In a time when most of our weekdays are spent typing at desks, pre-digital ways of working feel almost endangered. But the re-emergence of interest in hands-on pursuits, from pickling and preserving to woodwork, show a boom in the desire to know more about heritage ways of working. Which is why we want to talk about farmers.
The people who produce so much of our food – from wheat for bread to dairy for cheese, milk, crème fraîche, ice cream and all that good stuff – seem to get lost in the noise of 21st century life. With our national disconnect from nature, (around 90 per cent of the UK population now live in towns and cities) it’s vital to remember the heritage foods being produced in time-honoured ways.
To get caught up, we had a chat with Sam and Matt Slack, 23 and 28 respectively. Fourth generation dairy farmers, they live and work in the Peak District. From dawn break to lights out, here’s what a day in their life looks like.
Spoiler alert: it’s heavy on the graft, low on the chill.
1. Wake-up call
As you’d expect, it’s a pretty early start on the farm. “It’s up at 6.15am, then milking at 6.30am,” says Sam. “The cows need feeding, as do the calves, then their sheds need mucking out and tidying up.” All before we’ve turned off our alarm. Sure.
2. Getting down to business
Once that’s done, it’s time for breakfast, before “getting on with the day,” according to Matt. “Fixing any bits of equipment, in the summer time, getting out in the field and ploughing, baling up grass for the cows to eat in preparation for the winter – there’s always plenty to do.”
3. Finishing up
“We finish the day around 7.30pm to 8pm,” Sam says. “It’s long, but we don’t really think about it like that – we grew up on a farm, so it’s normal.” With farming being the family trade through so many years, the ‘get on with it’ mentality is strong in this lot. We’ll admit: we’re impressed.
4. What weekend?
When you’re a farmer, you have to make hay while the sun shines. Literally. “Summer’s our busiest time,” says Sam. “It’s when all the ploughing, harvesting and seeding needs doing.
We’ll take it in turns to maybe have a day off each weekend, or Saturday afternoon. We often have to plan our social lives and family get togethers around milking, you always have to look after the cows first.” Living that farm life isn’t easy.
5. Dealing with challenges
When you work mostly outdoors, naturally the weather throws up some difficulties. “When it doesn’t stop raining for weeks, it makes farming challenging,” says Matt.
“We live quite far away from a main road, so, when it snows, you end up digging the accessways clean so that the milk truck can come and go. Then there’s days where everything breaks, all of the machinery needs repairing – but you don’t mind so much when you live and work in such a nice part of the world.” No rain without shine and all that, we guess.
6. The good stuff
“We love working with animals. And being up and awake before the rest of the world, you get to hear the birds as the sun comes up, which is pretty nice,” says Sam. “It’s a rewarding thing to do – when everything goes right and you’re really productive, it feels amazing.”
7. Producing something worthwhile
Being one of the richest sources of calcium, and high in protein as well as of a number of key vitamins and minerals, like vitamin B12 and iodine, milk is a super nutritious product.
“I think, like with bread, people think of milk as a staple,” says Matt. “But we forget all of the great things it’s packed with – not to mention the care and effort that goes into its production.” Preserving the tradition – passed down through four generations of the Slack family – is crucial. “With the extra 25p that comes from Arla Farmer’s Milk, we feel really supported and backed by people,” he adds. So keep on choosing it and protect this heritage product for generations to come. Simple.