Can you imagine leaving the comfort of your current life for the unknown? That’s exactly what Cara Young did. In 2016, Cara, a former nanny, left London to pursue a childhood dream of owning her own small farm. She set her sights on the village of John o’ Groats which is located in the Highlands of Scotland. I recently had the opportunity to follow Cara’s journey to the far north while viewing a television show. She and her new business venture were featured on the Ben Fogle documentary series, Make a New Life in the Country. I absolutely adored her captivating story and found it truly inspiring. With little money, no knowledge of the animals she would be caring for, or how to run a business, she decided to take a leap of faith and pour her heart and soul into her new business and build a new life for herself. Today, Puffin Croft Farm is a thriving business. It houses a menagerie of delightful animals, is an accommodating B&B, and is a farm shop that offers an array of homemade goods, produce, and items for sale. I invite you to read about Cara and her adventures. Perhaps, you will agree that dreams really do come true!
Cara, thank you so much for sharing your inspiring story with us. You have given the readers an opportunity to glimpse into the mind of a person who truly enjoys what they have set out to accomplish. You are a remarkable woman and I hope to one day make the trip to visit you and your animals. You have a charming place that was created by your hard work and dedication.
Can you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
Originally from the northwest of England, I had a 25-year career as a nanny between New York, Paris, and London before finally retiring to become a farmer five years ago! I often joke that there isn’t much difference between looking after children and animals – just a few fewer tantrums! I made the leap from being a nanny to farmer after my mum passed away six years ago and realised that life is short and precious and wanted to pursue my dreams – namely that I had always loved donkeys and the rural smallholding dream that many people are attracted to.
What have you found to be the key driving force in becoming an entrepreneur?
A positive mental attitude. That’s without doubt the bottom line. There are so many ups and downs, so many challenges that the easy option would be to give up. Having a positive mental attitude is key in picking yourself up and carrying on and seeking out the good and the joy around you to motivate you forward. I also think not being rigid in your “dream” so that you can adapt when things don’t go the way you expect. Finally listening to others who know more than you and trusting their wisdom of experience. If you aren’t teachable, you don’t learn!
What challenges did you have to overcome at the beginning of your journey?
The biggest challenge was my total lack of knowledge in this new life I had taken on – I knew nothing about the animals I was now responsible for, the only pet I had ever cared for was a cat – the most independent of domesticated animals! I had never run my own business or been self-employed, I had never even filled in a tax return. While my dream was to spend my days around my animals – there is a much more practical side to running a business if you want to survive. However, the biggest challenge when I first moved here was learning how to build a fire! The farmhouse only had a kitchen stove to warm the house and I had grown up in houses with push-button heating. The only fires I had ever lit were the occasional bbq fires. It was my biggest challenge because it was something I hadn’t even thought about before moving up and was such a huge challenge the first few winters here. There is a real skill around getting a fire going and then getting it hot enough to produce a meaningful heat to warm the house. Those first years I wore thermal everything and could often see my breath inside the house, the first thing I would put on in the morning getting out of bed and the last thing to take off at the end of the day was my scarf!
How did you come up with the idea of Puffin Croft?
The business already existed when I bought the property. It was what enabled me to move and start working straight away however there were quite a lot of issues with the farm – it was run down, messy and there were some significant animal welfare issues to deal with.
Can you give us some background information about your business?
I run a petting farm, farm shop, and B&B. I have a bakery where I bake cakes and pies to sell in the shop, make soaps, lotions, candles, lip balms, and other items I sell in the shop and online and a polytunnel where I grow small fun crops depending on my mood that year – in the past I have grown cucamelons and purple mange-tout, this year I grew dahlias so I could have fresh flowers in the house all summer, sweetcorn and pumpkins. There is also a grapevine in the polytunnel for Scottish grapes!
How have you built a successful customer base?
I post videos and pictures of all my animals regularly on social media and while I do share some of the challenges that life can bring when you have a farm I focus my social media mostly on uplifting content showcasing how amazing the animals are on the farm and all their characters. People see how well cared for and loved the animals are and enjoy sharing their adventures.
I know that the animals are what make Puffin Croft so special. What type of animals do you have there on your petting farm? Are there any ways that we can participate in their well-being as well?
There are some real characters on the farm, I have two donkeys – Jack and Jenny who over the years have had four foals, now retired they spend their days being adored – Jenny’s favourite thing to do is bray at guests for carrots and pretend like she’s starving. There are four pigs – Mr. Bingley the potbelly boar, two micro pigs who are huge, and Dolly a Kune Kune who sadly lost her sister to cancer in May. One of my micro pigs – Thistle, learned this summer that if he jumps up on the wall and opens his mouth like a hippo, visitors can’t resist popping a carrot in his mouth – he’s become quite the star of the farm with his clever trick! There are five sheep – all girls, eight goats, In rabbit town there are currently eight rabbits but this number is always changing. I have three Sebastopol geese, lots of chickens and ducks, and three miniature Shetland ponies. I also have my best friend – Measles a four-year-old dalmatian. I sometimes joke I bought a farm just so I could have a dog!
For those who would like to support Puffin Croft and the animals, there are a variety of ways – via my website people can adopt their favourite animal, via Facebook they can become a supporter and send stars, there are also links to PayPal for anyone who would like to buy the animals a bag of feed or help towards veterinary costs. All the money donated to support the farm directly goes to the upkeep and care of the animals. It costs around £7000 a year to feed all the animals, vet fees can be around £3000 a year, bedding, wormers, supplements, and keeping their pens safe and maintained another few thousand or so. There are a lot of expenses in keeping them all happy and healthy so any support really makes a big and tangible difference.
