26 December 1997

Dads death left a young girl with a very big job

Ten years ago on a bleak Christmas Eve morning my father, a fit man who had farmed all his life, died without warning.

It left me, a relatively young and naive girl of 23 struggling with not only the prospect of life without my best friend, but also a 81ha (200-acre) farm to run. The thought of selling crossed my mind only briefly that dreadful day, but was quickly replaced with a determination and desire to try to carry on in a way that would have made my father proud.

From a small child I had always shown a great affection for farm life, particularly the animals and along with my sister Jane would rush home from school to help with anything from lambing to harvesting.

She chose another career but for me it was always farming. I am thankful now for the decision I made at 18 not to go to agricultural college full-time as it gave me the chance to spend five years working beside my father.

After he died I received tremendous support and help from family, friends and neighbours, although some people observed my efforts with obvious scepticism, believing my gender and age meant I was sure to fail within the first 12 months.

I cannot pretend that the past 10 years have been easy, there have been many downs as well as ups. However, farming has taken me along a path of experiences quite, Im sure, unlike any other profession.

As with many farms these days things have been tight financially, so my eagerness to make dramatic improvements has had to be curbed. One vital lesson Ive learnt is to be patient and to believe that you can achieve anything if you really want to.

Our main enterprise is sheep and I have steadily built up the flock of Mule ewes from 150 to the 340 I run today. The sheep are my great love. I also have a Simmental suckler herd and a small acreage of corn. I supplement the farm income by helping neighbours out with shepherding, dipping, shearing, etc.

Four years ago my friend Helen, an agricultural feeds representative, arranged for me to go on a blind date with one of her dairy farmer customers. Julian asked me to go and buy a ram with him (hardly romantic) and by the end of the evening we had decided to spend the rest of our lives together! So now we have two farms 15 miles apart and we thrive on the hard work and challenge of it all.

One of the worst moments in the last 10 years came when after a particularly difficult lambing that I carried out a sheep haemorrhaged and died as a result of my efforts. I felt totally wretched.

One of my proudest came this year when my homebred theaves reached second highest price out of several thousand at our annual sheep fair.

Thats how it is with farming, you see, and I wouldnt change it for the world.

Sally Foote