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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Pursuing a career in farming

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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.

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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!

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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..

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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.

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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.

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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.

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