A FARM holiday might be expected to conjure up images of quaint cottages and traditional rural pubs.
But if you’ve ever read a James Herriot book, you’ll understand why I approached a day billed as a ‘hands-on farm experience’ with fears of heavily pregnant cows and rolled-up shirt sleeves. I just hoped ‘hands on’ didn’t really mean ‘hands in’.
Thankfully, Charles Davis is living proof that, while the number of people leaving the farming industry rises, not all farmers are ruddy-faced men verging on retirement, keen to show city folk a real day’s work.
Forward-thinking farmers have been increasingly turning to tourism to supplement their income and 37-year-old Charles has pioneered the concept of ‘farmer for a day’.
He invites members of the public to don the mandatory green wellies and overalls to experience the running of his 150-acre Gorstage Green Farm in rural Cheshire.
It’s an experience that appeals equally to both serious animal-lovers and the downright curious. Children also love the interaction with the animals, which makes for a great family day out.
Embassy Leisure Breaks offers a ‘farmer for a day’ experience at Gorstage Green Farm, combined with two nights at the four-star Ramada Chester on a bed-and-breakfast basis from £165 per person. The price is valid between Monday to Thursday year round.
We started at 7.30am with milking, a process which is now mostly automated. While the cows trooped into the milking shed, the velvet tones of Terry Wogan provided an easy-listening soundtrack to their gentle moos.
“We keep the radio on as the music is good for the milking. Look after your animals and they will look after you,” smiled Charles, as we stopped for tea and toast in the kitchen of his 17th century farmhouse.
After breakfast it was back to work. We put down fresh bedding for the new calves and mucked out the cattle shed. The morning experience offered a real insight into a farmer’s life and I started to relax around the animals.
That is, until Charles left me to coax a five-day-old calf from an enclosure into her pen while he grappled with a 100kg cow, attempting to empty worming vaccination down her neck.
The calf started cautiously by sucking on my finger, a trick that simulates sucking on her mother’s teat.
But just as I thought I was home and dry, she made a sudden break for the front gate, leaving me chasing breathlessly behind. It was my Herriot moment. Thankfully, Charles’ loyal dog, Crystal, was on hand to help me chase her back.
After lunch, the afternoon was given over to working in the fields before milking and feeding the cows again.
The Davis family have been involved in dairy farming since Charles’ grandfather set up a farm near Liverpool in the 1920s.
Charles inherited the current farm, with 80 pedigree Holstein-Friesian cattle, from his father. But farms across Cheshire were devastated by foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, while the UK beef industry is only now recovering from Mad Cow Disease.
With fresh air and clear skies above the Cheshire Plains, we chatted about the state of the industry while we worked.
“The price of milk, as dictated by market forces and the supermarkets, is currently 16 pence per litre, but farmers need at least 21 pence to break even,” explained Charles, rounding off my day by treating me to a pint of ale at a nearby country pub.
“Farmers need more income and so we have to look to other sources.”
A farmer’s life is not as easy as some of us city folk might believe. But after a day against the backdrop of the Cheshire countryside, I could see why Charles has no plans to give it up.
“It’s a huge workload and the cost of ongoing investment is high, but I enjoy the comradeship of the animals,” he said, finishing his pint. “At the end of the day, I’m not one to get stuck in an office.”
Likewise, I thought I wasn’t one to get stuck into a pile of manure – until now.
Get clients out and about
Suggest a stay at the three-star Grinkle Park Hotel. On the North Yorkshire Moors, this Victorian hotel is set in 500 acres of land, near Whitby. The hotel is close to the village of Goathland, which is otherwise known as Aidensfield in ITV’s Heartbeat. Superbreak offers stays at the hotel from £47.50 per person, per night on a bed-and-breakfast basis from now until the end of April 2007.
WA Shearings has a five-day ‘Best of the Lake District tour’, taking in a trip on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway and the 13th century Muncaster Castle, as well as a cruise on Ullswater Lake and sailing from Pooley Bridge. Priced from £243 per person for departures in May 2007, it includes four nights’ accommodation at the two-star Windermere Hotel. Prices vary according to departure region and include all
Grand UK Holidays offers a five-day tour called The Heart of Wales. Based at the two-star Glen Usk in the spa town of Llandrindod Wells, it gives customers the opportunity to take in the Cambrian Mountains and Brecon Beacons National Park. It costs £179 per person, twin-share including escorted excursions and insurance.
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