By Clare Hustings*
I didn’t grow up in farming but I always had a passion for animals.
When we were younger, as a family we used to go off for a Sunday picnic in the countryside.
I can remember one Sunday afternoon, when I was four, we pulled into a quiet country lay by. While Dad was getting the kettle and primus stove ready, and Mum was sorting out the picnic basket, I had wandered off into the nearby field which had a herd of black and white cows grazing in it.
Apparently my Mum and Dad had kittens when they realised I wasn’t where I was supposed to be (ie, in the car), and then even more horror upon seeing me stood amongst the cows, looking up at them, fearlessly.
Dad didn’t want to frighten the cows by shouting at them, and really didn’t want a squashed four year old, but I was coaxed out and reluctantly I left my newly acquired friends and climbed back through the wire. After that little adventure my parents always made sure that there was no livestock in the field when we went out for our Sunday picnics!
So, I grew up wanting to work with animals but it was generally just a hobby. But then, years later the opportunity arose to work on a local farm. For the first 6 months I was given all the lousy jobs no one else wanted to do. I didn’t mind as I had found my dream job. Eventually, my boss gave in and I started to I learn the job from him. I spent nine hard, happy years working and learning from him.
When I left after nine years due to my boss’ health, I landed a job working for the civil service. My old boss allowed me to rent some land and buildings about 2 miles away from the main holding. I would see to my few cows at 5am in the morning, go home, wash, change and be at work by 8am. By the time my manager arrived at 8.30am, a mug of coffee ready as they arrived, they could never understand why I so bright and ready for another day. I would then go and sort out the cows on my way home in the evening.
In farming there will always be certain jobs that as a female you have to find ways to work around doing the job, but it never stopped me. The only issue I ever had as a woman, was when I went to the local livestock market without my boss. The dealers would see a woman and try and run the prices on. I had seen it many times when they tried to make the lady farmers pay through the nose for stock. I was used to watching my old boss bid and sometimes the dealers would try that trick on him - unfortunately for them, it always back fired as he knew when to step out of the bidding. So if I was interested in buying a cow, they would try it on me a couple of times, but I would allow them to think that I was quite happy to pay over the top and then step out leaving them with an expensive buy.
My favourite farm animals are cows and pigs, because they all have different personalities. However, pigs can be pretty hard to work with as, unlike cows, they have a turn of speed like Usain Bolt. They are not easy to handle – it’s not like with a cow that you can put in a cattle crush to make them easier to deal with. Any farm animal can be dangerous to work around and you have to respect any farm animal regardless of their size.
One of the most satisfying parts of being a farmer is working outdoors, working with nature and the livestock. No matter how many times I have watched or helped my cows to give birth, it is a very special moment. I loved being captain of my own ship. There are always jobs to be done so there are never two days the same.
But there are challenges too…
The price paid for what is produced is an issue. Farmers are not getting a fair share for what they are producing. In the future, I can see a lot more farmers leaving the sector, and a lot more food coming in from abroad which has been produced with lower standards.
You have to wear many hats in this job as you cannot earn a living just from farming, so lots of farmers have diversified into other things like B&Bs, camping, farm shops, selling at the local farmer’s markets, or even taking advantage of new environmental schemes from the government such as putting solar panels out in the fields. Farmers need to continually try to come up with unique ways to bring in income to help pay the bills, whilst staying in harmony with nature. Farmers are becoming land managers, having to look after the fields, and helping with biodiversity and the wildlife through growing cover crops.
Some dairy farmers have
set up milk vending machines, or have started producing ice cream, cheese, and a whole host of other things in order to be able to survive.
The weather has also changed, which greatly affects farmers. It seems that the seasons are not like they use to be back in the 80s, when you knew that you had the 4 seasons – winter, spring, summer and autumn. Then the animals, wildlife and plants knew when spring was on its way, but not now. It is a huge challenge trying to adapt to the changing climate.
*Inspired by a true story. Names have been changed