That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Meg Lawrence (27) in this week’s women in ag segment. Meg is not from a farming background but has successfully carved a career as a vet tech.
“Originally, I am from Somerset, but I now work and live near Berkely, South Gloucestershire.
My family are not farmers; we do not own or work on a farm.
But, we have been lucky enough to live in the countryside, and several members of my family have been to agricultural college and worked in the industry.
My grandpa was an agricultural engineer; my brother worked for a contracting company.
Then, my stepdad went from milking cows to being a rural accountant and tax adviser.
My earliest memories of farming, other than living on or very near to farms, revolve around lambing sheep for our neighbours.
I would spend the Easter holidays in the lambing shed that backed the end of our garden. I would fill buckets with silage and bottle-feed pet lambs.
Earliest farming memories
The farmer would always say I had perfectly small hands for lambing ewes. They nurtured my interest in the farm, and I will be forever grateful for where it has taken me.
Unfortunately, they sold their sheep, so I moved on to helping milk the cows on our local dairy farm.
I started lambing at about 7 and then milking at about 10. But I am not sure I knew that working with animals on that scale was ever going to be an option for me.
We did not have a farm. However, I did spend a lot of time helping out with the vet routine and thought, yeah, that looks like fun.
A desire to become a vet and enrolling in an equine course
I have no family members in the veterinary field. But every single one of them has inspired me to work hard.
If you can graft for what you want in life rather than expect it to be handed to you, at some point, it will be worth it.
I started college a year later than most because I hated my A-Levels. While I knew I needed them to get into vet school, but I hit an all-time low.
I decided my happiness should probably come first, and if I was not to be a vet, I would have to find the next best thing.
So, I enrolled on an equine course, and three days in, we had the afternoon off, so naturally, I went to milk the cows on the college farm.
The following morning I spoke with the subject leader for agriculture and explained that I knew I was not destined to do equine, but I also did not want to milk cows for the rest of my life.
She calmly told me that a qualification in agriculture could mean a career in so many different things and that I should give it a go.
Aside from my family, she was one of the most supportive people in my life at that time. She inspired me no end to keep going at whatever I loved, whatever I was good at, and whatever lit the fire in my belly.
She helped me see that I could still have a rewarding career, earn good money and live comfortably even by doing an ag course!!
In my final year at Hartpury, I decided to teach agriculture.
I had some amazing lecturers, and with only a few weeks left, before I finished, I realised what a fulfilling job that could be.
It was then I realised I’d need to study a bit more. But, I had no real plans to go to uni. No one in my immediate family has a degree, but I would need this to teach.
I completed my education at Hartpury College, Gloucestershire. Followed by Bridgwater and Taunton College (BTC), Somerset.
I obtained a BTech level 3 extended diploma in agriculture followed by an agricultural business management foundation degree.
Firstly, I started Hartpury in September 2012, after doing a year of A-Levels. It was a three year course, with the second year being an on-farm placement.
Im 2015, I completed the course and shortly after, spent three months in New Zealand.
A few weeks after I got home, I started my agri-business management degree at Bridgwater and Taunton College for two years.
I chose Hartpury because it had an exceptional reputation. I got ‘the feeling’ when I went up for my interview.
You cannot explain it; you just feel good about somewhere and can see yourself there.
It meant I got to experience living away from home and having not come from a farming family; I knew the placement year would be invaluable.
Choosing to do my degree at BTC was purely a practical decision.
They are one of the only places to condense the course into two days a week which meant I could work simultaneously.
It was a pretty intense couple of years, but Hartpury had given me the social, living away ect experience you get at uni.
I was only interested in getting the qualification done and continuing to earn. It was here I first heard about the role of a ‘vet tech’, and to be honest, I nearly cried.
Finally, something out there meant you work on a technical level that encompassed both farming and vetting but was neither. It was right up my street!
I have worked my entire life, throughout school, college and uni. Every February half term, and Easter break, I lined up a lambing job.
I relief milked, looked after people’s horses, and then during the second year of my degree, my lecturer suggested I apply for some of the teaching jobs advertised, primarily for interview experience.
I do not do things by halves, so I gave it my all, and they made a role for me as an associate lecturer. So I did this alongside my second year and a couple of years after I graduated.
I ran practical on-farm lectures for agricultural students up to level three, and sure enough, it was some of the most rewarding work I have done.
However, I still had the travel bug, and the job role was changing to more inside classroom-based stuff, and I wasn’t ready to hang my wellies up.
