Man­ag­ing the work

How do you find the time to do all the work in­volved in small­hold­ing? Ca­reer small­holder Tim Tyne of­fers some thoughts…

Country Smallholding - - Feature -

‘It is be­yond the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of any cou­ple, com­fort­ably, to try to do what we have at­tempted. If a mar­ried cou­ple set­tled down on five or 10 acres of good land, in the Bri­tish cli­mate, and de­voted their en­tire time to be­ing self-sup­port­ing in food, clothes and arte­facts; and if they knew how to do it, and had the nec­es­sary stock and equip­ment, al­ready paid for, they could suc­ceed. They would be work­ing just the 15 hours a day, three hun­dred and sixty five days of the year… …They would be very healthy do­ing this, they would not be bored… …but they might some­times wish they could sit down.’

John Sey­mour.

Al­most with­out ex­cep­tion, any­one we talk to about our self-suf­fi­cient life­style will, at some point in the con­ver­sa­tion, ask how on earth we man­age to do all these things, and where do we find the time? Usu­ally these ques­tions are di­rected at Dot, when peo­ple dis­cover that, in ad­di­tion to all the usual do­mes­tic chores as­so­ci­ated with the man­age­ment of a fam­ily home, such as the daily cook­ing (no ready meals or fast food in our house!), clean­ing and wash­ing, she also bakes all our bread, bis­cuits and cakes, churns all our butter (not to men­tion the ice cream and yo­ghurt that she makes) and grows all of our veg­eta­bles (and pre­serves the sur­plus). This is in ad­di­tion to hav­ing a part-time, home- based of­fice job that keeps her tied to her desk from 9am to 5pm, two days a week. She also does the school run, checks our out­ly­ing sheep and helps me with the other live­stock when­ever re­quired. I re­ceive my fair share of the com­ments too, al­though to be hon­est, liv­ing as we do in an area where the land­scape is dom­i­nated by small and medium-sized fam­ily farms, what I do on a daily ba­sis doesn’t re­ally seem much out of the or­di­nary. Hav­ing said that, there aren’t many peo­ple whose ac­tiv­i­ties are quite so di­verse as my own.

But do we re­ally work hard to achieve the life­style that we’re lucky enough to en­joy, or is it just that every­one else has got lazy, soft­ened by the com­forts of a 37-hour ba­sic work­ing week, two days off out of ev­ery seven, paid hol­i­days and nu­mer­ous other ben­e­fits? Com­pared to that, our av­er­age work­ing week of around 70 hours, ris­ing to 100 hours at times, may seem a tri­fle ex­ces­sive (par­tic­u­larly when the ‘Work­ing Time Di­rec­tive’ sets a le­gal max­i­mum of 48 hours per week for em­ploy­ees), but

the re­ally ironic twist is that many of the ques­tion­ers have a reg­u­lar job in or­der to be able to af­ford to do the things that we call ‘work’ in their leisure time. For us, on the other hand, the dis­tinc­tion be­tween work and leisure is de­cid­edly blurred. For ex­am­ple, if I spend a sunny sum­mer af­ter­noon out in my kayak, hop­ing to catch some mack­erel to re-stock the freezer, am I tak­ing time off, or am I still work­ing? The al­ter­na­tive would be to spend a few hours in ‘nor­mal’ em­ploy­ment in or­der to earn enough cash to buy fish for sup­per in the su­per­mar­ket on my way home. I know which course of ac­tion I pre­fer. Like­wise when I go shoot­ing, which I do pri­mar­ily for pest con­trol pur­poses and for the pot, is this work or plea­sure?

‘Eco­nom­ics is a great sci­ence,’ said John Sey­mour, ‘but it falls down flat on its face when it tries to equate all goods with money. It is in­ef­fi­cient, any agri­cul­tural economist will tell you, for me to hand-milk a cow. But what if I like hand-milk­ing a cow? What is the economist go­ing to say about that? Has any economist ever tried to mea­sure the ‘ef­fi­ciency’ of play­ing golf? And what if a cou­ple of gal­lons of milk a day de­rive from my ac­tiv­ity of hand­milk­ing a cow? Does that make it any less ‘ef­fi­cient’ than if I spent the time play­ing golf?’

