Pet owners- control your pooch!

Could unsuitable dog breeds be to blame for a rise in sheep worrying?

dead sheep

This month we saw the story of a lamb being chased off a cliff by an out of control dog spread across the headlines.

Sheep worrying has become an increasing problem and the rise in population and Britain’s obsession with pets isn’t helping.

Not so many years ago people would have a dog for a specific purpose, be it protecting livestock, to catch their supper, or simply to keep their lap warm. Each of these dog were selected for the characteristics typical to their breeding such as stamina, speed or size.

But now with nearly half of UK families having a pet dog, we are seeing dogs that are highly unsuitable for their owners.

You only have to visit a dog rescue centre to notice the trend in unwanted dog breeds. Long gone are the greyhound filled kennels which have been replaced with Staffies, Huskies and Rottweilers who were bought by their owners to add to that tough guy bravado. However, for whatever reason, failure to train, care for, neuter these animals, the result is 1 in 20 of the 9 million dogs in the UK, being homeless.

I remember reading the backlash of Daily Mail journalist who wrote about how dreadful other peoples dogs can make an innocent trip to the park. but she was right. Every day i see dogs doing as they please while their owner looks on in embarrassment unable to control the situation. Only this morning I watched two dogs owners and their pets allow their dogs to run wild across the lettuce crop growing on the farm where I live. When I caught one out she feebley called Rocky, who continued to ignore her and then empty his bowels on an iceberg lettuce. She didn’t pick it up.

And these irresponsible dogs owners are everywhere. they walk among us, to the neighbour whose dog frequently soils your front lawn, to the labradoodle that pounces on your toddler in the park.

I know someone who wanted a collie after watching an episode of Countryfile, despite working full time, living in a town and never owning a sheep in their life. Subsequently it is now having weekly appointments with a dog phycologist after developing a mental disorder through lack of stimulation.

I understand that aesthetics can be extremely persuasive. Believe me, I’m a girly girl, pretty much everything I buy is based on appearance, but dogs should be selected for their suitability to the owner. Will it live inside or out, does it require a high level of mental stimulation, how big is your home etc.

I’m not saying that these highly energised dog breeds are the only ones to blame. It all comes down to the owner and their level or training and common sense. I’ve known German Shepherds to share a bed with sock lambs and I’ve known pugs to take on badgers, but statistics show that certain dogs are more likely to attack.

Funny-Pug

There is certainly a trend when I speak to farmers that have fallen victim to an attack. All animals pumped full of energy for the tasks they were originally supposed to carry out.

Animal charities and breeders also have a huge part to play in this when matching a dog with a potential owner. Some breeders will always vet their puppies’ new homes, but others will only see dollar signs and off goes that Irish Wolfhound to live in the one bed flat in Brixton.

So, potential dog owners, if I could ask one thing. Select your breed carefully, speak to a specialist and consider breeds you never even knew existed. If you have the time and space for a Belgian Shepherd then get one. If you see yourself as future flyball champion on the world then get a Collie, but don’t go buying that French Mastiff to make your neighbours Doberman look runt-like.

vicious dog

This article was published by South East Farmer and can be read online: http://www.southeastfarmer.net

Pursuing a career in farming

IMG_1206

This month I went to the wedding of a good friend of mine and her new dairy mad husband in Lancashire. It was great to have the opportunity to chat to farmers from outside the South East about farming issues that are affecting them. We swiftly moved on to the importance of young people in the industry and how tricky it can be to crack when you haven’t had the opportunity to grow up on a farm.

So this month I have been chatting to young farmers from around the country to see what advice they can offer any readers that are hoping to pursue a career in farming.

Find your place So you’ve decided that you want to get into farming for one reason or another. But farming is such a diverse industry, from breeding strawberries, to milking cows twice a day.

Every part is as important as the next, and it may sound obvious but finding what most interests you is a good starting point in building a successful career.

Be brave

If you’re not from a farming family, getting yourself known can be one of the hardest parts. If your father runs a 300 strong flock of Romney’s on the marsh, chances are you can go to market and people will know you.

But if he doesn’t, you’ll have to plough your own furrow. Go to livestock markets and agricultural shows, chat to people and ask questions.

Young dairy farmer, Sam Adams, from West Sussex said: “My biggest advice would be go to conferences and open days, stand up and ask questions and always let people know you are looking for opportunities.”

