Hello, I’m Hayley, I’m a 36-year-old beef and sheep farmer from Shropshire. I am a 3rd generation farmer and I have been involved on the farm from a young age; it’s in my blood. My inspiration was and is my father, who has worked at this farm for over 50 years. He has managed the land and made the farm what it is today, so I felt inspired to carry on his legacy.
Farming wasn’t my first career choice, as I had gone to university to study accounting and finance. After graduating I had employment in a couple of office-based roles and felt that the office environment wasn’t for me. Then the opportunity arose for me to come home and 10 years later I’m still here working alongside my Dad.
The start of the day differs according to the season. Our days currently, in the middle of winter, when the livestock are in the sheds could start as early as 7:30 am. Bearing in mind either myself or my dad would have been out checking the livestock throughout the night, to see if any of the sheep are lambing or a cow calving. When the livestock are out in the fields, our day could start a bit later but there are still chores and checks to be done before we have our breakfast.
During these harsh winter months, we having morning and evening chores to complete. These involve the feeding of animals, bedding down the sheds and putting bales of hay or silage in front of the sheep or cattle. Then we check which ewes and lambs are suitable for sending out to the fields, which entails us putting a ring on the lamb’s tail to make it shorter, numbering them up so we can match up the lambs with their mothers in the field. We sometimes have lambs that need to be bottle-fed, so that is a job that is done throughout the day and overnight. Having lambs on the farm, for me, is a sure sign that spring is on the way. It is hard work having sheep on the farm as they can be quite labour intensive, but seeing the lambs enjoying the great outdoors makes it all worthwhile.
Farming in general is a rewarding job, there aren’t any singular prospects that I would say, I love it all; farming is a package. For me, its rewarding when new life is born and that life goes on to either be a part of the herd/flock or excels at the livestock market. I appreciate it when we get recognition from seasoned buyers of livestock – that they seek out our animals over others at the market; that’s pretty special. I’m still improving and gaining new skills, so when I achieve something new and have the confidence to use that skill is rewarding. It shows me that I am developing a much wider skill set.
The most physically demanding part of this role is the handling of the livestock. With the sheep we have to be pretty hands-on with them during lambing, it can be quite tiring dealing with pregnant ewes as they are strong. We don’t have to physically touch the cows as much, as we have the equipment to handle them – to reduce the chance of injury to both ourselves and the animals. A cow can weigh upwards of 600kgs, so a substantial handling system is needed. We are pretty hands-on during calving, but even then, we have systems in place to avoid injury to all parties.
When it comes to defining my favourite roles and responsibilities, I would say that I enjoy certain aspects of each season, it can vary. During the winter, it’s assisting with the new life on the farm, whether it’s calving a cow or lambing a ewe. Being a part of the circle of life is quite special. Throughout the summer, it is harvest time. This means making the most of the British weather to replenish the stocks of feed and bedding, it gives me quite a buzz. It gives me a great level of satisfaction when the hay and straw shed is full to the brim with bales to get you through the next winter. The autumn tends to be a time to complete general repairs on the livestock sheds. It gives us a chance to improve the facilities or just tweak one or two things. Being a livestock farmer, there is plenty of variety throughout the year, and it is very rare that two days would ever be the same.
The end of my typical day is symbolised by the feeding of livestock, whether it be in the winter or summer. In the winter this can be quite a drawn-out process as the majority of our livestock are in their winter housing. During the summer months, we feed the young stock out in the fields. So that would mean taking out supplement feed for the calves or lambs.
Aside from the livestock roles, I am also a mother with two mini-farmers to look after. My eldest daughter is 2½ years old and my youngest is coming up to 12 months. They are both involved with the farm when it is safe to do so. My eldest loves going out with her Grandad and follows him around like a little shadow. It is rewarding seeing them growing up in this lifestyle as they have the opportunity to learn some great life skills that can be applied to many aspects of life. I do see similar traits of me in my daughter, there is no questioning of her genetics! She enjoys going out on some of the machinery with us. We have taught her how to be safe around the yard when machinery is moving, and continue to do so whenever we are outside. We will continue to teach her and her sister how to be safe at all times when out on the farm, as it is not a playground. I intend on teaching them both skills that they will need as a farmer and as a person.
This job is not as easy as it can be sometimes presented on the television and there are a few things that I wish people knew about farming:
- Its hard work all year round come rain or shine to get food into the food chain
- Whatever food lifestyle you chose, you’ll need a farmer to get the food onto your plate
- We aren’t in it just solely for the money, animal welfare is at the top of our priority list.
- Farmers are caretakers of the countryside and work with mother nature as much as possible to support their farms and wildlife.
- Eat local, it’s the best thing you could do for both your health and the local environment.
In regards to the combination of being a farmer and a lady, you can often find some stigma. On the odd occasion, I have been looked over by people and then they get surprised when my Dad passes them back to me. Usually, when it comes to unloading lorries of supplies, the drivers are surprised that I can handle a telehandler better than some men they have encountered. I’ve developed a good relationship with our agronomist and he’ll explain what needs doing in very plain English and is willing to explain things in-depth with me. Never in a patronising way but in an educational way.
I was once wrapping some silage bales for our neighbour and there was a local contractor baling some straw nearby. They couldn’t believe that I, a woman, was doing such a thing and it was a good job there weren’t many obstacles in the field as they spent most of their time looking over in my direction. With eyes fixated on me, I was praying that nothing would go wrong. Thankfully it didn’t!
Another occasion in which I was looked over for being a woman was at a pedigree sale. Dad and I were buying some tups (male sheep) and he said I could bid for them. I put my hand up to signal a bid two or three times, and each time the auctioneer ignored me. Dad put his hand up and immediately his bid was accepted. That hurt, but I now know that I need to make myself known prior to the sale so that the auctioneers know that I am buying. As an industry, it is very male orientated and I feel us woman quite often have to prove ourselves more than what the men would have to. I recommend watching the BBC programme ‘This Farming Life’, which showcases strong and capable women in our industry and it proves that gender doesn’t have to be a barrier.
If you have any interests within this field, I would urge you to pursue them. You can be involved in agriculture whether on the farm or from afar, there are so many opportunities available. Whichever path you choose, a strong work ethic with an eye for the finer details and a good level of professionalism will get you far.
Follow Hayley at her instagram @the_lady_farmer