Zoe Colville | The Chief Shepherdess
A lot of people message me and ask how I managed to get into farming without any qualifications, so I thought this may be an interesting subject to explore here. First of all I just want to say that there are plenty of people in the farming world with the most amazing qualifications and have studied their butts off to be awarded said qualifications. I am truly in awe of these people because although I love to read and learn I am such a hands on type of person that unless it was an apprenticeship I'm not sure I would pass! I am by no means saying "don't bother with studying" because for some people that is what they need to give them the confidence to go for it and also agriculture is such a vast industry that some parts most definitely need years of study to fully understand.
I have plenty of A levels and hairdressing qualifications but zero relating to animal husbandry or agriculture. Does this make me any less of a "farmer"? Who knows. For what we do and the way in which we choose to operate I don't feel like I need to go to college, hands on experience has been enough for me to feel totally confident with the majority of situations that occur. From a non farming background has meant I didn't have the luxury of riding a quad bike since age 6 or knowing how to turn a sheep over instinctively because I've watched my dad do it a thousand times growing up. I, like plenty of others have had to learn as I go. For me I love getting my teeth stuck into a project or a challenge so it was perfect. It was all consuming and still is, every single day I'm learning something new. For example, only yesterday did I see this breed of cow that honestly looked like JaJa Binks, it's called a Brahman and I honestly thought it was one of those Photoshop photos.
I used to sit in the field and just watch the sheep for hours to learn how to be around them and I suppose get on their level in a way. I felt I was always on the back foot as Chris had grown up on a farm and it drove me mental to feel inadequate. That's actually how the name The Chief Shepherdess came around, he used to call me it to wind me up because I was so far from being a shepherdess and let alone the one in charge! I have so many stories to back this up, I won't go into detail because I'm sure your minds can picture it, little blonde hairdresser from London coming to help worm the sheep at the weekend with a sore head from too many margaritas. But the teasing didn't stop me it just spurred me on to educate myself even more, ask questions at auctions, read books and most definitely follow inspirational women on Instagram (Anna's previous post is bang on regarding this!).
There is no right or wrong way to get into farming, all you need is balls. You need the guts to take a leap. Grazing is hard to come by if you don't inherit a farm, but you can't fall at the first hurdle. You need to push until you get what you want, have a little patience and be resilient. A good idea I always say to people that ask is if you see any ground that you fancy grazing and it looks vacant then just pop a little note on the gate, you never know what may come of it. The owner may say to you that they are saving this particular bit for hay but they have a 10acre field down the road they need grazing and BOOM your foots in the door and you can get your holding number. Another great way to acquire grazing is Facebook groups or farming forums, just put an ad up and you never know what may come of it. The worst case scenario is that you don't hear back so what have you got to lose? Once you've got your keep then your away really. We didn't have a farm with a barn or anything for years and years, it took such a long time to build up to having a base camp I guess you'd call it. We used to keep our trailer at a friend's yard and keep all our electric fencing etc in the garage at home. When we signed the lease on the farm with an actual barn we felt like we had made it in life, somewhere dry for any poorly ewes to come and then years down the line somewhere for me to rear my calves in the winter. You just have to keep chipping away at the dream piece by piece.
I often wonder if god forbid Chris and I were to break up then would I still farm? Would I be able to do it alone? How do single females cope? Even a year ago I'd have said no, probably a confidence thing but also the logistics of course. Then I speak to all these incredible women all over the country going it alone and they are thriving, so my answer now would be whole heartedly yes. I mean things like worming the Highlands may be a struggle and I'd have to get myself a trailer liscence but those are very small issues to overcome in the grand scheme of things and problems I've faced in the past. I do feel like farming is quite a closed community, but I also feel like there are so many people that are willing to help you if you ask nicely. Again, you have nothing to lose from asking.
I would like to thank all the kind souls who have helped us "townies" to learn the ways of farming. Having to learn from scratch generations of knowledge can be daunting but there are so many people that are willing to pass on their pearls of wisdom both ringside at the market and also online that it doesn't take long to get into the swing of things and before you know it you're almost worthy of the "shepherdess" title.
Thank you for reading these little posts.