She was a given a calf as a christening gift – now this teenage farmer’s lifelong passion has made her a champion
- Credit: Chris Hill
A lifelong passion for livestock – which began with receiving a calf as a christening gift – has led a 17-year-old Norfolk cattle farmer to a coveted Young Stockperson of the Year title.
Annabelle Howell, whose pedigree White Tower Charolais herd is based at her family's farm in Bintree, near Fakenham, won the accolade after competing against farmers from across the country at the East of England Winter Stock Festival in Peterborough.
The Reepham College student said she was 'really surprised' to be named champion after a rigorous examination of her ringcraft and livestock knowledge.
'People come from all over the country to compete at this festival,' she said. 'There were people I was competing against that I look up to, who are really highly regarded in the industry. So it was a surprise to come out on top.
'I am really interested in cattle genetics and how we breed the ideal animal for today's market. Winning the young stockperson title definitely puts you on the map. People start to recognise you and it shows that you know what you are talking about.'
Annabelle said the animals in her own 14-strong pedigree Charolais herd are renowned for their fast growth and confirmation. She recently flew to Scotland to buy a £5,000 bull named Goldie's Mighty which she had hand-picked from a sale in Stirling, and paid for through sales of her commercial cattle.
She aims to study agriculture with animal science at university, but has already equipped herself with many industry qualifications on cattle diseases, calving, safe handling and respiratory problems – achieved during her spare time through online courses.
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In the long term she says she would like to be self-employed, potentially advising farmers on which bulls to use in their breeding programmes, alongside developing her own herd.
Despite the uncertainties and challenges facing her chosen industry, she said she is confident about her future career.
'There is always going to be a demand for good bulls at the end of the day,' she said. 'If you have got a good bull you will always sell it. Even after Brexit there are still going to be people who are going to want to buy British beef. If you can breed good animals you will be OK.'
Annabelle's father Steven Howell, who runs the family farm including about 700 head of finishing cattle of all breeds, said he was not at all surprised with his daughter's title success.
'She has always done her own thing with the cattle,' he said. 'When she was christened she was given a cross-bred calf called Paulita and she has progressed to pedigree since then.
'She has proved her determination and she is so focused on what she wants to do. She is a real geek when it comes to Charolais. She knows more about the subject than I do.
'Annabelle has proved with her research that everything is accessible if you look for it. With all these online qualifications and going through generations of Charolais, she has embraced the use of the internet to get that knowledge.'
Her mother Helen said she could tell Annabelle would be a stockperson from a very early age. 'I used to put her in the bedroom window and she would watch Steven and the vets with the animals. She was fascinated and would spend hours watching the cattle and taking it all in.'
Annabelle – whose brother Tristan, 14, and sister Jemima, 10, are also young handlers – said she was grateful for the support of her family and many figures from Norfolk's livestock community including Paul Barwood and Anita Padfield, Roger Long, Duncan Jeary and Ruby Wright, and Izzi Rainey.