This Farming Life 2023 Episode 9

This Farming Life 2023 Episode 9

This Farming Life 2023 Episode 9 – As the first whispers of spring mingle with the crisp air, the season ushers in not just blooming flowers and longer days, but also the miracle of newborn livestock, a time of both joy and relentless work for those who tend them. In the serene surroundings of North Uist, there lies a tiny haven known as Vallay, where Carianne immerses herself in the rugged beauty and the daily adventures it brings. Her primary quest these days involves the meticulous tracking of new Highland calves, born amidst the raw beauty of the island. However, joy turns to concern when she stumbles upon a calf, alone and vulnerable without its mother’s warmth. This unexpected turn of events propels Carianne into the role of a detective on a mission, as she navigates the expansive terrain to orchestrate a heartwarming reunion.



Several miles away in Inverkip, the story unfolds differently but with the same undying commitment. Rachel and Camy, equipped with an unspoken understanding, set forth into the undulating hills, their eyes scanning for Cheviot sheep on the cusp of motherhood. These dedicated shepherds become impromptu midwives, ready at a moment’s notice to provide assistance, ensuring the cycle of life continues seamlessly amidst the highlands.



Meanwhile, in the pastoral landscapes of South Ayrshire, the Barclay family finds themselves in a perennial race against time. Their flock of Beltex ewes are on the brink of enriching the countryside with new life. With the promise of this year’s crop of lambs on the horizon, the Barclays engage in a non-stop vigil, an intricate ballet of care, expertise, and sheer determination, ensuring each lambing process concludes in a celebration of life. Spring, in its essence, is a mosaic of life-affirming moments. And on the Scottish isles, humans and animals alike synchronize in a timeless rhythm, an ode to survival, rebirth, and the undying resilience of life.


This Farming Life 2023 Episode 9


Spring is in the air, bringing newborn livestock. In North Uist, Carianne spends her days on the tiny island of Vallay in search of new Highland calves. When one calf is discovered without a mother, Carianne must turn detective to reunite them. In Inverkip, Rachel and Camy are heading to the hills to help any of their Cheviot sheep in need of a midwife. And in South Ayrshire, the Barclay family are working round the clock to ensure their flock of Beltex ewes safely deliver this year’s crop of lambs.


A Detective’s Work is Never Done

The spring weather has arrived on the Scottish island of North Uist, ushering in the start of calving season for the Highland cows on the MacDonald’s croft. But the idyllic surroundings of Vallay Island belie the challenges ahead for Carianne MacDonald.

Each morning as the sun rises over the Hebrides, Carianne boards a small boat to reach Vallay where the herd of Highland cattle spend their days grazing. She must check each of the cows to ensure any new calves are tagged and recorded. The maternal Highland cows are generally protective of their young and can be unpredictable if they feel threatened. Carianne has learned through experience to tag calves from the safety of her Land Rover, reaching through the window to minimize altercations with anxious mothers.

One morning, Carianne discovers a newborn calf apparently abandoned without its mother nearby. A new case is afoot for Detective Carianne to locate the missing maternal link before it’s too late. The calf desperately needs that first nourishing drink from its mother to receive vital antibodies and nutrients. But with over 250 acres of long grass and hidden hollows, the search area is daunting. After an unsuccessful day combing the island, Carianne reluctantly departs on the incoming tide empty-handed. But she is determined to crack the case. There are still cows left to calve, so the search will continue at first light.

Back on Vallay the next day, Carianne systematically checks each cow who has yet to give birth, looking for signs they may be the culprit. One cow catches her attention, no longer appearing pregnant but without a calf by her side. Carianne recalls trying to pair this cow with the abandoned calf yesterday, to no avail. She seems to have found her prime suspect. With the help of her father-in-law Angus and farmhands, they isolate the cow and ferry her by boat back to the farm. If all goes well, they can reunite mother and daughter and restore their broken bond. But Carianne knows Highland cows can be stubborn, and this one may not readily accept her calf. If not, Carianne will have no choice but to take over as surrogate mom and hand-rear the calf herself. After days of detective work, the case finally hangs in the balance.


