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Backbone of Britain: Swaley Man focuses on his farming life

With a popular YouTube channel and a passion to carry on his family farm, Sam Hutchinson is trying to educate people about his farming lifestyle.

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Backbone of Britain: Swaley Man focuses on his farming life

On what is a dull, grey day on the Howgill Fells at Brigg Farm near Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria, Sam Hutchinson appears on his quad bike out of nowhere, bearing a somewhat infectious happy-go-lucky demeanour.

 

It is probably because of this approach to life – along with a desire to show the world what life is like on a typical Cumbrian hill farm – that his YouTube channel, The Swaley Man, has built up a rapid following of more than 5,000 subscribers.

 

His granddad Harry, grandma Mary, and father Wayne run the tenanted farm and its 550 Swaledales, while Sam is in his final year at school.

 

He has, however, been accepted to Newton Rigg College, Penrith, on a Level 2 agricultural apprenticeship course, chosen so he can spend time at home helping run the business which he one day hopes to take over.

 

“The best way to learn in a farm business like this is to get on and do it,” says Sam.

 

Qualification

 

“But it’s good to get a qualification, plus I get extras, such as a spraying licence and quad bike training.


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“It’s three days a week on a placement, one day at college and I get to spend the rest of my time at the farm.”

 

As the next generation to hopefully take the reins, he has got a lot of ideas and has realised the way to survive in the industry is to add layers to the business.

 

And at barely 16, he has already got a few plans in sight alongside keeping up the family trade.

 

“I want to stay with pure Swaledales – if they stay in fashion that is,” he says.

 

“They’re very good mothers, very hardy and they can survive any weather. But the Swaledale trade depends on the Mule gimmer lamb trade and, as shown this year, if Mule trade is down, draft ewe trade will almost certainly be.

 

“I want to show Swaledales are the best breeders of these Mules.

 

“I’m thinking we could introduce beef cattle too, though. We did have a herd of about 60 but with Granddad cutting down a bit, we got rid of them.

 

“It’s about extra money and having extra depth to the farm always helps.”

 

Their main income comes from selling draft ewes, mostly through Kirkby Stephen and Hawes. But Sam also wants to modernise the farm slightly, perhaps by introducing a handling system and making small improvements around the place.

 

He says: “It’s looking at how to make things more efficient because, in my opinion, to make more money you need efficiency.”

 

Documenting

 

About four years ago, Sam made his first YouTube video and called it ‘Farming life episode one.’

 

He is currently up to episode 120 and his series is almost like a diary, documenting his family’s farming life throughout the seasons.

 

With his father a well-known farming photographer and his granddad both partial to the odd TV and radio appearance, he is keen to follow in their footsteps.

 

“My family is quite media based so I guess I’ve got to do something to live up to those expectations,” says Sam, mostly in jest yet quietly proud of his family’s achievements.

But his motives run deeper than simply trying to impress and are more tuned towards giving people the facts about the traditional way he and his family farm.

 

“People don’t have a good enough look into farming to be able to judge it, although there have been more farming programmes on television recently,” says Sam.

 

“I get a lot of people from Manchester watching my videos, but they’re also popular in the US and Canada, especially with big arable farmers.

“But then again, I watch big arable farms on YouTube and you look at the similarities and differences.

 

“Other farmers want to see how you do it, even down to wrapping a bale differently.”

Over the years, his social media presence has taken off and Sam has been approached by a variety of companies as well as shows and sales, all of whom want to use his video skills to showcase their product or event.

 

“I did a video for the Designer Genes Hereford sale and have filmed at Penrith show,” says Sam.

 

He has also been approached by mainstream manufacturers, the latest being Kymco, who want him to include their quad bike in his video series.

 

 

“It’s nice to know people are watching,” he says.

 

“And if they’re asking a little Cumbrian hill farmer like me to do a video for them, it must mean I’m getting somewhere.”

 

With more than 2,000 Facebook followers and upwards of 1,000 more on Instagram, he says although there are plenty of farmers on social media, there are not many capturing the daily trials and tribulations of a hill farmer.

 

But it is also about speaking up for young people, says Sam.

 

“It shows young people can do something because the stigma is we’re all lazy,” he says.

 

“Quite a lot of people have asked me how to start a video channel too, but you have to film what you want and what you like doing and make it both entertaining and informative.”

 

Lambing normally starts mid-April, which he says is quite late because of how high they are. But it is where Sam’s heart lies, working the sheep with his granddad.

 

Rosette

 

“I like the tup sales,” he says. “They are brilliant. Nowadays a lot of young people are all about tractors, but I’d rather be working in the pens.”

 

They do not show much, just at the Royal Highland Show and he says ideally, he would like another rosette, pointing to the awards hanging over the dresser in the farmhouse.

 

“We won overall champion 2009/2010 with the same sheep.

 

“And Granddad was extremely pleased as he won second prize with his draft ewe.

 

“We were also chuffed to come second overall at Kirkby Stephen last year.”

 

He is keen to keep learning all he can from his granddad, too.

 

“Granddad built this business from the ground up,” he says.

“This is what my whole family has always done and how I’ve been brought up and I want to carry it on.

 

“I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

 

The next couple of years will consist of juggling studying with establishing what he wants to do on farm. But for Sam, he hopes his YouTube channel will grow and that he can be part of the conversation between people from farming and nonfarming backgrounds.

 

“Farming has always been the backbone of our country,” says Sam.

 

“I just think people need to learn more about it and go back to our roots a bit.

 

“And if you’re doing videos like I am, you can’t hide the truth – what you see is what you get.”

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