Rod's first reaction was joy tempered by stunned disbelief that I would so enthusiastically embrace the idea of farming as intensively as the Joel Salatin model requires. When we compared our impressions of the day, we realized that we had both been inspired by the thought of creating a sustainable and ethical enterprise on our little farm. Joel had stressed that both partners needed to have the same goals and be in it together for the operation to be successful and thrive. Together we would make it work.
Initially, I had considered Ayton to be Rod's domain, but the more time I spent there, the more engaged I became.This process evolved slowly and was given impetus when Rod broke his ankle as his horse fell on him during a game of polocrosse. This severely hampered his ability to do farm work, so I stepped in to do more physical work, which I discovered I really enjoyed.
I spent more time interacting with and observing our small herd of Braham cows (sometimes from our little balcony with champagne in hand) and became intrigued by their social structures and patterns of behaviour. There were the bossy, bullying cows and the quiet, nervous ones; the calm mothers and the first time mothers who kept a very wary eye on humans if they ventured too near; the protective circle of the crèche supervised by a few cows while the rest of the mums happily grazed at some distance.
When we moved our cows into a new paddock, we simply called, “come on cows” and they obediently followed us onto the fresh pasture.
In Spring, when Fancy, our Charolais bull’s thoughts turned to love, the ‘chosen’ cow swooned over him for a few days and no lover could have been more attentive to his lady than our Fancy. When the deed was done, they took no further interest in each other. They both moved on without regret and the mating ritual started all over again for Fancy. No tears, no jealousy and 9 months later –a beautiful calf.
In 2015, after our Joel Salatin workshop, my enthusiasm was driven by a type of ignorant bliss where I envisaged us leading an idyllic life on Ayton, producing great quality food which I would concoct for family and friends. In my dream, customers would instantly recognise the superior provenance of our produce and clamour to support us. I often reflect that I’m pleased I didn’t know what was ahead for us because I’m not sure that I would have agreed to such a dramatic lifestyle change. By the time I woke up to the reality that the dream walked hand in hand with, at times, sheer hard grind and what seemed to be overwhelming challenges, we had committed ourselves and our finances and there was no way we were backing down from our decision. Now, almost 12 months later, I have no regrets.