Top Wales tourist attraction Folly Farm may be best known for its lions and penguins but staff there are finding the resources of the nation's farming advisory service invaluable.

Farm manager at the Pembrokeshire adventure park and zoo, Kim Brickell, always turns to Farming Connect when she wants to learn a new skill.

“Farming is a fast-moving, progressive industry so there is always new science we need to be aware of and innovative, more efficient ways of doing things,” says Kim.

Earlier this year, Pembrokeshire born Kim was awarded the Farming Connect Animal Health and Welfare trophy at the Lantra Wales annual awards ceremony in recognition of her outstanding commitment to continuous professional development and effectively applying her new knowledge and skills to what she describes as her ‘dream’ job

Kim says that Farming Connect’s fully-funded e-learning courses have enabled her to ‘keep up to speed in my own time and at my own pace’, which has not only increased her skillset but enables her to impart that knowledge to other members of the Folly Farm team.

“The range of support services available through Farming Connect, including animal health and welfare workshops, open day events and very wide range of farm-related topics I’ve studied through e-learning have given me new skills and knowledge I utilise every day.”

Folly Farm runs to about 200 acres with a large proportion of the farmland open to the public. Attracting around 500,000 visitors a year, its world-class zoo is home to more than 100 species of exotic animals, birds and many other creatures.

Kim’s role is to look after the health, welfare and general husbandry of the farm’s flocks of rare sheep and goats, speciality breeds of pigs and poultry as well as a large number of small petting animals.

Although not brought up on a farm, Kim’s love of the outdoors and animals started at a young age and while still a sixth-former, she helped out at Folly Farm in her spare time.

The entrepreneurial dairy farming family who have built up Folly Farm into the multi-million pound business it is today, quickly spotted her dedication and ability.

After completing her A-levels, she was appointed as a full-time assistant, a role she combined with studying for a foundation degree in animal science at Pembrokeshire College.

Since then, it’s been a steady progression up through the Folly Farm ranks, as assistant supervisor, supervisor and now ‘living the dream’ as a farm manager, where Kim, along with a co-manager and team of six staff, is responsible for the smooth running of the agricultural and farm animal side of the business.

She is also involved in the farm’s soil and grassland strategies, both topics she’s studied through Farming Connect, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

“We operate a rotational grazing system, which has resulted in improved soil health and fertility through better manure distribution, as well as an increase in forage after each ‘rest’ period, so it’s a win-win situation for us as farm managers and all the stock which benefit from the outdoor life.

“Whatever Farming Connect e-learning topic you’re interested in is easily accessed and you know you will get the key information you need, pitched at the right level, in a clear and concise way.

“Each interactive module is targeted at people working within the industry, they all take about 20 or 30 minutes to complete and include a quiz at the end which gives you reassurance you’ve absorbed the information correctly, but if not, you simply do it again,” says Kim.

In the last 12 months, she has undertaken more than 20 different e-learning modules, combining them with various sector-specific webinars and workshops on what she says is a ‘need to know’ basis.

She’s completed e-learning modules on animal health topics including anthelmintic resistance, biosecurity, quarantining stock and vaccinations as well as specific diseases and conditions that affect sheep, pigs and poultry.

“I also wanted to learn more about farm health and safety because as a manager, I need to be aware of the current legislation and guidance and encourage colleagues to prioritise working safely.

Kim says that the flexibility of e-learning ‘plus the fantastic bonus that there are no costs involved’ has enabled her to utilise any spare time she has.

“If there’s additional knowledge that I feel will help me in my job, I always turn to Farming Connect and my laptop first.”

Kim is a keen advocate of utilising Storfa Sgiliau, Farming Connect’s online data storage facility which records all her CPD activities and achievements, enabling her to identify any gaps in her skills and plan her future career progression. So, what’s next for this ambitious young farmer?

“Sustainable farming is a key focus at Folly Farm and in addition to our biomass system and solar panels, we recycle most waste including nappies and plastic left by visitors.

“Next on my CPD agenda is to learn what else we can do to reduce our carbon footprint – through Farming Connect of course!”