I wanted to do something different and practical. I had finished work - being at Stirley is my social contributionVolunteer at Stirley Farm
Carol Massey used to plan hospitals for a living. Now she volunteers at Stirley Community Farm helping to look after a small herd of beef shorthorn cattle. Like all animals they are unpredictable and as Carol quickly learned, caring for them involves more than a little planning. She and several other volunteers work as a team to regularly move the cows around so they can graze in different pastures or be weighed in the barn. Some are eventually sold for meat - the farm is productive as well as wildlife-friendly.
“Coming here was a deliberate choice,” says Carol, a keen painter. “I wanted to do something different and practical. I had finished work - being at Stirley is my social contribution.”
Carol, in her early 50s, had done gardening but had no experience of life on a farm before beginning her voluntary work a few miles from her village home. She’s found the transition on Stirley’s 240 acres a smooth and enjoyable one. “Most of the time the cows are used to being with people,” she says. “They are very amenable, not aggressive. It’s lovely to be with them. I’m very clear about my tasks, the dangers and risks, and the staff are very supportive, always around and happy to be asked questions. They tell us what to do and also where to stand as the cows are big animals. If they come towards you you are better off stepping out of the way!”
Carol describes the world of farming as being initially “alien” to her but she seems to be in her element now. “We see the full cycle -- the animals are in barns in the winter as the grass stops growing and we look after them inside, including the pregnant ones. We take out anything poisonous that shouldn’t go into feed such as some weeds the cows can’t eat. There are fields, walls and fences to be fixed in spring which is also a very exciting time as some of us see calves being born. We are lucky enough to have that unique thrill. There are few opportunities to witness that unless you are a farmer.”
Even when the miracle of birth is not happening there’s variety at Stirley, says Carol. She clearly enjoys the work, seeing the cows (and a bull) and being outside. But, she adds, one of the best things about being at the farm is the two-legged animals she meets there. “I would never have met all these people from all walks of life, including young people and visitors,” she says with a smile, before pointing out that another wonderful aspect of her farm days is learning completely new things. “You don’t always realise how much you are learning and how much knowledge you are taking on board. It does not feel like learning.”
And with that she’s away, chatting and laughing with her fellow volunteers as they slowly walk some bellowing cows down a lane in the beautiful summer sunshine.
Written by Helen Leavey, writer and journalist.