A day in the life of a Somerset farmer
Who am I?
My name is Victoria Eveleigh and my husband’s name is Chris. I always dreamed I’d marry a farmer and live on Exmoor, and somehow I managed it! We have been farming West Ilkerton for nearly 25 years.
Type of Farm
West Ilkerton Farm is a 240 acre hill livestock farm, about four miles inland from Lynmouth and the North Devon coast, in Exmoor National Park. My grandmother bought the farm in 1968, and I remember long, happy school holidays here, staying with Grandma and riding at Outovercott - a neighbouring riding stable which is still owned by my family. The farm borders open moorland, where we have grazing rights for our Exmoor Horn sheep, Exmoor ponies and Red Ruby cattle. We keep traditional local breeds, and try to blend traditional farming methods with modern knowledge – raising our animals as naturally as possible with minimal stress.
What we do
Just to set the scene - the weather is constantly changing, and the weather dictates what jobs we do to a certain extent – there’s no point in cutting a field of grass for hay in summer if it’s pouring with rain. Other jobs happen whatever the weather (like lambing, calving and foaling) but it makes a huge difference if the weather’s good. That’s why farmers are always talking about the weather!
In winter the cattle are in the sheds, and the cows start calving in January. Winter means lots of hard physical work, as all the animals on the farm have to be fed at least twice a day with hay or silage, the cattle have to be bedded up with clean straw and there’s lots of mucking out to do. If it’s snowy or icy, keeping all the animals fed, watered and warm is a constant struggle.
The cattle go out to the fields in late March, whatever the weather, because we need the sheds for lambing the sheep in April. Lambing is very hard work, but it can be an exciting time, too. The holiday cottage is always booked well in advance for lambing time, as there’s always a lot to see and do.
Things start to become easier in May because the grass is tall enough for us to stop feeding the animals in the fields. They still have to be checked twice a day, though, and any problems dealt with. The fields are rolled, muck and fertiliser are spread and we get ready for summer, which is a time for major jobs like shearing, hay-making and silage-making. In the autumn the lambs and calves are weaned, and several animals are sold before winter sets in.
All year round there’s lots of farm maintenance work to be done, and lots of record-keeping and form-filling as well. Oh, and there’s always a hurry to get everything looking as nice as possible for our visitors in the holiday cottage on Friday which is changeover day!
What I like and what keeps me going
One of the things I love about farming is that no two days are the same. A few years ago, I started writing books (which Chris illustrates) and I publish and sell them myself, which is pretty time-consuming. So, all in all, it’s difficult to have a day off here. However, we realise how lucky we are. If there’s a bit of time spare during the day, we can go for a walk or ride on the moor, or go to the beach for a quick swim in summer. As Chris always says: I don’t count farming here as work – I enjoy it too much for it to be work!