Farming women in their own words: Ailsa Dickinson

Ailsa Dickinson, 33, lives and works on her parents’ tenanted farm in Northumberland. Also keeps a flock of pedigree Zwartbles sheep, which she enjoy showing. Works part time away from the farm in the local school’s pre-school department. Member of the Zwartbles Sheep Association council, chairman of the local carpet bowls club and enjoys walking and photography.

Describe a typical day

Working with both children and animals, there is never really a typical day. I get up early to feed my Zwartbles and any other jobs that need doing – depending on the time of year – before going to work at the school, where the sessions run for four hours and involve assisting with the care and education of the children. Then it’s back to the farm to continue with the daily tasks of feeding, bedding-up etc. When my sheep are lambing, it’s a 24/7 job checking on arrivals and caring for those expecting, as well as all the other daily tasks. Then there is always plenty of paperwork to do both for the farm and school – usually done at the end of the day after supper.

What is your biggest achievement?

Winning a championship with my sheep at the local show.

If you had one piece of advice for a rural woman, what would it be?

If you have a dream, seize the opportunity and follow it.

If you could change one thing to make life better for rural families, what would it be?

I would make housing more affordable and improve rural amenities to encourage people to stay in the area where they were born and brought up.

What personality traits/skills do women in the countryside most need?

You need a sense of humour and to be able to juggle many things at once.

How do you think the life of a young woman on a farm has changed compared with 50 years ago?

They are more accepted now, with many women running farms themselves or working in associated businesses such as the NFU.

Is the countryside a sexist place?

Not as much as it used to be, although I think men still see us as the weaker sex and therefore not as capable.

What are your hopes/dream for the future?

I would love to continue working on the family farm and, as I recently got engaged, stay in the area and bring my own family up here. I would also like to have a success at a big show such as the Great Yorkshire with my Zwartbles sheep – maybe even win a championship rosette.

If you hadn’t chosen the course in life you have, what would you have done?

I was never an academic sort of person so I’d probably be doing something along the lines of having trained as a chef working in a local pub kitchen or running my own coffee shop or tea room. It would definitely have been something practical and in the countryside.

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