Learning how to ride a quad bike safely is a key skill for a young hill farmer in North Wales, and he says others should get trained up.
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.
The young shepherd works full-time for one of Wales’ largest farming enterprises, whose organic produce is supplied to Michelin star restaurants and prestige buyers throughout Europe.
He 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,” he says.
Sheepdog and well-maintained ATV
Just as for any shepherd, Ilan says that alongside practical work experience and taking pride in his work, the most important tools of his trade are an obedient working sheepdog and a well-maintained ATV.
Fortunately for Ilan, his employer puts the safety of their employees at the heart of their enterprise.
Last year, the company sent Ilan on one of Farming Connect’s training courses, 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.
He says the course 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.
He says: “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.”
'Get trained up'
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,” Ilan adds.
“You might assume you’re riding safely and know what you’re doing but attending a 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.”
The next Farming Connect skills application window will open from Monday 03 June until Friday 28 June 2019.