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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When is a farmer really a farmer?

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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.

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Follow Your dreams & You Might Never Have To Work Again

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For the last four and a half years I have spent my time at agricultural college. After school I spent two years at Hadlow College in Kent getting to know my way around farming with only a little experience and I am now in my final year at Cirencester in which I can honestly say my time here has been absolutely unforgettable. I had my doubts about coming here; being away from home for the first time, fitting in, but I’ve found my place. A place with people of all ages and backgrounds,  that find it perfectly acceptable to wake up at 7am on a Saturday, that don’t think having chickens that knock on the kitchen door for scraps is absurd and that find the smell of manure homely.

It’s so refreshing to find like-minded, intelligent people who share all the same interests I’ve looked a bit odd for enjoying in the past. The lecturers vary hugely, teaching us farming from all aspects with a few months practical experience in the second year.

The social activities have something for everyone, from early morning beagling at the weekends to polo, shooting or hockey on a Wednesday afternoon and late nights at the two nightclubs in town. I’ve had some mad parties here, some which are better off forgotten but others I’ll remember forever. Partying with Prince Harry is definitely one of these. The balls are great and you might even find a bit of time to do some studying too!

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With stunning views of the Cotswolds from your bedroom window and lovely old buildings, this college has the whole package.

With friends at Harper and various other ag colleges around the UK I know they all have had similar experiences. I went into my course with an open mind not really sure what I had planned at the end of it but I have really found my calling. Experiences have been similar with other students I know who started off adamant to only focus on livestock but have now secured a post graduate job with HGCA and are truly delighted.

The National Student saw agriculture as number 5 in the ‘top 10 degrees to get you a job’. This may be surprising but with an agricultural degree you don’t just have to be a farmer. Careers are available in conservation, countryside management, accountancy, journalism, sciences and all sorts. A lot of employers are just pleased to see a degree. With 91.3% of agricultural graduates finding a job within six months of graduation, it is something to consider.

If you’re worried about being homesick fear no more. Many aggy colleges allow you to bring your favourite home comfort with you in the form of a dog or a horse; and even if you don’t I can guarantee the people you meet in fresher’s week will feel like your long lost family within a few days.

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Despite being strongly disliked by the locals, here it doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, northern, southern, male or female, as long as you own a pair of wellies then you’re bound to fit in.  If you have any doubt in your mind about studying agriculture I say go for it. If you find something that you love doing, you’ll never have to work another day in your life.

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NB: Not all images are my own