Lambing in the Rain on Dunrod Farm

Meanwhile, across Scotland in Inverkip, the hills above Dunrod Farm are alive with the sounds of new life. The Cheviot flock belonging to Rachel Hamilton and her fiancé Cammy Jackson has begun lambing. This is only their second year running the 700-acre farm, and lambing did not go smoothly last season. They know each lamb born healthy is a bonus, helping grow their young business. But the weather so far has been wet and windy – not ideal conditions for newborn lambs.

Rachel is taking time off from her day job to provide round-the-clock care for the heavily pregnant sheep. She and Cammy check on their flock every few hours, even through the night, keeping watch for signs of labour and standing ready to assist if needed. It’s a tiring routine, with little sleep, and tensions sometimes run high for the couple during this intense period. But any arguments stay in the field – after all, lambing time also brings them closer sharing the experience.

On mornings after stormy nights, Rachel has extra cause for concern. Hypothermic lambs unable to warm themselves risk dying without quick intervention. She rushes to help several found collapsed and chilled at dawn, feeding them warm colostrum milk to raise their temperature. While hardy Cheviot sheep rarely need human help giving birth, the brutal weather has been an added challenge this lambing season. But the days are getting longer, and field conditions are slowly improving. As long as the weather allows, Rachel and Cammy remain optimistic for a successful lambing year ahead.


All Hands on Deck Lambing with the Barclays

Meanwhile, in South Ayrshire, the Barclay family are also hard at work delivering lambs at their farm near Maybole. Parents John and Heather rely heavily on their three young sons during the intensely busy lambing season. 12-year-old twins Cameron and Finlay, and younger brother Archie, all eagerly pitch in with morning and night-time lamb checks before and after school. While other children their age may prefer video games or watching TV, these brothers share a passion for farming and the outdoors.

The entire family works seamlessly together like a well-oiled machine to juggle the deluge of lambing tasks. Each day brings new challenges, from feeding pens to docking tails and tagging the newborn lambs. But the boys take real pride in their important roles, knowing their help makes a tremendous difference. Their hands-on experience with the sheep will prove invaluable down the road, as they represent the next generation for the family business.

After over 5 weeks of round-the-clock lambing, the Barclay’s top-quality Suffolk flock has finished delivering. Now it’s the turn of their smaller pedigree Beltex breeding stock, which realize higher prices for their spotted faces and muscular frames. But looking after the more delicate Beltex breed comes with extra demands. Their special pampering includes lambing indoors and supplementary night feeds.

When a ewe struggles giving birth, John lends a experienced hand, coaxing out the slippery new lambs. Thanks to his intervention, all emerge healthy including one born to a geriatric ewe well past her prime. The Barclays never give up on an animal, no matter the effort required. Their commitment to care epitomizes the dedication of farming families during the make-or-break lambing season.


Bonding Time for Cow and Calf

Back on North Uist, Carianne has returned to the farm with the suspected mother of the abandoned calf. But their attempted reunion immediately hits a snag. The cow grows agitated and aggressive, refusing to bond with her calf. Highland cows develop tight maternal bonds right after giving birth. Since this pair was separated, Carianne faces an uphill battle getting the cow to accept the hungry calf as her own.

They move the cow into a pen so the calf can at least drink vital colostrum milk. But this temporary fix provides no guarantee. The cow must choose to adopt the calf and fulfill her maternal duties. Carianne knows hand-rearing is a last resort, as the calf’s health depends upon feeding straight from its mum.

