joshuafmetcalfe

Archive for the ‘farming’ Category

Why bother blogging?

In Agricultural, farming, getting started on February 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Coming from a none-farming background and attempting to break in to farming I initially assumed that writing a blog would serve little purpose in the grand scheme of starting from scratch in agriculture. After all, the depth of knowledge required (let alone the work ethic) to become a successful farmer is so vast that one can be forgiven for not recognising the practical and prudent purpose that blogging serves.

As I frequently say; every world wise person knows that it’s not about what you know, but who you know and this old proverb is proven most obviously in the undeniable importance of networking. The first lesson I learnt is that Twitter is totally invaluable, all you really have to do is find the right readers and never be afraid to ask for help, the worst thing anyone can say is no. Having said that, it’d be foolish to assume that the majority of people wouldn’t be interested in helping. Thanks to mainstream media, farming is very much in fashion at the moment and in my position that’s strikingly apparent. I’ve found that an overwhelming majority of people are happy to help, anything from a re-tweet to having me over for a couple of days work experience when I have a break in my busy university schedule.

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For me, that’s what will come next and what I am very excited for. As I approach graduation finding agricultural work has become my imperative and I think this is the most important step in establishing myself in Farming (aside from somehow acquiring about £30,000). But crucially, I feel confident and it is because of my blog ultimately that I feel that way. I only began to write my blog six months ago and already it has led to exciting opportunities. It is exclusively down to my blog that I was accepted for the Farmers Weekly’s Farm Apprentice competition, which has proved to be one of my most inspirational events in my journey into farming thus far. Realistically, the sheer amount of people I have met as a consequence of blogging and the inspiration they offer is a list far too long to write.

It has to be said, it is not necessarily easy to find the time to periodically sit down and commit your week to words. Just like writing an essay or sitting an exam, the hardest part is starting it off. As I have written more I have adopted a pretty simplistic technique; think through your fingers and you’ll come up with something sincere and honest. Now I have reached that stage I find myself almost addicted to writing my blog and I feel that I couldn’t actually farm without blogging about it in future. Farming is undeniably a lifelong labour of love and writing about something you love is simple, honest and sincere. But the true beauty of blogging is that everyone can do it, and I would encourage anyone interested to do so wholeheartedly.

Looking forward to Lambing.

In Agricultural, farming on February 1, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Once again, as a means to keep myself busy and active I visited Sophie Barnes (@SheepishSophie) and her flock of Castlemilk Moorits recently. I feel very thankful that I have found somewhere that’ll let me come and gain experience whilst I finish up my degree. I think this feeling of sentimentality and appreciation is mostly down to the fact that I have excellent friends in Agriculture. I’m still looking very much to the future and still very much excited.

 

One of the many new and interesting experiences I’ve had recently; meeting the Barnes’ second flock of rarebreed sheep, a harem of Whitefaced Woodlands. I’ve learnt that these are one of the biggest hill breeds of sheep in Britain and considering where I live I think it may be wise to pay some attention to them. I carefully straddle then clear the electric fence, approach and examine a pleasantly docile and pretty flock of sheep.  Any animal bred with the Pennines in mind has to be both a charming and practical one.

 

There is work to be done however. We leave the Whitefaces to their winter forage and go see the Castlemilks, with an aim to do some Sheep repair work. After a bracing and potentially embarrassing attempt at filling the role of sheepdog we guided the sheep into a pen and got underway. Feet were clipped, Worming meds were administered, Inoculations were given and fun was had. I learn that almost all of the Castlemilks in the flock are pregnant: I become even more excited for Lambing time.

 

On an unrelated note I see that an interesting question has been asked in this weeks edition of Farmers Weekly: ‘Do you have a successor lined up for your Farm business?’. Naturally, difficult access to land is one of my greatest hindrances. If schemes can be put in place to encourage live-in apprentice schemes with a view to hand over tenancy at some point then I feel this could prove an appealing prospect. Perhaps applicants can be sourced from agricultural colleges throughout Britain. I am aware that this may seem somewhat hardline, a tricky subject with a great deal of imagined and inevitable teething problems. But it pains me that at home, the old hill farmers sell up to property developers who sell off the land at a high price to established farmers. It doesn’t make the mean feat of establishing yourself in agriculture any simpler.

Not long to go.

