23 May 17 by Claire in Latest News
Follow up to BBC “A Farmers Life For Me” TV Programme
Imagine you could change your life overnight…Claire Hart catches up with one lucky couple who did just that by winning last years’ BBC reality TV show “It’s a Farmers Life For Me”.
Many of us fantasise about leaving the rat-race and living a life of self sufficiency in some rural idyll surrounded by glorious countryside. So it was no wonder that the BBCs’ series “It’s a Farmers Life For Me” hosted by self made pig-farmer (and Jamie Olivers mate!), Jimmy Doherty attracted hundreds of applicants all keen to compete to win a truly life changing prize. The chance to farm 25-acres of prime agricultural land in Suffolk for a year, rent-free, with full financial backing to keep them safe during that time.
After a gruelling selection process, nine couples took part in the programme which was filmed during July and August 2010 and first screened in February 2011. It saw them taking part in a series of different weekly tasks, all designed to test their skills in a variety of aspects of the business, from sheep shearing to chicken plucking and making produce to sell, with marketing and sales (the money end of the business) thrown in for good measure.
Jimmy then judged each couple, losing the weakest pair each week until the final show-down in March 2011. Imagine “The Apprentice” in wellies, meets “Dragons Den” in the country and you will get the picture!
So what made eventual winners, 44 year old Ray, an ex- aircraft engineer and his wife Jayne (46), a District Nurse, neither of whom had any previous agricultural experience, quit their semi-detached town house in Sunderland, to put themselves through such stress?
“It all started with an advert in the TV Guide Magazine” explained Jayne. “It said “Would you like to win a small holding?”. We have always enjoyed the outdoor life and Ray has always been a big fan of self sufficiency. We felt there must be more to life than the daily nine-to-five grind so we applied. Little did we know what we were letting ourselves in for!”
Having made it through the pre-programme interviews and screen tests in Manchester and London, Ray and Jayne were enthusiastic participants throughout the series and their strong partnership was clear to see. Unlike some contestants, there was no bickering on or off screen and their mutual cooperation was very apparent. Both are hard grafters and admit they had no qualms about tackling anything thrown at them, even the butchery in week two. Jayne admitted “I loved it! I think my medical training came in handy there.”
Jayne made rather a pig’s ear of the sow showing however, much to the amusement of fellow contestants and we won’t even mention the “ice-cream gate” saga! Suffice to that Jayne stuck to her guns and was proved right to make and sell her frozen fare in the end!
Handling the rams’ nether regions and sexing turkeys was not so enthusiastically embraced by the contestants either!
Both Ray and Jayne admitted that they were mentally and physically exhausted during the series “We were constantly on the go and could not think straight by the end but we were quite surprised at how strong we were” said Jayne
Having won, they were given a couple of months to get their previous life in order, pack up and move down to Suffolk, near Ipswich. Older son Lewis stayed up north, whilst Jack aged 11 moved down with them.
Clearly there was a lot to cope with in terms of the sheer logistics of moving, making new contacts, settling Jack into a new school and then the actual farming part.
Their farm comprises 10 acres of arable land and 15 acres of grazing, some of which they decided to rent back to the original owner as they did not feel there was enough time to plant crops and use all the land, given they still do not have any relevant farm machinery and the time scales were so short. Instead they have concentrated on their mixed flock of 50 lambs and sheep- mainly Southdown, North of England Mules and a few Jacob sheep. They chose older ewes that had proven fertility to minimise risk.
They were given a Border Collie bitch puppy called Finn, by Shelagh Innes, a shepherdess, who featured on the show and Ray has had to learn to be tougher with her as a working dog than their border terrier Chester, who likes to run amok if he gets the chance to escape from the garden!
Their helpful near neighbour, shepherd Bob Wyvern, who trained the contestants in all things ovine, has lent them a Texel ram and they hope to continue their breeding programme, producing around 20 lambs to sell on and using the rest for their mutton production.
