Young stockmen from agricultural colleges across the UK are gearing up to take home the silverware from the East of England Smithfield Festival next week. Farmers Guardian takes a look at two competitors hoping to make an impression.
Agricultural colleges across the country are busy preparing to go head-to-head to compete in the 2016 College Challenge at the East of England Smithfield Festival.
The competition will see teams from about 30 colleges across the UK put their stockjudging skills and farming knowledge to the test in a range of tasks from judging finished lambs to feed ingredient identification.
While the traditional Smithfield primestock classes remain at the heart of the festival, the event is encouraging the next generation of young people who can build careers in agriculture.
Along with the College Challenge, the festival will also feature the final of the Young Stockperson of the Year competition and an agri-careers seminar.
Farmers Guardian caught up with Liberty Turner, who was part of Reaseheath College’s 2015 winning team, and Rob Morris, who is hoping for success at this year’s competition.
Liberty Turner, 19, from Derbyshire, has always been passionate about agriculture, having grown up on her family’s mixed livestock farm.
The farm runs suckler cows and commercial Texel cross ewes, along with a flock of pedigree Border Leicester sheep owned by Liberty.
With farming running through her blood, she always knew she wanted to pursue a career in the sector and chose to study a diploma in agriculture at Reaseheath College, Cheshire.
During this time, her skill and passion was evident and she was selected for the team representing Reaseheath at last year’s Smithfield Festival College Challenge, which they went on to win.
She says: “Being part of the winning team was a brilliant experience for me.
“Prior to this, my only stockjudging experience was local Young Farmers competitions. It was a big achievement to win such a prestigious competition.
“My role was to judge the breeding ewes, where I scored 97 of 100. I think my knowledge of breeding stock, stemming from my keen involvement with my pedigree flock, along with coaching from our lecturer James Bickerton, really helped me to do so well.”
“In the run up to the event, we would get together and practice as a team, going over the key points to assess in breeding and finished stock.”
Liberty, who hopes to become a farm manager or be involved with breeding programmes, says she will be able to carry skills she learned forward in her career.
“I strongly believe it is vital producers know the market and produce animals to fit market specifications. Being able to assess livestock accurately live, know when they are ready for slaughter, or what to look for in a breeding animal, is a fundamental skill which anybody managing stock needs to perfect.”
She also says the competition has helped her confidence and led to further success.
“Not only have I become a better judge of livestock, I’m now a more confident speaker. Since Smithfield Festival, I’ve competed in a lot more Young Farmers stockjudging competitions, many of which I’ve won.”
A year on from winning the event, Liberty has now completed a level 3 extended diploma and, following a summer helping out on local livestock farms, she recently returned to college to study a foundation degree in agriculture.
Hoping to defend the title for Reaseheath is 18-year-old Rob Morris, part of two teams representing the college this year.
While he hopes to return to run the family livestock farm in Shropshire one day, he’s keen to broaden his skills and knowledge so he can bring fresh ideas back to the business.
Currently in his final year of a level 3 extended diploma in agriculture, Rob enjoys helping out on his family sheep farm and working as a butcher during weekends and holidays.
“Farming is my first passion but I also really enjoy my work at the butchers, I get to see the entire process from farm to fork. It’s good to have more than one string to your bow and I’m always looking to learn new skills which will help with my career in the sector.”
He is also keen to develop his passion for agriculture further afield and hopes to spend some time working and travelling in New Zealand after completing his education. He believes British farmers can learn a lot from some of the New Zealand farming systems.
“New Zealand farmers are incredibly progressive. They’re always looking to improve and become more efficient. I’m particularly impressed with some of their genetic programmes, as well as their paddock grazing systems and I look forward to seeing this in practice.
“I think to be successful in today’s farming industry, you need to look at new ways of doing things.
“Some farmers are quite stuck in their ways but I believe we should be much more open to new ideas, adapting and changing practices if it improves efficiency.”
While he hasn’t had a huge amount of stockjudging experience to date, Rob honed his stockmanship skills on fat lambs during his placement year and he is looking forward to developing this further at this year’s Festival.
“For anybody selling finished stock, be it live through a market, or deadweight, being able to accurately assess the animal is an essential skill.
“During my placement year, I worked on a large mixed beef and sheep farm in Herefordshire, which ran 2,500 ewes and 200 suckler cows.
All finished lambs were sold deadweight. Assessing the lambs to see if they were fit to go was an important job as hitting target specification was crucial to ensuring good returns.
“We’ve now begun practicing for the Smithfield Festival College Challenge and are being taught the key points to look for when assessing a finished animal. These include conformation, fat cover and suitability for the market place.
“Hopefully the practice will pay off and we will retain the title for Reaseheath, although I’m sure we’ll be up against some stiff competition.”