Opinion: Use the festive season for contemplation and preparation

By the time you read this, the descent into Christmas madness will be well under way and, if you are anything like me, you will be struggling to juggle the demands of family and the festive season with running the farm and making sure staff get some well-deserved time off.

A year ago, we were in lockdown, and while this obviously brought its own stresses, it did relieve some of the pressure from social events and the guilt of not being able to “do it all” because of the farm.

Most years I feel bad for not getting my tree up early enough, not managing to attend all the different events at school and get away to visit family.

About the author

Liz Haines
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
Liz Haines is in a joint venture on a dairy farm in Staffordshire, converting the all-year-round calving herd to a split block-calving grazing system.
Read more articles by Liz Haines

In some ways, it was a relief not to have to deal with that last year, and just concentrate on what needed to be done on the farm.

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This year, the feeling of being pulled in all directions is back with a vengeance, along with worries about sharply rising costs, what sort of winter weather we will have, and juggling the daily workload.

It has felt like a long year of highs and lows, from losing 22 animals to TB, team members moving on and new ones joining, seeing our first crop of home-bred heifers growing on, and welcoming vet students on to the farm for placements.

Many other farmers will be going into the winter with trepidation, with family, health, or financial worries, or just generally feeling worn down by anti-farming commentary that can seem to be everywhere in the media and online.

Another stress

Celebrating Christmas might be the last thing on their mind, or another stress to add to the pile.

I’d like to tell anyone who feels like that to cut themselves some slack. Take some time to reflect on what has been achieved in the past year, and what you’d like to accomplish in the year ahead, either in business or personally, small or large.

Snatch what time you can for yourself and make the most of it, whether it’s attending a carol service in church, or having a meal in the local pub.

Don’t compare yourself with non-farming friends who seem to have hours for leisurely Christmas shopping trips and festive family outings.

I read a lovely passage from a book called Wintering by Katherine May this week: “Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”

Hunker down

It felt highly resonant at a time when the rest of the world seems to be out partying, but we must hunker down on the farm.

Rather than a time of survival and just getting through, it’s an essential period of preparation for the coming year – a comforting thought as we dry off our spring-calving cows and bring them in over the winter, ready to calve in February.

Instead of feeling guilty about what I’m missing out on this Christmas, I’m going to try to make the most of the small things and embrace the winter transformation.

For anyone who is feeling down or stressed, please know you are not alone, and spring and lighter days will be here before you know it.

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