A day on a mixed farm

Exactly midway through our tour, we spent the day helping Christina’s friend’s brother on his mixed farm in Priors Hardwick, Warwickshire. We’re not sure how much help we were, but it was damn good fun!

At 23, Hugh Darbishire is back on the family farm after finishing college and bursting with ideas. But it’s not as if he hasn’t got a lot going on already. As well as 450 acres of mixed farm to maintain – half arable (a mixture of wheat, rape and turnips) and half pasture (mostly for grazing but they have 80 acres in CSS*), there are also sheep, cattle and horses (his own and liveries) to look after. He also does some contracting (fencing and paddock work) and the family runs a brilliant B&B.

No time for sitting still though and our photos of him bear witness to this by being mostly blurred or of his back! In a rare moment of relative stillness (probably as he was a bit bogged down by the wet ground we were trying to coax some sheep over) we did manage to get this photo of him:

Hugh feeding birds.

Torn from sleep (in a proper bed – not the motorhome!) at 6.30 am, the first job was to go and check on the pheasants. With Phoebe the Labrador in tow, we whizzed off on a whistle-stop tour of the farm, counting birds and checking they had enough food. One of Hugh’s first plans is to improve the habitat for pheasant and wild duck and let 2-3 days’ shooting.

On the way round, we stopped off at some lovely disused farm buildings at the top of the hill. Subject to grants and planning applications, he also hopes to convert these into eco-friendly holiday cottages that use solar power and the farm’s own natural water supply.

Phoebe the labrador warming up her seat.

On, on – and time to feed the cattle and put fresh bedding down. We quickly learnt that when putting the straw down it’s best to start at the end of the barn the food is coming in as there is absolutely no chance of shifting a bull once he’s started eating!

Then we mucked out the stables while Hugh went to exercise his horse (to be fair, he did ask us if we wanted to ride but, being a bit rusty and with a month left of the tour, we decided to err on the side of caution). And all this before breakfast!

Emma putting down bedding.

Later that morning we went to the local meet, and then went to check on the pheasants on his uncle’s farm, where he has been helping out. The afternoon was spent rounding up sheep and moving lambs. This was hampered by fading light, very wet ground in the lower fields and sheep that didn’t like getting their feet wet!

Sheep.

It’s certainly not the busiest time for farmers (work-wise anyway) but there is always plenty to do on a mixed farm at any time of year. There’s no letup if you keep livestock; despite quite a heavy night in the pub that evening, Hugh was up at the crack of dawn seeing to the animals.

We really enjoyed spending the day with him and hearing his plans for the farm. His enthusiasm was infectious and, with young people like Hugh getting into farming, you can’t help but feel positive about the future.

Hill Farm B&B.

For more information about Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast, call 01327 260338 or visit their website.

*Countryside Stewardship Scheme – an environmental scheme, which means that all the fields have grass margins.