A few weeks back I spent the afternoon with the lovely Joyce Sunter on their farm near Downholme, here in the Yorkshire Dales. I wanted to photograph a snapshot of farm life for a camera club competition called (yes, you guessed it!) ‘On the farm’. Over the years I’ve photographed parts of rural life (basically quite a few sheep) but I wanted to actually photograph a working farm. I contacted Joyce and she kindly agreed to let me come on over with my camera!
I was a little apprehensive, not really knowing what to expect and also very aware of my ignorance of farm life as a bit of a ‘townie’. Plus – what if I struggled to photograph the scenes and came away with nothing? I don’t normally photograph things that move!
Well, I had nothing to worry about as Joyce was a very welcoming host who was extremely informative and took great care of me; taking me out with her and Jem the sheep dog on the quad bike for a good few hours whilst she carried out her various checks and fed the sheep. I have to say, I truly had the best afternoon! It really was fascinating and just a joy to be able to see Joyce at work with her animals; it’s obvious how much she cares for them. It is also clear to see that she loves the farm, the Yorkshire Dales and her place in it. It looks damned hard work and I don’t think farming would be for everyone but as a office worker – I can see some of the attraction of being outside in the beautiful landscape of the Yorkshire Dales day in day out.
So what did the afternoon’s experience on the farm include? Joyce explained to me how farming is dictated by the calendar and seasons; lambing in the spring being the big event! However, what do we need before lambing? The boys who’ve been relaxing all year need to do their thing!
It’s tupping time as it’s called here in the Yorkshire Dales. This time of the year the girl sheep (a non farming term I confess) come into season and the lads (or tups) are released into the fields to do what they do best and help create future lambs. Farmers paint the underneath of the tup or use a harness and put paint into this; this then marks the ladies bums so that the farmer can predict when she was ‘served’ and this will indicate when each sheep is due in the forthcoming spring. This paint is called raddle if you are posh apparently but in these Dales it’s called ‘rud’. This time of the year is called, rudding the tups and you increasingly see colourful sheep up and down the Dales! They change the colours every 7-8 days which then means they will refer to first, second or third ‘weekers’ in lambing time meaning things should be staggered – which is good for the farmers at this busy time. Joyce went on to explain that this isn’t always the case and the lambs don’t always come when expected!
The afternoon was mainly about feeding the boys their cake; cake being the local name referring to the food that is given to the rams to keep their stamina up! 😉 We also fed the gimmers (the young lady Swaledales).
In the few hours I was there we sadly came across a dead sheep which I helped Joyce load into her trailer. When I say I helped Joyce…I delicately held the dead sheep’s hoofs and probably didn’t help much at all as Joyce hoisted it’s (literal) dead weight in the back of her little trailer. I’m not sure what it died of but crows has been to see it which wasn’t pleasant – but all in a days work for a farmer 🙁 Joyce stopped by many of her mole traps too, catching one for the day. Being a bit of a ‘townie’, I think moles are cute but I understand that they do need management. Joyce also showed me the Downholme chapel which is a delightful little Dales church. Plus I got to meet the working collies that gather the sheep on the farm along with Jem’s gorgeous little sheepdog pups and not forgetting the cows.
What an afternoon of discovery – I was rapt and I almost forgot I had my camera at times. When I came home to my husband, all he got was me talking in excited bursts which he couldn’t follow for half an hour!
As for the photography….. Landscape photographers are all about tripods, taking time to set up when you can, waiting for light (patience is of the essence) and manual camera settings. I knew I would not have the time for any of these things so I left the tripod behind (shock horror!) and pretty much set most of my camera to its auto settings, including crucially, auto ISO. By doing this I hoped to minimise blurred photos. I also set my camera to fire off pictures quickly with continuous shooting. How did I do all of this? I ACTUALLY read the manual for my camera for probably the first time ever! I found out a whole host of things my camera does that I never knew; it really was a day of learning many new things 🙂
I could go on much more about the day but I’ve probably already written too much! What I’ve told you is just the icing on the cake; there is a HUGE amount to farming as I understand it.
Let me know what you think of my foray into farm photography? I’m rather hoping that Joyce lets me come back at lambing time. What an experience that would be to help and to photograph. If you want to hear more fantastic farming stories accompanied by excellent photographs and videos from Joyce, she regularly posts in the Facebook group – ‘We love the Yorkshire Dales’ and has a huge following.
A big thank you goes out to Joyce for having me. Joyce – I’ve used some of your words from your Yorkshire Dales post to explain tupping as you explain it a lot better than me! I hope you don’t mind 🙂