Interview with Kelvin and Liz
He played a farmer, but can he do it for real? Soap star and Strictly winner Kelvin Fletcher and his family escape to the country to bring a farm back to life, but these rookies face a rocky road. We caught up with them to see how it's going and to get some tips.
Why did you both decide to become farmers?
Kelvin: Initially I just wanted to live in the countryside and thought what a wonderful life it would be for our young family, but the taste of farm life soon changed that and I quickly became a little obsessed with farming. Despite us only farming this year, I honestly can’t imagine life without it!
Liz: It took a little bit of persuasion from Kelvin but I quickly realised that farming can bring a fantastic lifestyle for us as a family. Although we want this to work for us commercially we are in control of how we do that and it’s an amazing experience for the children and a great way of teaching them and us new skills and responsibilities along the way.
Kelvin, did you pick up any tips whilst acting as a farmer?
Kelvin: I think I’ve learned more in one week of real life farming then I did 20 years acting a farmer! As our neighbour Jack keeps telling us; you never stop learning and every day is a school day!
You were crowned the 2019 champion of Strictly Come Dancing, do you get to use your dance moves on the farm?
Kelvin: Sometimes when I’m chasing after the sheep it feels like I’m doing a quickstep! I don’t think I could of done Strictly whilst farming though as I would never have had the energy. Two of the most physically demanding jobs I’ve ever had!
What’s the hardest thing about being a farmer?
Kelvin: I think the responsibility is the biggest thing to accept. It’s crucial you understand and take that seriously. The amount of knowledge you need to acquire too can be very daunting.
Liz: There are many, many challenges to being a farmer, sometimes it can feel like we have worked solidly for months with very little return. The list of jobs is never ending. We have to always expect the unexpected, I think we have the best escaping animals in the Peak District no matter how well we think we’ve put fences up they just find a way to get out but luckily we always manage to get them back! And as our mentor and neighbour Jack always says ‘it’s all good fun though isn’t it’ and he’s right.
How is it different to city life in Oldham?
Kelvin: Life does look very different now to what it did a year ago and it’s been the best decision we have ever made.
Liz: Life on the farm is very different to city life in Oldham. Kelvin and I used to be like passing ships working completely different hours to each other and it sometimes felt like life was passing us by but now we have a great way of working together as a family. Our favourite days are where we can get our wellies on with the kids, pile into the tractor and get started on the work around the farm. We can’t imagine it any other way now.
What three tips would you give to someone wanting to start afresh and become a farmer?
Tip 1 - Firstly I think it’s important to recognise what it is that you want out of farming and then work backwards from there. If it’s income you want then naturally your decisions will be made based on finances and what avenues are most commercially viable. If it’s a lifestyle thing then work out what level of responsibility/work you are prepared to put in and again, work back from there.
Tip 2 - Do your homework. Research is key and there are countless ways to get the information you’ll need. Forums, podcasts, exhibitions etc. From choosing what type of farm you want to run, to breed and number of animals. Farm subsidies, diversification examples and commercial planning are all crucial parts to modern farming.
Tip 3 - Get the wheels in motion! I’m a big believer in making a step, no matter how small. You have to do something. Everything does start with a thought but it’s vital that’s quickly followed by actions. Back yourself and take a step.
Liz: My top three tips for starting out as a farmer would be -
Tip 1 - If you know anyone who is already a farmer, see if you can work with them for a day or 2 to learn the starting process. We would have really struggled if we didn’t have our neighbour Gilly who is an experienced farmer sharing her knowledge with us.
Tip 2 - Start small. You can rent patches of land if needed and start with animals that are easy to maintain. We started with 10 Cotswolds sheep, which are easy to manage and well behaved (sometimes) we learnt so much in a short space of time doing it this way and now we feel much more confident to increase our sheep count when it comes to lambing season.
Tip 3 - The internet is your best friend. We sometimes ask the most ridiculous questions to know if we are doing things right but it’s the only way to learn. There are many breeding societies that can help you with an array of questions. For example we turn to the Cotswolds breeding society about our sheep if needed and there is always help on hand.
Kelvin's Big Farming Adventure is available to watch on BBC iPlayer and BBC One from Monday 17th January at 20:30.