While watching the documentary, I came to adore Mr. Bingley and his story. Can you share with us how he is doing?
Mr. Bingley is a much-loved character on the farm. He was rescued from Bingley forest in Yorkshire many many years ago and it’s not known if he escaped from somewhere or was released. He is a domestic pig but being an entire male (meaning he still has his testicles and therefore testosterone) can be feisty at times. As he is entire he has to live alone (he would fight a male pig and there would be babies with a female!) however in the barn there are the donkeys in winter and he gets a lot of attention from visitors through the summer. Pigs live to about 16 years old or so. Mr. Bingley is around this age now so he is an old boy – their tusks grow their whole lives and his are rather impressive and long. A few years ago he started choking on his pig pellets and carrots visitors were giving him so he can no longer have anything too hard to eat, instead, we prepare a mash for him (old man food) and he has done really well on that. For treats, I will give him bananas, boiled carrots, and raw egg. Pigs are like dogs they wag their tales when they are happy and Mr. Bingley is a pretty happy pig. Not many get to live out their whole lives so I am happy he can continue to live his days out on the farm in his old age.
Can you describe a typical day and what keeps you motivated?
Farm life is seasonal but typically in the summer, my day starts with putting out the breakfast for my B&B guests, having my own breakfast over a bit of admin. Then I iron all the B&B laundry – sheets and pillowcases etc. After that, I go out to feed all the animals and make sure the farm is tidy before opening to the public at 10 am. Usually, I will then walk the dog. The day is mostly spent helping customers, cleaning pens, chopping carrots for visitors to feed the animals, getting the B&B clean and ready for the next guest as well as making jams or candles or soaps, etc as needed. The farm closes at 6 pm so I put everyone to bed, prepare the homemade bread for the B&B guests the next morning, and any baking for the shop that needs to be done before falling on the sofa for an hour or so to have cuddles with the dog before heading to bed.
There are no days off when you have a farm as the animals always need feeding so even on Christmas day, New Years Day, your Birthday or even if you don’t feel very well you still need to get out and feed them. Because of that, I try to take moments for myself, self-care is important. I may not be able to get a day off but I can sometimes take a few hours or an early evening to myself. One of my favourite things to do is take long long bubble baths – real me time!
What strategies did you first use to market your business?
I mostly use social media, there isn’t really a budget to pay for advertising. Word of mouth plays a big part locally, visitor reviews help and of course, having been on t.v is the biggest free advertising I could have asked for and had a huge impact on spreading the news about my little farm.
Have you had any experiences that make you look back and shake your head with negativity? What made the experience so unpleasant?
Real-life means there will be times when things don’t go as planned. Losing an animal is the hardest part of keeping them. The first time I lost an animal – a goat, after moving here I remember sitting at the kitchen table crying my eyes out and really questioning who I thought I was that I could do this, it was a moment of crisis of faith for me. I felt guilty and heartbroken. What made it so unpleasant was that I am pretty sure I may have been able to save the goat if not for my lack of knowledge and experience. Whilst hard to go through these moments are necessary as they give room for a lot of growth and experience gained. You grow more skilled in animal husbandry when you have to deal with the fullest range of animal health issues and means you are more likely to be able to save another animal in the future because you know what to look for.
Was there a point in your journey when you started to feel really good about your move to John o’ Groats? If so, what did it feel like to get past that “tipping point?”
The first six months when I moved here are a bit of a blur, I don’t really remember too much in many ways as it was a constant feeling between overwhelmed and overjoyed, it was as amazing as it was daunting. There hasn’t been a specific tipping point but I do feel a gradual forward momentum. No matter how much I planned mentally for the big change in lifestyle you just never know until you actually do it. I have learned as much about myself through this process as I have the animals and as my experience has grown so has my confidence. I am proud that despite the challenges I was faced with and my utter lack of know-how I have been able to grow the business and shape it more and more to the vision of how I would like it to look.
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone who is looking to start a business similar to yours?
Not necessarily a business similar to mine but for anyone wanting to follow their dream or make a big lifestyle change. Go for it! We live in a world that promotes caution and reticence – don’t put all your eggs in one basket, look before you leap, don’t try to run before you can walk. I strongly feel that there are times when you need to put all your eggs in that basket take a flying leap and try to run as fast as you can to where you want to go – because this is living! This is life! If you are never brave enough to try then there is only one outcome – failure. If you go for it there are two possible outcomes – failure or success and even if you fail you won’t have to wonder what if and live with the regret of never having tried. It’s worth taking a risk, life is precious and short and we should pursue the things we’ve always dreamed of. You will never work harder in your whole life but it will be worth it.
What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I have found it very interesting the past five years seeing how the business has developed and not really much of it planned. I think being open to opportunities and change gives fluidity and is exciting. You never know who or what will come into your life and shape the next chapter. In the short term, however, I am currently planning a refurb of my farm shop which I am very excited about. Up until now, it’s been a very humble farm shop run on an honesty box. As the business has grown however and especially after the Covid years people don’t want to carry as much cash with them, so a cash-based honesty box business has been more of a challenge this year. So, in January I am planning a whole new shop that will be staffed and be able to take card payments, etc. It will open up job opportunities to hire locals in the area as well as the fun of choosing lots of lovely things to stock the shop with. And as for the future, watch this space!!