In Agricultural, farming on January 5, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Sitting in my seat on the train back from London I feel a mixture of emotions. As I thunder along and up the spine of the UK I look out of the window at all the farmland passing me by. Between the fields and I is a thick panel of glass; I can look but I can’t quite touch. My overwhelming feeling of disappointment depresses me, but does not discourage me.

First of all, huge congratulations to George Brown (@GBinNZ) for winning Farm apprentice! Though I’m sure everyone is as gutted as I am for not winning it is a consolation to know that the winner is totally deserved. I feel tempted to join him in New Zealand, living the dream with his dairy. Though, naturally I am a bit disappointed at not winning, I feel the experience overall was infinitely beneficial and I am proud to have been involved. I feel the initiative has set the bar at a high standard and I hope it will continue. The more coverage agriculture receives will ultimately further highlight the everyday difficulties inflicted on Farmers, and hopefully help to make the job a little easier.

My attention must now turn back to completing my degree. In 5 months I will graduate and then I’ll be able to fully immerse myself in Farming. I still assert the fact that this cannot come soon enough. Thanks to my friend Verity Hyland @verityhyland I have a long list of numbers and email addresses I can spam, requesting work and experience in whatever they can offer me, though I admit I’d prefer sheep and cattle to livery: I just can’t trust a horse. I begin to grow excited for spring and lambing time. I hope I can find somewhere to work during this time as experience is essential, I hope my friends The Flockable Lasses (@FlockableLasses) can find something for me to do in the New Year. I’ve even been reading one of my Christmas presents back to front in order to prepare myself for the spring.

Opportunities are presenting themselves more than ever at the moment, and though I can not disclose some of them; I can say that I am very excited to have been offered them.

I’ll keep you all posted, thank you for reading!

Working weekend away.

In Agricultural, education, farming, getting started on November 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm

It’s been a while since my last post and in many ways it’s a relief to write a new one. I think this is because I am only able to write one when I have been up to something (which isn’t often at the moment). Though I honestly feel I am doing well in my position; I even ‘butchered’ my first pheasant in the back yard of my Uni house last night (pictured), and I use to term ‘butchered’ very loosely. I’m thankful for the friends and contacts I have, I’d have gone insane by now without occasional access to hands on farming work.

I spent this weekend at my associate contemporary Sophie’s house (https://twitter.com/SheepishSophie) temporarily immersing myself in the rural lifestyle again. We spent Saturday fence posting and clearing undergrowth at the far end of one of her fields in order to ready it for her grazing rotation. I always underestimate the weight of the fence poster: This becomes an apparent mistake a few hours after you finish when everything between your fingertips and your shoulders hurts. I feel this eventual pain was potentially aggravated by me then using a chainsaw to clear fallen branches and brambles too.  However, though this might sound unpleasant I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait to put it into practice when I get my own flock next year.

Of course I took advantage of Sophie’s passionate love of Sheep and asked as many questions as I could think of. We took a while to discuss potentially viable rare breeds for my own flock and I came to like the look of a handful of breeds; Whitefaced Woodlands, Castlemilk Moorits, Norfolk Horns and Jacobs (pictured, also courtesy of https://twitter.com/GBinNZ). Sophie has a flock of Moorits herself and she has nothing but good things to say about them. ‘Good feet, good size, good lambing, highly prized fleece, good meat’. As I am in the same position as Sophie I am sure that a rare breed is the way to go (for now) and I am very grateful for all her advice and knowledge.

I look forward to spring and lambing time. I want to get out and help as many people as possible; get as much experience as possible. There still seems to be no shortage of helpful people which I am thankful for.

On another note, today is the eve of the first episode of Farm apprentice. I urge as many people as possible to watch here; http://www.fwi.co.uk/farmersapprentice/ and be a part of this revolutionary project yourself. Please show your love and appreciation for agriculture and tune in!

Also please check out this blog, it’s called ‘The good life in practice’ for a reason; http://thegoodlifeinpractice.wordpress.com/ 

Plan ahead

In Agricultural, farming on November 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Post Farm Apprentice I have loads of ideas, or ‘Business plans’ as they might be called. In truth I feel a little intimidated by the fact that I am seriously thinking about my future. I feel this will certainly and quickly subside as I plan my venture whilst I study in my final year of my English Degree.

