I don’t claim to be anything special and I try to avoid stereotypes. If you are married to a farmer, you are your farmer’s wife but of course that doesn’t mean you are running round with ample bosoms, chasing cows, making jam and baking whilst picking the straw out of your hair and your arse. Being married to a farmer means you can do what you like and be who you want to be. You can dress up or dress down, work on the farm or choose not, that doesn’t mean you are any less of a person than another. Whether you do more or less than that depends on you and your needs and there certainly isn’t a rule book and there definitely aren’t any rules. I read somewhere recently someone was training to be a Farmer’s Wife, I thought when you pass love let me know if you got a certificate because I’m incredibly lucky if I get a thank you! What I do is what I do because I wish it to be that way not because I am living out an ‘idea’ of what I am supposed to be doing to look good or look shite as the case may be most of the time.
In the beginning of our marriage, pre children and before living in the farmhouse I still cooked all the meals and baked. It was not on the same scale as it is now, but Keith never came home and made my tea and I was full-time teaching back then. We have been living on the farm 6 years now and previous to that we lived in a cottage down the road. The work inside the house is my responsibility and it has always been this way. I make all the meals, look after the children, drive them to their health and social appointments, attend parent’s evenings alone. Christmas is always down to me to organise for our children, family and friends, as well as birthdays. I have always worked up until 3 years ago until I gave up teaching and decided to stay at home permanently. Lola was still young and all week I worked, then all weekend I did housework and cooked and baked to prepare the following week’s meals. I planned my lessons on Sunday evenings, sometimes not going to bed until 2am. I wasn’t gaining anything but money by going to work and I was losing out on my family.
On the farm we don’t take weekends off, very little time off actually because we milk cows and we have to do that twice a day. Up until my father in law took ill my main jobs which were farm related were: secretarial and administration, bill paying, running errands, ordering passports for cows and full-time lambing help for two months of the year.
Over the years my role has now increased to working on the farm everyday. It’s not a profession I planned on undertaking it’s just how our life has evolved. I never really had a career plan when I was young, I didn’t have that sort of upbringing. My mother and stepfather’s education did not go any further than secondary school, nor my father, who incidentally didn’t raise me or see me past my third birthday. I had no plans, just to work, earn money and move out and I did: paper round, shop assistant, jewellery assistant, dental nurse, reservations clerk, bar maid, cleaner, waitress, painter, ice cream seller, teacher and photographer I worked all my life except for maternity leave and while away at University. And now I would describe myself as The Feeder.
Food is my life, feeding my family and the animals is my life, looking after everybody and everything and caring for them.
Keith and I have had a lot of heartache and tears over the years, we lost a baby, I lost my grandmother and Keith lost his dad. But our days have also been filled with laughter and we couldn’t have been more blessed by having had our 3 children together.
People seem to want permanent highs and happiness these days so I don’t think this life is for everybody, there have been times myself when I have thought it isn’t for me. But over the years I have got more and more used to it and I finally feel at home. Not being born into it and not being raised to it I have found it hard. My grandfather farmed and I loved to help him out but that was holidays, weekends and Sundays not every day. It isn’t a hobby it’s a daily commitment to get up and go out whatever the weather for however long it takes to do what there is to do. And to be honest there are a lot of things that can go wrong especially when the weather is against you, the lows in farming are very low but when things go well it is incredibly satisfying. What does it teach you? Resilience, strength, stamina and perseverance, patience and tolerance to name a few qualities used daily.
If I were to define or explain what being a Farmer’s Wife is like for me I would go as far as to say it is how the Bible wished a marriage to be.
In Genesis, a wife is described as a helper suitable for him and that is how it is for me. I help Keith do his job.
In Ephesians Paul says the wife must respect her husband. When you respect your husband you notice him and it means valuing his opinion and admiring his wisdom and character; I do that on the farm 100% I truly admire Keith as a farmer. By coming home to work permanently at home inside and with Keith outside on the farm it has given me the opportunity to truly watch him work and I have much more respect and understanding for him as a farmer, as well as a husband and dad.
Titus calls wives to love their husbands unconditionally, but not only that to accept your husband just as he is—an imperfect person. When you spend so much time together there is no space to hide what you have is normal everyday life and you see each other how you really are. It isn’t fantasy it is very much grounded in raw reality.
Colossians & Ephesians both make it clear that a wife should submit voluntarily to her husband’s sensitive and loving leadership. This is exactly what happens on the farm between Keith and I, this doesn’t make me weak, or subservient, but when it comes to farming Keith is the leader and I am the follower. I have the greatest admiration for his knowledge and skill as a farmer, so much so I actually listen to him, do as I am told, ask for advice and accept it, a rare thing for me as I am rather stubborn and like to do things my own way.
I tell it how it is so it would wrong of me to give you the impression that our marriage is all hay days and cider. It isn’t, it’s tough and over the 19 years we’ve been married we’ve had many many disagreements and arguments; things have been thrown across the yard, bags have been packed to leave and unpacked to stay. Most of the time a woman’s needs are overlooked on the farm, we come a long way down the order of priority. Over 1000 animals to be responsible for and one wife who is perfectly capable of looking herself, the animals are looked after first. So for me there can be a feeling of neglect builds up and loneliness when the days are so busy there is no time for anything other than work.
One of the worst times of the farming year when the pressure builds up is during lambing time we work almost every hour for weeks and that is when, as my son puts it, we have ‘The yearly Lambing Row’.
It was once after one of those lambing rows that I decided it was best Keith and I should separate, I could see no way forward and I had had enough. I was exhausted and I didn’t think I could do it anymore. That night after searching through rented accommodation I felt such an overwhelming feeling of being at the very painful end of our relationship. I didn’t want to leave Keith but I wanted to leave the farm. The next morning I woke up very early before light with an urge to write. I was so incredibly sad and I felt all my hopes and dreams were done so with the lamp on low I began to write down the words that came to me.
A farmer’s Life
The Farmer’s day what a wonderful life, working the land with thoughts of his wife…
Are you going out today coz I got a cow calving? And I’ll be in for my dinner soon coz I’m starving!
If you are going out I’ve a list or two, of things you ain’t heard of, you wont have a clue! Filters, tubes, doses, licks, pipes and parts that I’ll need a hand to fix.
Can you call the Vet? Can you pay this bill? Can you order some straw? Can you order some till?
While he works outside she works outside and in, looking after the kids and emptying the bin! Meal making, washing, keeping the home fire burning, until he’s moving some heifers or some sheep needing turning…
Waving her arms in her wellies and dress, thinking my tea’s gonna burn and my hair looks a mess.
Meal conversation subjects are few: animals, weather, what next he will do. And he won’t take a holiday between October and May and still there’s the silage, the shearing, the hay…
So as you think of the farmer on his tractor all bright, working the land all day till the night, there’s a lady who feeds him and does everything she can, to support him and love her hardworking man. Some days are tiring, some days are tough, there are times when she thinks she’s had quite enough!
But most days there’s been laughter, most days there’s been fun, and everyday ends when the jobs are all done.
So when the dogs have stopped barking and pet lambs are asleep and the farmer has checked on his cows and his sheep…
The farmer’s day’s over, what a wonderful life, he falls into bed with thoughts of his wife…
And cuddled up in their bed one thing is true, the last thing that they say is…
I love you X
I read the poem through and afterwards I cried my bloody heart out. Then I got up, got dressed and went to feed the lamb that Keith had dumped in a tub in the kitchen.
That was the end of the row and the start of a new day.
*row – an argument or squabble