Blog

Not So Social Media

I’ve been on some kind of social media since I was 11 or 12. I got Facebook before the ‘allowed’ age of 13, with the condition that I had my mum as a friend, and it was actually my mum that suggested I got Twitter too. I currently have; one personal Facebook account, one blog Facebook page, one personal Twitter account and one that I manage (Young Farmers of the UK), one personal Instagram account, one blog Instagram account and one Snapchat account. As part of my job I also work on one Facebook page, four Twitter accounts, and one Instagram account. I wonder how many times a day my phone buzzes with notifications.

The advantages of social media are often clear, and I have certainly benefitted from them. I’ve met some fantastic people, via Twitter especially, and had some brilliant opportunities thanks to my presence on social media. I’ve learnt a lot from people online, and have/am using social media to grow my ‘online profile’ in terms of this blog, other writing, and the Young Farmers of the UK Twitter account.

But I often find myself less than impressed with the way that time on social media leaves me feeling. Sometimes it’s as simple as being annoyed at a comment directed at someone else, and sometimes I’m actually flung into the foulest of moods just through something I’ve seen online. As someone who could go on and on about the benefits of social media, I also see a lot of downsides to it.

One of my main issues with social media at the minute is the constant ‘bad news stream’ that seems to be happening. I’m not saying I want to be cut off from world events, but there’s a consistent layer of negativity constantly when you’re online, which is almost impossible to escape. And that does begin to affect you, or it has certainly affected me in the past. I’d find myself just scrolling aimlessly through social media, reading headline after headline of negative news, finding myself questioning everything I thought was good in the world, it often makes me want to cut myself off and live in a log cabin somewhere.

There’s also the time consumption. Hours and hours of just refreshing, scrolling, maybe reading an article, refreshing, scroll again. Social media never stops, there’s always something to be looking at. It isn’t that I haven’t got better things to be doing, because I have, I have loads of things I could be doing, but it’s so easy to just spend time aimlessly thumb flicking. It provides you with a very good distraction from things that are even remotely more difficult, including actually talking to the people you’re with.

Probably the biggest negative effect of social media I’ve been experiencing recently is the constant comparison to other people’s lives and what they’re doing. I find this especially with Instagram and Snapchat, when you can physically see what other people are doing, documenting their lives, their relationships, their meals (Guilty of this one!), on social media, through an ‘aesthetic’ photo or a funny Snapchat story. Social media is great at letting you show the world what you want them to see, but how often do people want to show the effects of a bad day, an argument with someone, a rubbish mood? 90% of what we see on social media, is people sharing something they know makes their life look good. And it’s so hard to remember that someone’s social media profile isn’t actually their entire life.

I think social media can really bring out some ugly sides to my personality, it’s so easy to get caught up in comparing your life to other peoples, that you forget to be grateful for what you’ve got. I’m really working on catching myself when I feel envious, or angry, or upset by things I see on social media, and trying to remind myself of everything I have. Not letting someone else’s holiday pictures make me ungrateful for the time away I’ve had. Not letting someone else’s night out make me feel lonely for being on my own for a weekend. Not letting someone else’s restaurant meal make me feel like I’ve never had a nice dinner.

So I hope it isn’t just me that sometimes feels that social media is more of a hindrance than a help, but I’m trying to work on how I react to what I see on social media because even though sometimes it makes me feel crap, I don’t think it should, or will, change. Although, I might start putting together a ‘Things I Don’t Post On Social Media’ blog, just to improve the balance.

Just having a whinge

 

Before I start, I’d like to say that I recognize that the potential for twisting the truth in journalism is, whilst not massively honourable, prevalent, and I’d like to give Mr Henson the chance to perhaps develop on the comments he is said to have made in The Daily Telegraph which you can find here.

 

My main issue with what Mr Henson is quoted as saying is mainly that he believes ‘farmers are very good at being the over-worked, underpaid whingeing farmer’. I’m not sure who Mr Henson is meeting whilst presenting Countryfile and managing his Cotswold Farm Park, but I would strongly suggest they are not representative of the wider farming community.

