Continued article

Hannah Jackson, Farmer and Shepherdes

“I applied for every single job I could and got work experience on a beef farm in the Wirral, followed by a sheep farm in Wales. The biggest break was with Derek Scrimgeour, who had a hill farm in Keswick at the time. I went for a week and stayed nine months.

The biggest challenge has always been to be taken seriously, trying to prove myself in terms of sheep knowledge and the ability to work in a male dominated industry. I had to build myself a reputation.

“With time and patience, it started to pay off. Farmers were using me as a contractor; my shepherding skills acknowledged. 

“I was initially viewed as just another townie who wanted to farm. A young lass with red hair, straight from the city. I had to change that, hard when people put you down. I’ve never taken it well. Negativity comes from those who don’t know me.”

She knows she has not got jobs just because she is a woman, but that makes her more determined than ever to succeed and surpass all expectations.

“I used to get angry. In that respect, it can be a brutal industry at times. I’ve learned to take it on the chin, get back up and prove the critics wrong.”

With no training manuals, Hannah has educated herself on the hoof. Every day is seen as a new learning opportunity. Shepherding came naturally, she reads livestock well and has very high welfare standards.

Lambing time is the hardest, it lasts for over three months and can see 12, 13-hour days. She has no idea how many lambs she has helped deliver, but each one is as magical as the first she saw in Coniston and each stillbirth heart-breaking.  

A stint in Wales saw her working in lambing sheds with 3,000 ewes. Usually there are around 800 to 100.

In the spring of 2014, Hannah’s parents, who have a management training business, bought Brookside Farm in Croglin, famed for its vampire legends. Overlooking the quaint church and graveyard, barns gave way a coaching centre and Natural Leaders emerged.

Hannah helps inspire managers from some of the country’s top companies and industries using sheepdogs and herding techniques to demonstrate leadership skills.

She explained: “With a sheepdog what you see is what you get. They don’t hide emotions. If they are confused, scared, content, excited, they will show you. You can really see how your management style effects the team.

“You have to lead for herding to be successful, establishing trust, connection and communication. I’m not aware of anyone else using dogs and sheep for this sort of training.”

Improvement and achievement are inherent in Hannah. Sheep farming, she argues, has an exciting future, but not without vision and change. Being an ‘outsider’ helps.

“When you don’t come from farming stock, it’s easier not to be hidebound by tradition, you need that, but new ideas are key. The time has come for science to play its part. There are better ways of doing things, like grass management.

“Farms are now running without subsidies because of rotational grazing, utilising the best of the grass without any concentrates.

“EID, or electronic identification, is something else we are starting to embrace.  Basically, it’s an electronic tag with a chip, computerising records with all the animal’s information

“This industry sorts out the passionate and you’ll know pretty soon if you’ll be tossed out of the bag. You need the drive to seek out every opportunity with both hands. Sometimes a door closes, but another opens. I try to go for everything.

“I don’t class this as work. It’s a lifestyle. There’s no sacrifice – I love it all.”

She says her age is a bonus.

“I’m young, passionate and enthusiastic to improve this industry. I’m constantly learning. Our future is very much in the hands of the younger generation and this really excites me. I want to make a big impact and encourage more young people into farming, especially those with no previous connections.”

The appointment as a National Sheep Association’s Next Generation Ambassador is as timely as it is exhilarating. One of just 12, the oldest is 28, she attended the Oxford Farming Conference and will play a crucial role in inspiring and tempting the right young people into agriculture.

We need progressive, thinking people to survive, those who can see things differently. I’d like to be a role model and show what can be done if there is space and flexibility to do it.

“I’ve got a lad working for me. I’m drilling it into him that he needs a good education and exam results because this isn’t just about labour. Farming is science and we have to be on the ball.

“I have plans and ambitions. I’d love to do a Nuffield scholarship, open to farmers and offering a research programme. I want to butcher my own meat and sell it in boxes.”

Hannah has a flock of 10 pedigree Hampshire Downs and 60 North of England Mules, home grown and 100 percent grass fed at Brookside. Her partner is hill farmer James Stobart, from nearby Croglin High Hall. The masterplan is to get their own farm.

She says she is privileged to have been allowed into close-knit farming communities, where families have toiled for generations, supporting each other and sharing so much. Blessed too, coming from a family that encouraged dreams and to chase them.

“As an industry, we need to be heard – not as grumblers moaning about what’s not right, but as strategic business owners with a respected voice in the food chain. I would love to be part of changing the conversations and behaviours we’re all fed up with.

“I honestly feel that I am the luckiest woman in the Lakes. I love my life, my job, my animals. I’m living the dream every day and couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.

“I don’t dread Mondays, or live for the weekends. I get out of bed with a spring in my step and that’s invaluable. I’ve been lucky enough to find my calling – and that’s perfect!”

Check out Hannah on Twitter: @redshepherdess  

Article by Karen Barden