Hazel Anderson: Furlough on the farm

Hazel Anderson

BlackaddersHazel Anderson reflects on a furlough period that sounds busier than life at the office.

I write this in week 12 of being a furloughed worker. Going from full-time solicitor to full-time stay at home parent to two pre-school children was a little daunting, but frankly a lot less stressful than trying to work full time with no childcare help at all. I take my hat off to those who are still managing both and have not yet committed crimes against the person or members of their own households.

I approached furlough like any good lawyer, and made a list. Like any other lawyer I know, 12 weeks later, some items remain unchecked. My list commenced with ‘make fire pit for boys’ [tick], sort out personal paperwork [un-tick], build compost heap [tick]….As much as I love my job, I really do detest being indoors for any length of time, so apart from when rain stopped play, the past 12 weeks have been spent outdoors, and indoor non-essential tasks perpetually fall to the bottom of the list. I quickly found that the kids would rarely tolerate watching me at a desk or computer, but being outside gave them endless opportunities to keep busy.

Lockdown commenced during an extremely busy time on the farm, with 150 spring calvers to contend with and 230 acres of spring sowing to get underway. Therefore, the jobs on my to-do list were quickly replaced with my new roles of ‘chief-fetcher-of-spare-parts’ for the seed drill, telehandler or whichever machine was not playing ball that week; ‘meals on wheels service for hungry (read, grumpy) seed drill operator’; ‘assistant stick-waver’ for shifting cattle out to grass*; ‘calving assistant’, usually involving making colostrum at an hour you would rather be tucked up in bed; and ‘drugs mule’ for collecting vaccines to prevent sickly calves from taking their last breath.

Having the kids at home has been a learning curve for us as parents, but wonderful for the kids. Living on a farm is a first-class learning environment, both for mental and physical stimulus. Guddling in ponds, rearing tadpoles (important life lessons about mortality to be gained!), climbing trees and playing hide and seek in silage bouts has created great learning opportunities and memories.

What lessons have I learned?

Before declaring war on ivy in the garden, assess quantity of ivy before you commence ripping it out and realise a) there was more ivy than hedge and your already windy garden is now even more so; and b) you are now stuck 30 foot up in a (now ivy-free) Sycamore tree, with husband and children out of earshot, and no obvious means of getting down.

Properly plan cropping rotations when ordering seed (or in my case, buying seed packets at Lidl), so you don’t end up with 100+ broccoli, tomato, lettuce, beetroot and carrot plants, and then find yourself in a domestic dispute as to which permanent pasture (ie husband’s favoured and much-tended garden lawn) should be ripped up to make space for veg.

Lastly, don’t engage in the ‘Team Rural Lockdown Hair Challenge’**  when you still have essential travel to make to the vets. If there was ever any doubt, appearances do matter, I have learned it is a lot more straightforward to pick up a crate of Rispoval from the new member of staff at the vets, when you don’t resemble Tom Hanks’ slightly less hirsute younger sister from Castaway.

I’ll be back to work on a part-time basis in two weeks, so if anyone needs me in the meantime, I’ll be washing my hair, trying to remember how to work a laptop, and possibly trying to tackle that mountain of bank statements which I should have done 12 weeks ago!

*For the uninitiated, this involves standing guard at a usually crucial field gate, road or pen of cattle and using the ‘magic blue stick’ (a blue alkathene pipe, which when waved aggressively should save you from certain death when a post-partum cow happens finds you between her and her new calf) to get cattle from A-B. Farming close to a village in a particularly scenic spot meant that more often than not, the stick waving was being directed as well-meaning daily exercisers who had found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

**Before you ask, evidence of this will remain confidentially enshrined in our team WhatsApp group.

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