In days gone by…

I be­lieve that the work­load as­so­ci­ated with our life­style is lit­tle dif­fer­ent to that en­dured by any small-scale farm­ing fam­ily of around a cou­ple of hun­dred years ago. In fact, the hours we work are prob­a­bly con­sid­er­ably less; in The Di­ary of a Farmer’s Wife, 1796-1797, Anne Hughes de­scribes be­ing ‘Up be­times, and to the washen, for which the carter’s wife here at 4 of the clock’. On an­other oc­ca­sion she re­wards her maid­ser­vant for de­voted ser­vice by giv­ing her per­mis­sion to ‘lie abed till six of the clock, which did please her’. Much more re­cently (c. 1940), in The Farm­ing Lad­der, au­thor Ge­orge Hen­der­son writes ‘Work­ing from 4.30am to dark, and ev­ery penny we could find rein­vested in stock and on the land, we had nei­ther the time nor the money for amuse­ments’. 4.30am ‘til dark is one hell of a long work­ing day, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the sum­mer months, and, while I don’t mind do­ing it on oc­ca­sions, I don’t think I’d want to make it my reg­u­lar rou­tine. How­ever, Mr Hen­der­son doesn’t stop there, for in an­other chap­ter he states that ‘It is a re­mark­able thing that so many farm­ers will work late in sum­mer, but stop at dusk in win­ter sim­ply for want of ef­fi­cient light­ing. There is hardly a job we have not done at night, and there is no hour of the day or night which I have not heard Kid­ding­ton church clock strike out when the wind is in the south.’ Some­times I won­der if the Hen­der­son broth­ers were su­per­hu­man!

It is of course worth con­sid­er­ing that even such a small farm as ours would, once upon a time in the days when labour could be hired for a few pence, have had not only a team of men work­ing on the land but also some do­mes­tic help and prob­a­bly a dairy­maid as well. How­ever, in the mod­ern con­text, aren’t these po­si­tions sim­ply re­placed by the labour sav­ing de­vices that we have at our dis­posal nowa­days? So the lack of a dairy­maid and do­mes­tic help is re­placed by an elec­tric butter churn, vac­uum cleaner, wash­ing ma­chine and so on, and out­doors we have the ben­e­fit of a milk­ing ma­chine, a four-wheel-drive trac­tor, quad bike and var­i­ous other im­ple­ments which do away with the need for ad­di­tional full-time labour­ers.

An­other con­sid­er­a­tion is that, while most of the peo­ple who com­ment on our seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able work­load are view­ing our way of life very much from the out­side, we’ve never done any­thing else. I was brought up on a pro­duc­tive small­hold­ing, where all the fam­ily were ex­pected to shoul­der some of the bur­den and re­spon­si­bil­ity, and Dot quickly adapted to the life­style when she met me and I dragged her off to spend a few years liv­ing in iso­la­tion on small off­shore is­land. We were both in our early 20s at the time, and that ex­pe­ri­ence, cou­pled with my up­bring­ing, gave us the re­silience, the per­se­ver­ance and the stamina to con­tinue to do what we do, on a daily ba­sis, year af­ter year, with only oc­ca­sional out­side as­sis­tance.

(I do think it might be nice to have a full­time dairy­maid though, but Dot’s not so keen on the idea. Can’t think why…)

Do we re­ally work hard to en­joy the life­style?

The Tyne fam­ily at work with the sheep

Then there’s ma­chin­ery to fix....

Dot Tyne jug­gles lots of small­hdld­ing tasks with fam­ily com­mit­ments and a part-time job

Dot Tyne in the veg gar­den

Tim erect­ing new fenc­ing

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