22 February 2023
Nadine Evans has got no farming background whatsoever – but where there’s a will there’s often a way and ‘farming is all I ever wanted to do!’ Now in her early 50s, Liverpool-born Nadine is finally living the rural dream. Her farming career is off to a great start thanks to a progressive farming family in Monmouthshire who have given Nadine hands-on experience at their 190-acre mixed organic farm and a wide range of training she has undertaken through Farming Connect.
“To boost all the practical skills which I practice every day under the experienced eyes of this very professional and patient farming family, headed by Mr Robert Whittall of Square Farm at Mitchell Troy, I turned to Farming Connect, because I wanted to be up to speed on the theory side and to prove my own levels of knowledge.”
Nadine reports directly to Mr Whittall, who is the second generation to farm at Square Farm, and his son Ryan. The mixed farm is run by the family on traditional lines and Nadine helps with daily checking and husbandry of all the cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, geese and three ponies, making sure that they have sufficient food and water and keeping a watchful eye for potential issues.
“I feel confident I know when everything’s fine – which it usually is with an outdoor spring lambing flock bred for quality and performance – but I also know the signals if a sheep or any other of the farm animals should happen to be in difficulty or showing any early signs of health problems,” says Nadine.
Cereal and root crops are grown for animal feed and an increasing number of vegetable crops are produced to stock the popular Square Farm shop.
Nadine has attended Farming Connect’s animal health and welfare workshops on topics including lambing losses, sheep parasite control and Bovine Viral Diarrhoea and she has also studied more than 20 fully funded e-learning courses on animal health issues.
“With each online course taking around 20 minutes and offering a short self-assessment test at the end, I’ve built up a huge amount of knowledge, studying topics ranging from specific diseases and health conditions such as lambing issues, lameness, eye and respiratory problems to body condition scoring, biosecurity and antimicrobial resistance.”
Nadine graduated with an environmental degree when she left school because a careers adviser warned her that no agricultural college would give her a place without direct farming experience. Then after marriage and more than 17 house moves - her husband was in the forces - and a succession of jobs working with horses, in her 40s she decided to read for the bar.
Unfortunately, following changes to the UK’s legal aid system, Nadine decided not to pursue a legal career.
In 2012, with her husband by then retired from military life, the couple moved to rural Monmouthshire, where she applied for a job as a volunteer ‘animal checker’ with the local wildlife trust.
“I loved the outdoor work and then became a grassland trainee, which is when I became aware of just how much guidance and training was available through Farming Connect.
When her traineeship ended, Nadine decided it was the perfect time to seek hands-on work experience with a local farm.
She met up with the Whittall family in 2020 and has been almost a ‘permanent fixture’ ever since!
“Calling me a farm worker would be overstating my role, because I’m still learning every day, but thanks to working alongside this immensely experienced family together with everything I’ve learned and will continue to learn through Farming Connect, I’m gradually building up my confidence and have a lot more farming knowledge and skills.”
Nadine also obtained her tractor driving certificate through Farming Connect’s accredited training course funding and was recently honoured when the family asked her to drive the 200 horsepower tractor plus 2.5 tonne cultivator and a robotic weeder for newly-planted organic vegetable seedlings
“Mr. Whittall had already taught me how to drive, handle and maintain all sorts of tractors and farm machinery, but attending two days of both classroom-based and practical training out in the field, has been a huge boost to my confidence and I’ve now got a recognised tractor-driving qualification,” says Nadine.
All her Farming Connect achievements and accredited learning certificates have been uploaded on Nadine’s online Storfa Sgiliau record and she is already planning her next training courses.
“It’s great to know that I’ve finally got a credible farming cv!”
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.