generation of farmers face these days?

Dare I say it but a lot of what goes on now is documented on social media. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great way of advertising but as soon as something goes wrong, instead of rushing to help, people tend to take their phone out and take pictures for “likes”. You can’t say 'Boo' now without everyone knowing and I can only imagine that’s going to get worse over time.

There are also a real lack of farm tenancy opportunities for young people looking to start from scratch. Like everything in farming the prices that are paid have increased from land to feeding costs and I think this will only increase further in years to come. Unfortunately, the average sale price for a bull doesn’t seem to increase at the same rate as the costs involved in getting him there do.

What piece of advice would you give to any female wanting to make a career within the agricultural industry?

In this day and age, it should not matter if you are male or female. Being a woman has never stopped me from proving to people I am just as capable as a man, like with any industry if your good at your job then no one should judge you. Just because you have boobs it doesn’t mean you can’t do what a man does. We are all farmers regardless of our gender.

Favourite alcoholic beverage?

Talk about saving the best question until last! I'm not that fussy on one drink – gin, vodka, wine or even cider as long as the company is good.