The stakes are raised further when a second newborn calf turns up motherless after its own mum perished. Now Carianne is surrogate parent to not just one but two calves. While double the work, the pair will take comfort in each other’s company. Carianne names the tan calf Harriet and the darker one Hughina. Both depend entirely on her for around-the-clock care and feeding. Come rain or shine, her new role demands dedication morning, noon and night. But Carianne has gained ample experience mothering calves in the past. Harriet and Hughina could not be in safer hands.


A Rocky Start to Motherhood

However, Carianne still hopes to make the foster mother bond with the calf she left behind. Each day, they bring the pair together, watching intently for signs of progress. But the cow named Magpie remains aloof, showing no interest in playing her rightful part. After three days it becomes clear – Magpie will not accept the calf. With no other options, Carianne takes over full surrogate duties for the little calf as well.

Though disappointed, she handles this new challenge in stride. Carianne reflects on how much her skills and confidence as a farmer have grown over the years under the mentorship of her father-in-law Angus. She is now utterly at home tending to the cattle’s daily needs, having deftly delivered calves and doctored their ailments many times before.

Carianne’s extended family on the croft all agree – she has become a true cattle whisperer, thinking on her feet and calmly handling any situation when problems arise. Though still in her 20’s, her wealth of hands-on experience would rival farmers twice her age. Carianne may not have planned on being a mum to three calves. But with her deep well of knowledge, these lucky orphans could not be in better care.


A Rainbow After the Storm

As April arrives in Inverkip, Rachel and Cammy’s lambing season passes the halfway mark. The weather has mercifully improved, making their hard work a touch easier. The daily treks into the hill pastures to check on laboring ewes is less arduous without the punishing wind and rain. The lambs they find seem more vigorous after milder nights, with fewer cases of hypothermia.

Rachel and Cammy have established an efficient rhythm in their monitoring and care of the flock. While Rachel handles bottle-feeding any weak lambs in their makeshift ICU, Cammy spray-marks the newborns with their mother’s ID color. This chore helps ensure each ewe recognizes her own offspring when returned to the hillsides.

Their efforts so far appear to have paid off – lamb numbers have already well exceeded last year’s total. Rachel and Cammy aimed to lamb over 600 ewes after managing just 500 last season. Their hard work expanding the flock in preparation is now bearing fruit. While challenges surely still lie ahead until lambing concludes, this major milestone buoyed their hopes of a successful second year farming together.


Showtime for the Barclays

With all their lambs now arrived in South Ayrshire, the Barclay family can finally catch their breath. While lambing brought bone-tiredness and stress, seeing their flock thriving makes every struggle worthwhile. The first trips to the fields with their band of new lambs are always heartwarming. The young lambs delight in their newfound freedom, tentatively exploring their vast outdoor playground.

But John and Heather’s work with the sheep is far from done. Now begins the task of selecting their finest specimens to compete at agricultural shows and sales. The boys eagerly lend their young eyes, combing through the lambs for the ideal combination of muscling, fleece quality, and breed characteristics. They know the ins and outs of what makes a champion as well as their parents.

The Barclays are regular contenders on the showing circuit with their Suffolks and pedigree Beltex flock. They devote careful attention to preparing their show team, trimming fleeces and keeping them exercised and conditioned. When show day arrives, the whole family heads out to support whichever Barclay brother drew the short straw to show in the ring that year. They know appearances matter to judges, and ensure their lambs look pristine alongside glossy competitors.

While successes feel sweet after long hours practicing and grooming, the Barclays remain gracious at shows whether placing first or last. Simply participating together as a family makes every event special. The memories made showing their homebred sheep will stick with the boys for a lifetime. But when ribbons and trophies are won, they celebrate in style on the drive home. Because no one cheered louder for their triumphs than Dad, Mum, and brothers.


Change is in the Air

Early spring is a time of renewal and fresh starts for farms across the country. Fields are rotated and livestock shifted between pastures, ensuring animals have the best forage. On the Barclay farm, their lambs are now two months old and ready for their first taste of freedom. After a long winter confined indoors, John prepares to turn them out into an adjacent field full of new grass.

