Want to know what the secret behind long-lasting love and marriage on farm? Kate Chapman speaks to farmer’s wife Lorna Sixsmith to find out her thoughts.
Work together, make time for each other but accept that during busy harvest times a tractor date may be as romantic as it gets.
Could these pearls of wisdom really be the key to a happy relationship? It is according to farmer’s wife Lorna Sixsmith, who has written a series of books about finding love - and making sure you hang on to it - down on the farm.
As well as offering tongue-in-cheek advice to those considering saying ‘I do’ to a rural Romeo, Lorna – a farmer herself – also draws on her own experiences to share practical tips for surviving farm life for those who don’t come from an agricultural background.
Following on from Would you Marry a Farmer? and How to Be a Perfect Farm Wife, her latest book Ideal Farm Husband completes her trilogy, which she compares to the old fashioned marriage manuals of the 1950s, updated for the 21stcentury with a bit of humour thrown in for good measure.
“Ideal Farm Husband isn’t a book about measuring grass or increasing milk yield, it’s about keeping all the women in your life happy, neighbours envious of your farming prowess and knowing how to stop and smell the roses, rather than your slurry,” she says.
“Farmers weren’t seen as a good catch in the mid to late 20th century but they are now viewed as highly eligible by many women, but some men are struggling to find partners to appreciate them and indeed, women sometimes feel their husbands don’t put them first.
“Farmers are a unique bunch, but they’re the same the world over. The industry can be so serious, after all it is a business, but I want to be able to help people laugh at themselves and see the lighter side.”
With chapters covering financial concerns, finding a wife, proposing with pizzazz and surviving long working hours, she tackles questions such as can farmers be considered romantic, what will it take for their mother and wife to get on, and is it ever a good idea to live with your parents? There’s also some fun quizzes for couples to complete together to make sure they’re on the right track.
So, in her opinion, what does make an ideal farm husband?
“That depends whose opinion you seek," she reflects. “For example, should he bring her to Paris when proposing marriage, or spray manure into the shape of ‘Will You Marry Me? onto one of his fields?
Should he buy the ring before he proposes or use a jubilee clip as a symbolic ring and then go shopping together?
Should he accompany her on a shopping trip and carry all the bags, or stay at home and look after the children?
“Of course, his mother may have a very different opinion of her son’s ability to be an ideal farm husband.”
Lorna believes farmers face pressure from all quarters – their own families, wives and children, not to mention the demands of work and she hopes her advice will help when it comes to balancing them all and making people realise they are not alone in facing these stresses.
But it’s not just the farmers who come under enormous strain, Lorna says wives feel it too – especially those who don’t have a rural background.
“I’m a member of a number of farming wives’ groups on Facebook and through the discussions I notice a lot of women say they feel they come last all the time.
“They say the farm comes first, then their husband’s family comes next and then it’s them and the children last and that’s really sad to hear.
“In reality the farmer is working hard to try and make money; by working on the farm he sees that as his role supporting his family but that can come at cost – particularly if man and wife are working long hours and she is doing all the childcare too,” says Lorna, who was a teacher before taking over the running of her family’s beef and dairy farm in Co. Laois, Ireland, with husband Brian back in 2002.
“There is a lot of pressure on farm women from husbands, mother in laws, family and the wider community, especially for the younger ones in their 20s and 30s, although when they get to their 40s they become more confident.”
Learning not to stress the small stuff has helped Lorna cope over the years, while investing in a slow cooker has been a godsend she says.
She also enlists the help of her children Will,14, and Kate, 12, when it comes to household chores to help spread the load.
“I wasn’t given any particular advice, but I suppose that as I came from a farming background, I had a fair idea of what to expect.
“The two things I knew I would struggle with were cooking – when we used to work 9am to 5pm Brian did most of the cooking and I did the other household jobs and I knew now I’d be feeding contractors and callers in all the time when we took on the farm.
“The other thing is the small community where everyone talks about everything, but particularly the things you do that are different to others.
“It’s probably the same the world over but people don’t forget things your predecessors did and those things linger to haunt you. I cope with that by putting it all out there in my blog and books.
“For those who don’t come from farming stock it can be tough.
“One lady who helps sort cattle with her husband got in touch with me saying her husband was always moaning she was standing in the wrong place – she wasn’t from a farming background and didn’t realise this criticism was just normal,” she adds.
“I like hearing people say they’ve bought the books for each other, that they’ve read them together and then had a good laugh about it.”
Writing a book is something that’s always appealed to Lorna, but she didn’t set about it until she began blogging and was inspired by one of her posts – Advice to those considering marrying a farmer – which went viral.
Rather than follow the traditional publishing route, she crowdfunded her first book to see if there was a viable market for what she wanted to write. There was, and three print runs later, she’s sold 3,000 copies.
All of Lorna’s books have been self-published and are available through Amazon, wholesalers in Ireland and a number of independent farm shops throughout the UK.
Her second recently won the best non-fiction title in the new Irish Carousel Aware Prize for independent authors much to her delight.
“Self-publishing is a fun journey – I love the challenges of writing, producing, marketing and selling my own books,” she says.
“I have to have a deadline though; otherwise I’d never get anything finished – so I always aim to get my writing done by the time the National Ploughing Championships come around, they’re Ireland’s biggest three-day agricultural event held every September.
“Otherwise February to April is calving season, April to August is my writing time and September to January is spent marketing and selling.
“I never set out to write a trilogy, they just seemed to follow on from each other – but I love writing about farming life, warts and all, with a little humour. Sometimes we have to laugh at ourselves, otherwise we’d just cry.”
*Follow Lorna’s blog, The Irish Farmerette. The books are all available to buy from Amazon.