Sheep Shibboleth

As we near the end of another seasons lambing we take a look at the different cliches found in every lambing shed around the world. Chances are if you’ve spent any amount of time working with our ovine friends, you … Continue reading

On to pastures new

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It is with great sadness but a bit of excitement I can say I am moving on to pastures new and lusher – or so I’ve been told – in New Zealand.

Riding in the world’s biggest combine harvester one day, being kicked in the leg by an alpaca the next, and the day after liaising with members of the royal family.

It may sound like a rather unusual combination but that’s been my life for the past two years at South East Farmer magazine.

Now it is with great sadness but a bit of excitement I can say I am moving on to pastures new and lusher – or so I’ve been told – in New Zealand.

I suppose my international departure can partly be blamed on the many inspirational people I have interviewed during my time at the magazine, reminiscing over the years they spent mango farming in Costa Rica, transporting breeding pigs to South Africa by boat, or cattle driving on horseback through the Australian outback. So when I received an email offering me sheep work on the South Island of New Zealand my feet got a whole lot itchier.

It is perhaps not until I am leaving that I appreciate what the last two years have given me, not only from an experience point of view, but also from all the people I have met along the way and all that I have learnt about the industry.

From sitting in on government meetings on agricultural legislation to watching cattle sell at Ashford Market while chomping on a bacon butty, every event has been as valuable as the next.

My diverse adventures have confirmed to me that I am in an industry that holds great value to the UK with a community spirit so strong that I’m not sure any other sector could compete. Farmers and growers are positive and innovative despite the hurdles constantly being thrown at them, and probably the only bunch of people that will openly share their secret to success with you until the cows literally come home.

I’ve met some real characters along the way, from the tough as nails dairy farmer who cares for his cattle with the softest hand, to the Discovery 4 driving, Schoffel adorned arable farmer whose son probably joined me at Cirencester. But I’ve met many a stereotype breaker too, from the dairy girls milking in bikinis, to the multistorey council estate city boy turned agricultural adviser.

I distinctly remember one Kent farmer looking me up and down one day at market and exclaiming: “You’ve lost weight young lady!” – to which I responded with a confused frown. He bluntly continued: “I’m a sheep farmer. You think I don’t notice when an old girl’s getting a bit boney?”

Watching the industry from an outsider’s perspective has not always been as genial, as I’ve seen producers fight against the odds to keep their businesses afloat with little help or sympathy. From blockading milk processors, opening their lives up to the public by taking part in Open Farm Sunday, marching through Whitehall with a Jersey cow in tow, to parading their champion livestock around a ring at county shows, I’ve watched producers promote and educate in their own individual ways. But every farm I visit I observe the same power of commitment to their enterprise, an enthusiasm that I hope to carry with me.

It’s been a particularly exciting year to be a journalist, let alone one in agriculture, with Brexit mixing the opinions of many, government falling apart – or coming together in some people’s opinions – and an exciting but nerve wracking uncertainty in the air for what the future holds.

After meeting so many energised, positive and forward thinking next generation farmers in the region, it is evident that agriculture has a promising future with so many people passionate about this diverse and exciting industry, that I too am proud to consider myself a part of.

I’d like to thank all our readers, contributors and my colleagues for the support and kind words over my time here and for all the warm messages I have received about my departure – you are what truly makes the magazine. If you would like to follow me on my travels, I’ll be blogging and posting on Twitter.

Bitten by the beating bug

The value of shooting is greatly publicised.. but what about the value of beating?

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“Come along on Saturday- its great, fun lots of banter.”

‘Banter?’ I frowned as the estate owner tried to sweet talk me into joining his team of beaters on the growing syndicate shoot he owns in the village I grew up in.

Spending a day chasing around birds for people who are paying to do what I want to be doing (shooting) and not getting anything but a hot lunch from it sounded really great fun..

I had a million and one other things to do but this guy had been good to me, he lets me graze his 500 acre estate for free, hell he even gave me a wild boar once, so I dubiously agreed.
Arriving on the day was slightly daunting- I can’t say I’m your average looking country bumpkin and I often get underestimated in my abilities to get my hands dirty. A bit of lipgloss can only help not hinder surely? But I was welcomed with open arms by fellow beaters, all very chatty and keen to get a sniff of where this fresh meat had suddenly emerged from. “You’re the girl from South East Farmer!” one lady chimed. I was pleased to see my regional celebrity status stretched to the beating line.
Upon first impressions, I was surprised to see such a variety of people there- especially woman. Infact predominantly women. Kids in high visibility jackets ran around playing and older gentlemen with their grey faced spaniels at their feet chatted away to the guns like they’d known them for years. In fact, looking at the scene as a whole, they probably had known them for years. This was a community.

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The first drive- around 150 birds are shot each weekend which are then supplied to a local pub

 

I was offered a shot of brandy and a sausage sandwich, which obviously I gratefully accepted and we were on our way; stick in hand, dogs at foot but still chatting away.

It turns out that the actual process of beating is a very minor part of the day.

Short periods of time were spent diving through cover crop in a carefully arranged line, but the rest is spent laughing, walking, eating and yes, Ian was right, an awful lot of banter.

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I was easily convinced to join the guns and beaters in the pub afterwards. Guns tip the beaters by leaving money in a pint glass at the pub and voila free drinks all night.
As I lay in bed that night I felt an immense feeling of happiness (and a slightly spinning head). In one day I had become part of an exclusive fraternity- I’m pretty sure some of the nicest and most welcoming people I have ever met were at that shoot. After growing up somewhat of a black sheep I had found a group of people who understand everything I had been scorned for in the past.

One lady, Karen, told me how she decided to try out beating five years ago when her confidence levels were at rock bottom and she was terrified of loud bangs. She hasn’t missed a day since and her confidence has grown no end, with her daughter and granddaughter now also being heavily involved.
“You’re back?!”, Gary, a particularly welcoming member of the group exclaimed as I enthusiastically arrived the following week.

My weekends began to revolve around the shoot, declining invitations regularly “sorry I have work that day.” Not strictly a lie.. “No, I cant do the evening either, yup, still working”- I was ditching life long friends for people I had just met, knowing full well I’d have a much better time with them.

My love life suffered, I couldn’t possibly get a boyfriend- what if he expected to see me on Saturdays?!

If you had told me a year ago that I’d be going on nights out with men twice my age stood in Michelin starred pubs and being glarred at for my mucky wellies, I’d have laughed.

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These people are not only great fun, they’re amazing advocates for the countryside and the shooting industry. Not living in a particularly rural part of the country, every Saturday evening we raid a pub in town head to toe in wellies, tweeds, flat caps, wax coats with spaniels at our feet. But that’s where the stereotype ends. We have builders, bank managers, beauticians and babies within our group and do we seclude ourselves? Far from it. Every man, woman and child that enters that pub gets a smile and its unusual for them to leave without having asked for the phone number of someone so they can come beating for a day to try it out.

And to leave you with a final revelation.. I have spent much of my past on shoots, gun in hand, numb with the cold, waiting and waiting, and for the final day of the season I am brushing the cobwebs off my 20 bore for a day on a peg, and all I can say is, quite frankly, I’d rather be beating.

Its long way from now until October, but if you want a great day out, plenty of exercise, a brace of pheasant to take home, and to make great friends along the way I urge you, find your local shoot and get stuck in!

 

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