Given their long enclosure, the lambs lack experience outdoors and with the farm’s sheepdog. John takes precautions, carefully barricading gates and paths to prevent stray lambs. But the ritual turns chaotic as lambs panic and ewes bolt in all directions. John and Heather eventually shepherd them through the mud into the lush pasture, but not without a few close calls and air turns blue. While stressful in the moment, soon lambs and mothers relax together enjoying breakfast al fresco. The move was a success, and John chuckles in hindsight at the minor misadventures.

Change is afoot in other ways on the Barclay farm. Since the death of John’s father Robert, they have scaled back their operation to focus more on pedigree breeding stock. Lambing 600 ewes instead of over 1,000 has been an adjustment for John. But he now appreciates the reduced workload and hours spent with family. John knows life offers no guarantees, and is focused on enjoying the present while passing his knowledge to the next generation.


Testing the Market

Greater change lies ahead on Rachel and Cammy’s farm in Inverkip as their business rapidly expands. They have chosen two ewes from their flock to sell at the annual Lockerbie auction. While thinly trading females may sacrifice profit short-term, introducing new bloodlines is vital for their budding pedigree flock. The income from the sale will help fund improvements around the farm.

They prep the ewes like models before a fashion show, trimming fleeces to emphasize their best features. Online promotion helps drum up interest in their quality breeding stock. But the volatility of the sheep market makes their final hammer price unpredictable. At the busy sale, Rachel anxiously awaits the auctioneer’s verdict as their two ewes enter the ring. One ewe fetches a solid price of £500. But the second falls short of hopes at just £300.

While disappointed, Rachel and Cammy take the sale in stride, remembering their successes so far getting the farm up and running. Minor setbacks are part of any new business, especially in agriculture with its many uncontrollable factors. Their commitment and vision for the future remain unchanged. The young couple know they have all the fundamental pieces now in place. With hard work and perseverance, their small seed of a farm will continue flourishing for many seasons to come.



The arrival of spring on farms across Scotland sets in motion both renewal and change. From calving cows to lambing ewes, new life emerges signalling new beginnings for livestock and farmers alike. But spring also brings lessons to take forward – cows that must find their way as surrogate mothers, couples learning greater trust and teamwork, and families coming to appreciate simpler blessings.

When times get tough, Scotland’s farming families draw strength from their shared bonds and faith in the great unknowns that lie ahead. Their work nurturing the land and animals define generations. Spring reminds Scottish farmers that even the longest winters will eventually yield to warmer days glowing with hope and possibility. As poet and farmer Wendell Berry eloquently wrote, “the joy of our marriage with the world cannot be taken from us.” The promise of sunnier days sustains the spirit when storms descend. With care and dedication, the future on these farms will flourish.


Frequently Asked Questions – This Farming Life 2023 Episode 9


What challenges do the farmers face during lambing season?

The farmers must deal with unpredictable weather, long hours with little sleep, and the constant demands to monitor pregnant ewes and newborn lambs. They must also sometimes step in to assist with difficult births or care for weak lambs.

How does Carianne help reunite the abandoned calf with its mother?

Carianne tries to detect which of the cows is the calf’s mother by process of elimination. She brings the suspected mother back to the farm to reunite her with the calf. When that fails, Carianne hand-rears the orphaned calf herself.

What roles do the Barclay brothers play on their family farm?

The three Barclay brothers, despite their young age, take on important jobs like feeding animals, tagging lambs, and helping care for any newborns in need. Their help is invaluable during the intensive lambing season.

Why do Rachel and Cammy bring two ewes to auction?

They choose to sell two ewes to raise funds for farm improvements and introduce new breeding stock to their growing pedigree flock. The auction will also increase exposure for their quality sheep.

How does the weather impact lambing conditions?

Poor weather like storms or cold snaps can prove dangerous for newborn lambs who risk becoming hypothermic. But milder weather helps the lambing process go more smoothly.

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