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.

 

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

 

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

 

I want to be the farmer

 

Prompted by an article I wrote for Farmers Weekly, which you can read here, while on work experience, I have decided to try and write about a subject I believe I have some experience in.

 

I’m not going to come out and start accusing people that I have met throughout my life of sexism or misogyny or woman-hating. Those words are active, they require an intention, a motive, and the experiences that I have had whilst trying to establish myself in the agricultural industry could not be labelled as any of those things.

 

Because half the time, the people that have tried to stand in the way of my ambitions don’t even realise what they’re doing. When I was at school, and I started to vocalise my passion for agriculture and farming, the response was always ‘oh so you want to be a farmer’s wife?’ My response was, and still is – No. I don’t want to be the farmer’s wife. I want to be the farmer. (Apparently a revolutionary idea to some). But why should that be the immediate response? It was accepted that a few of the boys in my year would go to university to study agriculture, but I was constantly encouraged to do something else. ‘Why don’t you go and study English, or Journalism, or be a vet?’ Essentially; ‘why be a farmer?’. Maybe that was just my school, or maybe this is something experienced by many young women venturing into the industry. I suspect the latter.

 

I often get the impression that in agriculture there is still an unspoken doubt as to whether women can farm. I’m not talking about individuals here, although there are those that are very vocal about their opinion on the ability of a woman to make her own success in the industry. I’m talking about the community as a whole. Why do I scroll through my Twitter feed and feel thankful that I’ve finally found some female farmers to inspire me to keep treading this path? We’re still at a stage where young women and girls in the industry have to actively seek out their inspirational figures, they have to find their determination and their boldness and their confidence in a way that I don’t believe young men have to. As a young person in agriculture, you have to prove yourself. You have to prove that you’ve got good stockmanship skills, that you can be trusted to drive that tractor, that you can cope with the pressures of lambing, but as a woman, you often have to prove that you’re justified in even wanting to farm.

 

I think I can say that I’ve finally reached the point where my life goals are no longer questioned. It’s sort of sad that I even had to justify them in the first place, but I’m so proud of how far I have come in the last 5 years. And why shouldn’t I be? Society loves to tell women not to shout about their achievements, not to be too loud, or seem too arrogant. But I’ve come from no farming background, with no family ties to agriculture, and got myself experience, contacts, some sheep, and now I get to write about it. So if I want to shout about my achievements every once in a while, I damn well will.

 

I don’t often discuss my interest in poetry, but I discovered the poem ‘Apologia’ by Oscar Wilde a long time ago, and there’s one stanza that I remind myself of frequently when I need some motivation to kick ass and do what I need to do. I hope it strikes a chord with anyone reading this who might need it.

 

“Many a man hath done so; sought to fence in straightened bonds the soul that should be free. Trodden the dusty road of common sense, while all the forest sang of liberty.”

 

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Dressed (not) to impress!

As first posts go, fashion probably wasn’t my first thought. But hey ho, it’s on my mind so here we are.

My sense of ‘style’ will probably remain the bane of my Mother’s life for the rest of time. Sometimes I’m quite impressed with what I manage to pull off (floor length gowns, high heels etc.), other times I’m quietly shocked I’ve dared to step out the house. Arguably the best part of going to Harper is that I can plan my dress for balls on the colour of my wellies and my welly sock selection. Arguably the best part of working on a farm is that I can go to the supermarket in waterproofs covered in lamb afterbirth and straw and only a few people dare to look me up and down. I do not own a skirt, however I could probably change my coat twice a day for a week and have spares. Maybe my sense of style could be called ‘practical’. I have a favourite shirt. It is a Mens’ XS. I wear it to work on the farm, I wash it, I wear it to lectures at Uni. It goes with every pair of jeans I own, and every coat I own (essential). The label is faded and there’s escapee threads in a few places, but I paid £15 for it and it gets more wear than anything else in my wardrobe. Long live the checked tattersall shirt! My wellies are the most expensive item in my wardrobe, including my Leavers’ Ball gown and my tweed jacket, and I pride myself on keeping them ‘well muddied’.

If I’m feeling sort of girly, I might wear some moccasins, I might wear a more fitted blouse, one of my ‘smarter’ coats…that’s probably it. I’m not saying all female farmers are like me, but the thought of trying to cope in day to day life with the constant threat of my knickers being exposed is too much pressure for me. I strive to be comfortable and ready for anything the British countryside (or its’ four legged residents) might throw at me. Jeans, boots and a baggy shirt will do for me. Sorry Mother!

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That one time I wore a full length dress.
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The shirt in question.