 

‘When I wake up in the morning, I genuinely want to go to work’. How patronising. At risk of sounding ‘whingey’ (god forbid), farmers are hardly in the industry for monetary gain. There is simply no way that farmers would continue to work how they do, the hours they do, through the struggles they do, for their love of money. So why would they bother? Every single farmer I have met gets up, whether that be at 4am, 5am or onwards, and works exceptionally hard. Because they love their work. Perhaps unbelievably, farmers other than Mr Henson wake up and ‘genuinely want to go to work’. Otherwise we’d have a fairly unproductive agricultural workforce.

 

My next issue of contention is the suggestion that young people are being put off the industry because those older and wiser than us don’t feed us some glorified reality of how fantastic farming is. Please do not insult us by suggesting that we can’t handle the reality of farming. Quite honestly, if young people are encouraged to go into the industry thinking they are going to be well paid and live their lives in luxury, there’d be as many leaving the industry within 5 years as there was entering it. The absolute wonder of young farmers is our determination to succeed in an industry that has never promised us anything other than what we can see. All aspects of farming promote facing reality. You see life, and death, and hardship and struggle, but you also see success and the beauty of nature and get to spend your time doing something you are passionate about. If young people are put off entering the industry because a farmer has complained that his milk price has dropped below the cost of production, then maybe that is for the best. The agricultural industry does not suit those that are not willing to work for something other than a wage packet.

 

Saying that farmers should celebrate their lives and the ‘incredible environment we work in’ illustrates to me that Mr Henson appears to be a bit out of touch, and is also hugely insulting to the vast majority of farmers that are proud and hugely appreciative of their jobs and lifestyles. My Twitter timeline is constantly full of farmers sharing their thoughts, stories and photos. (Examples below…)

 

 

 

 Farmers are the most appreciative people I know, because they know of the reality that the good times can just as quickly turn into bad. Yes, agriculture is a fantastic industry with many positive aspects, but it is also tough and unforgiving. So forgive us if we want to have a little whinge that our herd of cows has gone down with TB, or we’ve lost 20 lambs to a dog attack, or an unseasonably dry Spring has stunted our crop, and forgot to look at the beautiful view for 5 minutes.

 

I always believed that Mr Henson was supposed to be a ‘representative’ of agriculture, a real life farmer working hard to feed the nation with a platform from which to promote the reality of farming. I’m not sure how his condemnation of ‘whingy’ farmers, and suggestion that we should be promoting the ideal industry to encourage young people to enter it benefits us in any way. It’s almost embarrassing that someone with his level of influence has chosen to turn against the people he is supposed to be supporting and promoting.

 

Well, thank you Mr Henson, but I think the industry could do without you sharing your opinion of our shortcomings. I, as a young new entrant to the industry, would rather I knew the reality of what I was getting into, and was prepared for what was to come, than fed some idealistic version of what, at times, can be a very un-ideal industry.

 

Stress and Slaughtering

Would there be any public interest in a food assurance scheme solely guaranteeing an exemplary slaughtering process?

We’ve been talking about meat quality in my Farm Animal Production module for the past few weeks, and I’ve been really surprised to learn just how much the slaughter process can affect meat quality.

 I knew that stressed animals produce meat of poorer quality, but the science behind it is actually fascinating. Long term stress prior to slaughter (12-48 hours) = depleted glycogen reserves in the muscle = high pH, darker colouring, drier meat. Short term stress prior to slaughter = breakdown of glycogen in muscle = production of lactic acid = lower pH, lighter colouring, tougher meat. Stress factors such as transit are obviously difficult to avoid, but handling in the abattoir and mixing animals unknown to each other are elements that we can control. There’s also the issue of certain breeds being more susceptible to stress, such as Jersey cows. There’s even pigs that will have inherited a lower threshold for coping with stress, resulting in sudden death.  

It’s a seriously complex process. But done well, with the correct handling facilities, and suitable process for different livestock, the slaughter process should not be an overly stressful or painful experience for animals. Whilst I imagine it isn’t pleasant to watch, and understand that many wouldn’t want to, I am starting to believe that it could be an important and positive experience for both farmers and consumers. Education on the effects of a negative experience during slaughter (other than death!) for livestock and subsequent meat quality should create a conversation that encourages greater respect for the process and rewards those that are getting it right.

