Wife, mother, journalist. Yes, all of these three titles are correct. But break me open and, like a stick of rock, the very core of me would be stamped “farmer’s daughter”.
Seeing a snapshot of my brother snuggled up on the sofa after a hard day’s work, reading the Farmers Weekly with his baby daughter, got me thinking about the subject. Appropriately for a farmer’s daughter, Anna Olivia Todd was born during last year’s Great Yorkshire Show.
What’s fascinating is whether there are threads that will run through her life that are in parallel with others of the same breed. Do farmers’ daughters share certain characteristics – that they keep all their lives – irrespective of what they do or where they end up living?
Julie Wriglesworth, a friend of mine (and farmer’s daughter) was tickled pink when she heard that my brother had thought Anna was a good quick name to shout if she was needed, when a little older, to “stand in a gap” as cattle were being rounded up.
“At the age of 41 I’m back living on the farm and barely a day goes by without my dad or brother shouting: ‘Julie, stand in that gap!’ It’s like I’ve never been away”
As an aside, Julie’s horse recently broke a bone in its leg and, as the vet decided whether it was to be shot, the words “better the beast than yourself” tumbled out of my mouth. She (luckily for me) agreed with the sentiment.
It’s something my farmer grandfather used to say, and in the world we live in – where a new breed of animal owners sometimes seems to lose all sense of perspective – it served to sum up the more practical outlook most farmers’ daughters share. The horse, incidentally, did survive.
My husband’s grandmother is about to celebrate her 101st birthday. She was a farmer’s daughter and, even though once she married a house in the village beckoned, she has remained – in her mind and actions – a farmer’s daughter for the past century, whether that means keeping pigs and hens, or working with the seasons in her garden and orchard.
To many people she simply says: “Sorry, I can’t hear anything – there’s no point talking to me”, but to me she always turns inquiringly, with a twinkle, and says: “Tell me, they’ll be busy on the farm ?”
My own mother (also a farmer’s daughter) has passed on many things, one of which is an in-built urge to get out of the house. “I’ve not got anything done yet, I’ve not been outside,” she’ll sometimes say, echoing my feelings that nothing ever seems to go to plan if my morning wander around outside is missed.
Even if it’s just five minutes letting the hens out, that little bit of fresh air – and release from the confines of four walls – puts me on much friendlier form. In fact, being cooped up in the house is – for me – one of the hardest things about having a young family.
A strong work ethic is something, it seems, that farmers’ daughters have in common. For me, this is best illustrated in taking just six weeks’ maternity leave while working as a magazine editor. Now, freelance work suits down to the ground. If I put the extra effort in it’s me – rather than the men in suits of the past – that reaps the rewards.
The inquisitive nature needed for my line of work comes – I’m sure – from growing up down a farm road. “Who’s that?” I’d always wonder if a car appeared.
Suitability for self-employment
Incidentally, two female relations (both farmers’ daughters) work in the media. One is currently writing for the Mail on Sunday, while the other is a photographer with the Press Association, the country’s largest news agency.
The suitability for self-employment is something zoology graduate Victoria Crebbin (an interest in animals was bred into her) is convinced stems from being brought up on a farm.
“I’d never dream of going home and leaving something half-finished,” says the 34 year-old who having “always worked for other people as diligently as if the business was my own”, decided to launch her own cookery school.
“Having watched my parents work so hard there was no way I could ever be a clock-watcher.
“Using produce such as elderflowers and brambles – working with the seasons – is a key element in the cookery school. To me, it’s second nature to be thrifty and make use of what ingredients can be found locally. I hate waste, even freezing all our old bread crusts to take over for the horses when we visit the farm.”
Victoria was an only child and, even though she is now married with a young daughter, returns regularly to her parents’ East Yorkshire farm. She is expecting her second child in May, but still plans to be helping with the harvest. “Every season still brings memories flooding back of my childhood,” she fondly recalls.
“My mother was also a farmer’s daughter and often tells me of the days when hundreds of day-old chicks arrived at the local station in boxes to be collected and how the threshing machine would travel round the farms.
“When I was younger my father had a dairy herd and I still remember the smell of the cows in the newly bedded fold yard. Also the silage, the sweet hay and the powdered milk which was mixed up to feed the calves by bucket.
“The farm activities dominated our lifestyle. Holidays were taken in the winter and my mother tells me that when my parents were planning their wedding, it had to occur between silage and hay-time.
“Once I was able to drive I quickly became a free source of labour. I drove the tractor and grain trailer alongside the combine and then progressed to relief combine driver. I left behind some interesting swaths in the early days – slightly wavy which made the baling interesting – and also some blushing reps once when I was wearing a bikini top at the age of 18.
“Every summer I have helped with the harvest. I even combined while I was pregnant with my daughter and now she sits on a bale while granny sets out the picnic. Even my office-bound husband, a chartered accountant, joins in.”
Victoria says she gets a lot of pleasure seeing her daughter experience such simple things as running in piles of grain with bare feet.
“Even now I’ve got to get my annual fix of the smell of haymaking and get my hands in soil that’s just been ploughed,” she laughs. “It’s very important to me that my children know that mummy is the way she is because she grew up on a farm.”
Sarah Todd gets to grips with an “old-style” plough, with a little help from champion ploughman Simon Witty.
Things being a farmer’s child can make you
- Interested in (but not daft about!) animals
- Needing a fix of fresh air
Tell us what you did
Sarah Todd would like to hear from as many farmers’ daughters (of all ages) as possible. What did you go on to do? Did you remain in agriculture or follow a completely different path? What are your most vivid memories of growing up on a farm?
Either write to Farmers’ Daughters, Farmlife, Farmers Weekly, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey. SM2 5AS, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or you can comment on our website forums at www.fwi.co.uk/farmersdaughters
“It would be fantastic to write a book on the subject,” says Sarah.
Famous farmer’s daughter
Radio DJ and former model Sara Cox is a farmer’s daughter from Bolton in Lancashire who used to help her father show his pedigree cattle.
“But when I shot up in height I was sidelined, because I didn’t make the cattle look as big,” she remembers. “I suddenly got really tall and dwarfed the cattle.”
The experience has stayed with her, as in interviews she regularly says that if she didn’t work in the media she’d like to be doing “something to do with animals”
However, true to her canny farmer’s daughter roots, she adds: “But there’s not really an easy way to make money and to be involved with animals”