The Yorkshire Shepherdess, Amanda Owen: ‘I love being surrounded by nature’

Amanda Owen, star of TV show Our Yorkshire Farm, and mother of nine, discusses her life as a farmer.

Yorkshire Shepherdess

by Jane Oddy |

Millions of viewers have been tuning in to watch Amanda Owen, dubbed the Yorkshire Shepherdess, and her family’s latest adventures on their remote hill farm in the Dales.

The pure escapism of life on Ravenseat Farm set in 2,000 acres of wild uplands in Swaledale, North Yorkshire, has captivated the nation on Channel 5’s series Our Yorkshire Farm.

But Amanda confesses that she is non-plussed by the runaway success of the show which first began in 2018 and became Channel 5’s highest-rated factual programme last year.

It's a family affair

The fly-on-the-wall documentary follows the family life of Amanda and her nine children on the farm. Amanda says: “I actually don’t know how it happened. I know it sounds odd, but it often doesn’t feel like all this is happening to me, but to someone else. I’ve never had a game plan.”

She had no idea that when she first started posting snaps and accounts of what was going on at the farm on her Twitter feed as ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’, that it would lead to four bestselling books and TV fame.

As well as family life, the show details what it is like to live on a working farm. She explains: “The farm is not like a film set, everything carries on regardless if there is a film crew there or not. That tends to release you from any stresses and sets you free.”

And that underpins her life philosophy of, “Get your wellies on and get on with it”. She says, “I always take things as they come. In my mind’s eye, I have an ideal scenario, but that doesn’t always happen! That’s possibly why people like the programme – because it is ‘real’ reality. Also after a year like we’ve all had, viewers may have taken a bit of comfort in the show – that although we live in an extraordinary place, we are an ordinary family.”

Clive and Amanda Owen address marriage problems rumours

When rumours began to circulate that there was a rift in their marriage, we did feel rather sad. And now, Amanda has addressed the rumours directly.

A post on Instagram read: "Clive and I are sad to confirm that we have made the difficult decision to separate. This hasn’t been easy, but we both believe it’s the right choice for the future of our family. We continue to work on the farm and co-parent together, with our number one priority the happiness and wellbeing of our children. We would like to thank everyone for their support and would ask that the media respect our privacy as we work through this difficult time."

All creatures great and small

However, talking to Amanda, it’s obvious she has no average lifestyle. As well as her brood, she looks after 1,000 sheep, 40 cattle and assorted horses, ponies and dogs.

So where did it all begin? Huddersfield born and bred, Amanda was brought up in an urban environment, but she vividly recalls being enchanted by All Creatures Great and Small, the TV series based on the books of the Yorkshire vet James Herriot.

She recalls: “I have always loved reading so I have James Herriot to thank because just reading his stories took me to another place; the characters, the landscapes, everything, in a place not too far from where I was living. It was still obviously Yorkshire but it was a very different part of Yorkshire.

“It just shaped my whole life although I didn’t know it at the time. It set me off on a journey that eventually brought me full circle to – Ravenseat – a place where Herriot used to come as a vet and was used as a location during the filming of the original All Creatures Great and Small series in the Seventies. “After I’d read his books, I went to the library and borrowed a book called Hill Shepherd and it changed my life.

It had the most amazing, evocative shots of shepherds going about their business in the Dales and Cumbria. I thought ‘That’s what I want to do’. It inspired me.”

The Yorkshire Shepherdess

So after college Amanda set about pursuing her dream and cycled into the countryside to find farming jobs. She met Clive, who was divorced and had two children, at Ravenseat, a tenanted farm, when she was 21 and had been sent by her boss to collect a ram. It later became their home.

While running the farm is a huge part of her life, motherhood appears to be at the centre of it. Her nine children in descending order are Raven, Reuben, Miles, Edith, Violet, Sidney, Annas, Clemmy and Nancy who range in age from 21 to six, and have free run of the farm, plus their own jobs and responsibilities.

But Amanda insists that her children are detached from fame. “They don’t care about being on TV. They’re very happy, just naturally doing their thing and can’t get a handle on why it would be interesting. They have absolute freedom to do as they want. Often the first time I see what they’ve been doing and saying is in the TV programme.”

In the previous series, the Owens filmed episodes themselves when film crews were thwarted by the pandemic and weather conditions.

