Farming women …in their own words
Sarah Devlin, 22
Combines life as a sheep farmer on the smallholding her father bought when he retired to Wooler, Northumberland, with work at the local auction mart company, John Swan. At home she has pedigree Suffolks, Texels, Bluefaced Leicesters and commercial sheep, plus chickens, ducks and pet geese. Recently she started a full-time job as a market fieldslady, after working for five years in the office of an agricultural equipment firm. She is originally from Newcastle, but says she “swapped my stilettos for wellies” when her father retired to the country.
Describe a typical day
5.30am start. Feed, water and let chickens, ducks and geese out of shed. Take collies around our sheep to check everything is ok. Feed dogs. Feed tup hoggs on grassparks not far from our farm. Keeping a close eye on them is very important as we breed these Suffolk shearling rams to sell at the sales at Kelso in September. It’s vital for our bank balance that they make the best possible price. 8am, report for work at Wooler Market. Daily duties involve visiting farms to source livestock to be sold in the market as well as attending the auctions. Finish between 5pm and 7pm depending on how busy we are and head home. 7pm onwards consists of locking up the chickens etc, checking the sheep again and all the feeding – depending on time of the year – such as putting out hay and silage.
What is your biggest achievement?
Last year would be our biggest achievement to date; we purchased 50 tup lambs from a well-known Suffolk breeder The Flodden Flock, as it had been dispersed. We bought them privately. We took them through the winter and summered them and sold them as shearlings. This involved a lot of long hours, hard labour and commitment but turned out to be a success. Last year I also got to model for a feature in a Scottish paper which was great fun. It can be all hard work so it was great to be a countryside Kate Moss (with curves!) for the day.
If you had one piece for advice for a rural woman, what would it be?
Stick at it. Never be defeated. Granted, men may be the stronger sex, but whatever the job there is always a way around it. If you have dreams and ambitions, stick at them and one day you will make it. Be prepared for a few knocks along the way as life is never plain sailing.
If you could change one thing to make life better for rural families what would it be?
Government needs to shake up the system to reduce costs for farmers, such as vehicle tax on 4x4s which (as opposed to the townies taking the kids to school in Range Rovers) we need for everyday tasks. Plus fuel costs.
What personality traits/skills do women in the countryside most need?
Open minded and strong hearted. Plenty of fight and ambition.
How do you think the life of a young woman on a farm has changed compared with 50 years ago?
I think a lot has changed. Women have stood up and been recognised as capable farm hands. We are not just here to be stuck in the kitchen.
Is the countryside a sexist place?
I used to think so, but working at the mart has changed my mind. If you do a good job, farmers show a lot of respect. Also, if it was sexist, I would never have got my job.
What are your hopes/dream for the future?
To one day be able to rent or buy a farm of my own with mixed livestock and arable. To be self-sufficient.
If you hadn’t chosen the course in life you have, what would you have done?
Air hostess; I love to meet new people.
• If you’re a farming woman and would like to see yourself in this slot, email firstname.lastname@example.org