Raising livestock in a struggling climate: A roundtable discussion
As the current economic challenges facing the UK are set to continue, many farmers have been left uncertain of how they will afford to run their businesses in coming months.
Calf rearer Joanne Pile of Cats Hill Farm was joined by Ben Barber from Synergy Farm Vets, Paul Bartholomew from Bart Agri, and Robin Hibberd of Hydor at Cats Hill Farm to discuss the problems they are faced with and the help they are seeking out.
What areas of business have been the most affected by the current cost of living and energy crisis?
Joanne Pile: “Currently my job is a solo role, it’s all down to me as the farm doesn’t generate enough money to employ any other staff. With the cost of energy rising, it’s become impossible to even think about taking anyone on.”
Ben Barber: “Farming communities have this admirable ability to be able to work all hours of the day, but this leaves them with a lack of work life balance. It really isn’t sustainable, and more people need to be aware of this so they can give people the support they need.”
JP: “But also as we push towards the more frequent use of technology, which for the most part is good, it really eats into my energy costs. For example, I use a machine to feed milk to the calves, but as soon as a calf steps into the machine to take milk, water has to be heated quickly which uses a lot of electricity. I’ve got solar panels and while they do help, they can only do so much.”
Robin Hibberd: “From our side as manufacturers, we are trying to make everything as energy efficient as possible for farmers. This includes everything from our main fan solutions, but also ancillary products such as LED lights. However, if farmers can’t afford the capital to replace their lights, they’re losing money in an attempt to save money.”
Paul Bartholomew: “Joanne is the face of many heading into a challenging time, you need to be really invested to be farmer, it’s a full-time job and you can’t just ask the livestock to take a week off, they need 24-hour assistance.”
JP: We are also facing the threat of cheaper produce being shipped from abroad. It’s being farmed in ways that are regulated against over here, and of course given the current the climate people will choose to buy cheaper products against our higher quality meat.”
BB: “That’s another thing that consumers aren’t aware of. We have high standards when it comes to the welfare and ethics of our farming. So, to allow cheaper product to come in and undercut this just doesn’t seem right. But again, it brings it back to education.”
Raising the standards of livestock wellbeing on farms remains important during this time, what support or funding would you find useful?
PB: “Education and understanding are important factors that need improving. In particular, for those who grew up and work outside of the farming business. They need to understand the realities of farming and how much work farmers put into raising their livestock. But this is a two-way conversation and farmers need to start being more open.”
JP: “I think social media has really helped keep the conversation about the agricultural sector moving, but also helped highlight the importance of technology used in farming. More people are starting to understand the benefits it can bring to everyday farm life. All farmers want to do the best for their animals and at the end of the day if you don’t keep them healthy they aren’t going to pay you back in the long-run.”
BB: “Our culture has always been very much a step behind when it comes to technological advances, but it’s allowed us to pick up and prevent disease in livestock and improve their welfare. We need be able to show the benefit of this so that farmers will be more likely to invest in the technology.”
RH: “Funding could be the key to enabling farmers to afford extra equipment to assist in the running of their farm and raising the welfare of livestock. Mechanical advances like the tube ventilation system we provided on Jo’s farm have been around for many years now but just aren’t being utilised enough. Technology can make such a change to a farm’s welfare, but farmers just can’t afford it.”
As Joanne mentioned previously through lack of funding and interested parties farm life can be a solo role, what could be done to encourage more people to get involved and develop skills in the sector?
RH: “I see a lot of people on social media looking for apprenticeships in farming, but a lot of companies don’t want to invest in anyone with no previous skills. Finding employers who want to impart their knowledge on others is difficult.”
BB: “But there’s also a negative perception of farming amongst younger people. It’s not typically the sort of life choice encouraged in career advice meetings, from my experience. There’s also the perception that you don’t have to be very intelligent to get into agriculture, whereas it’s quite the opposite. You have to be intelligent and good at problem solving and making clinical decisions.”
PB: “You could be calving a cow at 2am and then the following day you can be making a five-year financial decision that could impact the future of your farm. You’re not just a farmer you’re an accountant, a vet, a builder – it’s such a varied role.”
JP: “It is such a varied role! I’m not from a farming background, I entered the industry as a 19-year-old. I learnt on the job, and it was a great opportunity, but with so many employers now demanding that workers have previous skill, the opportunity I was given won’t present itself anymore. If employers are open to training people with the willingness to learn, it would be worth it.”
Mental health must be a widely discussed topic in such an isolated role, is there any advice you have or anything that could be done to support the mental wellbeing of farmers?
JP: “We’ve had a really big push over the last two years to consider the importance of mental health. Like I mentioned, farming is such an isolating job. People often think it’s idyllic, imagining leaning on your fence with a cup of tea, looking over your cattle, but we are faced with so many challenges. It’s important to encourage people to talk to each other, the farming community can provide so many great opportunities to get people talking. But ultimately, we have to recognise that we don’t have a good work life balance and we need to learn to take a step back.”
BB: “Keeping the conversation judgement free is also important. Often you can keep a lot of it in your head which makes the situation worse. Just hearing someone else say that they understand can really lift some of the pressure off.”
Discover how we helped Joanne Prevent Calf Pnemonia at her farm; Cats Hill Farm, with our Tube Ventilation System.
This roundtable was set up and hosted by Hydor. For more about Hydor’s specialist agricultural ventilation solutions, click here!