Alice King shares her journey into farming while doing a five-year apprenticeship degree with DM

At Dalcour Maclaren, we are lucky to work alongside brilliant women and men every day, from inspirational leaders to exceptional young talent. What is truly inspiring is the diversity among us, each person bringing unique strengths and contributions gained from their personal lives and professional experience.

Here, Alice King shares her journey into farming while doing a five-year apprenticeship degree with DM, and shows that by embracing a ‘can do’ attitude and having an appetite to learn, you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

Why did you choose to join Dalcour Maclaren?

I joined DM straight after completing my A-levels when I was 18. I wanted to study REALM at Harper Adams and was going to attend Harper full-time, but I saw the degree-apprenticeship route and thought it was an excellent way to learn on the job whilst still gaining a degree. I’ve always learnt more from doing, so I thought the 5-year apprenticeship route would suit me better.

I’ve always been interested in rural surveying, and when I saw the opportunity to work on large infrastructure projects that would impact the country, I was keen to learn more. DM isn’t your traditional surveying firm, and they made me feel very welcome.

Tell us a bit about your farm

In March 2023, we took on a Hampshire County Council farm near Winchester. We’ve always had our own small flock of sheep but wanted to grow this venture and saw the county farms as a perfect opportunity to do this. The application process was pretty rigorous, involving multiple open days, drafting and submitting a comprehensive business plan, and facing interviews with the council. With council farm opportunities being extremely rare, we couldn’t afford to miss this opportunity!

Balancing farm responsibilities with my ongoing studies seemed just about manageable at the time, especially with my boyfriend’s support.

We’ve set our farming system up in a straightforward manner, structuring it into paddocks for easy sheep rotation. Our ewes are North Country Mules, known for being good mothers and hardy animals, which suits our low input system perfectly. We’ve just finished lambing 80 early lambers inside, and we’ll be lambing another 150 ewes outdoors from the beginning of April. This winter, we also have 140 calves in.

What does a typical day entail for you?

Weekdays start early, feeding the calves silage and cattle cake before checking on the different groups of sheep which are off-farm. Usually, all the farm work is done by 7:30 am if there are no farmer surprises! I then head straight off to DM’s Salisbury office, where I work in the transport and infrastructure sector. My tasks at DM vary greatly, from negotiating agreements to facilitating land access for major projects. Evenings are then a mix of farm duties and university work.

Weekends are even busier, often spent managing livestock and ensuring our grazing systems are optimal. We are just coming to the end of having 400 store lambs out on keep, so recently, our weekends have been spent weighing and grading sheep for market and putting up temporary fencing.

You learn a lot running a farm! First and foremost, the importance of being organised and forward planning. It can be hectic at times, so having everything organised and in one place helps ease the pressure and ensures everything goes smoothly during the week. I’ve definitely become a lot more business aware and now understand the importance of forecasting costs, income and cash flow.

How do you balance your commitments?

Growing up, I’ve always been busy, so juggling farm work, studies, and my role at DM feels natural. Prioritisation and setting daily goals are key, like ensuring farm tasks are completed in the morning and leaving the remainder of the day for office work. Utilising the study time that DM provides for apprentices to focus on university work is essential. While it can be challenging at times, I’ve learnt to thrive under pressure and trust in my ability to meet deadlines, as I know that if I just get on with it then everything will get done in the end. Support from my boyfriend and family is also invaluable in maintaining this balance!

Tell us about your experience as a finalist in BBC Countryfile’s Young Countryside Champions

Being shortlisted for a BBC Food & Farming Award in the Young Countryside Champion category was incredible. Our landlady nominated us for the award in 2023, and we weren’t expecting to get very far, so getting the call from the BBC was a complete shock!

Any advice for others who want to follow your path?

I would advise others that if an opportunity arises, then take it, as you never know when the next one will come. It will be hard work, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

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