That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Tina Russell in this week’s Women in Ag segment.
“I am originally from Longfield, Kent, but have lived for nearly ten years in Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire.
My journey in farming began when I went to my secondary school, which was across the road from my house in Longfield, which had a school farm.
I spent most of my years from aged 11 – 16 before and after school, lunchtimes, and school holidays, at the Longfield School Farm and Young Farmers’ Club.
From here, I went to college, joined an open young farmers’ club, and began as a freelance stockman.
Milking cows, lambing, and shearing, calf rearing, being a midwife in a pig farrowing unit, being a poultry grower, you name it; I did it.
My father was a bricklayer, and my mum was busy being a mother of three children and working part-time in the village shop.
I attended Hadlow College in Kent and did their national certificate for farm secretaries and later on undertook the KCC youth Worker qualification.
Whilst living at home, aged 20, my parents wanted me to try other careers, so for a year, I worked in London.
I hated the journey up every day; it seemed such a waste of time.
I remember thinking I could have milked a whole herd of cows in the time it took to travel to London.
Honestly, I could not wait to leave. Following that, I continued with freelance work and also taught GCSE rural science as an unqualified teacher for two years.
I was offered the opportunity to do teacher training, but being inside five days a week, even though it was a subject I loved, still did not really appeal to me.
My parents never wanted me to be in farming all my life. They felt I could earn more by being a secretary in London.
So, I had to remain very strong and committed to proving to them that this was the life I always wanted.
I am happiest outside, managing an environment in which livestock can thrive, taking care of them, no matter what.
Coming from a non-farming background has also meant that I have had to prove myself to the farming community that I have what it takes to appreciate and work in the sector.
Farming and youth development
Everything I have done has been associated with farming and young people’s development.
My previous roles included field officer for Kent and Surrey YFC. I worked on an open farm where I ran their education programme.
I often take on additional work as a mother’s help locally, which I also enjoy very much since all my children have all grown up now.
Moreover, I seem to always need to fill my time, so I have taken on dog walking and housekeeping.
I really enjoy meeting new people. When my children were young, I was the parish clerk in our village in Longfield, which kept me in touch with our community.
Aberdeen Angus Society role
As the national coordinator of the YDP for the Aberdeen Angus Society, I am very privileged to be able to follow another of my passions of opening opportunities, training and experiences to young people wishing to enter into agriculture.
I am so excited by the society’s forward thinking and openness to their resources, as they invite all young people from any walk of life, breed of cattle, college, university, or school to take up the opportunities.
My role is to reach out, plan, promote and deliver a programme for young people aged 8-29 years to open doors and provide training, advice and experiences that help them navigate the agricultural industry and find their place within it.
Young people are the future of farming, and we need to pass on the skills and experience from the amazing stockpeople in the UK and Ireland before they are lost.
My passion has been through my freelance work with show cattle from all breeds, enabling me to see areas of the UK and meet new and interesting people.
I can honestly say I have not experienced any issues being a woman in agriculture.
In fact, I have tried to pave the way if at all possible.
I was accepted as the first-ever female classifier in the UK when I was employed as their beef classifier in 2017, a role I enjoyed until I joined the Aberdeen Angus YDP in 2019.
Stanford Park Farm
Also, I support my partner, who is a farm manager. He and I run Stanford Park Farm pedigree Beef Shorthorn herd, as well as my other role as the aforementioned role, which is also another great love of mine.
We also have a small herd of Longfield Beef Shorthorns that we keep at Stanford Park. I am also a director on the Beef Shorthorn Society board (voluntary).
My partner, Simon and I run the Stanford Park herd of Beef Shorthorn cows (140 breeding females), and alongside these, we have our own Longfield Herd of Beef Shorthorn cows (10).
I started in the breed around 1998 when I began to work on other breeders’ Beef Shorthorns in preparation for shows and sales.
I was at the time also working on many other breeds of cattle, but I found the Shorthorn to be so docile and such a pleasure to work with.
My appreciation grew for them when I saw the tremendous part they have to play in producing extremely tender, tasty beef from very low inputs.
They were then still classed as a rare breed. Our aim is to ensure that the Beef Shorthorn genetics continue and improve as the great cattle they have always been and introduce them to new breeders.
Genetics and beef boxes
We research and investigate old and new genetics which produce docile, maternal, mothers and terminal sires that will thrive on a forage-fed system.
We use imported genetics (semen and embryos) as well as producing our own from cattle that we know offer something special.
At Stanford Park, we are in a unique situation of being able to offer start-up herds with unrelated bulls to new breeders.
One of my immediate goals is to grow our home-produced beef boxes off-farm.
I started this during Covid, and I believe it is the way forward to supply beef and lamb to our local area.
However, it takes a lot of time and effort to grow the customer base.
Planning for the future
I enjoy planning for the future; in agriculture, we are always looking forward, trying to improve, and enjoying the new life that development brings.
We have the most beautiful countryside in the UK, and each area has its own unique challenges.
Working with nature and bringing new life into the world are thrilling aspects.
I find the folk involved in this industry have a love and passion for our planet that some of the world is only just starting to appreciate.
Our work is our life, and we support each other through the good times and the bad.
Great innovations are being made within the agricultural sector through genetics, genomics, feed efficiencies, environmental protection, and livestock welfare.
It is an amazing industry that feeds the nation. There is nothing better than knowing exactly where your food is coming from and how sustainably it is being grown.
If you are someone who cares about your environment, enjoys being outside and keeps yourself and your animals well, you are needed in the agricultural sector.
There is such a diversity of roles; you can be guaranteed a good life as long as you are prepared to put your heart and soul into it.
I intend to continue my work with the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society, enabling young people to join the ag sector.
We shall also continue to breed Beef Shorthorn cattle and hopefully see their numbers increase nationally.
We desire to progress our breeding selection to produce efficient, low-input, forage-bred cattle that have a minimal effect on the environment whilst producing healthy beef to feed the country.
Watching our own five children grow and develop their own futures will bring us great enjoyment.
I suppose my ultimate goal would be to be able to afford our own small holding and continue to breed our lovely Shorthorn cattle well into our healthy retirement years, but this is still some time off yet.
I have no more ambitions that I want for myself now as I am very happy where I am and who I am with.
Happy futures of our own children are our ultimate goals now. That and a continuation to strive for a healthy planet.
We all need to be more mindful of farming in as sustainable of a way as possible – producing the food that feeds our nation with little or no detriment to our environment and our planet.
The breeding of native cattle requiring forage diets that fit into a mixed farming practice, which maintains soil biodiversity, and has little impact, is the only way forward.
My life has been very varied, diverse and challenging, and I would not change a thing.
I am grateful for all the amazing people that I have met, learnt from and who have helped me become who I am today, along with my family and children, who are forever a great joy to me.
At 58, my goal now is to do the same for young people, also trying to find their place in this world.
Every one should have a mentor, and finding yours is not always easy.”
[All imagery in this article has been supplied by the interviewee]
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