International Women’s Day (8 March 2021) is a global day celebrating achievements of women. It’s a time to recognise the work of women in a range of fields and this International Women’s Day, we have brought together the profiles of women who work in areas of agriculture to showcase them, their work and find out more about their roles in agriculture.
Helen Reeve is Beef farmer and lecturer/assessor with agricultural apprentices at Easton College.
Helen was a winner of Norfolk Scholar 2018 and attended the Oxford Farming Conference discovering a range of national and international speakers from the agricultural sector after entering the competition.
What is a typical working day for you?
I like to pack a lot into my day! My day usually starts around the 6.30am mark with feeding, littering and checking my 60 head of pedigree Dexter cattle. Every day is a bit different so I might have had a calf born overnight or I am watching out for cows and heifers to be bred. Depending on the time of year – and the weather! – feeding and checking usually takes over 90 minutes. From then, its back home for a spot of breakfast before starting my full-time College job. In a typical day, during Covid times, I usually have teaching commitments with my apprentices over Zoom followed by a number of emails, telephone calls, text messages or video calls with apprentices, employers and work colleagues. Each day brings a lot of variety and sometimes, you don’t quite know what challenges and queries you will have to sort out – at the current moment in time, working in education has been quite an experience; having to adapt my teaching from a classroom to a screen is something that has caused quite a few headaches and stressful moments. After my College work is finished, I then head back to the cattle for their second feed session of the day and to check they are ok. Its always nice to get back to the cattle, get some fresh air and to destress from the day. Then its home again for some much needed food refreshments, before settling down to write emails, check the social media pages for the Dexters (Waveney Dexter Beef on Facebook and Instagram) and to answer any beef orders I might have had. One evening a week, I run an online ‘drop-in’ session for my apprentices so they can have some help with their work or just to say hello. It seems as though most nights, there will be a webinar or something similar so there is always something to learn in the evenings related to farming! I generally head to bed, thinking about cows and the jobs I have to do the next day and before I know it, the alarm is already buzzing!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I like the variety that my job brings. I am able to combine looking after my herd of cattle and running my business alongside my College role. That’s not to say that its not a challenge and not hard work, because it is, but if everything was easy, everyone would be doing it. Until Covid struck, my role at the College involved me visiting apprentices on farms to check their progress and see them in action, but at the moment that isn’t possible. That part of the job, was one of the best bits and even though I might have only seen a couple of farms each week, it was great to get out in the countryside and see a whole range of farming enterprises – fingers crossed, those days will return in the next 12 months. I love everything about cattle – as strange as that may sound, but I simply couldn’t imagine a day without them. Dexters, although the smallest breed of bovine in the UK, have such a lot of character and quirks that they make life interesting! One of the points I really thrive on is seeing the Dexters grow through their life cycle. Producing grass-fed beef is really satisfying and being able to sell it to my lovely customers throughout Norfolk is what makes it all worthwhile. Its hard work but I love it.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career and why?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single person who has influenced my career. When I announced that I wanted to get into farming at the age of 11, my parents thought it was a fad I was going through. They tried to steer me in a different direction, but it really didn’t work and now, they are my biggest supporters and help me whenever they can. There is a farming connection on both sides of my family (and my Dad worked on farms for all of his working life) but I think they couldn’t see how a 5ft nothing female could fit into the male-dominated world of farming. I’ve always been a bit stubborn and I knew that I needed to prove myself if I was to be taken seriously in the agricultural community. During my time as a student at Easton College, I was taught by a brilliant group of lecturers, who saw more in me than I ever did. They pushed me – in a good way – to work as hard as I could, and they believed in me. I will always be grateful to my previous employer, Ralph Moore, who gave me the opportunity to work with his herd of Jerseys when no one else would give me a chance at the age of 16. Similarly, in my middle year of my College course I worked for Roger Aves at Bressingham with their Holstein herd who I learnt such a lot about stockmanship from – I will never forget the skills as well as the chances I was given in the early days of my getting into farming life.
What does International Women’s day mean to you?
It’s a great way to celebrate the various roles that women play in the world in which we live in. Women have to juggle a lot of tasks and this helps to just take stock and provide a snapshot for all of to think, wow, we really do have to pack in a lot! Life seems to be a bit of a balancing act with all manner of tasks to do in a day. I think IWD really highlights the vital and important role that women play in society today.
What are the challenges facing women in agriculture today?
The challenges facing women are probably still being recognised for the roles that we undertake but I think as a whole industry, the challenges we face are the same if you are male or female. We are working in unusual times – Coronavirus, on-going Brexit issues, trade, changes to the growing seasons and the weather. Sticking together and being supportive is a way in which we can all face challenges. I often find that when I enquire about agricultural products, the sales reps often assume they are talking to a man – a couple of years ago at a livestock event I was interested in a new mineral product on the market for cattle. I was with my Dad at the time and the chap on the stand automatically started talking to him rather than me. I think he quickly learnt that he was talking to the wrong person if he wanted to make a successful sale!
What advice do you have for women starting out in agricultural careers?
Work hard, get stuck in and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. No one is going to give you something for nothing – it really shouldn’t matter whether you are male or female, if you are good at what you do, you should be treated equally. But more importantly, don’t give up and be yourself!