The coronavirus shutdown has brought challenges but also opportunity for farmers.

While non-key workers are told to work at home where possible, for farmers life goes on and lambing, calving and spring arable work must continue.

Michelle Bell and her family moved into the historical Changue Farm in Cumnock last year.

A worsening milk market and poor weather forced the closure of one of the country’s oldest dairies at the farm before the family, from a dairy background themselves, bought the farmhouse.

Michelle said: “We’re from Dumfries and Galloway but we were always coming up to Ayrshire.

“We loved the area and the people, so when Changue came on the market we saw the opportunity.”

Husband Andrew’s family have been farmers for generations – originally dairy, then beef and sheep and now arable too.

Dairy farming involves long hours, and doesn’t leave much time for a life off the homestead.

Cumnock Chronicle: Lily and her dad AndrewLily and her dad Andrew

Although it is their intention, the Bell family have set up beef and sheep at Changue while they do renovations.

Along with eldest son Harry, 20, who is back home from studying agriculture at Edinburgh University, 16-year-old Jordan, who has finished 5th year of high school, and Lily, 10, in primary 6 at Greenmill, all hands are busy with vital work.

But lockdown has meant it’s harder to source supplies from seeds to machine parts.

The biggest problem, however, is people walking through the fields, Michelle said.

Gemma Cooper, head of policy team at the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS), said:“Lockdown has led the UK Governments to tell the public to stay at home. One form of exercise per day is allowed and social distancing is always required.

“Whilst in the current circumstances this makes complete sense, for farmers, the impact of this has been immediate and acute.

“The volume of access taking, behaviour, and the type of public taking access has instantaneously changed and members are reporting problems to NFUS in substantial numbers.”

Cumnock Chronicle: Michelle Bell and her daughter LilyMichelle Bell and her daughter Lily

Michelle said they love to see people walking around the perimeter roads making the most of the countryside.

Many veteran ramblers will know how to responsibly enjoy the land without damaging crops or accessing fields with newly lambed ewes and freshly calved cows.

But, she said: “We’re trying to keep ourselves as safe as possible.

“Some people have used our garden, they’ve climbed over fences, opening and shutting gates touch them with their hands.

“If they’re carrying something then it puts us in danger.”

Michelle said on one occasion a man climbed over two fences to get into a pen with a cow and a calf while carrying his dog.

She said: “Young stock aren’t used to seeing people.

“Cows can be docile and gentle until they have a calf, then you have to be careful, you cannot turn your back.

“You don’t want there to be an accident.”

Cumnock Chronicle: Harry and Jordan mucking inHarry and Jordan mucking in

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth urged the public, in particular dog owners, to be mindful when out walking in the open land as lambing season gets underway.

He said: “These are dangerous working environments where local farmers are doing their bit to keep food in our shops.

“We need to let them get on with that job in safety.”

For the Bell’s 10-year-old daughter Lily, lockdown and lambing season means more time doing her favourite things on the farm.

After spending her mornings completing schoolwork, she helps take care of the sheep and lambs – including bottle feeding Junior, one of the four pet lambs that didn’t get a mother in time.

She also joins her dad on quad bike rides round the fields to check on the animals and keeps her older brother company in the tractor.

Michelle said: “Lily never complains, but she does miss her friends and her gymnastics which she does three times a week.

“But she’s kept busy on the farm.”

Cumnock Chronicle: Lily is helping out on the farm with schools still closedLily is helping out on the farm with schools still closed

As for many families, the lockdown has also been a chance to spend more time together. Although the Bells are spending much of this working, they also relax in the evenings and are planning an end of harvest family party.

Michelle said: “The kids are getting to know each other more.

“I like them being here, it’s hard work for us all, but it brings you more together as a family.”

Despite the challenges, Michelle and Andrew love Changue Farm not least because of the community – which they are also missing.

She said: “We’ve been very lucky moving here. We’ve met so many lovely people.

“A bunch of our townie friends were looking forwarding to seeing the lambs but they can’t do it just now.”

But, Michelle said, farmers are always working ahead of time and there will always be next year.


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