New entrants: 5 things to consider if you're not from a farming background

Written by
Emily Ashworth

21 Sep 2018

21 Sep 2018 • by Emily Ashworth

Katie Anderson left her life in the city to start up a career in farming. Here she tells us five things to do to help you boost your knowledge and confidence before setting out in the world of farming.


Reading books

I have always loved to read so when I first thought about getting into farming, I decided to pick up some farming-related books to inspire and educate me.

I started with a few inspirational ones such as Simon Dawson's Pigs in Clover, and Jimmy Doherty’s, On the Farm. Once I had caught the farming bug and wanted to learn more in-depth, I went on to more educational reads such as The Hayne’s Smallholder Manual.

The best thing about reading books is you can read at any time of day, whether you’re sat on the tube on your way to work or are tucked up in bed last thing at night - it can be five minutes a day or an hour. It's whatever suits you. It is a great way to self-educate in a way that fits around your schedule.



If you are lucky enough to live in a rural area, you should be able to find courses that suit you at your local agricultural college or at farms that choose to offer them.

Usually, tourist areas such as the West County and the Lake District have an abundance of farm stays available and ‘farm experiences’ are more regularly being included in the package. If like me you are not in such a lucky location, you may have to travel to be able to attend a course.

My first course was a ‘Smallholding Course for Beginners’ in Wales, a short six hour drive from me.

But the course was definitely worth the journey and being able to learn from and speak to someone that farms on a daily basis is something that books just cannot offer.

You also get to meet a bunch of fellow students who are in the same position as you, which gave me the confidence to pursue a career in agriculture. Once you realise you are not alone and it can be done, it doesn't seem so much of a pipe dream.


Work Experience

Nothing beats actually being on a working farm and having no option but to deal with the situations that arise. However to walk straight into a farm job with no experience is very unlikely, so do not expect to be paid for your time.

Perhaps you have a farm local to you that you could help out at, and lambing is a particularly good time to ask around because farmers need as much help as possible. You are also likely to see a wide range of scenarios - and find out if you really are cut out for farming!

Be realistic though. Do not expect to receive the one-to-one attention you would get on a course - this is more about watching what goes on and finding out what life is really like on the farm.

You could well spend the whole day opening gates and hitching up trailers but even in my job now, I probably spend 25 per cent of my time doing that.

This is the best way to find out whether you want this lifestyle. Try to work at a variety of farms because no two farms are the same, and at different times of year - a sunny July morning can add a shine to farm work however a snowy January evening isn’t quite as appealing.


Talk to Fellow Farmers

If you are a young farmer, Young Farmers' Clubs is a great way to meet people with similar interests to yourself and network in a group of people who probably have more farm experience than you.

If you are older or do not have a local YFC, there are still plenty of ways to learn from others.

I found a local smallholders group half an hour away from me, which gave me connections to livestock breeders, trailer hire and the ability to ask questions to a group of much more experienced farmers.

Lastly, social media is perhaps the most important tool I have used. Twitter, in particular, can open up a whole world of farmers for you to ask questions to, and there are educational accounts such as @farmersoftheuk where different farmers share their stories each week- a great tool to pick up ideas and learn from others.


Things to Remember

Do not be afraid to ask questions - no question is too silly to ask.

Remember everyone had to start somewhere and nobody is born with a complete understanding of farming from the get-go. Similarly, the most experienced farmer still continues to learn.

Everyone has bad days. Whether you have been farming for five days or twenty-five years, things go wrong, particularly when working with animals and you depend on the British weather.


Do not beat yourself up about it.

Lastly, don't jump straight in - you could go out and buy a herd of pigs with no knowledge or experience, but there are a lot of rules and paperwork involved in farming that you have to get right. It’s not fair on the animals if you're not prepared.