By @SimonCocking. Interesting interview with  Lorna Sixsmith Calf rearer by day & writer by night. ‘How To Be A Perfect Farm Wife’ my new book, available in bookshops and from my website. eBook

Your background?

I was brought up on this farm but lived an urban life in England for 12 years, returning to farming in 2002. I seem to change career about every five years on average, sometimes doing two or three at the same time. I’ve been a dental nurse, a brass rubber showing tourists how to make brass rubbings (my job in Salisbury cathedral for four summers when I was a full-time student), a secondary school teacher, a university lecturer, an interior designer, a social media consultant, a farmer and a writer.

How do you manage being a calf rearer & writer?

We are a spring calving herd so my busiest time on the farm is February to early May and the quietest time tends to be November to the end of January. I seem to be falling into the timetable of writing a first draft between January and May, then editing madly for May, June and July. July and August are when the finishing touches are applied: interior illustrations, finalising the book cover, getting it edited professionally, getting it formatted and printed. September is all about marketing and launching the book (with a key focus on the Ploughing Championships as the Irish media focuses on farming for that week) and I spend October to Christmas marketing and selling the books online, supplying bookshops and doing interviews.

Does one help the other?

Well, they say to write about what you know so I guess I’m doing exactly that by writing about farming in a humourous way. Farming is one of those careers where if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry so it’s important to keep a sense of humour as well as a firm grasp on reality at all times. All three books (two published and the one I’m currently working on) include a historical perspective too as I compare farming lives from the past to our lives now so my MA in Irish studies definitely helps too.

Your writing appears in a variety of outlets, what advice would you give to other writer/farmers?

As my books are focused on farming, it means that I can focus on a target audience of farm families. Most interviews have taken place within farm shows on radio and within farming newspapers (although I’ve also been interviewed on TV chat shows, general radio programmes and mainstream newspapers) so they reach my target. Both Irish wholesalers (Argosy Books and Easons) stock my books so they are available in all Irish bookshops while people abroad purchase them from Amazon, online bookshops or my website. I have just started working as a columnist for The Scottish Farmer and this will help me to increase my reach abroad. It will be interesting to see how it helps sales. My books sell much better as paperbacks than eBooks as people enjoy sharing them, reading parts out aloud to each other and giving them as gifts.

Many farmers in UK are diversifying, do you think might work in Ireland?

Specialising in one enterprise on a farm is a relatively recent phenomenon in Ireland. We have a dairy and beef farm and have noticed that many farmers (depending on whether their land is fragmented or not) have ceased the beef or sheep enterprises and are now concentrating on dairy. While many have opened farm shops, created cheese or other products to sell at farmers markets, or run a B&B, many farming families relied on an off farm income and indeed, in the 1970s and 1980s (and probably still today), a teacher or a nurse was viewed as a “very good catch” for a farmer!

More farmers are creating their own food products and selling directly to market – be it at a farmer’s market or expanding to target supermarkets.   I think this will continue and increase.

Blog / twitter / facebook / + others, Pinterest, Instagram seem like good outlets.

How do you balance which ones you use?

I love writing so the blog is a must. My main reason for blogging is enjoyment but now I also use it to promote the books, to test content ideas on my audience and to grow a community. When I ran the crowdfunding campaign in 2013, I found the blog, Facebook and Twitter to be the most effective in gaining success.

I usually post to my Facebook page once a day and the content is almost always either related to farming or humourous (and sometimes both). I enjoy chatting on Twitter but I also love the way readers send me a tweet to share something they have baked from one of my recipes or tell me how they enjoyed my book. Similar happens on Instagram. I haven’t started a podcast or using snapchat properly yet and that’s partly down to lack of time – they are on the to do list for when things calm down somewhat during the summer.

What inspired you to go into farming?

Brian was working as a scientist and I was a secondary school teacher when we got the opportunity to return to Ireland to farm. We had dreams of eventually moving to Devon or France and yes, probably owning a smallholding there. Brian always loved dairy farming and maybe it was our stage in life that made it seem right as we moved back to Ireland with a 3 week old baby. Moving back into farming was a big decision though as our lives were going to change so drastically between moving back into a rural community not to mention going from 9-5 jobs with good paid holidays to full-time farming.

What are your favourite farming books / ideas, ie like John Seymour Self sufficiency book, permaculture, biodynamic or anything else

I really enjoy humourous farming memoirs where farmers tell the story of their own farm but are able to laugh at themselves too. Authors I’d recommend include Roger Evans, Simon Dawson and James Robertson and of course, I love James Herriot’s books too. I also enjoy historical farming books and one of my favourites is Irish Farming Life by Jonathan Bell and Mervyn Watson.

What tech, if any, makes your life easier?

We use the Kingswood app and programme to keep data on our herd up to date. Being able to register calves online makes life much easier too. All bovines have an individual tag number and there’s quite a bit of data to be updated on each animal each year.

What tech do you wish existed to help make your life easier?

If I could verbally tell the app relevant information rather than having to find the appropriate animal and key it in, that would be really clever. It could update  that a particular animal had been treated, what weight it is, what date it is born, how much we got for it when sold and much more with verbal commands, life would probably be much easier.

How do you see farming in Ireland going in the future?

I don’t think anyone has a crystal ball but farms certainly seem to be getting bigger and there are less of them around. I’d like to think that family farms will still be the dominant type of farming for many generations, farms that can sustain a family properly. At the moment much of Irish produce is going into commodities, it would be nice to see Irish milk, meat and other foodstuffs being seen and sold as niche and premium. There’s many others threats to the livelihood of Irish farmers too with Brexit and TIPP looming on the horizon.

Tell us a funny story about being a farmer in 2016?

Oh, which one to choose? There are so many things that happen that if you didn’t laugh you’d cry! This is what happened last night. I often say that a farm wife needs to be telepathic, particularly when sorting cattle and being told to turn back ‘the black one’ and you’re wondering which is the blackest of the three black and white cattle hurtling towards you

I had gone to set up wires and gates as the cows were going to a field at the far end of the farm. Brian gave me a head start so the cows wouldn’t be on my tail when I was wrestling with gates. However, there was no sign of the cows so I rang him. It turned out we both thought the other had closed the gate going to the field they had been on that day, a field at the other end of the farm with very little grass left on it. Thank goodness for a good dog as he rounded them up and brought them back out to us as I went off on a “Take Two” walk in front of them. At least it was a nice evening for a couple of walks to and fro!


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