A Welsh hill farmer’s daughter from the Brecon Beacons, Sarah Brooks has always had a great affinity for the countryside and a passion for rural affairs, and this has translated into a successful career that sees her at the forefront of animal healthcare and helping farmers achieve better performance from their livestock.
As Animal Health Training & Campaign Manager with Wynnstay Agriculture, Sarah has been a qualified Registered Animal Medicines Advisor (RAMA) for over 20 years, this being the new title adopted by the industry to better reflect the skills and qualifications held by these professionals, also known as SQPs.
RAMAs are legally qualified to prescribe and supply certain animal medicines, including many wormers and vaccines, having undertaken rigorous training and assessment, and maintaining continuing professional development (CPD) to stay up to date in a constantly evolving industry.
Earlier this year, Sarah was elected on to the council of the Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority (AMTRA), as one of two RAMAs representing the farm animal sector. This followed a postal and online ballot of some 7,000 RAMAs across the UK.
The new role not only offers Sarah the opportunity to support and represent her fellow professionals, but also helps her to raise awareness amongst the farming community of the valuable resource available to them through the AMTRA RAMA network.
We speak to Sarah, to find out how she got here, how RAMAs can make an important contribution to farm profitability, and how she plans to use her role on the AMTRA council to help reinforce that message to the livestock industry.
Q -Where did it all start for you?
“As a farmer’s daughter from a hill farm in the Brecon Beacons, I have been involved with and worked within the agricultural industry all my life. I have held positions with farmer co-operatives, wholesalers and retailers, first gaining my RAMA/SQP qualification back in 1995, even receiving a letter of commendation from the course lecturers.
Since then, I went on to run my own business, with registered premises to supply animal medicines, before securing my current role with Wynnstay. That initial passion and affinity for animal health and welfare remains the cornerstone of my work.”
Q – What does a ‘typical’ day for you at Wynnstay involve?
“I am responsible for organising the in-house AMTRA training and CPD training for all of Wynnstay’s AMTRA qualified RAMAs at our depots across Wales, as well as the Midlands and South West of England. At the last count that numbers some 233 people, with around 45 new RAMAs coming through the training and assessments each year.
Other duties include promotional activities and campaigns within the animal health sector, working closely with key manufacturers and suppliers as well as Wynnstay’s marketing department. But I do like to keep myself in farmer-facing situations, acting as their first point of contact for animal health issues.”
Q – What is the most important aspect of the role as a RAMA?
“As one of the leading suppliers of animal medicines in the UK, Wynnstay has an instrumental part to play in promoting health and well-being within the animal health sector and wider farming industry, and I see my role as Training & Campaign Manager as key.
As animal health professionals we all have a duty to ensure that we use our knowledge to offer sound and ethical advice, and promote the sustainable and responsible use of medicines.
My role allows me to instil these values into the RAMAs across the business, through our training initiatives. We are a key supplier to our farming customers, and it is our people these farmers come to, to seek advice.
It is essential that we give values and opinions that can be trusted, through sound knowledge and offering the right products, for the right job at the right time.
Getting animal medicines advice and treatments right not only helps animal health and welfare, but also brings profitability benefits to farmers.”
Q – What are the key skills needed to deliver this?
“There are a number of important skills and qualities that good RAMAs need to demonstrate to be effective in their role. Empathy, communication, trust and professionalism all play a part.
By taking the time to talk to customers about their concerns, we can use our knowledge to help them make informed decisions about what anthelmintics or other management strategies are best suited to their needs.
I know farmers are busy and need quick answers, but it is important that we ask all the relevant questions, to make sure we are giving the best advice. We can’t just supply what is asked for without this evaluation process, and it would be counter-productive to do so. The most expensive medicine is the one that doesn’t work!
Farmers may well appreciate the interest taken in the farm, but will always be grateful of receiving the right advice, particularly if it means seeing better performance from livestock, and ultimately more financial return.
It is about building trust and confidence. Our farm clients have the reassurance that products and treatments are being administered properly for the benefit of the animals, and often to the financial benefit of the customer.”
Q – What do you hope to achieve from your role on the AMTRA council?
“It was a huge honour to be elected on to the council following the vote amongst my peers, and I am keen to take the opportunity to support the work and the role of RAMAs and raise awareness within the public domain.
I think the move to change the name from SQP to RAMA is a great starting point, as this title gives a much better understanding to members of the general public about the role. It is envisaged that the official name change will be implemented within the legislation that sees the current UK Veterinary Medicines Regulations (VMR) replaced by new legislation in January 2022.
CPD should continue to be a pivotal part of RAMA development. For me, CPD training isn’t just about getting points – I always encourage our RAMAs to attend all training opportunities, to keep abreast of new products and changes within the industry, therefore enabling them to give the best possible advice to farmers.
In this respect, I will be keen to work with the AMTRA council and give input on training initiatives, while importantly, amplifying that message to our farmers. As animal health professionals, we offer a wonderful resource for our farmers, and we want them to make use of our qualified expertise to improve livestock performance, and ultimately, farm profits!”
Sarah Brooks is a multiple award winning AMTRA RAMA, and has been Animal Health Training & Campaign manager at Wynnstay since April 2014.