What a week though. It almost seems like it never happened really. It seems to have passed by in a blink of an eye: I’m not sure if this is because I loved every second or because it was constant work. In any case it was the most rewarding and enriching experience I could have hoped for. Considering that it was the first time it has ever been attempted, I think it went incredibly well. From it I have learnt valuable lessons, gained useful contacts and made good friends. It is an experience I would wish upon anyone! Never before has looking to the future held so much potential for me. Winning doesn’t even come into the equation, purely because everybody was so pleasant that I forgot we were competing for £10,000. However, it fills me with envy when I hear that the other finalists are already making a move towards farming. My degree frustrates me and although I will miss my uni friends, I look forward to graduation.

In the past week my attention has really turned to finding a Farm that I can work on. I thought I had struck Gold when I discovered a little charity farm hidden away, 45 minutes from my front door. I woke up nice and early last week and set off walking, only to find out that in order to volunteer I had to pay a £10 membership fee and £1 for every day I work. Though this is understandable, as the farm runs as a charity, volunteering there is out of the question for a poor student like me. I’ll just have to keep looking, hopefully with winter drawing in there are farmers about who could use an extra pair of hands for maintenance work.

Also thanks to my friend Sioned, who substituted a newspaper photographer this week. Pro photography;

 

Farm Apprentice

In Agricultural, farming, getting started on October 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Three days until Farm Apprentice! Been spending most of my time this week packing clothes, double checking my suitcase and mentally preparing myself for a week of mental fun. I’ve booked my train tickets; 07.10 departure from Leicester to arrive in Nantwich station at 09.29. That offers me a healthy 2 hour buffer zone for any delays. I cross my fingers and pray to the Gods of the railway for a smooth journey. 

I’ve paid more attention than ever to twitter. Keeping my eyes peeled for any hints or clues from Farmers Weekly but nothing of any significance has leaked yet. Honestly I’d prefer it to stay as a surprise. I understand that it will most likely be a mixture of The Apprentice, Dragons Den and The Farm (that used to be on channel 5 many years ago). I’m at a loss as to how I should prepare myself, but I suppose all I can do is be ready for anything.

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The prize money is never far from my mind. I think of how I could utilise it; start out with 25 Ewes and a Tup on a hilly 7 acre plot and go the whole hog all year. Experience is crucial, so everything I can possibly do with them I must do. Regular blood testing, shearing, lambing, and upon ultimate slaughter make money from every part of the animal. I’ll even take the hides to a tannery and sell them to whoever will take them.

I love the idea of producing and promoting prestigious British Wool. There seems to me to be a gap in the market in this. British people are proud of their heritage. Why not suggest schemes with British tailors/manufactures/department stores to stock our great British Wool. Not only would the retailers be offering their customers a quality product with pride in every stitch, they’d be supporting all the British farmers that the cosmopolitan nation seems to have totally forgotten about.

I have taken to time to check out the other finalists and I feel very excited to work with them all. There seems to be a very wide range of individuals with a wealth of experience between them: I look forward to learning from them all and sharing what I can. I’m also quite excited to have a good look around Reaseheath College. I am still undecided as to whether more education is necessary, so perhaps this week may help me decide.

Reaseheath College

I’ll be keeping posted on my twitter during this week, so if anyone is interested in my progress please do keep up! Also you can check out the other finalists here; http://www.fwi.co.uk/farmersapprentice/finalists/annabelle-story/.

https://twitter.com/JoshuaMetcalfe1

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

In Agricultural, farming, getting started on September 20, 2012 at 9:17 am

My return to university looms large. This weekend I move back to Leicester, back to the city centre and away from all the open space, peace and quiet, fresh air and Farms. I’m excited to return to study and enjoy my final year, even if it is of no real use to what I want to do. I need to find a Farm around the city that will let me volunteer for them, any suggestions are most welcome.

The Badger Cull seems to have literally hit the fan this week, all I read on twitter is of arguments between Farmers and animal rights activists. I don’t believe culling is ideal, but it seems that something must be done soon. I read online that the RSPCA have called for a boycott of all dairy products from farms that support/allow the cull to go ahead on their land. They argue that Farmers should be made to feel the ‘Commercial consequences’ of allowing Badgers to be shot on their land. The RSPCA doesn’t seem to realise that if these Farmers submit to the RSPCA’s boycott then they will inevitably feel the ‘Commercial consequences’ when their entire herd has to be culled because they all contracted bTB from pasture contaminated with Badger urine. I hope the powers that be make the correct decision that benefits Farmers and Badgers alike. The country side is all ours to share, regardless of species.

