Bridie Virbickas normally has a break during winter but this year the pandemic meant she had to stay home. If that wasn’t bad enough, a string of events ended up with her milking in a giant splint.

I usually go overseas during winter to explore the world and have a proper break away from the farm. Obviously Covid put a stop to that, so it seemed like a good year to be stuck here milking all winter.

With the new feed pad and effluent system ready to roll, new staff and a change of staff structure over the two farms, I had high hopes for this season.

The late decision to autumn calve and winter milk put a bit of pressure on, especially during staff changeover. Three full-time staff down to just me for a week or two. But I cracked on and got things done.

When my first new employee started she wondered how the heck I was getting it all done by myself, but you have to achieve a lot when it is only you. Having my mum and dad arrive with food on a regular basis helped immensely!

Starting off the season so busy was not part of the plan. I envisaged spending lots of time with my new staff and teaching them loads before calving kicked off. All that precious time seemed to slip away far too quickly and before we knew it, we were in the thick of calving.

One down – six weeks into calving my calf rearer handed in her resignation. Niggly.

Two down – seven weeks into calving my wonderful relief milker who had been with me for four years could no longer milk for personal reasons. I cried.

Three down – eight weeks into calving my farm assistant told me his grandfather in the UK was sick and he needed to return home. I cried a lot.

Two left standing. It’s mating. We can totally do this.

Four down – 2IC on ACC for three weeks. I cried even more.

One. Left. Standing. Plus a lot of tears.

Super-hero relief milker Kerry swoops in for the rescue. I put one shed on the afternoon AI run and the other on the morning run so I could draft in both sheds. The end was in sight. Nothing else could possibly go wrong.

When I snapped a tendon in my hand, I didn’t realise it was so serious because it didn’t hurt, I just couldn’t bend my pinky finger. Other than getting hooked on cows’ legs occasionally while milking, it just made me look super posh! After a week and still no movement in my finger, I thought I better go to the physio and he promptly sent me off to A&E (unbeknown to him, not before I quickly shot home to do the afternoon milking!). I left the hospital with my pinky in a horrendously massive overexaggeration of a splint, thinking ‘how am I going to fit this into my milking gloves?’

Just in the nick of time before I had surgery, my new staff arrived, and I had more people than I knew what to do with! It was a great feeling.

I know how relatable this story will be to a lot of you. This season has taught me how important it is to have a good support network around you and to make sure you have a proper break away from the farm. There were times when I felt incredibly lonely and wanted to drive away from the farm and just keep on driving. I was exhausted and it seemed like everything that could go wrong was going wrong. Luckily I have friends and family who knew I was struggling and were there for me.

I dragged mum out of retirement and had her milking every day and also keeping me going with countless big pots of mince. Dad was out mowing for me every day and doing whatever I could not manage to get done. I cannot thank my mum and dad enough for the support they have given me over this season. Lifesavers.