They are keen to get mutton higher up on peoples menu agenda and have produced a range of sausages, with 93% meat, plus “Curry Nose Bags” which are dry marinated packs of lamb cuts that you can just pop in the oven, and their mutton burgers, flavoured with mint, and the tomato sauce have gone down a storm. All are sold under their “Ray and Jayne” brand at local markets, online at www.jimmysfarm.com/shop, in the local Coop and eventually via their re-launched website www.rayandjayne.co.uk.
They also have a rare breed saddleback pig called Belle, who has had her second litter of 11 piglets. Three offspring have been kept already from the previous litter.
“We’d never kept animals before and we had to try not to think of them as pets, but as food on a plate” Jayne confessed!
Learning to trim hooves, shearing and worming has all been back breaking work. As Jayne explained, “There is definitely a technique to shearing and Ray was lucky enough to have Bob on hand to show him”
She also admits that “We made a mistake in trying to do too much at once. Spending money on seed and with the dry spring, we realised that we need to focus on doing a few things really well rather than trying to do too many different things badly!
We also had so many people all trying to give us mixed advice at once; it was rather overwhelming at times”.
They have a few hens and also grow a few veg such as potatoes and onions in their small polytunnel but that is just for their own use.
The local people have been very supportive but Ray and Jayne still feel a bit under the spotlight! After winning they were basically just left to get on with it. They admit that it has been difficult and they have had a lot to learn, from animal care to “who does what” in the farmers markets.
“We are currently re-branding and re-packaging our produce from Journeymans (as used on the show, meaning “an apprentice”) to “Ray and Jaynes” as that is how people know us. Our son Joe is the IT wizard!”
At times they have had dramas to deal with, such as when one of the sheep got fly strike- luckily it survived. Moving a whole herd of bulls down the road to new grazing with nothing but a bucket of food and blind faith was also an interesting moment!
Highlights have definitely been seeing the piglets and lambs being born. “it has been magical to see new life here” Jayne enthused.
“I would recommend that anyone thinking about following in our foot steps should do a lot of research first and learn as much as you can. Find good contacts and focus on what you are best at. Be true to yourself and just do it!”
Ray admitted that “The experience has brought us closer together. I have always wanted the simple life but now Jayne is as enthusiastic about farming as I am!”
Jayne agrees;- “I sometimes stand at the gate and feel overwhelmed with how life has changed for us. We had to get through some difficult times but when I look at where we are and what we have achieved it really is a dream come true”
How You Can Grab The Good Life
Do your research. Know your own strengths and weaknesses and focus on what you can do best. Be prepared for hard graft and some risk taking.
Find mentors who can teach you and network to find potential markets and people who can support you. Talk to successful farmers and learn their strategies.
Look at courses/apprenticeships, such as can be found at www.apprenticeships.org.uk
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms-UK (WWOOF) is an organisation that finds positions for individuals who want to learn a specific set of farming skills, even for the inexperienced would be farmer.
Education is key as farming becomes more technical, scientific and demanding from a business skill perspective.
A list of UK agricultural colleges can be found at www.stackyard.com/orgs/colleges/uk2.html
If aged under 26 join the National Federation of Young Farmers;- www.nfyfc.org.uk
Other useful organisations include BIAC (The British Institute of Agricultural Consultants) Tel: 01795 830100 www.biac.co.uk
Volunteer with organisations such as British Trust for Conservation Volunteers at www.btcv.org
Find grant options at www.ukbusinessgrants.org
The Carbon Trust (tel +44 (0)1872 223000) has extended its interest-free business loan scheme to UK farms in an effort to promote energy efficiency within the agricultural sector.
Meet The Contributor
Claire Hart studied agriculture and food marketing and after many years in Marketing and PR now writes as a freelance journalist. She runs Grassroots PR, specialising in Grow Your Own, equine and poultry. Naturally enough she is a keen kitchen gardener and shares her 2 acre small holding in rural Somerset with a large flock of various hens and her ex-racehorse Blue.