Friday, December 8, 2023

Sheepish by name, not by nature

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As a teenager Sophie Barnes decided she wanted to be a very good sheep farmer. Then she heard the best sheep farmers weren’t in her native Britain but on the other side of the world. Undaunted, she sold up, packed up and came to New Zealand. Andrew Stewart charts her journey.
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On Farm Story | Sophie Barnes, Taumarunui from GlobalHQ on Vimeo.

Seventeen is a very young age to know exactly what you want to do with your life. But it was when Sophie Barnes discovered her love for sheep farming and realised it was going to be her lifelong passion. 

The young girl from Nottingham was working on a British farm when she saw a ewe giving birth in an indoor barn at 3am. 

Experiencing the birth and offering some help was an epiphany for Sophie and from that moment on there was only one thing she wanted to do – be the best sheep farmer possible.

Growing up in the United Kingdom didn’t offer too many farming experiences for Sophie. She moved in with her father and step mum on his one-acre plot of land at age 16 and discovered the great outdoors were a lot more appealing than living in a city. 

Having been disappointed with an animal management course Sophie took the initiative and approached a local farmer to see if he needed any help. It was there she had her light bulb moment.

It was also when Sophie entered a competition called The Farmers Apprentice, organised and run by the UK Farmers Weekly. 

It was an intense experience spending seven days surrounded by people with the same mind-set, drive and passion. 

The entrants were tasked with challenges that pushed them way outside their comfort zones. They were judged by three experienced rural professionals who were more like mentors.

Though Sophie didn’t win, it was the best experience of her life.

Having created her interest in sheep farming the next step was to attend a conference on sheep genomics. 

It was there she heard many speakers refer to a wonderful, far-off land where sheep farming is the best in the world. 

That country was, of course, New Zealand. 

So Sophie decided that to become the best sheep farmer possible she would have to move to the other side of the planet.

She had worked hard to build her own flock of sheep from just 11 when she started to 300, so making the decision did not come lightly. But she sold up all her worldly possessions, bought a one-way plane ticket and set off on an adventure down under. 

Kiwifruit make a valuable contribution to the farming income.

Several thousand posts and pictures later Sophie’s Twitter tag of @SheepishSophie has amassed a following of just under 8000 people and she uses Instagram as well to satisfy her interest in photography. 

As a young woman working in agriculture Sophie’s advice for others looking to do the same is simple but profound. 

“Join Twitter. It’s free and you can get great advice from many different people. 

“You can get your name out there when it comes to getting a good job. 

“It’s a great way to build a community around you to help you achieve what it is that you want to achieve.”

Finding and following what you are passionate about is also another piece of advice she lives by. 

“I was insanely lucky to find what my passion was at such a young age. 

“That has allowed me to achieve what I have in the last seven years, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise. 

“If you want to be in farming figure out why you want to be in farming. It’s okay to want to work outside but on the rainy days or the shitty days in the yards that doesn’t always get you through. 

“You need to know that you’re working towards something bigger and then the bad days don’t seem so bad.”

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