A Good Education
Doing your homework and getting some experience under your belt is essential, so find some training courses to master any skills you might need.
Locate the nearest agricultural college and see what courses it offers. Many colleges will run tailor-made smallholder courses, which will give you an overview of everything from land management to livestock handling, while others may only run one or two day sessions on particular subjects, or more formal training courses, which will give you recognised qualifications.
Courses in traditional rural skills, such as hedge-laying and drystone walling, are extremely useful. If your local agricultural college does not cater for such things, try conservation organisations such as the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers or the Wildlife Trusts. They often offer training opportunities to volunteers and organise work parties so you can hone your skills under supervision before you have to go it alone.
It may also be worth getting in touch with Lantra, an independent skills agency for the land-based and environmental sector in the UK. The organisation works with colleges and other training providers to provide courses for farming families and employees, often at discounted prices. You will, however, have to satisfy a list of criteria, as the courses are aimed more at those employed full-time in a particular industry.
There is an increasing number of enterprising smallholders, running their own training courses. These can be great value, but they can also be incredibly expensive for what you actually get.
For a lot of people, price and travelling distance will be the two main deciding factors when choosing such a course – but what about the quality of the training?
Ask yourself this
- How qualified is the course tutor? How much relevant experience does he or she have? If the course is run by a relative beginner, how sound is their knowledge?
- What will you be taught on the course? Find out exactly what will be covered and see if it suits your needs.
- How ‘hands-on’ is the course? If, for instance, imagine that the course involves animal husbandry. Will you have the chance to get involved and to attempt various tasks such as handling, tagging and injecting, or will the tutor merely be demonstrating?
- How many people will be in your group? Too many and you may not have the chance to try out a technique.
- Will there be course materials to take away? There may be handouts summarising the day’s activities or giving more information.
Reproduced from the Smallholding Manual, by Liz Shankland, recently published by Haynes. To order a copy, visit www.haynes.co.uk
Liz keeps pigs, sheep, and poultry in Wales and runs smallholding courses at TV presenter Kate Humble’s farm in Monmouthshire.
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