"Simple Suggestions Make A Big Difference"

Steve Burden.jpg

Stephen Burden, Upper Rill Farm, Chillerton

The lamb would have died.

Our lambing assistant spent 15 minutes halfway through the night, helping it. Clearing its airways of gunk, encouraging its breathing, and settling it down with mum. Fully revived, it seemed to do OK. And two years later, it's about to have twins!

The farm has been in the family for six generations, so thousands of lambs have been born here. And lambing is still done much as it was for the first ones.

The best decision I ever made seems a very small one. Water buckets are an essential part of lambing – for the mum's milk, for the lambs as they get going and even for emergency washing off new-borns. 

But plonked on the floor, buckets get in the way. And they get straw and muck dropped into them. They get barged over. And occasionally, a lamb gets stuck head-first in the bucket – obviously that's dangerous!

One day I saw an advert for bucket hangers and it went click! They clamp the buckets onto the sides of the lambing pen and lift them up out of harm's way. I was really pleased – a small improvement to 80 pens that saves a lot of water, and time, and reduces the risk of losses too. And all at relatively low cost!

We want tourists to appreciate it: we should too!

Commentary by Dave Simon

Farming is a rewarding business. Bringing life into the world and caring for food crops makes a very immediate connection to nature.

But farming has more problems than most industries. 
Jobs have disappeared as mechanisation increases.
Productivity is vulnerable to multi-national corporations.
And long hours working alone with large machines and headstrong animals makes farming one of the most dangerous occupations.

Most of us live in towns. The suburban environment dominates our experience of life. Most of us live indoors: working in offices, buying food in shops and exercising in gyms.

Many 'townies' like to visit the countryside. We treat it as a large playground. Weekend walks with the family, canoeing down rivers, off-road cycling... Most farmers are glad that we enjoy it as they do.

But we forget too easily that we are borrowing their workplace. 
Attacks on sheep, wormy dog poo making cattle and sheep ill, gates left open allowing animals to escape... And roadside hedges collect more litter than town pavements.

Let's hope BREXIT can bring the benefits of the real working countryside back to us. Locally-grown food, lungfuls of fresh air and the sense of freedom in large landscapes. 

After all, we want tourists to appreciate it: we should too!

Following The Family Footsteps

Farming is still very much a family business. Farms are often inherited and so the choice of career is almost made for you. In my case, I grew up in farming – my parents farmed in Hampshire and then moved to Scotland. After leaving school, I moved to Newport and worked as a herdsman. I met and then married Jane, with us inheriting the farm a while later. I've never had a non-farming job.

Farming is a rewarding business to be in - bringing life into the world especially. But it's no romantic country life dream. Long days, hard work and a choice of mud or dust! It's more a way of life than a profitable business. Really, we are guardians for the next generation.

My son was driving the combine harvester at a very young age. My daughter lives and works locally, and often comes up to help us. It's nice that the family is all so involved – it's better than sitting round the TV every evening!

Small Business In A Big Economy

Profit is not something we see – it all goes back into the farm for new equipment and new livestock.

Basically we are a micro-business – there's my wife and I, with labouring help a few days a week and a lot of assistants at lambing time. We've had students and foreign volunteers, YTS and apprentices in our time. It's nice to pass on the knowledge and the appreciation for the life. 

While no-one mentored me as such, because I grew up in farming, I do feel training is important. I still attend the Hampshire Sheep Group regularly to keep up to date.

A cause for worry is BREXIT. Farmers import a lot of seed and livestock, and export too. One aspect is the amount of paperwork – learning a new set of complicated rules. And another is the fairness of the system that comes next – no-one has given us any guarantees yet!

The Risks Farmers Face

Most people don't see farmers these days. What they see are tractor drivers. That's what we do around the roads and fields during the day. But around the kitchen table in the evening we have forecasts to understand, risks to consider and plans to make. It's not a 9 to 5 job!

Our cashflow is quite irregular. We have two peaks – spring, when we sell the lambs and summer, when we sell the wheat and beans that we also grow. That means that we are at the mercy of changing prices at those times.

Given an even chance, we can make a living. What scares me most is dogs – dog poo that has worms in it can cause abortion in cows and makes lamb meat unsellable. So a dog owner who doesn't pick up the poo can cost me several hundred pounds. I'm sure they don't realise that, and it sounds strange to say it, but one poo can really hurt my business. And we never know who's dog it was – our problems arrive months later. We just have to cope.

Helping The Island Help Itself

The Island economy seems to be struggling a bit. We have no big money earners like the big cities. We are very dependent on the ferries, and on the weather. If the forecast is poor, the summer tourists are less likely to come, and that brings less money into our economy.

We could do more for ourselves. Buying locally is a very important way of keeping money circulating here, keeping jobs, paying Council Tax and improving our environment. Small changes can make a big difference. We are the community that needs to help itself.

So for instance, if more people made use of farm shops, it would help a lot. Knowing the produce was locally grown, has not traveled hundreds of miles and was helping other local people stay in work and survive in business, it feels something to be proud of.

If I had the power, I would find ways to protect our Island environment. It is safe and beautiful and it needs more care. For instance the amount of litter thrown out of cars – if you look in the verges and hedges – is quite upsetting. 

And my suggestion is that more local businesses hold Open Days. We do one here, and people love it. We get a lot of thanks and support as a result.

If small businesses in all sectors across the Island held one Open Day a year, it would give us all more awareness of what is being done, how we can help and what it takes to create more jobs for our kids.

Imagine one Open Day every week of the year – that's only 52 businesses making the effort. And if twice as many tried it, we could be educating ourselves better than the rest of the country!

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