Agricultural work experience for lucky Auchmuty high school pupils
As with many other secondary schools in Fife, Auchmuty High School has developed a robust network of local businesses, partners, and other agencies throughout its engagement with the Developing the Young Workforce programme in Fife. One of the school’s Support For Learning team, Jill Darroch, is a trustee of local charity, Lucky Ewe. Through this relationship, the school was able to set up a programme to support work experience opportunities for pupils within the Support For Learning department.
Lucky Ewe aims to give people with additional support needs of any kind the chance to experience farming, animal husbandry and food production at a pre-entry level. Their placements aim to build skills, confidence, and experience at Lucky Ewe to help young people progress towards employment.
Overall, the aim of the work experience is to provide young people at Auchmuty High School with employability skills as part of the unit requirements for the Princes Trust Achieve Awards – level 3, 4 and 5. Additionally, both working outdoors, and working with animals, have been proven to enhance mental well-being and to bring a sense of peace and purpose. Lucky Ewe placements hope to achieve that for its beneficiaries and volunteers.
Once a week, pupils were taken to Bonnyton Farm, near Leven, where they gained a range of skills and experience in the running and operation of a small dairy sheep farm. During their induction visit, pupils signed a work placement contract covering safety, PPE, and acceptable behaviours whilst on the farm.
A placement at Lucky Ewe typically runs for 8 to 12 weeks, and through regular attendance, the value offered to the young people is in creating a positive experience of small-scale farming and building their confidence. They benefit from learning to work as a team, following instructions, and recording their progress weekly. The young people are also asked to reflect on what they found enjoyable and why, as well as to consider activities that they found challenging. This takes place in a very supportive environment, with the added benefit of accreditation from Princes Trust as part of the outcome.
The unusual thing about Lucky Ewe is that a flock of tame dairy sheep take ‘centre stage’, and the work is very focused on the animals. Sheep are not scary, but they can be determined and hard to manage, so the young people have to learn to assert themselves in a kind, but firm, manner.
Some of the initial tasks undertaken included moving the lambs from the stock tunnel to one of the four fields, learning about feed rotation and how to control grass growth in the fields. They repaired the fencing in the large upper field (with the aim to use this area for grazing throughout the winter), cleared overgrown parts of the farm and even worked to develop areas where sheep can find shelter. Pupils also learned how to monitor the health of the lambs and the ewes. As well as visual checks, the weight of the lambs is monitored to ensure general health. In this process, the lambs are loaded onto a weighing scale to have their tag read and their weight recorded. Typically, when the lambs reach about 45kg, they are ready to be taken to the market for resale. Some lambs are selected to become future breeding stock and others will be bought for food supplies.
Throughout the experience, pupils were involved in other various activities around the farm – farm work is diverse, and no two days are ever the same. There are often new challenges and priorities, and these can change at any time – learning how to manage the reactive nature of farm work is a real bonus. Dealing with injured or sick animals or dealing with adverse weather are two great examples of this when trying to maintain the health and wellbeing of dairy sheep.
Some Auchmuty High School pupils enjoyed the experience so much that they later came back as volunteers to work at the farm during holidays, seeing it as a possible future career opportunity. Auchmuty High School pupil, Josh Anderson, enjoyed the programme so much that he volunteered to help at the farm during the summer and throughout the autumn holidays, building friendships with other volunteers and team members who also work at the farm.
“Working with Lucky Ewe has helped me learn new things and I have really enjoyed going to the farm. I love working with Joan (Brown). I have enjoyed every day and love working with everyone.” – Josh Anderson, Auchmuty High School Pupil