Farmers are a friendly bunch and if one thing is for sure, they love to talk about farming! There is no such thing as a stupid question, so get asking.

Social media is also a pretty great tool these days for farmers and if you’re on Twitter you will no doubt be aware of the strong farming e-community that has developed over the years. It’s totally free and you will learn and debate more than you ever imagined. If you’re offered the chance to learn a new skill or travel somewhere new – go for it.

Work for free

This might not sound very appealing, especially to young people who are trying to save every penny they can for that new car part or a lads holiday to Magaluf. But even if it is one day a week, offer your labour to a farmer in exchange for an insight into agriculture.

Ask if she or he can teach you how to turn hay or shear a sheep. Even now while I’m working full time, I try to help out on farms as much as possible because it allows me to gather new skills that I know will help me in future. Think of the short term pain for long term gains.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 12.20.11

Join a young farmers club

With a membership of more than 23,000 aged between 10 and 26 years around the country, joining your local group will enable you to get to know farmers in the area, learn more about the industry, and make great friends along the way. The National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs says: “You don’t have to be one to be one. In fact you don’t even need to own a pair of wellies. Joining your local Young Farmers Club could be the gateway to a whole world of new opportunities. From meeting friends you will keep for life, to discovering a skill you never even knew you had, there is so much more to Young Farmers than wellies and tractors!”

Further your education

Agricultural courses are a great way to build up the basic knowledge needed to pursue a career in agriculture.

If you haven’t had much experience on a farm it’s probably best not to jump straight into a degree, but consider a shorter course at a local agricultural college where you can build up practical skills. Here you will most likely learn the basics such as tractor driving, lambing and milking. Some colleges also offer apprenticeships which are invaluable in giving you both industry experience and a qualification at the end.

Lawry Taylor, who works for Shorts Agricultural Services, said: “I’m not from a farming background at all and progressed into it through two apprenticeships.” Laurie has since gone on to be a vital part of the contracting team and has even won awards for his ploughing.

University often seems like the next obvious step for some people, and if there’s a specific career goal you have in mind and you know a degree will help – great. But going to university for the hell of it will leave you in a lot of debt. You can have just as much fun at young farmers balls for a lot less money!

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 12.20.03

Take every opportunity

Great things never came from comfort zones, or so the saying goes. So if you’re offered an opportunity that quite frankly terrifies you, go for it.

A couple of years ago I was invited for an all expenses paid trip to Scotland with a bunch of people I had never met. In the build up to it I spent a lot of time thinking up excuses in my head. But when my plane tickets arrived I realised I couldn’t back out and it turned out to be one of the best weekends of my life.

Since then I have continued to push myself, working on farms around the country and taking more impromptu visits with strangers and it’s only ever led to good things.

Be the best you can be

This may sound obvious, but an employer will notice the small things like punctuality and how tidy you leave a yard.

Tom Martindale, a pig farmer from Hampshire, said: “Always do the job on hand to the best of your ability – remember you’re building yourself a reputation in the industry.”

While Sophie Barnes – a new entrant sheep farmer who is currently travelling the globe to pursue a career in sheep genetics – said: “My first lambing job I was ‘mucker out extraordinaire’ because all I seemed to do was clean out pens. But I learned so much about hard work and how to do whatever someone asks of you. I’d gone from noone to someone who was respected just for being good at shovelling muck! It inspired me to do more in life.” Before this, Sophie had no background in farming.

Start small, dream big

Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you expect to be driving that brand new quadtrac on your first day, prepare to be disappointed.

You may also never have the funds to buy your own farm, especially in the South East where land is fast diminishing and prices are sky high. But there are plenty of other amazing opportunities out there from tenancy agreements, to share farming, to farm managers’ roles.

If you’re into livestock and have the resources, taking on a couple of orphan lambs can act as crash course in livestock. This will help you to develop an eye for detail when caring for vulnerable stock and could give you one up on a fellow applicant in that lambing assistant role.

There are also lots of bursaries and competitions available to support young people in farming, from winning a Land Rover for a year to being funded to travel abroad and develop your farming knowledge. Apply for as many as you can, they are there to help people just like you.

And probably most importantly, never let people tell you you can’t. Accept you will make mistakes, these are not setbacks- they are there to help you learn.

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again until that farming dream is yours.

And if all else fails, there’s always marriage..

