Clare Webb, 2018 Agriculture Scholar
This trip as many would describe was an experience of a lifetime! If you told me at the start of 2018 that I would be overseas in the UK travelling to different farms and agricultural shows I would not have believed you. Here I am – after having experienced a great journey where I have not only gained knowledge in my chosen area of profession, but I have also become more resilient (thanks to the ever reliable public transport!) and gained a lot of independence even though there had been a few phone calls to mum and dad!
I am a shy person and putting myself out there would have to have been one of the most daunting things I’ve ever done. I soon discovered that in order to get out there and be noticed I had to speak up or nothing would ever get done.
I have gained friendships that will last a lifetime and memories to fondly look back on. I admit I was unorganised for this trip, just before taking off I was feeling overwhelmed and was questioning if I had made the right decision. This trip have provided me endless opportunities such as being offered work in Wales briefly as a Pony Trek leader.
I would firstly like to thank BBM for providing me the chance to travel overseas and immerse myself in latest technologies and farm practices. Secondly, I would like to thank Tocal Deputy Principal James Hooke for pulling me aside and encouraging me to apply for this scholarship and other Tocal staff who gave me ideas. Thank you to my cousins in York for allowing me to base myself at their farm and letting me become a part of their farming life for a month. I appreciate the support I received from my friends and family as they put up with me as I tried to get myself organised. Thank you all to those farmers involved in making this trip possible.
I landed in Edinburgh on the 20th of June. I was picked up by Shona Graham at the airport which happened to be right next to the Royal Highland show. This is where I first encountered Texel and Beltex rams. These breeds are a powerhouse in the meat industry producing high yielding carcasses and they are very popular in the UK and throughout Europe.
Raecruick, the farm I stayed at, farms potatoes, carrots and turnips. They also fattened cattle and lambs for consumption. I was involved in feeding stock, weed control, irrigation and mustering. The mustering involved luring the cattle with carrots then shutting the gate behind them, pushing them up into a cattle trailer pulled by a tractor to take them down the road to the next farm or barn. That was an interesting process for me to watch.
Along with grain the cattle are also fed vegetable rejects from a nearby factory. Feeding this to cattle never occurred to me and is certainly something that could be considered during drought to fill the bellies of hungry cattle. Supermarkets would have a large number of wasted food products that could be beneficial to the survival of cattle and business during drought. Wind turbines are everywhere in Scotland, farmers invest in turbines and sell the power generated to the grid or to power their own houses and farms. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a developing interest in green energy to provide power to farms and looking for alternative ways to feed livestock.
I waved goodbye to Scotland and ventured to York where I have cousins, Pip and Andrew, on a farm. I based myself here for a bit and helped out where I could during harvest. This farm is primarily arable with a mix of wheat, barley, canola (called oilseed rape in the UK) and potatoes. A small herd of cattle and sheep are kept to keep the grass down in pastures and they are sold on when they are fat enough.
As I was based in York I visited some nearby farms that really did shed a new light in each part of agriculture they were involved in.
A dairy farm with 250 head of cross bred cows focused on the longevity and strength of the cow and not only get the most milk from the cow. These targets were later supported at a dairy seminar I attended at the UK Dairy Day.
Hemp is becoming ever so popular as a fibre due to its durability and minimal fuss when growing the crop. The hemp farm I visited, Hornington Manor, grew the crop then sent it straight to a local mattress company. The visit really opened another avenue I can take with me and utilise in the future as another alternative to farming.
Another farm I visited was an organic farm that had self replacing herds of cattle and sheep. I haven’t had much experience with organic farming so it was great to be involved in their farm for a day and asking the farmer questions that involve organic farmings and the profits. Organic meat is sold at a higher price but a lot more care and work is required to meet these standards. It was very interesting and some methods used at their farm I can take away and apply elsewhere.
A recently built farm in Oxfordshire that houses the calves from Tuberculosis positive farms. The calves were kept to raise in a strict quarantine area. They did not suffer from the disease but extra care must be taken in case they have the potential to spread it. This farm had a strict routine of feeding and monitoring growth. Some of these technologies included an automatic calf feeder that will provide powdered milk to a calf when it starts suckling on the machine. This machine then shows on the screen who has suckled today and who hasn’t. This farm, I believe, is steps ahead of others when it comes to monitoring cattle and maintaining high welfare standards. This farm also used alternative feeding methods. Unwanted bread from supermarkets is used in the feed ration as a filler.
Where will I go now…
Experiencing all this has really opened my eyes from growing a potato to finding alternative ways to feed cattle. I have seen new technologies such as a fully automated dairy and ways to produce green energy.
Whilst I have been in the UK I came to realise the areas I am truly interested in. I found another area that I feel really passionate about in green energy and how farms have the potential to be at the fore-front of leading technology and setting an example. Hornington Manor had an incinerator that burnt hemp dust and to heat a boiler that heated the large farm house and wedding venue. Other power alternatives are biodigesters that are dotted around the country supplying power to the grid along with wind farms, solar panels and incinerators. At the UK Dairy Day I attended in Telford I had a discussion with a company called Biolectric where they built digesters on farms that are capable of supporting the farm with green energy.
Agriculture can have a heavy impact on the environment when not managed properly, and there are ways and new technologies that can minimise this impact to the climate and still make a profit from the farm. I am keen to keep on investigating this in Australia and finding alternative methods when it comes to sourcing power and reducing waste.
Tips for future Scholars
- The first thing everyone will tell you is to be organised. I agree, but also allow yourself to be flexible because you never know what may happen or what opportunity may arise.
- If you are travelling in the UK download the ‘trainline’ app, it’s a fantastic way to navigate the trains, and get yourself a railcard as train prices are ridiculously expensive, and don’t buy the whole journey if you have to change at a station. It turns out to be more expensive if you buy the whole journey that includes the change over.
- Another great app is called ‘Tube Map’ it helps you navigate the London underground. Buses are a cheaper option but take a lot longer and there is not always room to put your luggage.
- Lookout for youth hostels as they are a lot cheaper. If you can, ring them instead of booking online because it is cheaper that way.
- As for getting a UK phone number I recommend VOXI by Vodafone as it has endless social media data so you can facetime your friends and family back home over Facebook or Whatsapp.
- My final word of advice is pack warm! It doesn’t matter if it is summer, it feels like late autumn.
For more photos, videos and details head to Clare’s BBM Scholarship blog on Facebook.