‘Living the dream?’ An urban colleague enjoyed saying to me. He’d visited the farm on a sunny day and was convinced that farmers live in a Utopian world.

It’s interesting to consider how the urban population view those of us that earn a living from the land. Dreams aren’t always good are they? In fact sometimes they can be pretty scary and it’s a relief to wake up. I wish falling farm incomes were just a bad dream and not the reality that they are right now.

What an inspirational idea Open Farm Sunday is. Farmers brave enough to do it have my full admiration. I wanted to see the open day concept in operation and so visited an organic dairy farm. People were shoaling in, including many young families. The weather was beautiful, young farmers helped with car parking, the dairy herd grazed close by. There were stalls selling local produce, a nature trail, sheep shearing demonstration, tractor trailer rides and home grown meat was on offer straight from the barbecue. I know it’s a lot of hard work to organise but the result was impressive. Educating our customers in this way must help the fight for farmers survival.

Farming in the community

South Sheep Event was a good excuse to abandon care of the farm to ‘The Boy’ and make the trip to Wiltshire. Beautiful countryside; there are some huge fields growing fine crops of corn. I admit to feeling a little envious! The day whizzed by all too quickly, very informative discussions with like minded people and fascinating facts gleaned.

I admire the New Zealanders ability to think outside the box. How do you fancy eating wool? I learned that the Kiwis are funding research at Otago University into the extraction of food safe digestible protein from natural wool. This is 95% protein, with no fat or carbohydrate and has a positive effect on blood sugar and cholesterol. Perhaps our BWMB could learn a trick or two on how to boost the price of wool from these guys. Mind you the only wool I’ve ever seen eaten, is by over exuberant sheepdogs, not mine of course!

I also enjoyed watching the Sheepdog Trials, observing the interactions between dog, handler and sheep. I’d be happy to see more trials held in the South. The farm tours around the estate were popular. Farmers face similar problems and it’s interesting seeing and hearing about the different ways these are tackled. With our milder wetter winters, I wonder if more of us will be forced to house sheep? They’d tried winter shearing for the first time and discussed the pro’s; easier to see condition; not getting cast, and cons; more mastitis etc. They’d also established a crop of Avalon stubble turnips. This has a good ability to regenerate, it’s a bushy plant providing better weed control, 9-10% DM and 18-19% protein and is used for finishing lambs. We might give this  a try.

Sir Peter Kendall and Owen Patterson debating the referendum was entertaining. Let’s hope the people’s decision is best for our Country.  I think more honesty and kindness would be good. Enough talking, more action, less EU interference, allowing farmers to do their job, feeding the nation. Whatever the politicians and supermarkets get up to, farmers will no doubt continue attempting to make a living the best way they can.

‘Fit for Farming’:  I picked up this leaflet. The blurb on the back reads; ‘The mind and body of the farmer is the best bit of kit on any farm.’ Yay at last recognition!  Reading on ‘with a little care, the high performance machine that is the male body will run smoothly for a lifetime with just basic maintenance’. Oh, oh! Sexist, but inside it states ‘women would also find the information useful.’ It continues ‘sometimes it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do important things in life that matter to us.’ I think many of us will know that feeling. It’s true that when things are going well tasks seem easy. But throw in a financial crisis, extreme weather, red tape, ill health and daily grind, it’s a whole different story. Farmers deal with these issues in their own way.

Frightening statistics are ‘One in four will have a mental health problem’.  –  Common stress signals include, eating more or less than normal, mood swings, being unable to concentrate, feeling tense, useless, worried, nervous, being tired and forgetful or not sleeping well.  Stress can trigger anxiety, depression and physical symptoms such as: back pain, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, psoriasis, migraine, and tension headaches.  Now I’m worried! But there are ways to make it better.

They suggest 5 actions that can improve mental wellbeing. ‘1) Socialise, cultivating friendships. 2) Exercising which encourages the body to release endorphins, a feel good factor. 3) keep learning, take time to learn a different skill. 4) Give to others, take time to help other people. 5) Take notice, improve mindfulness, appreciate the country.’

The farming way of life makes it difficult to create a life-work balance. Farmers are generally resilient and stoical, they’re used to isolation and hard work, but pressures can get you down. Farm Community Network provides confidential help for farmers. 03000 111 999 or www.fcn.org.uk  Please don’t brush things under the carpet, it helps to talk when the going is tough.

On a lighter note, together with a friend I’ve been learning the art of ringing the bells. We’ve recently been upgraded, joining the other practicing bellringers. My youngest daughter questioned incredulously. ‘How difficult can it be to pull on a rope?’ I answered defensively, ‘more difficult than you might think.’ Isn’t that so true about many things in life!

More Information

A version of this article first appeared in the South East Farmer

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