I love to read experiences from professional women who switch from the 9-5 to follow their dreams but reader Laura Gilmour from A Girl About The Farm takes it up a notch. I am in absolute awe of the lifestyle she and her husband have carved out for themselves on the South Downs. I hope you find Laura’s account as interesting and inspirational as I have.
To say that the last twelve months have been surreal is an understatement. Sometimes, when I’m up on the top of the hill moving the sheep with our dogs I think – If my sixteen year old self could see me now!
A career in farming had never crossed my mind. London was where my life was set to be, and I had my heart set on that, that was, until I met Andy.
Andy and I met at a mutual friends birthday after we had both finished university. We went to school together, but Andy was in the year above and we didn’t really know each other back then. I was working and living in London at the time, and after a whirlwind summer of dating, Andy moved to Yorkshire for work and we went long distance. Fast forward a few years and a lot of back and forth on trains, we decided it was time to move in together. Andy took the opportunity to move back to his family farm and to become a farmer. I too, moved in to the farm, and moved my job in marketing to Brighton where I commuted from our little cottage. For a few years I led a double life of sorts, days spent in the familiar comfort of the city, and evenings spent by the log burner after chopping wood for kindling. It was the best of both worlds. I got to live the ‘good life’ with our three dogs, and two pet pigs…but then I also got to go for after work drinks, and wear the latest season’s trends (I once actually had to chase Poppy our pig back into her pen whilst wearing a Whistles leather mini skirt after an evening of espresso martinis!).
I remember when Andy first floated the idea of taking on our own farm. He was so enthusiastic and excitable about the whole thing that it was infectious. We went to have a look round and I fell in love. Cocking Hill Farm sits prominently up on the South Downs and you can see half of Sussex from the top. The farmhouse sits at the foot of the hill and, like much of the village, has bright yellow windows. As Andy and I had been together for nine years, I had seen what lambing was like, and had gained basic experience of day to day farming, but I was very much still a part time country dweller, who quite enjoyed getting back to what I perceived as everyday life on a Monday morning.
The thinking was, that if we were successful in getting the farm, I would hand my notice in at work and would be full time on the new farm from the start. The odds were stacked against us in the process, so we didn’t really talk about the logistics at the point of application. So when we found out that we had got the farm, I was faced with a slight panic and uncertainty about the idea of leaving everything that I knew and a career that I had effectively spent my whole life building up! I eventually came to the conclusion that, I had to try it, and the worst thing that could happen, is that I would find out it wasn’t for me and we would hire an extra pair of hands and I would go back to marketing.
As I went into farming during the winter months, it wasn’t easy. We spent days out in the cold putting fences up, moving sheep and tending to our cows. It was just the two of us, and a whole load of animals to look after! My hands were freezing and everything basically just hurt! I was frustrated, as I had come from a job where I knew what to do on a daily basis, to a job where I was second guessing everything and waiting for approval the whole time from Andy. I’d go through waves of feeling empowered by the whole experience, to teary days where I just yearned to be back in a cosy meeting room picking over Pret sandwiches!
A Typical Day
There is no such thing as an average day since I have been working full time on the farm. There are so many contributing factors depending on the season, the weather and the animals and their needs. But generally (when its not during lambing time!);
I get up and throw on some clothes (a far cry from my old life where I’d meticulously plan out outfits the night before!), make a tea and take our three dogs for a walk, Joe the Kelpie, Zac the Collie and little Juno the whippet.
I wander over to the farmyard to check on and feed the cows. Quite soon into when I first started out farming, I casually sauntered over to the cow barn, to find it completely empty! The cows had managed to lick the latch on the gate open and were found all around the village. Trying to get 150 cattle back to the farm was possibly the single most stressful experience of my life!
We usually go back into the farmhouse for breakfast (this is my favourite time of the day). Andy and I will chat about our plans for the day and the logistics of getting everything done whilst munching on some toast.
We’ll head out and check around all of the sheep on the quad bike or the defender, depending on how rainy it is or how treacherous the route. We have around 2,000 sheep spanning the farm, and all predominantly up on the top of steep hill, so it can be pretty bracing first thing in the morning, especially on the quad bike. I live in a thermal hat and waterproof trousers most days!
We have lunch on the go. Our afternoons are usually spent gathering sheep or moving them to fresh grass with our dogs. This is something I love about my job, moving the sheep across the hill and seeing the dogs work is incredible, and a sight I never get bored of. As all of our sheep are 100% grass fed and don’t get supplemented concentrates, we have to move them all to fresh grass regularly to ensure they have enough to eat. Other afternoon activities usually consist of repairing broken gateways or putting up new fences, or doing some tractor work. I’ve gone from, never having driven a tractor, to ploughing up and reseeding whole fields. Driving the tractor is one of my favourite things to do on the farm; I always end up manically grinning and waving at everyone I pass on the road and spying into people gardens from up high!
6pm (or when the sun goes down)
Like most people who work for themselves know, when you work from home, it’s hard to draw the line between work and home life. So for me, now, once I go into the farmhouse and my wellies come off and slippers go on, I try to end the day on the farm there. This of course changes at lambing time, or if we have a sick animal to tend to!
A year in, I wouldn’t change it. I’m so lucky to have had to opportunity to go into the farming world. It’s been amazing to learn something that people hundreds of years before me have been doing. That’s the thing about farming, it’s so traditional and practical. I’m outside all day everyday, which is so good for your health – mentally and physically! Don’t get me wrong, I still find it strange to say I’m a full time shepherdess and I do really miss having the excuse to pop on a dress and a full face of make up on (the sheep and cows don’t really appreciate it enough you see…!), but I really do count myself lucky to call my office a farm!
Photography by Kerry Jordan and Alice Radford