1907494_10206888427434405_3519586491526118933_n

Useful websites:

www.brightcrop.co.uk

www.lantra.co.uk

www.nfyfc.org.uk

This article was published by South East Farmer and can be read online: http://www.southeastfarmer.net

Wellies swapped for high heels

I can’t believe that we’re in May already, which means next month I will have been working at South East Farmer for a year – and what a year it has been.

I have been meeting so many of our dedicated readers, learning so much more about the industry, and further developing my passion for educating the public about the importance of where our food comes from.

I’ve been to protests, test driven combines, attended shows of all shapes and sizes, and sometimes I even got to swap my wellies for high heels and don a cocktail dress. Agriculture really is such a diverse and exciting industry and one that I am so proud to be a part of.

farming_food

May also marks the month we’ve all been waiting for – or dreading in Dave’s case – with the general election. I have been really disheartened by the number of young people who have not registered to vote and young people I know who seem to have no interest in the future of our country. As my brother described it: “It’s like being made to choose a meal which you know will kill you, but you have to eat!”

Lambing my own flock of sheep for the first time has been stressful to say the least. Perhaps I should have considered that working full time and expecting sheep to do as I ask was a bit optimistic. We’ll just call all those sleepless nights character building. However, I’m feeling quite accomplished after a very successful lambing with no problems. Despite having countless lambing jobs in the past, it has been a massive learning curve and I found that seeing the ewes through from tupping to post lambing was an invaluable experience.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 12.11.30

Farming without much land is challenging but after much perseverance I have acquired 40 acres more grazing on a site of special scientific interest on the North Downs, just ten minutes from home. Locals have already exclaimed their delight at seeing sheep up there again for the first time in years and a local farm shop has jumped at the chance to stock my lamb.

It’s amazing how a few extra hours of sunlight can make such a difference. I have even found the time to restock the greenhouse in the hope I will actually remember to water my plants this year. At least livestock shout when they’re hungry.

sunflower-in-Natural-view

This article was published by South East Farmer and can be read online: http://www.southeastfarmer.net

When is a farmer really a farmer?

sheep

Today I was told ‘I’m not a farmer therefore I do not understand.’
This to me came as no surprise. I’m used to the uninterested looks when people discover I do not own thousands of acres of land and that I am effectively, a smallholder.

I consider myself very lucky to be in the position that I am- with a few acres of land, able to keep a fair few animals without worrying about the financial side of things.
Like many I can only dream of one day owning my own farm. Well a real farm anyway.

Even when the TV series First Time Farmers aired there was the resounding “when are they going to use proper farmers” echoing around my Twitter feed.

I’ve grown up with dung in my hair and cows as best friends, I’ve seen the destruction of Foot and Mouth, I’ve said since I was about five years old that I would be a farmer. I studied Agriculture at Hadlow College; this led to me obtaining a degree in Agriculture from the Royal Agricultural University. I’ve lambed god knows how many thousand sheep, been voted runner up Britain’s Sexiest Farmer and I’ve reared my own livestock. Yet, my identity is still floating round in an abyss between non-farming folk seeing me as an agricultural encyclopaedia, but actual farming folk looking at me like a naïve girl desperate to be something I’m not.

It’s hard being a new entrant, and it’s also hard being a female. It seems to me, unless my father owns a farm which I work full time on and will one day inherit, I am pretty stuffed. If I marry a farmer I’ll of course be a farmer’s wife. Being a farmer, it would seem, is a very exclusive club.

I don’t think my dream of having my own farm, or at least enough sheep to not be looked at like a farmer might look at a strand of blackgrass in his wheat, will ever go away and nor will that desperate need in the pit of my stomach.
There is a fear I am going to be haunted with the ‘smallholder’ title for the rest of my life, but in the meantime I will continue to be an advocate for British agriculture, and in fact agriculture all over the globe, and do what I can to show just how hard farmers (you know, real farmers) work every day to feed the world.

thank a farmer

The fight against Bovine tuberculosis

IMG_1681-2.JPG
The second phase of the badger cull to prevent bovine TB has started in Somerset and Gloucestershire. And of course with the cull comes the cruelty claims and hatred towards anyone who thinks it might be a good idea..

In England, we have the highest levels of Bovine tuberculosis in Europe and currently 230,727 cattle have been killed since 2008 from the disease.

Call me naïve but I do have faith in the government and that fact that they would not be doing this if they did not think it was beneficial. Similar methods worked in Australia and Ireland without eradicating badgers and over time I hope it will here too.

