My finding is not statistically authenticated, but conversations in the past week about BBC2’s recent week-long Lambing Live were nine to three in favour.
As most of the conversations were with members of farming families well aware of the highs and lows of working with sheep, especially the mood swings from euphoric to suicidal that can accompany several weeks of lambing, I take that three-to-one ratio as convincing proof that the programme achieved what it set out to do.
It was certainly a vote of confidence shared by most television critics and the programme attracted an average of two million viewers – good for BBC2.
The usual feeling of those I spoke to was that television coverage gave a genuine picture of what a night in a lambing shed and surrounds can be like – especially the night of gale and rain – and, they hoped, a better public understanding of the problems farmers and their staff cope with.
I find Kate Humble’s “Oh my, oh my” enthusiasm and hand clapping a bit wearing, but that might simply be another symptom of getting older and grouchier and no fault at all of hers. Years of working with Bill Oddie would take its toll on anyone’s sanity.
I also take a slightly dimmer view of Adam Henson these days since I found he was a graduate of the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, but I accept that view is prejudiced by a number of royal graduates I’ve had dealings with. Most viewers wouldn’t know about his background and wouldn’t hold it against him if they did.
As well as insights into the months-long build-up to lambing and the importance of good results for the fortunes of a hill farm, we got asides such as preparation of a pedigree ram for sale.
Carefully plucking dark hairs from a ram’s muzzle to define the line between black and white more clearly – a vital selling point and so, we must assume, a vital pointer to the ram’s ability to produce quality offspring – then darkening the fleece by rubbing peat into it were fascinating. As Oscar Wilde said in another context, you’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.
But that’s pedigree breeding for you, more proof if any were needed that it’s impossible to spoof a process that spoofs itself so effectively. Questions such as what the shape of the head or how effectively the ears prick up have to do with carcase quality were not asked.
But why carp? If the lad wasn’t so enthusiastic about his ram breeding and cattle showing, he might not be so enthusiastic about making a living from sheep and cattle on a bleak hillside for himself and his growing family.
My final thought on “Lambing Live”, as it was with the first series of programmes last year, was how much preliminary research and interviewing must have gone on to find the apparently near-perfect family farming business in a near-perfect scenic location. And in both cases the intelligent, articulate, young wife was vital – not to mention the importance of her off-farm job to the family finances.
Sorry, that wasn’t quite my final thought as I’ve just remembered several instances of the camera showing people straddling hurdles to get into or out of a lambing pen and my hope as they did so that the hurdles were sound and in good repair. As they clambered to and fro, I recalled, vividly, cracking a rib when the top rail of a hurdle broke as I leaned over to grab a lamb.
A neighbouring shepherd had an experience that he claimed was even more eye-watering when the top rail of an old hurdle broke as he straddled it and he dropped to the one beneath. We couldn’t agree which was more painful when comparing notes, but did agree that neither of us laughed much for the next few days.
Neither of our injuries were, relatively speaking, serious, the reaction among onlookers being similar to that on a cricket pitch when a batsman gets hit in what the late Brian Johnston used to call “the lower tummy,” or a footballer collapses in a heap after being hit in the same place – that is, laughter from all those who haven’t been affected.
But as the NFU Mutual insurance company pointed out recently, as part of yet another campaign to improve the agricultural industry’s appalling safety record, in the most recent year for which statistics are available – till end-March, 2010 – more than 640 British farmers, family and staff were seriously injured and 38 were killed.
And in the past 10 years, 43 youngsters under 18 have been killed on farms, some illegally under-age for the work they were doing, especially involving tractor driving or quad bikes.
Truly, seriously, desperately, those horrifying totals have to be reduced even if – on the sort of idyllic spring days we had at the weekend with the countryside looking its very best – it’s hard to believe that anyone is going to be killed or maimed as they simply enjoy doing a job.