Zoe Colville | The Chief Shepherdess
I'll start by introducing myself, my name is Zoë and I'm edging closer and closer to the big 3 0 and I can honestly say I never dreamt of spending my days the way we do, full time farming and about to embark on growing a little butcher's shop / meat delivery service called The Little Farm Fridge. The hard work and determination is paying off very slowly and it does really go to show that if you push hard enough you can live the lifestyle you desire, trust me we have not had an easy ride!
I lived in London and worked as a hairdresser for many years, anyone living in the city will know it's like a money sponge... the cosmopolitan lifestyle is pretty intense, you've got your cocktails, your Marlboro Lights and then of course £100 pair of nikes! Those were my priorities which meant I couldn't afford meat, at least I couldn't afford the meat that I wanted to consume. I could have eaten out of kebab shops for sure but who knows where that animal came from, who farmed it and what kind of life it led. Now I'm not jumping up on my high horse here because I'm fully aware not everyone can afford to eat solely from their local cute-sy farm shop. But what I would like you to consider is what meat you are consuming and where it came from. If you buy directly from the farm or butchers that's great, if you buy from us even better (haha) but that's not always possible so just have a look when you are in Tesco and check the country of origin.
After a while you will become so aware that you may decide to actually lower your meat consumption in favour of a lower quantity per week but higher quality. With buying local you have peace of mind, you know the animal will have been reared in an ethically sound way, not only that, if you buy direct from the farm then chances are you've seen the livestock grazing the fields in the local vicinity. This will take a bit of getting used to, not coming from a farming background I can FULLY sympathise. I was so disconnected from my food, even more so having not eaten meat for so long. It was a journey I was forced to take when we started farming, a crash course in field to fork if you like. That first year we lambed our flock, I distinctly remember feeling physically sick watching everyone around the table eating roast lamb. We had been out in the pouring rain all day saving newborn lambs and then an hour later we were eating it. For me at that point in my life I couldn't digest that, literally. Years down the line and I now feel that is the most natural thing for us to do as shepherds but back then it felt counterproductive if you like. My boyfriend said something to me that I've never forgotten "we put all our energy into giving them the best life we can give so why wouldn't we then eat the meat to give energy back to our bodies…". He did grow up on a farm so to him that connection was deeply ingrained in him from birth, but I, like a lot of the nation, need to actively work on that. I thought it would be helpful if I shared with you a few of the things that helped me in that process.
- People have always and most likely always will eat meat but if you think back to caveman days they would kill it, skin and gut it, chuck it on the spit and eat it. But what do we do? Open a packet of mince from Tesco and make a spag bol. it says "beef mince" but can you guarantee what parts of the animal are in that mince? Thinking back to our ancestors helped me greatly in accepting that we were rearing that animal to be slaughtered, it's how it was 50 million years ago and it's how it is today. The only way to be 100% sure that the quality of life and therefore the taste of that meat is the best it can be is to know the origin.
- You can choose what enters your body and that's not a decision that should be taken lightly as you only get the one body! I made that conscious decision to eat meat, why did I feel comfortable opening a pack of bacon on a Sunday morning yet I felt uncomfortable taking photos of cute piglets being farmed for pork? Ask yourself this. The reason is because it's cute and why would you eat something that cute, you wouldn't eat a puppy? The answer is we don't eat "cute" piglets and we don't eat "cute" lambs. Our lambs when they are sent to slaughter are around 5 months plus, they don't look like lambs. They look like adult sheep.
- The final bit of advice is that you don't have to eat meat. I felt as I raised it for meat I had to eat it. That's simply not the case. As you start making that connection between that animal in the field and the food on your plate you may dramatically reduce your meat consumption or you may even cut it out all together, and that is okay. Your prerogative is to choose the diet that works for you. I feel like you are better off cutting it out your diet completely than being utterly ignorant to the fact that flesh on your plate used to be a living, breathing being. You should honour it by acknowledging its life, not completely disregarding it.
There is a lot on social media at the moment about the bill being passed through by the government in regards to the trade deals being made in terms of food. This is a BIG deal. I know I've harped on about meat but that's only because that's what I farm, but it won't just be the standard of meat on the market that's affected. The use of pesticides aren't as controlled in other countries and that would have an enormous effect on the quality of the fruit and veg also entering our supermarkets. Now it's likely at this point that the flood gates to substandard food entering the UK are going to be opened. And unless you feel comfortable in eating a burger made from a cow pumped full of hormones in a dirt paddock in America I would heavily advise you to begin your personal re-connection with meat sooner rather than later. That sounded incredibly threatening and dramatic and anyone that has ever watched anything on my Instagram page knows that's not my manner at all, but these are desperate times.
We have just finished lambing and I'd like to think we try and keep it as natural as possible. This said, we often have discussions on how much or how little to get involved and it's such a difficult one. On one hand you want to do your job to the best of your ability and therefore low mortality rates etc but on the other hand there is an element of survival of the fittest involved. Where is that line? I think that's a debate left for another time as it's opening a massive can of worms but it's ever present in farming. If I think of how heavily regulated the UK farming world is eg record of animal movement, TB testing, use of antibiotics and drugs and a long list of other things. Then I research the legislation in the US, I realise that actually we farm VERY naturally and me worrying that we interfere too much seems complete insanity.
In the coming months as we hopefully see normality resume a little it is the perfect time for you to take on board some changes to your diet or just your mindset a touch. If you can cope with a full lockdown and global pandemic then you can definitely deal with asking yourself a few questions when you are tucking in to your beef and horseradish sandwich!