However, the abattoirs are in an impossible position. There’s a limited number of people that would be willing to visit an abattoir to see how their meat is slaughtered, but there’s plenty of people who believe that the ‘undercover footage’ collected by animal rights groups and activists is an honest representation of the majority. Of course, not every abattoir undertakes the slaughter process as it should, just as not every business operates as it should in any other sector. There’s bad apples in every bag. This is a thought that causes, or should cause, concern to the vast majority of farmers. As I’ve touched on previously, we invest a lot of time, emotion and money in our livestock. No farmer wants to imagine that their animal is suffering during their final moments. Just as no consumer wants to imagine meat could be below par due to an inadequate slaughtering process.

Personally, I would like to see the slaughter process become much more transparent. In my research for this blog, I Googled various wordings which I hoped would lead me to an abattoir website which openly advertised the ability to visit and watch the slaughter process. Frustratingly, I found none. Although there were plenty of articles (positive and negative) detailing a slaughter house visitor experience. I think abattoirs would be reluctant, understandably, to open up their business, as this also opens them up to attack and abuse.

But if the farmers and the consumers knew what we wanted from the slaughter process, demanded a scheme that allowed us to see with just a glance at the packaging if our meat had been slaughtered with the upmost care, attention and respect deserved by the animal, wouldn’t that be an improvement in our confidence not only in the abattoir industry but in British produce as a whole? Assurance schemes such as Soil Association, Red Tractor and RSPCA do specify slaughtering standards, but if your meat is not marked by their assurance, what sort of abattoir has it come from?

Maybe if we stopped shouting and arguing about those that are shown to be getting it wrong, and started celebrating those that are getting it right, and understanding the process as a whole, everyone would begin to feel more secure in the knowledge that the meat on their plate was free from stress at the time of slaughter.

15 Lies Young Farmers Tell Their Parents

We’ve all been there, the parents are quizzing you about something you should, or maybe shouldn’t, have done. A little white lie never hurt anybody, especially if it keeps you out the dog house!

1.       I’ve never overdone it and passed out in my own chunder

2.      Not once has the farm pickup gone over 40mph with me behind the wheel

3.      Drinking spirits before 12pm is not something I’ve ever indulged in

4.      The same goes for passing out before 9pm

5.      I’ve never lied about how many acres/animals we’ve got to impress either sex at college/uni

6.      I check every field/shed you tell me to with the utmost care and attention

7.      Yes, I ate my 5 a day today

8.      Of course I’ve never flashed anyone whilst drunk

9.      I don’t know how the tail light on the trailer got smashed

10.   I really tried on that assignment, I don’t know why I’ve got such a rubbish mark!

11.    We just had a quiet pint or two

12.   I bought Nix’s pocketbook and that’s why I’m in my overdraft, not buying Jagerbombs for everyone stood at the bar

13.   I haven’t watched Netflix in weeks

14.   I think I might be on track for a 2:1

15.   I haven’t got any lectures today so I can definitely come home and help on the farm

 

When the lambs leave

I’ve been asked about this many times, and I’ve finally been prompted to write about it after I was asked again via Twitter.

So here goes. I’ve had many people say to me over the past few years ‘but how can you possibly love your lambs when all you’re going to do is kill them’. And I guess it’s a pretty valid question, because it does seem completely absurd. We get so excited to see what this year’s lambs will be like, and we take photos and we say how proud we are that they look good, and grow fast (‘fast’ being a few months, not weeks, as anti-farming organisations would have you believe!) and then we send them off. Either sell them live weight at market, or dead weight directly to the abattoir. But we all know what’s going to happen to them.

And I think the reason loading lambs to take to slaughter doesn’t affect the majority of us is because the inevitability is something we are used to. As a farmer, you don’t breed sheep, or any kind of livestock, because you want to keep every single one of them alive for as long as you can, otherwise there’d be no point in trying to farm. Of course you might keep the odd one, some farmers breed all their own stock, but they still have animals born that won’t fit with their desired flock or herd characteristics, and these animals will be sold. It’s just the way farming works, and I know it seems uncaring and harsh to a lot of people, but that’s why farming isn’t the right job for a lot of people.

