Hannah Jackson: Why it’s not selfish to take time off the farm

Let’s talk balance. This may go against the grain of the common internal fight most farmers face – the expectation that farming life means we work every hour possible.

I’m sure for some, hours worked is a measure of their commitment and dedication. But does committing to a life providing food for the nation mean you sacrifice the wider joys life brings?

Does it mean you should put everything else before yourself? This is what so many farmers do.

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When I started farming I felt the pressure to embrace “the way of life”. But the more hours I did, the more it not only took over daily life but subconsciously crept into my thoughts as I slept.

Hard graft and long hours

I’m not saying there aren’t periods of time when the hours are insane. That’s the reality of farming. I have just finished a month of day lambing that started at 4am and finished at 8pm.

Combine this with a two-hour commute, and then the responsibility of my own small farm on top of this. It was gruelling yet necessary.

I’m two months into a four-month lambing stint where time off is nigh on impossible. However, this is temporary, and to sustain this 365 days a year, while maintaining the highest possible standards of my work, would in itself be impossible.

That doesn’t mean that at the beginning I didn’t try. I so wanted to fit into the industry, I fell into what I felt was expected and what I didn’t realise was I let so many other things around me slide.

The more hours I did, the more I lost my spark and passion for farming. I was worlds away from my usual positive driver – “live the dream”.

I knew I lost my passion because I lost balance from my life. I wasn’t making time for family, friends and for things I truly enjoyed away from the farm.

Consequently this began to affect my productivity, my motivation and my love for life. Things had to change and I had to reassess my life.

Get that spark back

I needed to find clarity to take a step back, and accept that we weren’t put here just to work ourselves to the bone.

I learned the hard way that if you neglect to make time for yourself and to fuel yourself physically and mentally, it massively affects every aspect of life.

Without sounding too cliché, I came to the conclusion that I’ll only get one shot at this life – there’s no such thing as a dress rehearsal.

So I reassessed my priorities and I made time out for myself. Since then life has never been better. I am more productive, my passion is back and I am loving life again.

So my plea to all farmers is: don’t fall into the trap of feeling guilty and seeing time for you as something selfish.

Instead understand that “you time” is healthy and essential. You do an amazing job, so respect and care for yourself, as much as you do your stock and crops.

This is vital in order to be the best you can be. It’s not about the number of hours we put in, but the quality of work in that time.

As we grow our produce to feed our nation, we must remember to take time to grow and nurture ourselves.

26-year-old Hannah, from Croglin, near Carlisle, was a Young Farmer of the Year finalist in the 2018 Farmers Weekly Awards.

Coming from a non-farming background about five years ago, today she is a contract farm manager, specialising in lambing, and works on two diversification businesses and has her own farm with a commercial flock of breeding ewes.