That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Lisa Alekna (38) in this week’s Women in Ag segment.
“I hail from Worcestershire and worked in print before becoming a farmer. My earliest farming memory is visiting a farm adventure park on holiday, where I got to bottle-feed a lamb and milk a cow.
I am completely green to farming and was 33 when I became a farmer.
Our land came with the property; however, improving the grazing, fencing, accessibility, storage, and acquiring equipment have been an expensive eye-opener and has taken time to build on or improve as I have gone along and grown my animals as and when my land and small holding could cope.
I moved to a new house in the countryside where we are surrounded by a large sheep farm and small beef and venison hobby farms.
When our 9-months-old border Collie escaped into the neighbour’s sheep field through a pheasant hole, I discovered I could take up sheepdog training as a hobby to prevent any more accidents from happening.
I became completely addicted and eventually, acquired eight sheep for grazing and sheepdog practice.
The farming bug took hold and has now become a small flock that I lamb and farm alongside chickens and pigs.
I have just finished my third year working the lambing night shift for the neighbouring farm as well as shearing and any other time my help is needed.
My farm – Laughingstock of Livestock – in Worcestershire comprises Texel-cross and North of England Mule sheep, hybrid, and Pekin chickens and Gloucester Old Spot pigs.
I am just a hobby farmer. However, this has led to me starting a new job in care farming next month, as well as my position running the lambing night shift at the local farm each year.
Learning and observing the instincts of your animals, nature and the land are incredibly humbling, rewarding and therapeutic.
My social media name is ‘laughingstock of livestock’ because there is no other way to describe my mini farm.
It is a farm of calamity, chaos, and crazy: from my clumsy farming attempts, to the crazy characters that have developed amongst my animals.
Every day is a school day, and with farming, I can see that will always be the case. I love learning, even when it is ‘learning the hard way’.
My farm has provided me with as many smiles as it has grey hairs; fills me with pride for feeding family and friends with food I have produced from hard work, dedication, love, sweat and tears.
It gives me enjoyment in sharing what I learn as I go and helping others get a glimpse into farming via my social media channels.
My farm is a place of purpose and drive that rewards me with tranquillity as I check on my animals at sunset after a gruelling day of stress, bruises and nothing going to plan.
It taught me so much about the way of the world, nature, land, instinct and, more importantly, about myself. It is job satisfaction at its best and it is my happy place.
I love the connection farming brings to what is important. It takes you away from the rat race and silences the chaos of modern-day living. But, it is hard work, demanding, stressful and often painful, but for that reason, rewarding.
It is hard work with a purpose; it is demanding out in nature and stressful because it matters; moreover, it is painful as so physical…. It is therapy!
The limitations and unpredictability of your land, climate and time are among the challenges.
You cannot magic extra grazing or rain or fenced paddocks. This year’s drought has ruined my grazing plan and added expense and more work just to feed the flock.
Yet last year, I could not keep up with my grazing! I have children with a hectic school/sports / social calendar and a job, so I really struggle for time when daily farm chores are increased or there is an issue with your animals.
You can guarantee that every animal check done quickly before needing to rush off somewhere will be met with a time-consuming or mucky issue you must resolve first.
Women in agriculture
For me, no different than being a man in agriculture. I am surrounded by incredibly supportive farmers who have all embraced my enthusiasm towards their industry and have enabled and encouraged me to gain further experience and learn more. I am currently receiving tractor lessons.
There are many women within our farming community who are all highly respected, as well as the next generation of daughters coming through.
All doing the same jobs, all working as hard, all recognised as that, which is great to see and be a part of.
I know this is not the case for many which I see on social media, but from what I have experienced, it has been fantastic.
I have not received any negativity or lack of recognition (when due) personally. But as I see it, if you put in the work and get the job done, it does not matter your gender.
I was recently told that my energy and my happy, positive approach have made a real difference at a farm I have been working at.
Now I might not be able to shift the huge bale the male farmer can there, but I made everyone more motivated to work harder and want to be there instead (as well as work hard myself, of course).
