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James up with the lark to feed farm animals on day of family traditions

'On a farm nothing is predictable, so you have to be alert and aware of everything that's going on'

james Speers

Christmas in the Speers household at Mullaghbrack is always a traditional affair and, as in every farming family, the day starts with making sure the animals are fed and watered.

James, who was born and reared on the beef and sheep farm at Drumfergus House, is now responsible for its day-to-day management, with help, of course, from parents Jim and Elizabeth.

Come Christmas morning, James will be out in the yard shortly after 7am, just as he is every other morning.

“The animals are all indoors at the moment so it’s a matter of feeding – silage and meal -and going round the livestock and making sure they are all healthy,” he said.

“We have beef cattle being finished here, suckling cows, breeding yows and store lambs for fattening.

“By the time you get round everything it’s a bit of a task but I try to prepare in advance and leave things handy for myself on Christmas morning.

“There’s many a morning, not just Christmas, where it’s cool and you maybe think you don’t want to head out but when farming is in your blood you realise you have a job of work to do and animals to look after.”

He added: “I don’t really describe myself as a farmer. I prefer to call myself a food producer because I am at the start of the food chain, producing high quality food.

“Whether you’re eating potatoes and sprouts on Christmas day or beef or turkey and ham, it has been the farmer that has nurtured that and produced that on his farm.

“That makes me quite proud and it’s nice to know you have contributed to it. It’s crucially important as a farmer to remember you’re feeding the public and putting food on the shop shelves.”

After the rounds are done, it will be time for a quick bite to eat and off to Druminnis Presbyterian Church with his parents and sister Jayne – who is home from Manchester-  for the morning service.

“That’s a very traditional thing in this house. I have always done it and will always continue to do it,” he said.

“You meet up with people and you wish them well and you give thanks for Christmas. Christmas is a special time of year. You reflect and remember the Christmas message but equally you have time for celebration and family too.”

The afternoon is about relaxing and enjoying good food and good company, with other family members joining them for dinner, and more popping in later in the evening.

“It’s turkey and ham with all the trimmings in our house. My mother is the main cook but everybody rolls up their sleeves and plays their part,” explained James.

Once late afternoon comes, it’s time to check on the stock again, to make sure everything is as it should be.

“Water is a key resource and we need to make sure it is flowing correctly and the animals are getting enough, especially in the winter, with the frosts we have had,” he added.

“An hour generally does it on Christmas Day afternoon. But on a farm nothing is predictable, so you have to be alert and aware of everything that’s going on.

“There are things that can go wrong. You could have an animal sick or calving, or in strong winds you could have electricity off or sheds losing some tin.

“Farming isn’t just a 364-day-a year job and you switch off on Christmas Day. It’s every day. Whether the snow is six foot deep or the sun’s shining at 30 degrees, you have to go on and do your work and look after your business.”

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