Written for Cumbria Life.
John: As the summer slowly turns to autumn on the farm, we start getting exited about the sheep sales. It’s a time for being proud of your achievements as well as investing in the future as the last year’s crop of lambs start being sold and future sires are purchased. Farmers from throughout the Lake District valleys congregate at the main sale centres so it’s also a great opportunity to see old friends and catch up on some farming gossip. The farmers and their sheep will be dressed up for the day, the best crook will be placed carefully in the vehicle, the lambs or rams loaded in the trailer knee deep in straw or sawdust. Days of preening, pedicures, fake tans and powdered faces, all go into the big sale day and that’s only the sheep. The farmer will have his or her best country wear on and smell of sheep dip and coal tar. The price the sheep make this day is the culmination of many years of selective breeding, care and nurturing generations of offspring to provide what their cohorts desire. This may be females for the lowland farms to breed from or rams to produce the next years progeny, all dressed up to make the best impression. The sale ring will be packed to the rafters (COVID allowing) with folk that may not have seen each other since the last sale, the chatter will be exited if the trade is good and subdued if it’s bad. As farmers we don’t get a regular income: no wage packet or monthly orders. These days make or break the bank balance and the soul, but this year looks like being a good one so let’s enjoy it while we can and revel in the beauty that is a Bonny Lamb.
Maria: This month John went on a mini break to Wales with a fabulous, enthusiastic team of people that work with us: Becky, Sarah and Joe. I volunteered to stay on the farm to look after the animals so that John could have a well-deserved holiday. But, to be honest I was delighted to be left at home and it was a break for me too. I realised that in the six years that I have been on the farm, I’ve never been by myself for more than a few hours at a time. After years of living alone, moving on to a family farm was a big culture shock. When I lived in my last flat in London, if there was an unexpected knock, I’d quietly peer through the peephole before either tiptoeing away or unbolting and unlocking the door, annoyed by an unscheduled visit. Now, friends and family easily wander in and out of the house every day. This morning, John’s dad came to the door with a bag of apples he’d just picked before spending the day working with John; our friend Rachel is staying for a few days before setting off in her van to Germany where she has a shearing job lined up; tonight we’ve organised a BBQ as some friends from Jersey are staying with us too. I love the openness of our farm but spending those few days on my own was a real joy. It’s easy to lose yourself in the busyness of life and to have some quiet time felt really important. And I also managed looking after all the animals without having to call on anyone to help!
John took some time on his trip to visit the Welsh Organic Tannery. After the disaster with our last batch of sheepskins, we began looking into setting up our own tannery and John wanted to visit their small set-up to get an in idea of what we’d be letting ourselves in for. Joe, who was with John on the tannery tour, got very enthusiastic and has decided that he’d like to take this up as his own business venture, enticing Sarah to work with him. We are delighted about this. Firstly, because it means we don’t have to start yet another business from scratch, but also, we’re excited to help them set up their own independent business. So, hopefully in the next year so, the Lake District will have a sheepskin tannery where farmers like us can have their own sheepskin rugs made.