All images © Patrick Boyd Photography
Adam carefully steers a donkey towards me. I’m very excited to be at his Cotswold Farm Park near Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, and judging by the faces of the gathering crowd, I’m not the only one...
“See the cross on its back?” he asks, pointing to the donkey’s shoulders. He’s in his element pointing out his famous rare breeds, dropping pearls of farming wisdom into conversation. Moving on, we pass some ponies. “Those are Exmoor ponies,” he says. “Descendants of the ones Dad gave me, years ago.”
Family plays an important role in the farm park’s history. Adam’s father Joe and his business partner, John Neave, first opened the park back in the Seventies, to fund their collection of rare farm animals. “They were part of a small group of farmers who thought rare breeds were important,” explains Adam. “Dad was the trailblazer by opening to the public and I’ve inherited his passion.”
These days, the running of the 650-hectacre farm falls to Adam and his business partner, Duncan Andrews. Adam is, of course, also a presenter for Countryfile on Sunday nights, which draws a huge following. But despite the fame attached to his role, Adam considers himself a farmer first and foremost. “For as long as I can remember I was chasing Dad out of the door, eager to help on the farm. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to take over such a diverse and interesting business.”
Now, with Christmas almost upon us, Adam’s ready for a typically festive season. “At the park we do nativity plays with the lambs, goat kids and donkeys, but behind the scenes there’s still work to be done.
“The animals need their daily checks,” says Adam. “There’s a good four hours work for two people, every day, but we try to share the workload fairly between our full time livestock staff.”
‘We do nativity plays with the lambs, goat kids and donkeys’
A break in filming over Christmas also allows Adam to help with daily farming tasks. Though modest about doing so, he often steps into the breech on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and even New Year’s Day.
And the farm isn’t Adam’s only commitment, with partner Charlie, daughter Ella, 16, and son Alfie, 12, to think of. Though his children aren’t so young any more, there’s still family time to be had.
“Christmas Day, gosh,” says Adam, his face lighting up at the prospect. “Well, although it’s a bit daft we all enjoy opening stockings first – and then we have a quick breakfast, before heading out. Ella and Alfie usually come with me on the Christmas morning feed.”
The quicker the animals are fed, the sooner the family can return to open their presents. Then there’s the task of Christmas dinner. “It’s a big traditional lunch, and we all chip in,” Adam continues. “Everyone helps prepare the vegetables and trimmings, while I get up early to put the turkey on. Well, usually it’s turkey, but this year I quite like the idea of trying goose.”
Understandably, Adam isn’t phased by early starts. Nor does he shy away from a gathering. “There’s always extended family around. The usual set-up is my mum and dad, mine or Charlie’s sisters and their children... there’s a big gang of us.” And that gang includes family dogs Boo and Dolly (their Hungarian wirehaired Vizlas) plus the farm’s working border collies, Peg and Pearl, and many other pets. “Alfie’s got chickens and ferrets and all sorts,” Adam laughs. “Boo is Alfie’s dog, really. Most youngsters have to be kicked outside for some fresh air, but I have to go out and find him.”
Equally, Ella is a farm aficionado, and “very confident and capable,” says Adam, proudly. They’re both more than happy to help their dad with the animals over the festive period.
“Ella and Alfie have got their fingers crossed for snow as they love sledging,” says Adam. “And though I don’t crave it in quite the same way, six inches of snow would be a better insulator for my crops than leaving them to the mercy of a hard frost!”
Talking of which, the farmer in Adam is at pains to remind us that winter isn’t simply festive fun and games. There’s plenty to get on with.
“Most of our crops are planted by now,” he explains, “so during winter they go into a dormant stage. The oil seed rape, which produces those lovely yellow flowers in early summer, is a blanket of green across the fields. So what we don’t want at this time are hard frosts, following a clear night.”
‘We open stockings first but presents have to wait until all the animals are settled and fed’
Very cold conditions can also be tough for the animals. “When we get frost, water pipes and trough water can freeze over. Carting fresh water out to the livestock can be a real nightmare.”
And though the cattle go into sheds, Adam’s sheep and pigs remain outside, despite the weather. “The days are much more routine-based,” he says, “but don’t get me wrong, winter is still hard work.”
Adam says the team maintain fences and hedges, check the animals daily and top up cattle bedding weekly, come rain or shine. “The weather can’t stop us. We have to make sure those animals are checked, and have food and water every day.
“And though I’d much prefer to be out with my dogs on a crisp morning than stuck in an office, what we’d like on the farm ideally is a mild winter. Not too wet, and certainly not too cold.”
Adam’s had plenty of time to think about winter recently. The Countryfile team has been hard at work on a new DVD in celebration of all seasons, across the year. It features highlights from past series, previously unseen bonus footage, and the programme’s recent 25th anniversary episode.
“We had all sorts of fun with the DVD,” Adam says, “including using an octocopter (a remote-controlled helicopter, with camera attached) to film the harvest. We got some incredible aerial shots.”
And though most of Adam’s work for Countryfile is based in rural areas, he’ll be catching up with fellow presenters Helen Skelton, Ellie Harrison and Matt Baker at the Christmas party – though he also keeps in touch with John Craven, who has become a friend as well as co-host over the years.
Adam’s next television adventure is Secret Britain, a series due to air in the New Year. “I loved filming that,” he grins. “I tried hang-gliding, which was fantastic, did some hot air ballooning over the North Yorkshire Moors, and we even climbed the north face of Ben Nevis.”
But before all that, Adam’s ready to batten down the hatches. “I’ve got a feeling the wonderfully mild autumn means there’s a hard winter coming. Farmers are a resilient bunch, though, and whatever Mother Nature throws at us we seem to manage.”
Adam’s constant enthusiasm explains why, even from behind the camera lens, he can’t help but make us smile.
- Countryfile is on BBC1 on Sunday evenings. Countryfile: A Celebration of the Seasons is available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD now, priced £17.75
- The Cotwold Farm Park opens daily from Feb-Dec. Call 01451 850307 or visit www.cotswoldfarmpark.co.uk
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