Teddy starts school this week. How has four years gone by so quickly? It seems like just last year I was pregnant with him, waddling around, moving stock and bedding up with hardly any idea how having kids in tow was going to change our lives and the way we worked.
Lydia will also be starting at nursery three days a week so, for the first time, I will have a few precious days where I can crack on with farm work without having to worry about the kids.
Growing up on a farm is widely held to be one of the most idyllic childhoods, and most of us would agree that our own youth spent enjoying the freedom of the fields and learning so much from our relatives about the joys of honest, hard work and community spirit is the best grounding for a successful life. My own children have been with us out on the farm almost from their first days.
A watchful eye
I would check stock with the baby in a carrier or my trusty off-road pram, and fork up silage while they napped in the feed passage. As they get older, it gets harder though.
A farmyard is a dangerous place for children to be at any time and, these days, I find that in order for Teddy and Lydia to spend time on the farm I need to forget about being able to do much farm work myself and solely focus on watching them do their little chores or watching Daddy work with the cattle.
Frustrating as it can be for me to not be able to get as stuck in as I would like, I am conscious that spending time teaching my kids about the farm at this age and helping them develop an understanding of the countryside is worthwhile.
They are learning to respect their environment, they understand where their food comes from and how farming responsibly is important for everyone. Looking after the animals gives them a sense of responsibility and they are learning how to be compassionate and kind.
Both of them are totally mad about farming and I hope that enthusiasm for the job follows them into adulthood. However, even if they decide to make their lives outside of agriculture, the values they have learned should take them far.
I’m not sure how Teddy is going to like school. He seems relatively excited about it at the moment – he always points at the school yard when we pass it in the village and he is very proud of his shiny, black shoes, but when he realises that he is going to have to go every day, even when we are doing silage or going to market, the novelty may wear off quite quickly.
I also wonder what his classmates will make of his agricultural take on the lessons. No doubt he will thrill them with his knowledge of all things mechanical, and will be able to give a full assessment of every tractor that passes the classroom window, including who it belongs to, and I’m sure his teacher will be impressed with his extensive feather collection.
However, I wonder how it will go down when he regales them with tales of taking Peppa and George to be made into sausages?
Lydia, on the other hand, is well and truly ready to spread her wings and is beside herself with excitement at the prospect of nursery. She has watched me drop Teddy off for the past two years and used to cry because I wouldn’t let her go too.
Tornado of energy
The nursery is set on its own smallholding with poultry, pigs, goats and ponies, plus a woodland and park. The building is an old barn conversion. Quite an impressive farm diversification enterprise.
The children have their own chores; they collect eggs and feed the animals – Lydia is already an expert in this field. It will be good for her to spend more time with other children her own age and I’m hoping that it will wear her out a bit.
Where Teddy is as laid back as children get, Lydia is a tornado of energy and has truly embraced the “terrible twos”.
Handing her over to the nursery staff for a few hours will feel like a holiday. Not to mention the simple joy of being able to go to a supermarket on my own and not having to deal with a child screaming and throwing herself to the floor in a fit of temper.
I’m also looking forward to being able to get back to some of the more physical aspects of running the farm, including finally installing the weight bars under the crush and getting the shed ready for weaning.
Growing up on a farm is a privilege granted to so few children. It is no wonder so many farmers’ sons and daughters follow their parents into the industry.
By nurturing and encouraging them from an early age, they develop a passion for the land and a respect for it that transcends the generations.
It is said that a good farmer treats the land as though he will live forever and it is true that the next generation reaps the rewards of the efforts of their parents and grandparents.
Long live the family farms.