If anything is worth all Brian May’s hard work it is the honey bee, without which all arable production would suffer. I propose a hug-a-bee day, I propose urban hives on top of high rise apartment and office buildings, I propose it be made compulsory for all tenant Farmers renting from local council to keep honey bees in some number. They are invaluable and must be nursed back from the brink of extinction.

As a topic of relevance; getting young people into farming has become a hot topic. Cumbrian MP Tim Farron has called for more help for new entrants from the Government and from DEFRA. The man is a saint. 60 000 new entrants must be found within ten years, it is good to see that people are making it a priority.

One thing I admit I haven’t considered about becoming a Farmer is how dangerous it is. According to Government statistics it is the most dangerous workplace environment. This becomes more than a statistic when you read of the tragedies that strike all over the world. ‘Young Rugby player & Farmer killed in horrific silage accident ‘. One lung full of the noxious gasses produced in slurry towers is enough to render a person immediately unconscious and can even result in asphyxiation and death, an awful way to go. Thoughts go out to their family, theirs and the many other people killed in accidents with machinery and animals. This does nothing to deter me from my dream though; the rewards of farming far outweigh the risks. My drive is as strong as ever.

Ability is nothing without opportunity.

In Agricultural, education, family, farming, getting started on September 11, 2012 at 9:39 am

Already opportunity has come knocking in various forms. Within the space of three weeks I have progressed from having worryingly little to write about to almost having too much to write about. It seems contradictory to complain and I am quite excited, this provides me with the chance to talk to a lot of people who are involved in farming in different ways.

It seems so far that taking swallowing my pride and writing this blog was the best decision I could have made. I feel as if my mind eases every time I write an entry. It almost feels like a relief to commit my thoughts to writing, it goes beyond a sense of relief when I receive praise and help.

I continue to keep myself busy and keep up to date with the current affairs. The more news I read the further my slightly warped and perhaps misinterpreted picture of the sector develops. I feel I have quickly learnt that nothing stays still for long in this industry. One moment the Badger cull has the go ahead for a pilot cull, the next it’s postponed. I realize that budget cuts have hit the industry as hard as any other; DEFRA’s animal health budget is set to reduce from £244 million to £199 million in 3 years, and with bTB costing DEFRA £100 million per year it is certain to be subject t to imminent cuts. A cheaper solution to bTB must be found. Hopefully no more livelihoods will be totally ruined whilst we patiently wait for a definitive decision.  

All these problems; rising costs of fuel, a poor summer and various prolific diseases make me realize how versatile you have to be to make a success out of Farming.

I’ve been approached by The Salers Cattle Society to run their Twitter and Facebook pages, to cast ‘young eyes on the Market’. I say that I would happily do the job for free for the title of Editor of Digital Content. Whilst this title is admittedly nonsense I am excited at the prospect of writing more and talking with more Farmers. Especially consider that I want to keep Salers, so any information I can get my hands on would be very interesting. I will approach it with the same enthusiasm as I approach my blog with.

Cows and Calves

In these past few weeks I have liaised with several Farmers, some as young as me. I am hungry to know how they manage their Farm whilst they seem to be curious as to why anyone would ever choose to become a Farmer. I suppose my passion for it is due to the way I’ve been raised. As I’ve talked about before, I have experienced Farming throughout my entire life but I think considering the ‘bigger picture’ really swung it for me.

I was born into a generation of men and women who are groomed to be professionals. We are bred to sit at desks, to answer phones and meet deadlines and audits. We are brought on to fill a pair of office shoes and black trousers. Sired by a generation who experienced spiritual, political and social revolution in the 1960′s. I refuse to believe that my path in life is pre-determined by the family I have been born into. I don’t want to work in an office; I want to be a Farmer. As all my friends know I could happily shout it from the rooftops.

Please keep reading, and keep your eyes out for the soon-to-be Salers Cattle Society of the UK twitter page!

 

Free to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t.

In Agricultural, education, farming, getting started on September 4, 2012 at 8:45 am

They say that if you want something badly enough, you’ll do anything you can to attain it. This of course puts emphasis and importance upon the concept of being very proactive. I nursed concerns initially that my hunger to learn would, for the most part fall upon unwilling or uninterested ears. Luckily for me it seems things couldn’t be any further from the truth.

