This Farming Life



BETWEEN old timers like Countryfile and newcomers Our Yorkshire Farm and now This Farming Life, you can barely swing a farm cat without hitting a programme celebrating the charms of a rural existence.

Perhaps it is living in post-lockdown Britain that makes us crave the sight of wide open spaces filled with animals that are reassuringly the same as the toys we played with when we were young. Baa-lambs won’t ever hurt us, will they?

Isla and George French from Cornhill, Aberdeenshire, one of six families featured in the series, clearly missed the memo about sticking with what you know, animal-wise. They had opted for emus, ostriches, deer, and, just for old time’s sake, some belted Galloway cows.

Oh, and they had three children under five and dad worked full-time as well as helping on the farm. Whatever else it was, this farming life was not for slackers.

Now in its fourth series, This Farming Life keeps things simple, following families through a single year. The viewer has the advantage in that they know what is coming. The new series, beautifully shot as ever, started in autumn 2019 and everyone was worried about the looming Brexit. Little did they know something far worse than added bureaucracy was coming down the pipe.

In Armadale, Joyce Campbell was concerned what price she would get for her lambs at market. She needed £30,000 and in the end made £40,000. The scenes at auction, and at the market in Aberdeen where Isla and George French set up shop to sell their meat, were a reminder that farming is a business like any other and farms are not petting zoos.

There were, however, clear bonds between the farmers and their animals. It was sad to see the animals go, said Joyce’s nephew, but there was the money to look forward to. “Determines how good a Christmas present I’m going to get.” Joyce admitted to having a lump in her throat when the lambs went. “You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t.”

The other two families introduced last night were hill farmers from the Lake District (“This is the office,” said one with a sweep of her arm taking in the spectacular landscape), and a couple with a baby from Morpeth, Northumberland.

The latter had cows but their real money was made from breeding and training collies. One dog sold recently for close to £15,000.

Everything came down to money in the end. As the year rolls on and You Know What arrives, that will become even more so.

For now, as the farmers headed into winter, the tone was hopeful, plans were being made to move to bigger, better premises, and branch out into this or that new scheme. But there will be no escaping the bleak times to come.

All the more reason to enjoy what was happening now. One of Isla French’s many jobs was watching over ostrich chicks while they hatched. When one beak pierced a shell she jumped, thinking someone had fired a bullet.

She was worried about one that was taking too long to emerge. A lack of oxygen does for most chicks. She had a peer inside and spoke words of encouragement.

“Keep chipping away little chicks,” she told the trio, “that’s what life’s about”. It was quietly magical, miraculous even. A viewing tonic for the times.