Having seen comments on a pest control page I follow I can’t help but feel people’s ignorance is due to their lack of understanding about the true extent of TB and its impact on not just the beef and dairy industry, but people’s lives.

IMG_1683-0.JPG
Many commenters suggested relocating badgers, but to where? Where in the British Isles could these badgers be relocated that has no cattle? Living in a very arable part of the country myself where it is quite rare to see a badger, I can still think of smalls herd of cattle in every direction.

Those that are for the cull suggested putting badgers on the general licence in order to control the disease but this would quite likely see the end of badgers all together which I certainly wouldn’t want to see.

It’s all very well shouting ‘VACCINATE’ in people’s faces, yes that’s everyone’s dream, but the vaccine for badgers is impractical and also very dear. At over £600 per badger it is neither viable nor practical to catch badgers every year in large enough numbers in order to have an effect.

The government predict a working cattle vaccine could be achieved within ten years (but I hope much sooner). In an ideal world this would be great, but wait, then what about all those disease-ridden badgers slowly dying in their setts? Complicated isn’t it.
An oral vaccine to put in bait to treat badgers is also in the process of being developed. You can’t say they’re not trying.

Between 1998 and 2008 the government invested more than £17.8 million towards research into TB in cattle with I can only imagine much, much more spent since.

IMG_1682-0.JPG
Despite the belief of many, no farmer in their right mind wants to go on a bloody killing spree. I like wildlife, I like badgers and I don’t enjoy seeing them being killed but I understand it is necessary to try and secure the future of the beef and dairy industry. Do you really think badgers enjoy being ridden with disease either? Like deer, rabbits and foxes numbers need to be controlled often for the benefit of the species, without eradicating them from the British countryside all together.

I also understand that yes, badgers are not the only cause of bovine TB but they have a lot to answer for. Other measures are being taken such as movement restrictions to prevent further spread and vaccines are being developed but currently it is not enough to have a positive impact on the problem.

The thing that has shocked me most is the lack of empathy for these TB affected farmers. My job is to communicate with farmers, which I love, but the stories I hear often reduce me to tears even just as an observer of the situation.

Not only is this disease ruining livelihoods but much-loved stock is being killed, sometimes for no reason. If the nation’s pet cats and dogs were suffering from an incurable disease contracted by badgers would you be on the badgers’ side? I highly doubt it.
A lot of antis argue that if a farmer gets compensation for the animals killed then what’s the big deal? Well let’s say somebody runs over your dog and dumps it on the side of the road but the police tell you, “Hey, what’s the big deal, you’ve got insurance haven’t you? Just get another one” But you can’t because you know it’ll probably just get run over again. In fact all your dogs are going to get run over by the same person. Like TB.
Yes, farmers do get compensation but the amount is less than the value of the animal, funds take months to come through putting financial strain on the business, but above all, the owner of these cattle has gone through the trauma, heartbreak and absolute despair of losing an animal that it is their job, and their life, to rear and care for.
If you think it’s as simple as having a bit of cash thrown at you for each animal you’ve lost then you don’t understand the relationship between a human and his animal and I feel sorry for you.

IMG_1680.JPG
I know many, many people will still fail to understand, but can you imagine if your life, your livelihood, everything you love and everything you live for was destroyed just how you might feel.
These people are doing all they can to try and protect everything they have against this awful disease but many of them know full well they are fighting a losing battle.

NFU President, Meurig Raymond, yesterday wroten to NFU members to update them on the situation. I will leave you with his letter.

