Kate Humble comes to Kirkby Stephen with Lambing Live

PUBLISHED: 17:41 04 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:08 20 February 2013

Kate with the Marston family

Kate with the Marston family

One of our farming families put TV wildlife presenter Kate Humble through her paces in a new series of Lambing Live. Mike Glover reports

If TV presenter Kate Humble ever decides on a new career as a hill-top farmer, she would have a shout of getting a job with the Marston family.
The family of fell farmers is having fame thrust upon it when it features in a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

The three generations of the Marstons have been training Kate in the dark arts of bringing sheep into the world in the new series of Lambing Live which starts in April.

The family comprises Andrew, aged 36, his wife Rachel, 31, children Catherine, ten, seven-year-old Abigail and Olivia, who turned one just before the show went live. Also involved are parents, 62-year-old Donald and Christine, aged 60.

Both families live on site and the farm is owned by them jointly as a business. Andrew took over the principle running from his father in 2003, when he and Rachel developed a former barn and piggery into their family home.

Donald and Christine live right next door in the original farm house. Donald is still very active in the running of the farm.

Also joining in on the programme will be Hope and Lynne, the sheepdogs, and Smudge and Coco (apprentice but eager sheepdogs) and a few assorted chickens.

Each spring the Marstons lamb about 700 sheep which are a mixture
of pure bred Swaledales, Beltexes, North of England Mules and Blue Faced Leicesters.

Lambing is the biggest and busiest event in the farming calendar and it brings with it a rollercoaster ride of sleepless nights, complicated births, orphans and adoptions.

But the couple agree that Kate would be an asset. She is quick to learn and keen to get involved, not afraid to get her hands dirty, said Rachel.

Andrew agreed. Nothing fazed her. She is very hands on and has done everything we asked her to do. Shes great fun. Asked if she would get the job as apprentice, Rachel said, with typical Cumbrian carefulness: She would get an interview at least.

The family are keen to point out that it was the BBC that came to them, not the other way round. They had seen snatches of the previous series of Lambing Live, although they were too busy lambing last year to see all
of it, and thought it showed the realities of farming.

The BBC had been scouting for a hill farm in the Pennines. They were pointed at the Marstons farm near Kirkby Stephen and made a video
that was sent back to headquarters before the filming started proper.

They started back in October when the sheep were being gathered from the fells for tupping.

They also filmed the severe winter snows and captured how the family coped with some of the worst conditions for years.

It was too good an opportunity to miss for the children to turn them down, said Rachel.

The family are aware that many hill farmers are struggling to make ends meet. They are determined to make the sheep farming pay rather than stray into diversification.

Since Foot and Mouth during which they lost a third of their stock, they have branched into different breeds like Beltex fat lambs, although Andrew is still passionate about breeding the traditional Swaledales.

If there were no subsidies, there would be no fell farmers left, said Rachel who as an accountant is very aware of the profit and loss aspect of the business.

Better prices in 2010 and 2011 have helped, although the cost of
feed, fuel and vets has also gone up.

For the purposes of the programme Kate Humble is apprenticed to the Marstons, discovering that hill sheep demand a new set of skills and a whole new language.

They teach her to help with the fell gather (bringing the sheep down from the hills), learning about hefting (teaching the sheep to stay on the fell) and discovering what goes into producing a prize Swaledale.

In its debut series last year, Kate and co-host Adam Henson tested their shepherding skills on a farm in Wales. It had an average audience of 2.6 million viewers.

Every farming family has a unique story to tell. We hope that ours will be of interest to those with no farming background, will promote the area
and may even offer a source of encouragement to other farmers,
said Andrew.

As a family with three young children, it has been a constant source of enjoyment to see them take an interest in the farm and work with the film team to describe their experiences.

Kate, who also hosts the BBCs Springwatch and Autumnwatch, said before filming began: Lambing is a make or break time for farmers all over the country and as well as helping to make this a successful season for the Marstons

Im hoping to give people a glimpse of what farming really means. It can be about breeding the best of the best, producing food for our table or the finest of wools.

The more I learn, the more there is to learn. I know its going to be exhausting, I know Im not going to get any sleep, but Im really excited about getting stuck in and getting my hands dirty again for another year of Lambing Live.

While Kate gets involved on the farm, Countryfile presenter and farmer Adam Henson will be travelling the UK to explore British sheep farming.
But back on the Marston farm the real challenges of lambing are yet to come and will be screened live. Then the Marstons, and nearly three million viewers, will see whether Kate Humble really has what it takes to make a good apprentice hill sheep farmer.

Lambing Live starts on BBC Two on April 4

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