All of my friends come from different walks of life, and I have learnt so much from them but my farming friends have given me an insight into a totally different world that no one ever told me about! They've not only inspired my art career but have taught me so much too. Here are my 10 favourite farming friends insights:
1) 365 Farm reality
They don’t work the traditional 9-5. They work 24-7-365. Their life isn't about a work life balance struggle it's about living a work ethic that's rare and admirable. They're passionate about it even though long hours and lack of freedom come with the territory. This is their name on the line, reputation and livelihood. It is totally impressive and inspirational too.
2) Time is irrelevant
I quickly realised that “farmer time” is not the same as GMT – “We'll be 10 minutes late” normally involves a disappearance of at least 3 hours and a look of disgust if you even dare to mention their late arrival (again)! I've found myself sneaking around their house altering clocks and watches to try to encourage better time management but to no avail! Also be wary of "have you got 5 minutes?" … nothing is ever just 5 minutes!
3) No farm topic is off limits
The majority of the conversations I have with these friends will be about farming…of course! Farm talk will even become table talk during meals out or a drink down the pub. I get to hear all about crops, equipment, weather, world milk prices, quality of semen and artificial insemination … It's brilliant to hear about their love of farming their eagerness to innovate within the industry, their passion is palpable and ambition is remarkable.
4) Learn their language
To take part in any conversation I've had to learn a new language e.g heifer, conformation, dip, bag, tits, mastitis, quarters, .. to name but a few. Infact farming terminolgy is taken very seriously If someone points out a cow and calls it a bull, they’ll be the first to correct them. They understand that you may not have come from a farm, but they’ll make sure to educate you on the differences between a cow and a heifer, hay and straw, a plow and a disc.
There was an instance where I was sent to fetch the "cow cake" … that's another blog for another time!
When shopping with a dairy farming friend (a rarity in itself) the cost of everything is related to the value of a cow. Knowing the value of your stock cows is important, whether you are working out a budget for your herd, or getting ready to purchase a new kitchen or handbag! Of course not much is worth more than their cows to them, but they like to play the compare the cow calculation to translate it into their world!
Side-note: be aware that any trip out of town will involve some sort of farming business that you had no idea you were going on!
6) Inspirational reading
Coffee table literature will be made up largely of: Farmer’s Weekly, Farmer’s Guardian, British Farmer and numerous Breed Journals (N.B if these are not on the coffee table they'll be at the side of the toilet). Recently I had a moment of realisation that my Husband (a-sparky-not-a-farmer) would love an annual subscription of Farmers Weekly!
7) Entrepreneurial role models
Ultimately they wear several hats all rolled into one; financial director, head of sales, strategic planner, chemist, counsellor, mechanic, tractor operator and meteorologist. They know a bit about a lot of things and they use their broad skills and curiosity to learn to adapt their own business so it's responsive to the changing demands of our society. That's a tough job as they constantly need to review and respond, be brave and take risks - true entrepreneurs!
8) Technical art advisors
When I started to paint portraits of cows, I quickly learnt that it wasn't just about tone, colour, shape and perspective. My farming friends encouraged me to visit farms and to take in everything that farmers loved about the conformation of their animals. Conformation is the desirable and undesirable skeletal and muscular structures of an animal. It covers all of the important areas of an animal's structure, from the legs, the spine (or top-line) and the hind quarters to the neck and head. I've gathered all sorts of understanding that helps with my artwork. For example on painting "Mr Hereford" I learnt that in most bulls, the curly hair on the forehead symbolises a bull's good fertility and masculinity. When I painted "Rose" a supreme champion Holstein, I understood that her body condition was judged to be good and solid, therefore deemed to be a highly productive cow for a breeding herd, a true status of breeding success.
9) No job too small
Once you have a farming friend you will realise that they are very generous and they're always keen to lend a hand, especially if they can use their tools or machinery. So don't be surprised if a manitu trundles up your drive to help you plant that hyacinth you've just bought from the market! You'll have the job done in no time at all (albeit in an agricultural fashion).
10) Be prepared to be impressed
In 2011 I exhibited my cow art for the first time at the "All Britain All Breeds Calf Show". The Show supports the next generation of dairy enthusiasts with age groups ranging from Juniors 12 and under to Mature 21 to 26. Calves are entered with each of the teams putting on informative displays with details of their group, breed and county that they represent. The young enthusiasts are judged on their showmanship skills and the calves themselves are judged with the Champions being declared the Best in the UK. All calves in attendance had to qualify by winning a first prize at county shows earlier in the year to enter this prestigious event. It was an honour to present the trophy for the ABAB 2014 Winners Of The Tidy Lines Competition at the Calf Show - what great smiles and can you tell there was a little wrestle for who was holding the trophy!
Photo montage includes: Lizzie Bland Livestock Photography, "Saxelby Goldwyn Rose", "Mr Hereford", Lucinda Morgan Livestock Photography and Sam Morris Cow Art.