“I am writing to you today to confirm that the second year of the pilot badger culls in the South West of England has started.
In the South West – where bovine TB is endemic and herds are continually being reinfected despite farmers’ best efforts to protect them – controlling the disease in badgers has to be an essential part of any strategy to wipe this disease out.
Travelling round the country I’ve seen first-hand the total human misery this disease causes for farmers and their businesses. I’ve sat round farm kitchen tables with families who have been driven to despair after investing time and money building up their herds, only to see them devastated by bTB. I’ve spoken to grown men who’ve been reduced to tears as they load cow after cow, or calf after calf, onto lorries to be taken away for slaughter because of this disease. I also know from personal experience the emotional and economic impact this disease has because my own farm is currently under TB restrictions and I am determined to ensure that everything possible is done to tackle this disease.
No one would choose to kill badgers if there was an effective alternative in areas where TB is rife. But if we’re ever going to get on top of bTB in areas where the disease is endemic there is no other choice. The Chief Vet has said culling over a four-year period in both pilot areas will have an impact on disease control. I am confident that these pilot culls will help deliver a reduction in bTB in cattle and it is vital that they are allowed to be successfully completed so they can deliver the maximum benefits.
The Independent Expert Panel made recommendations to improve the delivery of the culls and both licensed companies have implemented these recommendations for this year. I know the people delivering the culls are focused on carrying them out as safely, humanely and effectively as possible so they provide the maximum benefit in the fight against bTB and I applaud their commitment and dedication to carrying out this job in often difficult circumstances.
While culling has to be an essential part of any strategy to control and eradicate bTB in areas where it is endemic, it is only one part of a much wider strategy to get rid of this terrible disease. And that is the ultimate goal – the eradication of a disease which resulted in more than 32,000 cattle being needlessly slaughtered in Great Britain last year and for which there is no cure. No one has ever said culling alone will wipe out bTB. Only by doing everything we can will we achieve what everybody wants – a TB free England.
Badger vaccination could have a role to play in areas that are clear of bTB to stop the disease spreading any further. I know farmers in some of these areas are already involved with local badger vaccination projects because they recognise how important stopping this disease is. Cattle vaccination is also a key element. It is unacceptable that a workable cattle vaccine is still ten years away and I can assure you the NFU will be doing everything it can to get this process speeded up.
It is vital that we keep TB out of the parts of the country where there are currently very few breakdowns. Cattle movement controls continue to be tightened where that is necessary, but it is important that these controls allow businesses to continue to operate viably as well as preventing the spread of the disease.
Bovine TB continues to devastate farming family businesses in large parts of the country. I can assure you that the NFU remains totally committed firstly to stopping the spread and ultimately to eradicating this disease and recognises that this will only be achieved by using every available option.”

Tribute to a Jersey Cow

20140622-190815-68895681.jpg
When you help someone out you’ll often expect a gift in return. Sometimes a card, some nice flowers, or even a box of chocolates. But I was given the gift of a Jersey cow.
At just 8 years old my days were spent eat, sleeping and breathing cows. I’m pretty sure I had more cow-contact than human contact but surely that can’t be a bad way to live.
One evening whilst alone in our cow shed one of the girls, Charlotte, came into calf. Something wasn’t right. The owners lived in Sussex, there were heavy restrictions at the time due to Foot and Mouth, so we called the only person with such cow expertise, a lady called Sandy. She came, she calved, she conquered.

20140622-185550-68150183.jpg
It was soon decided that this gorgeous little fudge coloured heifer calf would too, be named Sandy.
(Don’t worry, she returned the favour later on and named one of her Limousins Alice).
Once Foot and Mouth had passed and movement restrictions were lifted, the herd moved on. I was heartbroken to see my childhood best friends gone but a letter I received alleviated some of that pain. At just 10 years I was now the proud owner of my very own Jersey cow.

20140622-185806-68286179.jpg
Growing up with Sandy was a pleasure. My friends loved nothing more than coming round to brush, ride or cuddle Sandy.
Call me biased but i think Jerseys are the most magical breed. With their thick black eyelashes, gorgeous coats and lovely black tails. As I’ve always been told, if you’re going to have livestock, get something pretty, you have to look at it everyday. The fact their thick, creamy, gold top milk is positively delectable is just another bonus.

20140622-190032-68432216.jpg
Now I don’t know about you but when I think of a Jersey cow I think of a loving, docile girl with a sweet, warm breath. Sandy did not receive this memo and at times she possessed the devil inside her. If she was feeling playful or a bit cheesed off you’d better hope you had a fence between you.

20140622-190137-68497875.jpg
Sandy has been consistently there for me throughout my entire teenage-hood and way over half of my life. When things got confusing, frustrating or stressful there was nothing better to do than go and lie down in the field with her and cuddle.
Today I cuddled Sandy for the very last time.

Watching her come into the world and then leave it 13 years later was heartbreaking.
With the personality and body of a cow over half her age the shock still hasn’t hit.
Now not many people would keep a cow as a pet, not many people would play football with their cow, not many people would understand how important a cow can be, and not many people would write a blog about it. But then not many have had a cow like my Sandy.

20140622-190431-68671850.jpg

20140622-191034-69034570.jpg

 

I would like to express my sincere gratitude towards John at Westpoint Veterinary Group for being so efficient, kind and sensitive during Sandy’s last hours.