Young farmer Ilan Hughes spends most of his waking hours looking after 600 Swaledale hill ewes which are farmed on the uplands of the renowned 6,000-acre Rhug Estate in Denbighshire.
Ilan works as a full-time shepherd for one of Wales’ largest and most prestigious farming enterprises, whose world-famous organic Welsh produce is supplied to Michelin star restaurants and prestige buyers throughout Europe.
Ilan first worked at the Rhug home farm in Corwen when he was just 16, as part of a student placement arranged by Llysfasi College. The links continued while he studied for an HND at Aberystwyth University and before a working visit to New Zealand when he worked at one of the country’s massive beef and sheep stations.
“In the subsequent years, I spent every available holiday helping out at Rhug, learning all I could about just what it takes to produce PGI Welsh Lamb to the very highest standards.”
All that work experience clearly paid off and Ilan loves his job. Just as for any shepherd, Ilan says that alongside practical work experience and taking immense pride in his work, the most important tools of his trade are an obedient working sheepdog and a well-maintained all-terrain vehicle (ATV)!
Fortunately for Ilan, this world class business puts the safety of all their employees at the heart of their enterprise. Last year, the company sent Ilan on one of Farming Connect’s two-day training courses at Coleg Cambria Llysfasi, where, alongside another young shepherd, he was taught how to reduce the risks of accidents when riding a sit-astride ATV with associated loads and trailed equipment. It was a very hands-on, practical course which he says makes him pause and think before every single trip he makes on any farm vehicle at Rhug, where the lush pastures range from between 500 to 1,500ft high.
“A big part of the training involved ensuring the vehicle is well-maintained and fit for purpose at all times, so I now routinely check things like tyre pressure, brakes, oil levels and throttle at least weekly and always ahead of travelling at higher levels or for longer distances.
“We spent time learning how to reduce the risks of overturning, particularly on sloping or uneven ground and about the importance of ensuring any loads such as fencing posts or feed sacks are balanced evenly.”
Ilan says that training handouts are a useful ‘refresher’ tool, although wearing an approved ATV helmet, always practising ‘Safe Stop’ procedures and knowing that it’s against the law to carry passengers on ATVs are now second nature to him so he no longer needs to refer to them!
“I would urge anyone who uses ATVs or other farm vehicles to get trained up.
“You might assume you’re riding safely and know what you’re doing but attending a Farming Connect course really made me appreciate just how easily accidents can happen and how essential it is to plan ahead for every eventuality, to take time and always prepare.
Ilan, a member of Uwchaled YFC and a keen footballer who plays for Ruthin FC is now approaching the busiest time of year. He is already helping out with lambing of the lowland ewes before preparing for his own upland flock who are due to lamb mid-April.
If you are interested in applying for Farming Connect training, which is funded by up to 80% for eligible farmers and foresters during the next June application window, visit www.gov.wales/farmingconnect
Before you can submit an online training application form, you must be registered with Farming Connect, provide a unique email address and register with the Business Wales BOSS website where you can access your online personal development plan (PDP), a wide range of fully-funded e-learning courses, the funding application form and view a record of your continual professional development activity. Alternatively, if you want advice about which training would best suit your needs, or guidance with how to complete a PDP, contact your local Farming Connect development officer.
A list of all Farming Connect accredited training courses, together with a list of approved training providers and guidance on completing a PDP are available on the Farming Connect website.