Rachel Banks, Spence Agricultural Scholar 2018
Rachel is eligible for a scholarship because she is from a village in Cambridgeshire, which is an area where the Trust owns a large estate. During her first term of study she introduces herself and offers some advice to future students.
Growing up on a farm, I really enjoyed looking after the animals and the respect I learned for them. Being able to contribute to producing food is important and it was a pleasure to help my Dad, from corn carting during the harvest to opening the gates for feeding the cattle in the winter.
Farming was never pressed on me, but I have always enjoyed the outdoors and studying biology and geography, and as I have become older I have become passionate about the subject. I want to help educate people about how farms work, while also improving techniques for welfare and profit, this made studying agriculture a sensible step to take.
I chose to study at the University of Nottingham because the course had the perfect mix of academic and practical study, as well as a large emphasis on research. It also wasn’t too far from home, meaning I could easily get back if I was needed in an emergency. The campus itself is nicely located near the main university, with hopper buses to enable me to travel to the city and mingle with other students, while still being based on a lovely countryside campus surrounded by like-minded people.
The intake of new students this year was smaller than at some other agricultural universities, so I felt I would be able to better get to know my lecturers. Being top of the league tables was also good, it meant I knew I would have an advantage when it came to looking for placements or employment, which will be further assisted by the university’s links both nationally and abroad. This will be useful because I hope to take up a year in industry for my third year.
So far in my studies I have particularly enjoyed animal biology and food security. Next term I am looking forward to taking part in more specialist modules, especially grassland management, which I think will be interesting and easy to see the effects of.
My ambition for the future is to work on a farm, where I can use the knowledge and skills I’m learning at university. I also want to help others to understand the importance and practicality of agriculture, spreading the word and being involved in keeping it a world priority. If such an opportunity opens up then I am not afraid to veer away from my current career plans to follow it.
This scholarship has helped me to settle into my studies with fewer worries over finance. It has contributed to fuel for me to visit home and support my Young Farmers’ club, and to go to agricultural shows where I have been able to independently learn more about my subject. It’s also paid for trips to farms and talks with the Agricultural Society at Nottingham, which has been very interesting and useful for my degree. My area doesn’t benefit from many scholarship opportunities so I’m very grateful to have received this and have a better university experience as a result.
If you’re considering applying to the University of Nottingham or for a Spence Agricultural Scholarship then I think it’s definitely worth it. The Rochester Bridge Trust is an amazing organisation I hadn’t previously heard of and my course is a great choice if you enjoy biology and geography. It’s applicable to lots of things and can lead you into research-based or practical careers.
Rachel Banks shares some of her spring term lambing experiences.
Coming back after the winter break I was greeted with exams and new modules, followed shortly by sheep duties, giving little time to sit around.
The university’s flock of 40 lleyn cross ewes had been brought into a shed over Christmas to keep them warm and to start their tailored feed plans. As half of the ewes are owned by the Agrics Society at Nottingham, we are invited to help out with events that occur throughout the sheep calendar.
At the end of January we trimmed any of their overly long feet to prevent and treat any issues surrounding lameness, and scanned them with a portable ultrasound. The sheep also received an injection (heptavac) to prevent clostridal diseases.
The ewes were then all placed on a diet fit for themselves and the lambs they were carrying. As there are only 40 sheep and they were not separated by how many lambs were due, they all received enough food for twins. This consisted of barley and oats as concentrates, haylage as a sweeter grass alternative, and sugar beet from the farm. The students undertaking an enterprise management module in second year are responsible for their feed plan alongside the farm manager.
In the UK lambing time varies depending on location, if a farmer wants more people available for work experience, and also when holidays/ optimum market take place. It can be as early as December or as late as June in some areas (more typically around March/April). The Nottingham ewes were put in with rams in the autumn around October, in two sets, so the ewes had two different due dates, at the beginning of March and and the end of March (145 days later). The first lambs from those ewes were born in the first week in March.
As I am writing this, we have two ewes left to lamb out of the group, with all the lambed ewes now out in the field with their respective lambs. Some of the first-time ewes need a little assistance with lambing, which is one of the reasons they are brought indoors. We also check them regularly during the day and some farmers also check their flocks at night, and as a result, this time of year is very busy!
I have helped lamb two ewes this year who were struggling, as well as working to get the lambs ready to go out to the fields. This involves giving them a spray of iodine and some probiotics when they are born to dry up the umbilical cord (to stop nasties) and give them a natural boost. After a few days (or a day if they are doing well) we spray the ewe’s number on both the lamb and the ewe to help identify them when mixed, and we ring the tail to dock it a little shorter (so that when they are older they are less likely to get flystrike). The ewes are also given wormer before getting turned out in good weather.
Occasionally it is possible or necessary to adopt a lamb across to another ewe. There are many reasons for doing this. One reason is that the ewe dies at some point after delivering her lambs, which fortunately has not happened to our flock this year. Another is because the ewe rejects her lamb(s) so it needs milk from a reliable source, which is when a suitable ewe can be chosen. Similarly, if a ewe has triplets or even quads, she will not produce enough milk to keep them very healthy, so, where possible, moving a lamb onto a ewe who has only one lamb is desirable.
When adopting a lamb over, time and smell are both very important as the ewe bonds to her newborns based on scent. We successfully moved a lamb from a triplet ewe onto a single ewe, as they had lambed at the same time, and once it was born it was rubbed in the new ewes placenta and afterbirth to make it smell like her own, before being placed with its new sibling for her to lick.
Thankfully the ewes should be done lambing before my Easter break, so there will be less worry and more time to focus on the exams approaching in late May/June.
The end of my first year at university was 21 June, celebrated with the Summer Ball and our exam results being released. I was happy to see I had passed all my modules, doing even better in some of the harder exams than I thought! I then had the privilege of enjoying the glorious sunshine with all my friends at the ball, with fairground rides, tasty food and performances from S-Club 3 and DJs through the night. I even made it to the survivors’ photo and a much-needed bacon butty at 6am.
The next few days involved packing up all my belongings and getting ready to move out of my accommodation. While taking down all the photos that have gathered on the walls throughout the year and boxing up all my kitchen things to move over, I appreciated how welcoming the university has been; from setting us up with welcome boxes and introducing us to tutors in the first week, to providing us with exam support and coursework feedback. The socials organised by the Guild and societies have brought lots of fun throughout the year too.
Some highlights of the year for me have definitely been going to the DairyTec show with the university to look around and talk to people about the courses, looking after the Agrics sheep flock and the summer ball.
I have enjoyed joining societies at the university such as the Agrics society which gets me invloved in talks, farm visits and socials with vets, agriculture students and more who all appreciate the outdoors and farming lifestyles. I am also a member of the Farmers Market Society which gives me discounts at the monthly farmers markets held on the campus and member bonuses. Being invloved in these societies has given me a wider range of friends and has definitely enriched my university experience over the year.
Over the summer I am helping the university on open days and I’m looking forward to showing my enthusiasm for the university. I am also working on my home farm helping to make hay for our cattle, then for harvest on the arable side.
I am looking forward to spending some time at home before heading back for an exciting second year.