The end of school is nigh, and all of a sudden you feel like you’ve got 100 decisions to make. What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to go to college, or uni, or do I want to get stuck straight into work? It’s easy to feel lost when you don’t know what you want to do, or how to get there.
But while you have literally your whole life to make up your mind, a little bit of good advice can go a long way. So with that in mind, in a series of interviews, we’re speaking to women who’ve ‘made it’, and asking their advice on how to follow in their footsteps.
This month, we speak to Lizzie Vines, a cattle farmer in Devon.
Describe your typical day
I get up around 7.30am to be on the farm for 8am. There are a lot of cattle and sheep to feed. I then check that none of the animals are lame or ill – you look at all the animals to see if any stand out or don’t seem right: weepy eyes or snotty noses. On farms even the children are given jobs like collecting eggs or feeding orphan lambs. You might have to drive forklift trucks to collect hay from the fields to be brought back for stacking, and then do the stacking!
You also have to do shearing, taking the sheeps’ coats off otherwise they’ll get fly strike and illnesses. Feet have to be checked. When we’re lambing, it means night shifts – taking it in turns to sit with the lambs and sheep all night, same at calving season. It’s a long day and a lot of work, but very varied. All these jobs can be done by young female farmers, the world is your oyster.
What’s the best part of your job?
In Devon there are small family farms, and the kids work on the farm. They follow in their parents’ footsteps—or become self-employed builders who restore farm buildings. I saw a local farming family recently who had obviously just come from the fields. They had a tractor with great bales of hay and they were talking and laughing and having such good fun. That community and family aspect of it is just lovely.
Are there any bad parts?
It can be financially difficult. In the countryside it seems old people don’t like change either—we need the younger generation to revolutionise farming. Old style farmers tend to have the attitude of well, we’ve always done it like this, but you’ve got to be prepared to change with the times.
How did you become a farmer?
I married a farmer! But I have always been an animal lover and my dad was very interested in horses, so I grew up around animals. My husband and I started with just a few cows and a small plot of land, then he was asked to manage a farm for an older man who had a stately home and farmland, so we moved up there and it just grew. We have a farm shop at Borough Market in London, and we’ve been selling meat from our own herd there for almost 20 years now!
The Big Question: uni or no uni?
You can do apprenticeships and a degree in farming or agriculture and all sorts of specialities such as equestrian care, so looking after horses, or arable farming which is a different thing altogether (farming crops rather than animals). There are big estates who employ farm hands and young farmers. If you could get an apprenticeship or a job there, that would be a good place to start—even asking locally to help out during lambing season giving the lambs milk to get some experience. Duchy farms, a huge organisation that runs a cooperative of farms, still employ people who rent the farm, go and live in a house there and farm the land. It would be ideal for young people to start there, but they are hard to get.
Big farming colleges such as the Duchy colleges teach young people a very traditional way of farming, running agriculture-related apprenticeships, so you earn a wage while you’re learning. They probably wouldn’t be organic, but those places are well connected so might be able to find a farmer to take you on, if you aren’t able to find one yourself. The big agricultural colleges are all too often filled with rich young men who are learning how to take over their father’s estates, it would be so lovely to see more young women going into farming.
Any other advice for wannabe farmers?
You’ve got to be an animal lover to go into farming—it’s more a lifestyle, than a job. A lot of people who love animals become vets, but these days a lot more girls are going into farming. They farm animals like cats, learning how to perform hysterectomies and castrations. They charge almost as much as you would for a whole cow!
It is important to think outside the box when it comes to farming. If you just sit there with your 100 sheep you won’t make money, so if it’s good to have another skill such as weaving.
You can also try your hand at hop farming (using crops to make beer) rather than traditional cattle or sheep farming. There’s money in that. You can work with a brewery or I know a local hop farmer who grows all sorts of varieties and has a tap room on his farm where he sells his own beer. There are all sorts of types of farming you can go into.
If you could give one piece of advice to your 14-year-old self, what would it be?
Go to college first, then university. Learn what you can and see what’s available. But I, and some people, are animal people—my ambition when I was young was always to live in the country and have dogs and fields. I’m not so far from that.
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Image: Katie Edmunds