I was asked specifically about the day the lambs leave, and to be honest, harsh as it may seem, it really isn’t that different to any other day in my opinion. When The Boss’ lambs go to market, we can spend nearly a whole day rounding them up, weighing them, drafting off the ones that are the right weight, tagging their ears with the electronic tags required and moving them to a separate field ready for loading in the morning to go to market. This can be done every week or every fortnight, depending on the amount of lambs you have and how far into the season it is.

It is a bit different with my own sheep, I’ll admit, because yes, I’m very proud of my lambs, and I don’t have many so I do ‘get to know them’, but farming is a business. And a lot of people forget that. Ultimately, I need my lambs to make a good price at market so I can keep expanding my business. So I can keep buying sheep, developing my blood lines, increasing the flock and buying new kit to make handling more sheep easier and quicker. It’s all part of the business.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I don’t think you can be any kind of livestock farmer without compassion and emotional investment in your animals. But emotional investment can come in different forms, and respect for your animals is crucial. Good farmers respect their animals, treat them with compassion, and give them the best life they can, while they can.

A good farmer has a lot of respect, appreciation for and pride in their stock, but a good farmer has to be a good business person too, and that involves selling your produce at the highest price you can. You can’t afford to be sentimental and keep animals that aren’t going to contribute something to your flock or herd. I think I’d be lying if I said that farmers get upset when their animals are sold, I think the most accurate way to describe it would be…indifferent? Maybe that’s too negative, but I’m struggling to find a word that describes the feeling of no feeling, without it sounding uncaring.

So this might not be the most helpful answer, or the answer that you all wanted, but what I’m trying to highlight is the inevitability of it all, no farmer ever expects to keep all the animals born on their farm, so there aren’t really any overwhelming emotions on the day when they are sold. I think the public see a lack of sentimentality as an example of how ‘cruel’ and ‘evil’ farming is, but those people don’t consider that farming is, at the end of the day, a business.

 

13178715_1579257925700074_4438452746121599925_n
I believe pride in your stock is a vital aspect of being a successful farmer.

 

14440688_1621855874773612_5623267748640891056_n
This is the size that lambs go to market at (40kg), not a few weeks old!

 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

I don’t know if Charles Dickens had ever been lambing, but he’s definitely hit the nail on the head here. I don’t think you’d find a sheep farmer that could say lambing is ever the best of times, or ever the worst of times. Extreme fluctuations between the two might be a more fitting analysis.

So if it isn’t the best of times, why do we look forward to it so much? With the days slowly (really bloody slowly) sliding by as this uni term approaches its end, I’m not going a day without thinking about the next month of being elbow deep in a ewes nether regions. Lambing for me is as exciting as it is nerve wrecking. Of course when you’re doing something you’re passionate about, you’re emotionally invested in the outcome. I don’t think there’s a single person who’s lambed who hasn’t had a favourite ewe, a favourite pet lamb, that one animal they really want to see do well. Because as much as the anti-farming lot would argue this fact, I do not think you can be any kind of livestock farmer without compassion and emotional investment in your animals. So when the next crop of your animals is being born, you’re excited to see what’s going to emerge. You’ve looked after the mother, fed them, vaccinated them, seen them grow, invested time and money in them, and now you get to see what they can produce for you. Think about that and tell me that isn’t sort of amazing.

I’m excited to spend every day in the countryside I know and absolutely love. In the fields, working until I’m exhausted. There’s something about coming home and setting like a rock when you sit down for too long that is almost addictive. Through the aching muscles, sore shoulders and arms, tired legs and dry hands, it’s satisfying to know you’ve pushed your body physically and mentally that day. At lambing you get to see the immediate rewards of that hard work, and I think that’s maybe why *most* farmers would tell you how much they look forward to lambing time.

