06 Mar 2017
To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week our Grazing Project apprentice Ysabella Powis shares her experiences. The Essex Grazing Project provides heritage grazing to many of the county's finest wildlife sites. The project team is made up of two experienced livestock managers and a professional ecologist who work alongside a network of volunteers. Our apprenticeship programme with Writtle College helps to train a new generation of livestock managers.
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Bella, I am 20 years old, and I have a level 3 subsidiary diploma in animal management that I attained before the apprenticeship and a level 2 and 3 (nearly completed the 3) in agriculture livestock which I have achieved with the project. I spend the majority of my spare time with my horse who I have had since 2012 when I left secondary school but I have been riding and training horses since I was six.
Why did you choose an apprenticeship? What appealed about the Grazing Project?
I chose an apprenticeship for a few reasons; I wanted to continue my education, I couldn’t afford to send myself to university, I needed to start work and start earning money to help my family pay the rent and I wanted to learn something new. The Grazing Project really stuck out for me on the apprenticeship.gov website as I was originally looking for a horse type apprenticeship. I was worried at the time that if my hobby became my job I would start to get bored of it and wouldn’t continue to learn. So when I saw the Grazing Project I thought, why not? Cattle are big with four legs -how different can it be? Turns out very different but in a good way.
How did you get on the apprenticeship?
I decided to just apply; I mean what could go wrong? A couple of days later I received a phone call with an interview so I was very pleased! I wasn’t certain what to wear as it was an outdoor job and the only ‘interview techniques’ I learnt at school all involved business suits and offices so I had to make an educated guess, I wore jeans, wellies and an outdoor coat with a small amount of makeup. I was asked lots of different questions about me and why I would be good for the job. We then went for a long walk in the park where I was asked about general animal welfare such as fencing and water. They interviewed three people for the job and luckily I got it. I personally think it helped that I had a driver’s licence and had experience managing large animals.
What’s a typical day like on the Grazing Project?
Depends what time of year you ask me. In the winter I spend my time fencing and waiting for calves, in the spring I am kidding (lots of baby goats) and turning all the cattle out. In the summer I am doing cattle checks, vaccinations, boundary checks and the autumn I spend juggling the animals around their various grazing areas trying to get the last of the grass or bringing them in.
What do you enjoy the most?
My favourite thing to do at work is my morning checks in the summer, after nearly three years with the Project the animals know me now and I am greeted with a chorus of moos each morning, I spend 45 minutes to an hour walking round the individuals checking them from nose to tail for anything that affects their welfare or health. Most of the time there isn’t anything wrong and those are my favourite days, but when there is something wrong it is my job to make a decision to call the relevant people or try and help if it is within my capabilities.
What are you hoping to do long-term?
The apprenticeship has been a stepping stone to my career because it has really given me confidence. In the long term I’d like to continue to work with conservation projects all over the globe, and travel to places like New Zealand to continue my work with livestock. There is a camel farm in Tenerife I’d like to work at too.
What advice would you give to other young people thinking about doing an agricultural apprenticeship?
Just because you’ve never been near a real cow/sheep/pig before doesn’t mean you won’t be good at it. Remember to listen to older people - they are full of treasured information. I knew absolutely nothing about livestock beforehand and now I have a fantastic new set of skills that I can continue to use for the rest of my life. Not only have I learnt new physical skills - my confidence and people skills have doubled.