In some of the most remote and beautiful landscapes, Scotland and Northern Ireland’s farmers work day and night producing our milk and our meat, often struggling to turn a profit in tough economic times.
Over the course of a year, six different families let cameras onto their farms to share their struggles and their triumphs, providing unprecedented insight into what farming life is really like.
The natural beauty of the six farms’ locations is captured with stunning aerial photography. From Bovine TB to battling with drought, the personal stories of the farmers add emotional depth to the ongoing drama of working with animals, giving a 360-degree view of the realities of farming today.
By focusing on the real lives of the farmers, their personalities, emotions, dramas and the natural beauty of where they live, This Farming Life presents a dynamic and compelling document of life in contemporary rural Britain.
The series starts at New Year, in the depths of winter. Episodes 1-6 take us up to the end of spring, at which point the series will break, to return later in the year for the final 6 episodes.
In episode one (shown last night and available on BBC iPlayer), we meet four of our six farming families.
In the Cairngorms, hill farmer Johnny Irvine, 69, and his son Raymond Irvine, 47, gather in their sheep on a cold snowy day for pregnancy scanning and mineral dosing, but Raymond also has a pedigree flock tucked up nice and warm in a polytunnel back at the farm – Scotland’s first Valais Blacknose sheep from Switzerland, commonly described as “the cutest sheep in the world”.
In County Down, the Rodgers family breed pedigree and commercial (cross-bred) beef cattle. Dad Geoff inherited the farm when his father died; he runs it with wife Lizzie and their three children, Emma, 21, Martin, 19, and Lucy, 13.
Two months ago the family was hit with some terrible news – bovine TB was discovered in their pedigree herd and 20 animals had to be slaughtered.
Added to that a movement restriction was put on the herd – meaning no animals can enter or leave the farm until two consecutive TB tests prove negative.
We meet the family on the day that the vet is returning to do the next TB test – and the day they find out if any more of the herd must go to slaughter.
Also in this series, we see the return of buffalo farmer Stevie Mitchell, who had revealed two big plans at the end of series two: to become Scotland’s first producer of buffalo mozzarella, and to marry fiancée Sarah.
We meet up with him on a snowy day, prepping for his wedding. The next day it’s a fairy tale White Wedding with snow covering the ground. But Stevie returns to the farm after his honeymoon to some dreadful news.
In Shetland, young sisters Kirsty, 24, and Aimee Budge, 20, have taken on the running of the family farm after their father’s death four years ago. Together the sisters manage 72 suckler cows and 240 breeding ewes, as well as barley and silage fields.
They keep some of the ewes on St Ninian’s Isle, connected to the mainland by a stunning spit of sand. Farming this far north isn’t easy, but island life has its rewards.
The sisters take time out to celebrate a very special event in Shetland – Up Helly Aa, or the festival of the coming of the light – a unique spectacle honouring Shetland’s Viking heritage.
In episode two (on at 8pm, BBC 2, next Wednesday, February 20), still in the grip of winter, we meet our fifth farming family.
In the Scottish Highlands, recent arrivals Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer have a shared dream of living close to nature. Two years ago the couple bought an abandoned traditional Scottish smallholding known as a croft and started installing fences and improving the land.
As “rookie” farmers, it will be a year of many firsts, including the unenviable task of taking their pigs to slaughter.
Meanwhile, in the Cairngorms, Raymond Irvine breeds pedigree Charolais bulls to sell on to other farmers as stock bulls.
All winter he’s been preparing his top five bulls for the Stirling bull sales – the biggest sale of the year, which is just six weeks away.
But this morning he’s woken to some bad news – the bulls have been fighting and Major, his favourite, has some nasty injuries putting Raymond’s chances of selling Major in jeopardy.
In County Down, Geoff and Lizzie Rodgers’ farm needs two consecutive clear bovine TB tests to lift the restrictions and must wait 60 days between tests.
In just over 60 days it’s the Balmoral Show, an important showcase for their pedigree herd, but their chances of getting to Balmoral rest on the next TB test.
Buffalo farmer Stevie Mitchell’s big dream is to be producing Scotland’s first buffalo mozzarella by the end of the year. But his buffalo are bred for meat not dairy, so to make the move into dairy he’ll need to buy in a new milking herd. In this episode Stevie travels to Holland to shop for dairy buffalo.