  I have put many hours in on Twitter and Facebook this past week; badgering people to re-tweet me for promotional benefit. As a consequence of this, interest in my Blog seems to have increased as my blog views have risen dramatically. I have spoken to a great many people this week who have kindly promoted my Blog and I have nothing but gratitude to them. Some say to me that it is refreshing to talk to someone young who has a true passion for Farming. I consider this very encouraging and it once again becomes apparent that the people I meet will influence me beyond any previously imagined extent.

  As I walk from my village over to my girlfriends’ village I find myself studying the Farms that cover the valleys and hilltops like a giant patchwork duvet. I come to the terrible realisation that I have begun to take photos of Farms I pass on my travels. I fear that I now appear to others as a wide-eyed novice seeking to adopt forced pretence. I consciously counteract this by using my IPhone instead of a camera. Though I suppose to an honest degree I am a wide-eyed novice. There is no shame in that.

  I ask my great cousin if I can go to market with them at some point and they accept. I feel that experiences like this are important. Farming is a business (amongst many other things) and I must understand the inner workings of where most make their money. My anticipation grows to excitement when I realise that it will be a Wednesday afternoon and I will therefore have to miss work; what a shame.

  As the days pass I work and daydream. I think about what breed of sheep I will keep to start with. My first flock will have to be small, no more than twenty heads really, but I have to start somewhere. I like the sound of Hebredian ewes; I hear they practically look after themselves in winter. I will have to re-fence the vast majority of the plot but I do not doubt that it will be well worth the effort. I decide that I will cross my Hebredians with a Texel Ram to increase the size and weight of the lambs and to (hopefully) quicken the time taken for them to reach a substantial kill weight. Financing my flock will be a financial strain, but I know I will earn it back after 14 months. I look forward to the inevitable problems I will encounter, as usual I feel very excited. The list of possibilities is essentially endless.

 I hear from the Farmer just outside Leicester, he is willing to let me come and help one day a week. Again I am thankful for the good grace I receive from everybody involved and feel determined to reward their kind gesture with hard work and swift learning. I just hope I am able to maintain a healthy focus on my degree and not get too distracted from my final year of study.

Imparting of Wisdom

In Agricultural, education, family, farming, getting started on August 28, 2012 at 7:14 pm

People who know the industry say that we need an injection of passion into younger Farmers. Whilst I don’t feel I know enough to form an opinion on the matter, I do feel that I am passionate about Farming. I have said often that I seek to learn from everybody I meet and I have encountered no shortage of helpful people yet. I find myself drifting further and further into the form of a terrible stereotype; I have a genuine urge to get outside and do something useful; so I have done.  

I treat a big old wooden Barn door and cross frame with Creosote. It runs in streams of black tar tears down the slight channels and imperfections of each individual wooden plank in the door until, an hour later, a stinking black veil dresses the barn door (and much of the yard below it).  I take a step back and realise why Creosote has the harmful label on every bottle; I feel dizzy and slightly drunk. I pick up 50 new fence posts; the fences around the fields need patching. I pile them into the Barn and swing the dapper shiny Barn door shut. A gust of chemical air follows me.  I wander down the hill, covered in tar black specks and smudges and I watch the Hebridean Shearlings graze. I recall watching the news the day before and hearing; ‘summer is over’. Those Sheep will need their fleeces by winter, especially up here.

I get hold of some free information from EBLEX with regards to better returns programmes for your flock. I flick through and read in-depth and feel re-assured. If this information is free then I think I will struggle to grasp the hypothetical definition of value. Information from the horse’s mouth is equally as important. I visit my great cousin’s farm outside of Haworth and they kindly walk me around, introduce me to their Simmentals and Sheep and share pearls of wisdom. I thoroughly enjoy my afternoon and leave with a snap of Big Bad Bert (pictured below) and a picture of the view from their doorstep (pictured at the very bottom) . I leave feeling grateful, excited and of course, slightly jealous. I appreciate all the kind words, efforts and advice I receive. I feel it is the people I will meet who will be the biggest influence on how I end up Farming.

I receive further promising news, again through somebody I know (and in true fashion abides to the law of seven separations).  My girlfriends friend knows a Farmer whose plot is just outside of the city. Although I don’t want to get my hopes up, this is extremely encouraging. I feel assured too, that people are thinking of me and trying to help me. I feel gratitude alone would not be satisfactory repayment. I thank people for their kindness.

I hope to go to some auctions and markets before I go back to university. I hope I can find somebody who’ll let me go along. It’ll be very beneficial to get used to the way things are done.

That’s quite a view.