My point is everyone brings their own strengths and skills to a workplace, whatever their gender, age, and profession.
Recognition for the positives you bring in any industry should be given regardless of who you are.
It is not a competition of skills, abilities, and personalities; it is a compilation of those that makes a good team and gets a job done well, with a ‘can do attitude’, that is.
My social media journey all started during lockdown when I downloaded TikTok to do fun dances with my kids.
It coincided with having some bottle lambs to take care of (including Twig, my book star), and on posting a video that went viral, it spiralled from there.
I now have over 77,000 followers on TikTok and nearly 2,000 on Instagram.
Like me, many of my followers are not from farming and enjoy hearing or seeing what I do and learning from my experiences or what I found fascinating being an oblivious townie.
As well as sharing the antics of my animal characters and, more often than not ‘how not to farm’ calamity of myself, I have been able to try and encourage supporting local, buying better, removing some of this disconnection we have to our consumption, reducing waste, and dispelling some of the propaganda myths that often get fired at you.
I love sharing my journey, learnings, and passion with others.
Along with this, I have written two children’s books: ‘Little Twig’s Big Adventures’ and ‘Oreo the Sheepcat’. Bizarrely based on true stories – laughing stock remember.
They came about from my videos on TikTok on the crazy characters of Twig, the runt bottle lamb that could have easily escaped Alcatraz just to find me.
And Oreo, the cat who was raised by my border collie and set on becoming a sheepdog.
I have always enjoyed writing poems, and writing a children’s book was on my bucket list, so when these characters provided me with the perfect storylines, I just had to put pen to paper and make it rhyme.
There are some lovely games at the end, too for the children to engage and reflect on the story.
They can be purchased via many online bookstores and Amazon. Also, I have links on my social media profiles.
I would love to, and having recently lost, Marshall, my sheepdog, who features in both books. I am hoping to write one to help children deal with the loss of a pet.
My aim is to understand, appreciate and contribute towards what I consume and to help educate others on this disconnection we all have now to where food and things come from
Managing my time is the biggest challenge, not only because time is scarce but also because this is very much a hobby I do alone.
Whilst family do help on occasion and support it; it is ultimately my passion, my to-do list, and my problem. And often, it requires eats into time I should be spending with them.
In the short term, I hope to breed our own pigs and use them to help regenerate some of land where needed in the process.
Also, I hope to begin rearing our own meat birds as well as introduce ducks, turkeys, and geese.
Once time and resources allow, I want others to experience the therapy that comes from farming, have a go at growing something, get involved in animal husbandry, providing local meat and veg.
For now, I want to be farming for a job, whether on my own farm or working on one.
Having started out completely clueless about farming, I have asked questions, observed, had a go, made mistakes, read a lot, listened a lot, been trampled on a lot and messed on a lot, and with that have learned a lot.
I have gained respect for the land, fascination with nature and appreciation for the animals.
My farming anxiety has been replaced with pride. My ignorance replaced with appreciation.
I am now part of a fantastic community both in real life and on social media, and I find so much enjoyment in sharing this farming lark with others as clueless as me.
You should understand that you will never know everything about farming, and that is a good thing.
Farming is continuously evolving; new practices, research, science, conditions, and genetics, will ensure it always evolves.
So, by being open to change, proactive and keen, you will be able to adapt, overcome and improve.
We need to improve the connection between farming and consumption. Social media has given everyone a voice.
It is the perfect opportunity for farmers to showcase to the public what they do to keep us fed and more.
Let us get the public engaged and invested in their farmers, to want to buy more local, think about what they are buying in supermarkets, source from local butchers or farm shops, take an active role in buying British and supporting their farmers.
Show off the fantastic welfare your animals receive, the initiatives you are doing to help the wildlife and improve biodiversity, and what the tractor was en route to after holding their car up; show how hard you work to feed us all and encourage questions and discussion.
But above all, avoid shaming anyone that doesn’t know something ‘obvious’ to you. There are so many ‘obvious’ farming facts that us townies have absolutely no clue about.
To share your story, email – [email protected]
See more Women in Ag profiles.