The two sides of Christmas
For some this a frenetic period, for others it’s time to put the feet up and reflect on what has been quite the year
December is the busiest and quietest month on the farm. That’s not as much of a contradiction as it sounds. The weeks leading up to Christmas can be utterly manic for poultry farmers and especially for turkey and goose breeders. It’s the same for winter veg growers, Christmas tree suppliers and anyone who runs a farm shop or rents a stall at a farmers’ market. Our commercial farm is an arable and sheep enterprise so it’s relatively quiet at this time of year, although we’re keeping a watchful eye on our pregnant ewes to make sure all the mums-to-be and their unborn lambs are safe and well.
But the calm of the working farm is more than compensated for by the bustle of the visitor attraction we run, the Cotswold Farm Park, which is in full festive swing right up until the end of Christmas Eve. The staff, indoors and out, put in an amazing amount of effort to make sure everyone is in the seasonal spirit, but of course the hardest working individual of all is the jolly chap in the red suit and the white beard. He’ll leave us just in time to leap onto his sleigh for the big night shift on the 24th, but for the rest of us that’s when the most frenetic activity of the entire year turns into the quietest time of year. Feet up, family close by and a roaring fire on the go. That’s what I call Christmas bliss. It’s also a good time to reflect on the year just gone.
The extreme weather, freezing then sweltering, dominated 2018. First the ‘Beast from the East’ put spring sowing on hold and hit the early harvest hard for many farmers. A few months later the summer heatwave saw six long weeks without rain, scorching arable crops and devastating yields. It’s been tough on livestock, demanding for farmers and financially damaging.
Away from the farm, Countryfile celebrated its 30th anniversary this year; in the fickle and fashion-conscious world of television anything that stays the course for three decades has achieved something remarkable. I’m very proud to have made a contribution to the show’s success and I was thrilled to take part in the landmark programmes we made to celebrate Countryfile’s big birthday; the three specials we filmed on the royal estates at Windsor, Sandringham and Balmoral. Even now, months later, people are still asking if we made up the story of the Queen’s herd of Jersey cows sleeping every night on water beds. Hand on heart, it’s absolutely true.
There was more magic at this year’s Countryfile Live when we welcomed well over 100,000 people and recreated Adam’s Farm in the grounds of Blenheim Palace. I loved seeing people’s reactions as they came face to face with our rare breed livestock for the first time.
So it’s been a memorable 12 months, for all sorts of reasons. Here’s to a happy 2019.