The Owl and The Pussy Cat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea In a beautiful 'red and white'(!) boat, They took some honey, and plenty of money, Wrapped up in a five pound note. The Owl looked up to the stars above, And sang to a small guitar, 'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love, What a beautiful Pussy you are, You are, You are!What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Edward Lear

Monday, 9 April 2012

How I ended up working on a farm

Lambing is over for me for another year. Here's a bit of background about how I ended up there.
When I was at school my first big ambition was to be a vet, but I'm not academic enough. I had a pony and wanted to 'work with animals', but I wasn't mad enough about horses to want to be taken advantage of for the rest of my life. I wanted to grow organic vegetables, but my parents talked me out of it because the pay is dreadful, and they know because that's what they started doing (tho' not organically) So, almost by accident I ended up gardening . I loved gardening and still do, but all my life I have wanted to work on a farm. (but not own one...big difference!)
 As a person from a non farming family it is difficult to break into the farming world. Over the years I've worked on several 'alternative' farms. I've done 'WOOFING', which is an organisation that enables people to go and work on smallholdings in exchange for their board and lodgings. Very few of the ones I've visited have been in any way commercial. I worked on and off for several years, a couple of days a week on an organic beef farm run by someone quite high up in the Organic Farming world, but I always felt that the family had plenty of inherited money and the farm didn't have to make enough to pay a mortgage or rent for example. There were several occasions when I knew for a fact that my labour had cost them more than the price they would get for what we had produced that day. So, much as I enjoyed it, it never felt as though it counted as 'proper' farming.
About seven years ago, having moved to Devon, I started helping out with the sheep for a local hobby farmer. The pay was terrible to say the least, but I did learn a lot about sheep handling. In retrospect I can now see that his sheep are kept in pretty appalling conditions, but I didn't realise that at the time as I had nothing to compare it to. The best thing that came out of it was that a year later a proper big commercial sheep farmer asked me to go and do some work at lambing time one year. Again in retrospect I can see that I still knew very little about sheep, but I'm bright and work hard and I must have done someting right as I'm still working there, seasonally, 5 years later.
 Traditional farming families are deeply suspicious of people from non farming families, and, having worked on a proper farm for several seasons now I can sort of see why. I know it's a cliche, but farming really is a way of life. There are no weekends off, bank holidays, Christmas day, a lie-in after a late night new years eve. Animals need feeding and checking every single day, rain, shine, deep snow, Christmas, whatever. It's relentless. And if an animal is ill, caught in a fence or has escaped, you can't just go home at 5 o'clock, you have to deal with it, and keep dealing with it until it's sorted. There are also silly little thing that people who grow up with animals just take for granted. Shut gates, don't spook animals at critical times, keep ears and eyes open for animals where they shouldn't be or unusual noises, and so it goes on. People who don't grow up with that sort of thing can be a positive liability. There also aren't many people who are willing to work physically hard in the cold, the driving rain or in the blazing sun, and are happy to get routinely covered in shit, mud and blood.
And so, I'm still working on this big commercial farm, for a traditional farming family, who's parents and grandparents were farmers. And I feel very proud to have achieved it, even thoug the pays not good and I'm routinely knackered, aching all over and covered in the aforementioned stuff.
By the end of two or three weeks I'm muttering about not working there next year, I'm too old, my shoulders ache, the pays rubbish, etc etc. But by the beginning of next season, there I am, loving it again...for the first week anyway!

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