A farmer’s daughter who claimed that she was left at home ‘with a muck fork’ whilst her teenage sisters went dancing has triumphed in her fight for a fair share of her elderly parents’ thriving dairy farm, estimated to be worth £7 million.
The daughter had been repeatedly assured by her parents that she would ultimately step into their shoes and take over the 182-acre farm, and the Court of Appeal ruled that a stake in the business was no more than her due for the years of low-paid toil she had put in.
The daughter claimed that she could have ‘made a better life elsewhere’, but her parents insisted that she had earned a fair income on the farm, also being provided with free ‘bed and board’ and other benefits. Describing her as ‘a self-employed herdswoman’, they argued that she would have done no better financially had she worked away from the farm.
However, in dismissing the parents appeal against a county court decision that their daughter was entitled to a beneficial interest in the farm, the Court ruled that measuring her contribution was not just ‘an exercise in forensic accounting’. The remuneration and benefits that she had received were ‘less than full recompense’ for the long hours she had worked for low wages.
The daughter had for years laboured under the impression that she was running the farm in partnership with her parents – however, unbeknown to her, they had never signed their partnership agreement. She had also been shown a draft will, which left the lion’s share of the farm to her. However, her parents later made changes to their bequests and proposed to place the farm in trust for the benefit of the three sisters equally.
The daughter had a ‘passionate interest in pedigree milking cows’ and, by the time she turned 21, she was the only sibling left at the farm, ‘her sisters having departed to follow other paths’. When she left the farm to work elsewhere for a while, her father had begged her to return.
The value of the daughter’s beneficial interest in the farm would be assessed at a further court hearing unless final settlement terms could be agreed. However, in pleading for an outbreak of peace within the family, the Court observed, “This is in many ways a tragic case.
“The bitterness between the parties was such that each had few, if any, good words to say about the other. The fact remained, however, that between them they had over the years built up, by hard work, great skill and passionate dedication a prodigious Holstein pedigree milking herd and a highly successful business. It is greatly to be hoped that they might now be able to resolve such remaining differences as they have in relation to the daughter’s entitlement without recourse to further costly and divisive litigation.”