I returned to New Zealand and secured an assistant farm managers job shortly after getting home. This role was at an all-boys secondary school and gave me a great balance between actual farming combined with education and teaching.
But once again, I was faced with a decision to put my happiness first.
You spend so much of your life at work it has to be right. This job was not working for me, and one of my closest friends was giving up her role as a part-time vet tech.
Fortunately, I shadowed the previous vet tech for a couple of months to get to grips with the day-to-day. And on top of that, the team were great at easing me in.
I was full-time going into a role that was previously part-time, so I had an advantage with getting to know the area, the people and the role.
Making sure I would have enough work booked in was the greatest challenge.
The downside of making a full-time role out of a part-time role is that I had time to spare, which meant time to fill!
Everyone said, “enjoy the peace”, but I hated not being busy.
I still do, but my dairy is nearly always full now, and I know exactly what they mean about enjoying the peace!!
In essence, a vet tech is a supportive role to vets and farmers, carrying out preventative services and care at veterinary level and as an extra pair of hands to assist in routine farm jobs or veterinary procedures.
Tyndale Farm Vets
I work at Tyndale Farm Vets, a large farm-only practice.
Farm only. There are 11 vets, 1 vet tech, 1 embryologist, 3 ATT’s (approved TB testers) and 10 support staff/admin.
My vet tech hours are 8:30 – 5:30 Monday to Friday, with the ability to be flexible on busier days. There is no on-call, and I am off at weekends, bank holidays, and have standard holidays.
My role involves providing preventative care and technical support on the farmers/Vets request.
Responsibilities include youngstock monitoring, disbudding, mobility and body condition scoring, vaccinating, faecal egg counts, blood sampling and providing an extra pair of hands!
I enjoy youngstock monitoring. Also, I have developed some great relationships with clients, and helping them manage their calves is exceptionally rewarding when you start seeing the difference you have made.
Honestly, I firmly believe the success of the whole herd starts with the care of the newborn calf and being able to follow their progress is very satisfying.
Advice for new grads
My advice to a new grad is not to be afraid to know what you want to do.
Take it from the girl that did a year of A-Levels, three days of equine, three years of college, two of uni, travelled and worked.
I knew I wanted to be a vet tech four years before I was one. I am a good vet tech because of everything I have done before it.
Generally, we are where we need to be at exactly the right time. Make your own success.
Allow others to help, guide and support you but know yourself well enough to make solo decisions that will help you go forward.
I had a feeling I would love vet teching, and I do. It has probably exceeded my expectations in that department.
I really cannot tell you enough how much I love my job. It surprises me that it is only really a recent thing, that there has been no specific qualification for it until now, but the role is growing, and it is becoming more popular.
Desirable skills and job satisfaction
I like the variety. Some days are quick-paced, on the road visiting lots of farms. Other days are slower, and you can get your head into some data or go out with vets.
The hardest part is witnessing the stress farmers are under, whether it is due to TB, costs, weather or pressure over milk contracts.
As vets and vet techs, we are mostly there for the animals in front of us. However, the support often goes further than that, especially with the many challenges the industry faces.
A capable vet-tech possess good communication and people skills. It is not just about the animals. You have to build good, trusting working relationships with your colleagues and your farmers. Experience with livestock is also an advantage.
I want to build a bigger team of vet techs here. I think there is enough work out there with our clients to offer tailored support in areas like young stock, dry/transitioning cows, as well as an extra pair of hands on the odd busy day where casual labour is hard to come by.
My ultimate goal is to go farming! I have started a small herd of pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle.
My working life so far has been for other people, looking after other people’s animals and visiting hundreds of different farms and that is great.
But the ultimate goal is to take a pinch of everything I have learnt and seen and go farming for myself whilst educating people about British farming and protecting the countryside.
Honestly, nothing, everything I have done, has helped me get to where I am now, and we are all going at our own pace.
That said, I wish there had been someone there after my GCSEs to tell me there were other options to consider.
A-Levels are not for everyone; look at college courses, look at taking a year out!
Make a decision based on knowing all your options; I would have liked to have had that.
Now, I am in a rewarding, challenging role that allows me to continue to learn. Every day is different, and I get to use a different set of skills every day.
Talking specifically about vet techs, I think the future is very exciting. There is a qualification on its way; we have set up an association for existing vet techs, foot trimmers, ATTs, ect and there are more of us than people realise.
We are here to ease the pressure on both vets and farmers, which can only be a good thing.”
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