Amanda says: “One episode was totally my own footage. I started filming before Christmas, and then it snowed for six weeks and it was a complete whiteout. It has always limited filming before because crew can’t reach the farm as the snow is waist deep. But this time, I had a way to make an episode and viewers got to see a time of year on the farm that they don’t normally see, which was brilliant.”

The most difficult events to show on screen, she says, are when they lose livestock. “It’s real life and it’s sad but it’s part of the story. But there are so many wonderful moments. The other day, I was lambing, and one sheep was having triplets and they only have two teats. I looked across the pen and saw another sheep was having a single lamb, so I got the third lamb, rubbed it on to the ewe as she was giving birth, and lo and behold, she accepted it. Now I’ve got two sheep with twins,” she laughs. “That was definitely a wonderful moment.”

Q&A with Amanda

What three words would you use to describe your life as a shepherdess on a 2,000-acre hill farm?

Unpredictable – I work with lots of variables so there’s no such thing as a typical day.

Challenging – it can be tough to fit everything into my day.

Rewarding – there are moments when I think, why the hell am I doing this but overall, it is a very satisfying role. Ask me that same question on a different day and the answer might be unprintable!

What’s the hardest and best thing about living in such a remote place as Upper Swaledale?

You can lose yourself and distance yourself from everyone and everything. Once I go out of that door to work, it is back to basics. My home life is busy and chaotic, but my work life is solitary. Too much of each one is not good but living in a remote place gives me peace and quiet. The worst thing about living here is when there’s any kind of emergency.

One example is when I had everything in place for my mare to foal, but then storm Arwen hit and we had no power. This meant I couldn’t get in touch with the vet. It all went OK but I can feel a bit vulnerable. You have to be able to cope in an emergency.

How would you sell country living to a city dweller?

You need to go into it with a certain amount of humility. Your life may change for the better but there will be challenges. Do your homework; compile a checklist of what is important to you. You won’t have the same internet speed and there’s no Deliveroo. You will need to compromise.

Do you do the cooking and if so, what’s your cooking style?

Meals need to be something I can start making, get completely distracted and forget about, then go back and put in the oven, find something else to do, and it won’t be completely knackered if you go back two hours later. Politely it’s called fusion, but what I actually do is if you haven’t got the right ingredients, just use something from the fridge.

I’m also very mindful of the cost of meals; nothing too expensive, and nothing crazily mad – it has to be stuff that’s in the store room and readily available. Also I’ve got a big family to feed and they need lots of food, so dainty little portions are no good. Whether you get a bigger portion or a smaller portion depends on how busy I am. I’m not a domestic goddess. I’m not anywhere near perfection.

What do you do to relax?

I love wild swimming and paddleboarding on Birkdale tarn near our farm, which is a seven-hectare mountain lake that was originally excavated by a glacier. I never see anyone, it’s just me and nature. Throughout the winter it is probably one of the most uninviting, foreboding places on Earth. The black inky water looks so lifeless. But once the sun starts to shine in spring, it takes on another identity. I am now 47, but I still have a childlike excitement every time I swim.

You look after 1,000 Swaledale sheep, how do you cope when one dies?

I am utterly pathetic when one of my sheep dies. I feel like a bit of a failure. The old adage of ‘when you have livestock you have deadstock’ is true, but you can’t dwell on it. You can’t shepherd or farm without accepting you are going to lose animals. It is part of the job.

Tell us about your dogs...

We have three Border collie sheepdogs and two terriers. We did have another sheepdog called Tip but she decided she didn’t want to be a sheepdog. Every time I took her out with me to work, she would run home as soon as my back was turned. So she is now an assistance dog and wears an orange tabard.

The sheepdog pack is made up of Nell, who is my son Sidney’s dog, Midge who belongs to my husband Clive [although they are no longer a couple, they continue to work on the farm and co-parent together] and Kate, who works with me. Kate is 12 years old so she’s getting on.

Kate and I are quite similar in some ways in that we aren’t very good at switching off. She lives to work. She doesn’t do relaxing. She is forever rounding up children and chickens. I trust her implicitly.

Tell us something about yourself that not many people know

I will tell you three things: I have a love of rave and dance music. I don’t have any neighbours so I can listen to it as loud as I like when the kids are out at school.

Secondly, I sometimes go to sleep in my make-up and after a quick tidy up the next morning I am good to go.

Finally, I have a tattoo of a sheep! At first it was a very neat Swaledale but after nine children I’m a bit stretched so it might not look so much like a sheep anymore!

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