Written for Cumbria Life
The coming of the supermarkets saw the going of the corner shops and my dad’s shop was one of them. I remember his shock that the shiny new supermarket was selling loaves of bread for ten pence, a fraction of the price that he would be paying at cash and carry. That type of big business, driving down prices, driving out competitors who couldn’t compete, loss leaders, loss of community, seemed like the only way to thrive in business. It wasn’t until I started my own business on the farm that I found another way of working that still involved making a profit, but wasn’t about exponential growth by squeezing suppliers.
I love what I do and fortunately we seem to be living in a time when small-scale producers like myself can survive in business because customers are looking for products with honest provenance.
We are often asked about how much we are doing on the farm, about taking time off and that we need more of a work-life balance. But I rarely feel the need to escape our work because almost every day is enjoyable and interesting. Of course there are some stressful and gruelling days but we’re never clock watching, desperate to finish and get to the pub. We’ve managed to create jobs for ourselves that we’re excited about, and that’s a real privilege and not something we need to escape from. Although we loved our break in Edinburgh; simple things like seeing friends and family and clothes shopping on Princes Street was all we really needed. Nothing fancy and happy to be home.
People often ask me, “ When is it a quite time on the farm?” The answer is always the same, “Never”. Each month has its different tasks and the reduced labour on farms nowadays, has meant that it’s busy even in the winter months when the days are short. As I mentioned in last month’s column, we scan the sheep to see how many lambs they will be having. This is fairly new technology but it saves a lot of time and effort and it’s also very important for the welfare of the ewes. The ultrasound, similar to the handheld device you’d find on a prenatal ward, will identify how many lambs the ewe is carrying. This means we can then split the ewes into groups and feed them accordingly. It’s important that the ewes carrying twins or triplets get pampered, while the ones carrying a single lamb don’t want to get over-fit. This can result in the lambs being too big at birth causing issues for the ewe and the farmer. We also condition score the ewes when we split them into groups so that those that are on the thin side get special treatment. This gives us time to get them back into good condition before the lambs really start to grow in the womb. Once it gets closer to lambing time, the ewe will sacrifice herself for the lambs, so at this point any extra increase in food just makes the lambs bigger and the ewe thinner. With the fell sheep they do this naturally and they tend to only have one lamb as their body knows that’s all they can successfully rear. But the increase in off-wintering ewes from the fells due to environmental schemes has led to some fell breeds producing too many lambs with knock on effects, which I can tell you about next month.