My First Week Working With Beef Cattle

Wow, what an exhausting and educational week it has been! Last weekend I moved into my new home (technically still a building site) and on the Monday morning I started my new job working for a local cattle farm, as their Assistant Farm Manager. At the same time the UK decided that a heatwave was in order and Kent experienced 30+ Celsius all week – yippee (not)!

My new job has been a STEEP learning curve. Having never worked with cattle before and having only owned a smallholding previously, I was seriously jumping in at the deep end when I accepted this job offer – but I was ready for the challenge! Little did I know how much of a challenge it would be once the British weather decided to do its thing (in a completely different way to how it tried to defeat me back in March, with snow, freezing rain and minus figures!).

The farm that I work on has a herd of around 50 and produces delicious, free range British beef in Dover, (with some cows grazing on the White Cliffs themselves!). The herd is 100% pedigree Shetlands, which are a rare breed that grows slowly, not being ready for slaughter until they are around 3 years of age. They are mostly black and white, but some are red and white, and all of them have short, curved horns (scary, I know!). They are a dual purpose breed, meaning they can be farmed for meat and milk, but this farm purely keeps them for their beef. The farm shares many of my personal farming beliefs, despite being much larger than my little smallholding in Essex, the farmer practises high levels of animal welfare, natural living and traditional practices. The cattle currently spend 100% of their time outside and there is minimal human intervention, allowing the herd to live as close as possible to how they would naturally.

My job on the farm is largely keeping the cattle fed, safe and happy – this may sound simple but involves daily checking of the fencing, water supplies, pasture and entire herd’s general health. Due to the dry weather, it currently also involves feed and hay delivery to the majority of the herd. Other tasks that my job can involve are moving cattle, collecting stock purchases, tidying the yard, driving the tractor, weaning calves, taking cattle to the abattoir, calling out and assisting the vet with castrating calves/identifying pregnancies and generally dealing with any issues that arise.

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Back to what I have been up to this week however, and boy this week alone I have already experienced so many firsts – driving a tractor, penning up cows, using a brush cutter, jet washing tractors & trailers, feeding cows, using a mini digger, carrying cow hurdles and putting up Heras fencing. It wasn’t until this week that I realised how sheltered I had been while working on farms previously. There was always someone more experienced/stronger/bigger than me around to do all the “tough jobs” or someone around to help me with the tricky stuff, however in my current position it is just me. My boss is around if I really get stuck and to help with tasks that only two people can manage, but other than asking the cows to lend a hand, it really is my responsibility to get things done! This means heavy lifting, manoeuvring machinery and general dirty work that otherwise wouldn’t have been down to me before, or they were tasks that I could have at least shared with a fellow colleague/friend.

Moving on from sheep to cattle is a huge change, there are of course certain aspects/duties that are present in all livestock farms, however with cattle there is so much for me to learn. The main difference is that everything is on a much larger scale, which means a greater amount of health & safety, much larger machines and a lot more land! My first task was to get my head around the lingo, which I wrote about on the blog, now I just have to remember to use the correct names and replace ewe with cow/heifer, tup/ram with bull and wether with steer!

Overall it has been an exhausting week and, although I am definitely in need of a long soak in the bath and copious amounts of chocolate, it has been great fun and I have already learnt so much. I think when changing career you take for granted how many new things there are to learn and how safe and complacent you felt in your previous role. And even though it most certainly has been a challenging first week, it certainly hasn’t been boring! I was so worried about starting a new job and was desperate to cling on to the apron strings of my previous position but if anyone else is doubting a career move, just do it! Change is refreshing and life is too short to remain in the safe and familiar, try something different and live your life!

Next week I am sure will be equally educational and I already know that it will be bringing new duties, including working with the farm vet to castrate calves and identify pregnancies, moving select members of the herd to new pasture, choosing the cattle ready for the abattoir and making the moves ready for some beef to hit the chiller!

I will keep you all updated on my progress on here, on twitter, on facebook and on instagram!

Speak soon

Katie x

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