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Harriet Tibbs – International Women’s Day

We spoke to Harriet on her experience working in farming and how the Ambassador programme will help her in her future endeavours.

How did you come to apply for the National Sheep Association Next Generation Ambassador programme?

I have read about the ambassador programme and what it does for the next generation sheep farmer for a few years now and have always wanted to get involved. I know a few people that have been on the ambassador group in previous years, and they encouraged me to apply for this year, saying how I would find it beneficial to my own career and especially my confidence. I am really excited and feel honoured to be a part of the 2022 ambassador group and I am looking forward to seeing where this takes me and the new things that I will learn about the industry.

Do you have a favourite breed? If so, why?

I have a flock of pedigree Beltex and also a small flock of Badger Face Welsh Mountain Sheep, specifically the Torduu. Both breeds have great qualities so its hard to choose a favourite, but I started with the Beltex so I suppose it would have to be them. They are definitely the marmite of the sheep world, but I love them for their character and what they can bring to a commercial market with regards to size of carcass etc. The breed doesn’t have the best reputation for longevity so my aim is to turn this around and breed quality sheep for the commercial farmer so that they can achieve the results and better returns on their carcasses without worrying about how long the tup is going to last.

What gets you up in the morning?

Apart from a strong coffee, I suppose it’s to try and achieve more than what I did the previous day. I feel like I strive to better myself and am constantly thinking how I can grow and improve my own enterprise and way of doing things. It’s not just your business and your animals – it’s how you can improve yourself. Even though I think this is something that everyone tries to achieve, we need to be honest and say that some days you just don’t want to get out of bed. Following on from Yellow Wellies “Mind your Head” campaign a couple of weeks ago, we need to remind people every day that it is okay to feel like that sometimes.

We’re in a generation now where we’re told that it’s ok to talk about your mental health but there is still a barrier. For farmers in particular, sometimes you have to put your personal feelings aside because you have animals who are dependent on you – so taking that time for yourself isn’t always an option. It’s not always hunky dory despite the world that social media portrays. But that’s ok. It’s so important to talk to someone, whether that’s a family member, friend or a complete stranger. Allowing people to feel and talk about their mental health shouldn’t just be one week of campaign it should be something we push every single day.

What do you love about British wool?

I love the diversity that we have across the breeds kept within the UK and the pride we take in our work to produce a high standard product that is not only great quality but also sustainable.

Are there any particular challenges of being a woman in your industry?

If you’d have asked me when I first started out in the industry, I would have said yes. I went to college and did animal science, and then went into dairy – so I’m not from farming, I started from fresh. There are a few older people that can be disapproving to quick to criticize, as with any industry, rather than being supportive but this is changing now. With the push on social media, the likes of The Chief Shepherdess Zoe Colville, there are so many women who are cracking advocates for women in agriculture. There are some amazing women across the industry who fight the corner and are now normalising it for young girls wanting to come into agriculture. I am very proud to be a woman in this industry and in reality, there isn’t a lot that a man can do that a woman can’t and vice versa. A man might have better physical strength and I’d never say that we don’t need men in the industry. We need to be working together to achieve something that’s great!

Other than that, the challenges often are your own thoughts, those that question you: ‘Am I getting it right?’ ‘Am I good enough?’.

If you could give one piece of advice to women starting out in this industry, what would it be?

Be determined, know what you want to achieve. Your own grit and determination is going to be the only thing that gets you to where you want to be. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. If it’s something you really want and you’re passionate about, you will get there. Just be yourself. Every day will be a reward after that. There are always going to be the hard days where you question what you’re doing it for, but for every one of those days you’ll have a dozen where you are reminded how amazing what you’re doing is and how far you have come. You don’t always get days off in the ways that other people do, so you must remember what you’re doing it for and go from there.

If you ever need some help or advice ring your neighbour! Ask for their opinion. There is something very special about this community. Although it can be a really lonely job, everyone is willing to support. There’s always someone at the other end of the phone and they are probably happy to hear another voice.