“An absolute godsend,” is how award-winning West Dorset farmer, Judi James, views the Suzuki KingQuad 400 ATV she bought earlier this year.
Judi rose to fame in 2013 when she was crowned UK Worker of the Year, a competition sponsored by Suzuki GB and Dickies to reward excellence in the British workforce.
Few would have guessed when she began farming just six years ago at the age of 47 that Judi would see off 3,000 other competitors, including seven male finalists, to the prestigious award.
Previously, Judi’s career was in the motor trade (she holds an HGV licence) and in horse racing, but her passion had always been to become a farmer. Finally, in 2008, Judi took the plunge and set up her own RSPCA Freedom Foods veal production unit on a 10-acre smallholding, while working full-time on a beef and arable unit at a nearby farm.
The fact that Judi suffered a serious back injury at the age of 11 after being knocked down by a car makes her story even more remarkable.
Judi says, “People are surprised when I tell them that farming saved my back. It was always at its worst if I sat too long, so farming turned out to be the ideal job for me and I became fitter than I ever had been.”
But by last year, five hours a day of single-handedly carrying and dispensing huge cake sacks and hundreds of litres of milk to her 120 calves was starting to take its toll. Judi had to admit that years of enormous strain on her back meant that the difference between staying fit and taking things too far were becoming apparent. Often frozen and exhausted, there was little time to do anything but the absolute necessities.
And then came the life-changing moment when she won her award. As part of her prize package, Judi was given the use of a Suzuki KingQuad 400 ATV for six months.
“It turned out to be an absolute godsend,” she says. “Suddenly, I was able to do everything in an hour! It was so incredibly easy to get to grips with and manouevreable that it quickly became second nature to operate.”
The ATV proved to be so indispensable that when the six-month loan ended, Judi decided to buy it.
“The beauty of it is that it never feels heavy,” she explains. “The wonderful suspension, comfortable T-shaped seat and perfectly angled seating position means that the pain in my back has disappeared. It’s perfect for me and I’m so glad I bought it.”
Judi has put the ATV to a myriad range of uses, including towing a complete milk station and a tipping trailer for all the bedding and feed. A paddock chopper is next on the list, plus it’s also likely to be used for rounding up sheep as well. But Judi has even more ambitious plans for it as she looks to develop her agricultural business.
“There’s no end to what it can be used for,” she says. “I have decided I am going to rent more paddocks on another site as the calves get big so quickly and that will give the young bulls more room. So I am putting my car away and the ATV is becoming the company car. It’s so fuel-efficient for scooting between all my places of work as well as doing all the hard work. Plus, the four-wheel drive is fantastic for all terrains.”
The ATV has become such an integral part of her family that ‘Suzy’ as it is aptly named, is even helping to launch the agricultural career of Judi’s son Jason, aged 14. He is based at Brymore Academy, a state boarding school, and one of the only schools in the UK to have a working farm attached, which the boys run. For his agricultural coursework Jason has chosen to design a unique trailer that will allow the ATV to be reversed up to bales of hay for collection.
“Jason is mad about the Suzuki ATV!” Judi says. “He has already ordered the wheels for his invention and I am so proud that the quad is coming into its own and supporting the second generation of farmers in the family.”