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Farm Hand jobs
What's it really like?
Kyle is 22 years old and is currently studying for a degree in Politics and Parliamentary Studies.
He started working as a farm hand during the weekends at the age of 15 and continued working at the farm during university vacations until he left his position earlier this year. The farm he worked at is unusual in the respect that it was a Farm Park and a popular tourist attraction. The premises included numerous facilities for young children but also operated as a fully working farm.
During a typical day at work, Kyle performed many different tasks. After arriving at the farm in the morning, he was responsible for feeding all the animals. Different animals need different types and amounts of food and Kyle monitored the nutritional provision. Orphaned animals and young animals sometimes need to be fed with a bottle and Kyle was responsible for doing this. This task was particularly common during the lambing seasons. After feeding the animals, Kyle checked the water supply in the pens of the animals and topped it up if necessary.
Whilst feeding the animals, Kyle checked the condition of their environments. He ensured there was enough straw and hay in the pens and cleared out waste material, including animal faeces. This waste material was then transported to a muck heap which was located on an external field away from the animals. Kyle used a quad bike to transport this waste material to the field and this vehicle was also used to transport food and water to animals living in remote areas of the farm.
Kyle was responsible for checking the physical condition of each and every animal. He performed this task visually whilst topping up food and water but also performed physical examinations to make sure there were no hidden ailments affecting the animals. If Kyle suspected a problem, he alerted his boss immediately. Occasionally, when an animal died, Kyle was responsible for moving the corpse to a remote area of the farm where visitors would be unable to view it.
Since the farm which employed Kyle was a Farm Park, his work was more varied than that of a typical farm hand. The farm is popular with school groups and Kyle conducted guided tours of the farm, teaching the children about the animals. He was also in charge of ‘animal handling sessions’, during which Kyle taught young children the correct way to handle small animals, including rabbits and guinea pigs. Kyle also supervised busy play areas, making sure that children were playing safely. This supervisory role was familiar to Kyle, who, after several years at the farm, was responsible for overseeing the work of younger staff members.
During a typical afternoon, Kyle would move animals of all sizes to different parts of the farm, ensuring that this was carried out safely and efficiently. Animals often needed to be moved to temporary pens and Kyle was responsible for putting up the temporary fencing for these pens. Towards the end of the day, the tasks performed were similar to those conducted at the start of the day.
Kyle very much enjoyed his job as a farm hand and there were several aspects which he particularly revelled in. He found it very rewarding working with children and teaching them interesting and unusual facts about animals. He also loved working with animals, since they are so unpredictable and provide different challenges throughout the day. During his time at the farm, Kyle enjoyed developing some close relationships with certain animals. His favourite animal was a zebu called Zebede, who followed Kyle around constantly.
He also preferred working outside to working in an office environment. Although some people do not enjoy working with members of the public, Kyle enjoyed dealing with their queries and problems. He also appreciated the fact that he was able to use his own initiative and did not have to stick to numerous formal rules and regulations. When asked about negative aspects of the job, Kyle could only name one feature: mucking out enclosures. This can be an unpleasant task at times and doing it several times per day can become tiresome.
For those who are looking to become farm hands, Kyle believes that individuals should be prepared for tough manual labour and working outside in all weather conditions. Also, employees should be able to distance themselves from what they see during their working day. Sometimes Kyle had to deal with unpleasant sights, including animals which were dying from unpleasant diseases or animals which had been born with debilitating conditions. Kyle found it difficult at first to put these events out of his mind but believes it is important to try to develop such a habit.
Individuals wishing to apply for a position as a farm hand should, in Kyle’s opinion, be compassionate and have a natural love for animals. Furthermore, they should be patient and prepared to remain flexible, since animals are extremely unpredictable.
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Farm hands make sure that the day to day running of a farm goes as smoothly as possible. They help the farmer manage the different areas of the farm and are responsible for performing numerous tasks throughout a typical working day. They work closely with animals of all kinds and operate heavy farming machinery. Farm hands also maintain this machinery, cleaning it regularly and fixing it if necessary. They are also responsible for maintaining the condition of the physical buildings of the farm and will be expected to erect fences, pens, and other enclosures for animals to be placed in temporarily.
The tasks performed by a farm hand will differ depending upon the season. Lambing season, for instance, provides its own unique challenges and farm hands will need to adapt to the particular demands of the day. Farming is an unpredictable industry and it has been hit badly during recent years by numerous events including the Foot and Mouth outbreak. Farm hands will be expected to help farmers minimise the impact of the unpredictable nature of farming upon their business.
Since the job requires individuals to perform heavy lifting and manual labour throughout a long working day, more men than women choose to apply. However, some women do choose to become farm hands and may be particularly suitable for particular parts of the job (eg dealing with animals) as a result of their inherent sensitivity and compassionate nature.
Farm hands are not particularly well paid. Those starting out in the role can expect to earn no more than £12,000 per year and this figure is not likely to rise very much over the following few years.
Many farmers, particularly those who own relatively small farms, offer farm hands additional benefits which supplement their modest salary. These benefits may include free or subsidised accommodation on the farm premises, free or subsidised food produced by the animals on the farm, and transport and petrol allowances.
The typical tasks performed by a farm hand include:
Individuals who wish to become farm hands do not need to hold any formal qualifications. Indeed, many farm hands apply for a permanent position straight after leaving school and many gain experience whilst still studying at school. Once individuals have started work at a farm, the farmer may choose to send them on specific courses, which provide more in-depth training which is relevant to different areas of farm work. For instance, the farmer may wish their employees to attend courses which instruct individuals about the best ways to operate heavy machinery.
Good farm hands will need to possess the following skills:
Farm hands spend a lot of time working outdoors, although a lot of time will also be spent indoors in barns and other farm buildings. Farm hands spend most of their time on their feet, so the job can be very tiring. The working conditions can be fairly unpleasant compared to the conditions found in an office or a retail environment. Buildings may be dusty and smelly and pens and enclosures will obviously show signs of animal presence.
The hours worked by farm hands can be long and unpredictable, since animals do not stick to a 9 to 5 timetable! Farm hands may need to start their working day very early, since farmers often start work before 6 in the morning. During busy times of year, such as the lambing season, employees will be expected to work during the evenings and through the weekend. At other times of year, the working hours will be more reasonable, particularly during the winter months when it gets dark early.
No formal experience is needed for individuals wishing to become farm hands. However, any previous experience in a farming environment, or any external environment where manual labour has been performed, will boost a CV. Being able to show confidence and familiarity around animals will also look impressive to potential employers.
Farm hands are always employed by farmers, who may own farms of different sizes and natures. Some farm hands will work on general farms, whilst others will work for farmers who own dairy farms or poultry farms. Larger Farm Parks, which offer recreational facilities primarily aimed at young children and focus more on the commercial side of farming, also employ farm hands.
Many farm hands progress to hold farm management positions or they may choose to become self-employed farmers. Some farm hands work towards becoming farm consultants. Farm consultants assist farmers in developing their knowledge of particular crops and animals and provide specialised advice which is tailored to the precise needs of an individual farming environment. They can also provide financial advice and advise the farmer on how to develop the business side of the farm.
Farm hands may also choose to move into specialist areas of agriculture. For instance, they may choose to start selling and promoting specialised agricultural products or they may move into one particular area of farming, such as dairy or poultry farming.