Beccie Williams is a wife, a mum to three young children and now a full-time poultry farmer too. Beccie and her husband Matthew took over his parents’ tenanted beef and sheep farm in Llanbister, near Llandrindod Wells in 2010. They later bought the farm and are now business partners at the 280 acre holding where they keep 700 Welsh mules, a herd of 30 cattle and a free-range poultry enterprise set up in 2019 which Beccie manages.
“It’s been a steep learning curve to manage and provide top quality care for a flock of 16,000 laying hens, but Farming Connect helped me every step of the way.”
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.
“I’ve undertaken numerous training courses, including poultry health and welfare management, which have given me skills, knowledge and the confidence to run a new venture like this, and I’m putting into practice everything I learned each day.”
Beccie’s working background was in the world of agricultural insurance. Having grown up in Wiltshire, after attending college in York where she studied music and business, she then worked her way up through the ranks of one of the UK’s leading insurance companies in Norwich before returning to Knighton, where her family had moved when she was a young teenager.
“I soon found a local insurance role I loved, but with two young children and a third on the way, it was getting increasingly hard for me to work full time and juggle family needs.
“I wanted a role that would challenge and interest me and provide an income, but also be home-based and sufficiently flexible to work around the needs of my family.”
After much research, the couple decided to set up a new poultry enterprise at the farm. They submitted a successful planning application, set about sourcing funding and the new build got underway. In 2019, Beccie took delivery of 16,000 Lohmann Brown ‘Classic’ laying hens, a crossbreed variety highly regarded as an efficient layer well-suited to the production systems of the UK market.
Beccie was determined that alongside hands-on practical experience, she would learn all she could about the theory of poultry-keeping. She undertook training through Jimmy Hughes Services Ltd, an approved Farming Connect training provider based in Llandrindod Wells. With every course subsidised by 80%, she says it would have been impossible to undertake so many courses without this financial incentive.
‘Preparing for the IPPC (Poultry) Regulations’ ensured she addressed all the critical environmental issues and was compliant with areas such as dealing with waste from the hens, run-off, saving water, noise pollution and biosecurity.
Undertaking a course on ‘Rodent control on the farm’ has already paid for itself.
“Once I knew the necessary procedures and received my certificate for completing the course, I was able to carry out this work myself rather than paying contractors.”
‘Safe use of vet and meds’ taught her how to handle all farm medicines; when and how to administer them and an understanding of their active ingredients in the event of someone accidentally ingesting them.
“The course on ‘Working Safely in Agriculture/Horticulture’ reassured me that I’m doing all I can to keep everyone safe on the farm, with the course covering areas including working at height, handling livestock, handling machinery and farm vehicles and much more.”
She says that undertaking the ‘Emergency First Aid at work’ course has also given her the confidence to deal with minor incidents and she has a well-stocked first aid box.
“I’m so much more aware of how important it is to know what to do in an emergency, how to administer first aid and when to call the emergency services.
“This training also made me look into installing a defibrillator, which we can site on the side of the poultry shed, which we hope could be a life-saver for anyone in need in this locality.”
Beccie also keeps her knowledge up to speed through Farming Connect’s fully-funded e-learning courses, undertaking modules on poultry respiratory diseases; parasites; vaccinations and managing poultry manure.
“E-learning is a convenient way of learning, you can choose a time that suits you, refresh what you’ve learned as often as you like and the short quiz at the end of each module is very reassuring.
“Having a personal development plan and utilising Storfa Sgiliau, Farming Connect’s online data storage tool which has recorded all my achievements and learning, has enabled me to identify my strengths and weaknesses and given me pointers as to what training to apply for next.”
The next Farming Connect skills application window will be open from 09:00 Monday, 3 January until 17:00 Friday, 28 January.