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Backbone of Britain: Dealing with diabtetes in farming

In a bid to raise awareness about the dangers of diabtetes, Lions member Richard Williams tells Emily Ashworth about the group’s work with Young Farmers to set up testing stations at county rallies.

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The farming community look at dealing with diabetes

It is a condition which could easily be missed, given some do not suffer from any major symptoms. But diabetes can quickly escalate in to something serious and getting diagnosed early could be key to keeping it in check.


On May 25, farmers were encouraged to get tested for diabetes at Worcestershire Young Farmers County Rally, where the club worked in partnership with Worcestershire Lions, a longstanding international organisation which aims to support and raise funds for local communities.


The idea to set up testing stands – a project funded by Lions – was helped along by Richard Williams, who hails from a family dairy farm in Herefordshire and is a breeding adviser for CRV Avoncroft. Too old to join a Young Farmers Club but wanting to get involved with something similar, he signed up to Lions – the largest volunteer-run organisation in the world, with more than 1.4 million members – 25 years ago.


With both clubs working in the community, he says this chance to link up and work together was a way to reinforce how important it is people living rurally should take the time to get checked.


He says: “Diabetes is a major killer and wherever we can build awareness we will. Farmers are busy people. When they are not silaging, they might be calving and when they aren’t calving, they will be artificially inseminating and so on. They have so much on their plate and the last thing they have on their minds is whether they need to get a diabetes check.”


According to, it is estimated there are 3.5m people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK, yet it is thought there are about 549,000 unknowingly living with it.


More than 1,000 people attended the rally and Richard was pleased to see the testing stations were a complete success, especially considering almost 100 people were tested.


“The hope was we wouldn’t find anyone with the condition but, the reality was we would,” says Richard.


“Diabetes is a simple test – four minutes can save your life. “It isn’t exactly something which comes up in conversation though and prevention is better than cure.”


But it also became clear to Richard that despite the stigma that people in rural areas are reluctant to go out of their way to focus on their health, given the right setting, farmers are willing to do just that.


He says: “I think we have got to help farmers, and more organisations need to help because if the farming community doesn’t have the time, maybe we can get to the local cattle markets or events.


“There also doesn’t seem to be as many opportunities for men to go to their doctors. It feels like women have a lot more chances to get screened for things.

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  • Going to the toilet a lot, especially at night
  • Being really thirsty
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Losing weight without trying to
  • Cuts and wounds take longer to heal
  • Blurred vision



“Even if they didn’t want to get tested at the rally, they could take a leaflet and read it at home over a cup of tea. That still achieves something.


“It’s all about awareness at the end of the day.” The team started testing at 9am and did not stop until after 5pm, with Richard saying waiting times were more than an hour at some points. A quarter of people tested were also told to go and see their doctor for further investigation. Spurred on by the sight of so many being proactive, Richard was even approached by visitors who opened up about their own personal experiences with diabetes.


He says: “One of the attendees told us he was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago but had no real symptoms.


“He was visiting the toilet often and was quite tired all time, but because he didn’t suspect anything – he put it down to old age. So, you can see how important it is to get yourself tested. I asked him how he felt once he had been diagnosed and he said at least he knew and could take steps to improve his lifestyle and diet, which helps to keep his blood sugar levels down.


“Another attendee, said her husband had found his diabetes diagnosis hard to accept. But because of guidelines and advice on living with diabetes, the whole family can help him.”


The testing stations proved to be a welcomed attribute to the rally, but diabetes is growing, and type-1 diabetes, which is insulin dependent, is one of the world’s most common long-term health issues.


Richards says: “It was a very good day and it goes to show that, given the chance, the farming community is willing to get tested and it doesn’t have to disturb what they are doing too much.


“Hopefully, by working with Young Farmers, we can work together to make the farming community know the importance of getting tested for diabetes.


“The reactions were great. A lot of people wanted to get it done and although we didn’t run out of people to get tested, we just ran out of time.


“I felt proud to have started something between Lions and Young Farmers and hopefully we can see if what we started at Worcestershire County Rally can be repeated nationally.”

In the field: Hayley Williams, 34, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

In the field: Hayley Williams, 34, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

AFTER being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes in May 2016, Hayley Williams was surprised to find out she had the condition, despite having all the usual telltale signs. Running 120 breeding ewes and a herd of Charolais sucklers across 101 hectares (250 acres), she admits there are aspects of diabetes she must be mindful of when working on-farm.


She says: “I was diagnosed following a blood test for a different health issue.


“I had the classic symptoms of drinking a lot and not being able to quench my thirst; losing weight quickly then putting it back on.


“When I was diagnosed I felt shocked and upset it had happened to me, and unsure what the future held in terms of my long-term health. But I was also relieved the symptoms I was having all disappeared within a month of starting my medication.”


However, Hayley openly reveals she ‘never thought it would be diabetes’ and it was simply a fortunate coincidence hers was detected.


“I’m not one for Googling so I put my head in the sand and just managed the symptoms as well as I could,” she says.




Due to the nature of the condition, Hayley must ensure she is prepared in case her sugar levels drop.


She says: “It can affect my farm life. When going on the tractor, away from the farmhouse, I must take my supplies with me. I have my test kit, jelly babies and a sugary drink for when my sugar levels drop, as well as water, my mobile phone and a snack in case things take onger than anticipated, which they invariably do when working with livestock.


“When I’m around the buildings I can pop into the house, but I have got quite good hypo awareness and know when I need to stop and take care of myself. My Dad is very understanding.


“I’m on insulin too, so that produces another set of problems. My glucose levels must be above 5mmol per litre for me to be safe to operate machinery or to even drive on the road.”


But with regards to diabetes in the farming community, Hayley believes they need to be more proactive in putting their own health first.


“We often put it to one side and find a way of coping and treat our livestock and land much better than ourselves,” she says.


“Why? Well, many think it is a sign of weakness and fear – a fear that if we have to take time out for ourselves, who will look after the farm and will they manage as well as we would?”

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