Lambing can also be the worst of times. That feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day doesn’t go away overnight. Especially when you’re waking up worrying about that ewe you left with her small lamb, you can hear the rain lashing against the windows and you’re anxious about what will be in the field when you go out the next morning. Not to mention the vast majority of farmers that physically get out of their bed, don their waterproofs, and go out to check their stock at 2am. Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months. Being physically and emotionally exhausted for that length of time drives you crazy. Mistakes happen. You’ll lose a lamb that you know needed checking if you’d just had the time and energy to make the effort. You blame yourself, you blame your colleagues, you blame your dog, you blame the weather and the short hours of sunlight and the lack of sugar in your tea.  I’d be lying if I said I haven’t sobbed angrily at a particularly stupid ewe who wouldn’t follow her lamb onto the trailer. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never rested my head on the soft, greasy wool of a ewes side after finally catching her in the driving rain and wind, silently gathering the strength to put my hand in, and praying I find two front legs and a head. I can’t quantify the amount of internal dialogue I’ve had inside my head, arguing with myself over whether I’ve got the strength to pull this lamb out of a particularly tight ewe (yes, that is a thing!).

But there it is, the hard work and the determination and the never-ending cups of tea pay off. Because suddenly lambing stops as quickly as it started, and you don’t know what to do with yourself apart from look at your ewes and lambs, watch them graze and grow and jump around like, well, spring lambs. And you can be safe in the knowledge you worked damned hard to have this moment watching your stock flourish. And then it’s on to the next job, because we all know farming never stops for long!

EweLamb

Promoting British Agriculture

So, how do you promote an industry? Especially an industry as diverse as British Agriculture. When so many people don’t even know how diverse it truly is! I certainly didn’t before I came to university. But that’s the problem, why has it taken nearly two years of a university education for me to start to comprehend how diverse, skilled and dedicated this industry is?

There’s thousands and thousands of people involved in the farming sector (400,000 to be precise-ish) so why is it so hard to make ourselves heard about how fantastic this industry is? We’ve got social media, we’ve got television, we’ve got radio, and although there are people working hard to positively advertise British Agriculture, there’s not enough of us.

Of course, there’s the industry big leagues. The NFU, Farmers Weekly, Farmers Guardian, they’re all working hard to get the ‘voice’ of Britains farmers heard, but I can’t help but think that they’re often preaching to the converted. If I went around university, and asked students how many of them follow the NFU on Twitter, ‘like’ them on Facebook, or read their publications, it would be the majority. If I went onto the street and asked the same question? Over the past few days the NFU have held their annual conference, and my Twitter timeline has been filled with some amazing facts and figures about the agricultural industry in the UK. I’ve put some below for any readers that haven’t seen them.

I find it hard to look at the statements in the above tweets and believe that people wouldn’t want to support British Agriculture (but I am biased!). There’s no reason not to. But if there is a reason, it’s because people usually aren’t aware of what brilliant food we produce, and all the labour, technology, knowledge and passion that goes into producing it.

I think it’s a difficult job to undertake, promoting British Agriculture to the population of the UK. Almost as difficult as my GCSE Maths teacher trying to teach me to do equations. The interest, on many occasions, just isn’t there. In Mintel’s latest survey, 77% of respondents agreed it was important to support British farmers, but only 56% said they buy British food whenever they can. So if it’s important to support British farmers, why aren’t you buying their produce? That’s why promoting the industry is so important.

It really is my opinion that most farmers are rubbish at promoting their produce. Since shops and supermarkets have developed, there’s no need for a farmer to be a salesman as well as everything else. But when the supermarkets have so many other goods to sell, why would they make a special effort for us? (Although Lidl is doing a pretty good job with their #Lidlsurprises adverts like this one). This is our industry. We’ve got all the knowledge, we’ve done all the work, so why don’t we start shouting about it?

I realise not all of us have a natural aptitude and talent for cameras (Yes, I’m looking at you Gareth Wyn Jones) and not all of us have the literary talents of James Rebanks, but we’re all part of communities, we’ve (probably) all got a smartphone, we can all talk to people, and tell them about what we do, why we do it, and what our hard work produces. If you’ve got the chance then Open Farm Sunday’s are a fantastic way to get the public involved and interested in what we do. There’s companies you can get involved with that are using QR codes on packaging to allow the consumer full traceability of their product. (Something I wrote about for Farmers’ Weekly, article here, and would absolutely love to see supported and developed). Even just going down to your local and talking to someone that might not know that UK meat is produced to some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world.

76% of the food that the UK population eats is produced by us, and I think it’s time that more British farmers were proud of that fact, and started giving their produce the promotion it deserves.

 

backbritishfarming
(www.nfuonline.com)