A hobby background in farming can be an inspiration to pursue agriculture on a larger scale. As a woman from a non-farming background, Rachel Haynes is keen to inspire others to join the agricultural sector, understand why sustainability matters, and showcase exciting careers within the poultry industry.
The 21-year-old from Blackpool developed her passion for agriculture and poultry through her father’s small holding. Deciding to learn more about the commercial side of the industry and animal science, Rachel was introduced to Harper Adams and the BSc (Hons) Agriculture with Animal Science degree.
Talking about Harper Adams, Rachel said: “Joining university with little to no experience of the agricultural industry, the course structure has provided me with an invaluable knowledge basis and every day I learn something new.
“The integrated placement year is something that really stood out for me upon searching for universities. Having the opportunity to gain practical experience in an industry setting is something which puts harper graduates above others when seeking employment.”
With only hobby farming experience, Rachel needed to gain some large scale farming to gain an overall view of the sector and Harper was able to help her achieve this. She said: “The Access to Agriculture programme provided the perfect solution – an entry programme designed specifically for students from non-agricultural backgrounds, such as myself.
“I believe that without such programmes like this, myself and other like-minded students would be unable to progress with a career in agriculture. Coming from Blackpool, there aren’t many local farms I was able to get experience from so I took advantage of the on campus farm, open for students to help out with lambing to milking.
“Throughout my first year, I gained five City & Guild qualifications from forklift operations to animal transport and PA1&2, free of charge. This is something I am grateful for, as it provided me with industry accredited skills to add to my CV whilst also providing the opportunity to learn skills I wouldn’t have otherwise gained.
“I champion the benefits of the scheme, and I am extremely thankful I was offered a place at Harper through Access to Agriculture.”
Coming from a non-farming background, Rachel had initial concerns that she might not fit the stereotypical 'agricultural student' image. She said: “I soon realised that I didn’t have to change myself to fit in and it really didn’t matter, nor did people care. If anything, my perspective was an advantage that pushed me to work harder to learn more.”
Throughout her time at Harper, Rachel has worked enthusiastically to gain the highest of grades. She was awarded the Aviagen British Poultry Council scholarship and gained a placement year job role with Aviagen.
Rachel spoke about her placement year experience, saying: “My role varied and every day was different!
“I spent time in all areas of production from pedigree to GGP and GP, working both on farm and with the production managers. I also had the opportunity to learn from the blood, selection and laboratory teams. I then progressed to the hatchery facilities where I worked on the production line. I undertook my placement project on the influence egg weight on SPIDES machines.
“I have a passion for poultry and would love to have a career within the industry. For me, the most valuable thing I took from my placement was key, hands-on on farm experience which provided me with a broad understanding of the workings of broiler breeding and the structure of the poultry sector.
“My placement allowed me to take my first steps within the industry and has provided a stepping stone into a future career in poultry. I’m grateful to Aviagen for the opportunities I had whilst on placement.”
Returning to Harper to complete her final year of studies, Rachel took a different approach to her Honours Research Project (HRP). Rather than focussing on the poultry industry, Rachel decided to study sheep, writing her dissertation entitled ‘A critical literature review: The development of sheep cervical cell culture protocol’.
Rachel explained: “There are major challenges within the sheep industry surrounding artificial insemination, specifically poor fertility rates when frozen-thawed (Ft) semen is used instead of fresh. Yet the difference between cryopreserved and fresh semen’s interaction with the cervical cells are unknown.
“Cell culture is a valuable tool to investigate signalling pathways and the function of cells in an in vitro environment. However, there is no current standardised protocol for the development of ovine cervical cell cultures. Establishing a successful protocol will be extremely useful for the industry to understand these interactions and thus potentially finding new methods of AI which are sustainable for the industry.
“I chose this title as I believe it is an area of research which could revolutionise the sheep industry. Additionally, I particularly enjoy practical lab work and, although practical HRP’s were not viable due to Covid-19, I have been able to gain knowledge on a practice which plays an extremely important role in biological research.”
Following the completion of her degree, Rachel has a clear path that she envisions for herself. She shared: “In the short term I hope to gain a first class degree, something I am on track to achieve.
“Career wise, I have a particular interest in the use of science and technology to increase production in a sustainable way. This is with a particular focus on the poultry industry and I am currently in the process of applying for graduate jobs.”
Rachel is also keen to help those from non-farming backgrounds to enter the industry. “I believe it is important to blur the lines between farmers and the general public,” Rachel said. “And prove that women from non-agricultural backgrounds have a place within the industry.
“Moving to a more sustainable way of farming, it is imperative that people are educated about the British farming sector and understand why it is important to back British farmers. What better way to do this than attract more like-minded people into the sector? It is both beneficial to the industry and the community.
“I now know more about the industry than I ever did, and I feel it is important to share this knowledge with my family and friends.”