Behind every family farm lies a story. Unfortunately, not always a pleasant one.

In my own case, my father had a wife and seven children to support and his mother held the financial purse strings. She would cut his wages at the slightest excuse.

That was 70 years ago, but, fortunately, things have changed. In those days, it was what I call the grandfather syndrome - “I do it because dad did it, he did it because grandad did it” - so that’s OK then.

Times have moved on; things have changed and farms have become less parochial. Nowadays, farm children who want a career in agriculture have the opportunity of a year or two at a farm college, followed by a year abroad, possible in New Zealand or Australia.


Whenever possible, I would always encourage my farm students to at least spend a month in Ireland during the calving season.

The next problem is farm succession. I always say if you have three children, you need four farms, one for each child and one for the tax man.

We are very lucky at Hill End, in spite of the farm not being big enough to provide an income for any of my three daughters, the eldest returned home with her husband-to-be at the age of 30 and started a second business within the farm structure.

She and her husband are now taking over the running of the farm and I have to admit they appear to be doing a better job than I did, but she will admit that her achieving academic success did deny her involvement in gaining knowledge of the farm during her formative teenage years.

I have discovered that the biggest stumbling block is I don’t know what she doesn’t know, although she is an intuitive stockman and her husband has an amazing flair for business.

I know I can always irritate her by saying “I am trying to teach you between 30 and 40 what you should have learnt between 14 and 15".

Seven years

As to succession, it took us seven years to achieve. We spent three years talking about it (yes, there were tears and angst on the way), another three years planning it and the final year achieving it.

I tell people it was like walking to the edge of a cliff: “It’s a beautiful view, it’s a beautiful view" and then comes the day when you have to put the plan in action and jump off the cliff, hoping the parachutes are all in place.

I will never forget a report by Sian Bushell, a Welsh farmer’s daughter, whose son Seán runs a large herd of cows in Ireland.

Sian advises on succession and warns that within a family farm structure, it can be a very small thing that is the straw that breaks the camel’s back in the relationship between parents and children.

Less involved

Although I am less involved in the physical side of the farm, I still remain involved in the decision making. I am not sure if this is my choice or theirs, but I can guess.

Whenever there is a discussion, debate or argument, I always back pedal rather than fight hard, even when I consider I am right.

I keep reminding myself of my neighbour who attended his daughter’s wedding; attending also with his son with the two grandchildren. Although the grandchildren only live five miles apart, they didn’t know their grandfather. My daughter and son-in-law do have the right to deny access to my grandchildren and I’d never want to initiate this right.

Too often when I was young, I heard my friends’ parents state: “If you aren’t careful, I’ll leave it all to the cats and dogs’ home.”