Subscribe and get an Emma Bridgewater mug! click here

How to make time

PUBLISHED: 16:54 04 May 2017 | UPDATED: 16:54 04 May 2017

Eat well: cooking

Eat well: cooking

Sam Gray

Sam Gray offers some tips on time management on the smallholding

Writing a list of things to do has become something of a Sunday ritual. In my office I keep a clipboard with the main list of actions needed on the farm. It’s entirely handwritten (because I prefer it that way and remember it better) and consists of a page for every month of the year covering everything from planting new trees to designing ‘Middle Farm Pork’ stands for upcoming festivals. With a glass of wine in hand and a lit fire during these cooler months, I go about extracting a ‘weekly list’ from the ‘main list’. The choices, which are of course in addition to the general day-to-day running of the farm, are based on predicted weather forecasts, order of priority and, often, finances.

As the grass and days get longer, the festivals get nearer and the weeds start taking over, so too does the pressure of ‘the list’.

In recent weeks I have received more than a few emails from people starting out in smallholding, asking similar questions. How do you do it all? How do you actually fit it in to daily life? It’s a very good question!

When I first read about smallholding I was drawn into a life living off the land, thoughts of creating beautiful vegetable and flower gardens, chicken coops, pigpens, bottling my own cordial, chutneys and jams… the list was endless. In my head I was in paradise and absolutely sure that one day I’d be a dab hand at making soap, butter and beer. John Seymour has a lot to answer for! Way before pigs and sheep it was hard enough managing two toddlers, three holiday cottages, too many chickens and a building site. I’d forgotten that John Seymour had a whole team of people to help him. Stress built up, especially as the children were so young, in need of my attention and completely unable to help. The garden grew in all the wrong directions and much of what I’d hoped to achieve had not been as easy or indeed as pleasurable as I had imagined it would be. By the end of year four I started to write notes, all the while wondering why it wasn’t as fun as I’d hoped. Writing my book Doing It In Wellies was at first a way of releasing those concerns. By getting things down on paper it reminded me of why I had wanted to live like this in the first place, and that was how I started to fall in love all over again, but this time falling in love with something else – the reality instead of the dream. Smallholding has been more a calling than a career choice and after years of practice I now know that I’m exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I need to be doing.

Wellies Wellies

Take some tips

So these tips are how I stay in love with smallholding:

1. Eat well

A dairy farmer friend of mine once told me that if you want to stay healthy, take notes from a vet! You may laugh, but I’m not sure it’s that far from the truth. A vet’s priority checks are diet and environment. We wouldn’t dream of feeding sheep and cattle afternoon cake and crisps or throwing sugary sweets and fizzy drinks into the pigpens! In my opinion nothing comes before health in the world of smallholding. Without it you can do little or nothing. Eating well has helped maintain energy levels I couldn’t have imagined and allowed me to do the job I love.

�Stop and smell the roses� �Stop and smell the roses�

2. Sleep well

Early to bed and early to rise! Farm animals are not the only ones that do better with routine. Personally, a hot bath and some quiet time helps rest the aching bones and joints at the end of most days, sleeping better and staying strong in mind.

3. Don’t take on too much in the first place

I started with chickens and vegetables, took on pigs two years later and sheep a few years after that. Despite all those wonderfully inspiring ideas of how to produce things to sell, cook or grow for the family I know that what I have at Middle Farm already requires a full-time commitment, seven days a week. Apart from the occasional helping hand from the kids it’s only me here so I have to keep reminding myself that having cattle would not be a good idea…yet!

4. Balance

Running two businesses from home as well as a school run that cuts the afternoon in half, requires me to be superefficient with the time I have. Splitting the ‘to do’ list into those that directly bring in money, i.e. selling pork, lamb or cottage bookings, and those that indirectly contribute or save money, such as repairing, reusing or day to day farm jobs, can help to keep a balance. That’s not always easy to do, especially as running a business from home requires admin that can take away from the necessary time spent outside. I try my best to be mindful of the split between the two, not letting one dominate the other, otherwise frustration takes over. Evening admin is common practice in my house!

5. Break it down into chunks

Little lists from big lists as described above definitely work for me and are a great way of prioritising the week ahead without giving myself too much to do.

6. Vary the jobs

It was my osteopath many years ago that told me to vary manual jobs every half an hour. Although not always possible, I try and live by that even now to avoid back strain. Rather than cleaning out all the pigs in one day I choose a pen a day and sometimes even split it in two while they’re eating in the morning or afternoon. Same goes for working in the vegetable garden, small chunks at a time offers variety and stems the boredom.

Balance and break it down into chunks Balance and break it down into chunks

7. Don’t stress the small stuff

How many times have I walked around my garden, fences or yard thinking I must do that next, I must do that when I’ve finished the other one, I mustn’t forget to do that too! It builds up and up until you realise it will never be finished… and that’s the point. Smallholding is a lifestyle choice, there will always be a list of things to do so I’m learning (slowly) to do what I can and leave the rest.

8. Time with your animals

There is no doubt that farm animals are very calming, indeed they hate being stressed, but it’s all too easy to make the only time you spend with them feeding and mucking out. I find that time grooming (them, not me) is a great way to relax and build a trusting relationship, particularly with breeding stock.

9. ‘Stop and smell the roses’

Walter Hagen was right. How easy it can be to forget to enjoy this way of life. Growing, nurturing and passing on survival skills is a huge privilege and one that we may need more of in the future. I hope that you can, and do, enjoy yours as much as I do mine.

● Sam Gray has smallholding in Shropshire

● Her book, Doing It In Wellies is available at

● Holiday cottages:

How easy it can be to forget to enjoy this way of life.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Country Smallholding visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Country Smallholding staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Country Smallholding account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Interact with other smallholders and post your questions

Visit our forums

More from Land

Monday, April 9, 2018

Jack Smellie looks at what to do when lambing and kidding doesn’t go to plan

Read more
April 2018
Monday, April 9, 2018

Smallholder Tim Tyne advises on the treatment of lambs which are hypothermic

Read more
April 2018
Monday, April 9, 2018

We feature a family who are committed to self sufficiency on their smallholding on an island in Denmark

Read more
April 2018
Monday, April 9, 2018

Debbie Kingsley outlines the rules and regulations for smallholding – this month identifying your sheep or goats

Read more
April 2018
Friday, March 9, 2018

Debbie Kingsley outlines the rules and regulations for smallholding – this month registering your holding and your livestock

Read more
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Expert answers to your questions. This time, how to wean kids from the mothers

Read more
March 2018
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Extend your growing season, says Kim Stoddart

Read more
March 2018
Wednesday, February 7, 2018

What exactly is a smallholder? Tim Tyne reflects on this perennial question in his new series on the more challenging aspects of ‘the good life’’

Read more
March 2018
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

If you’re worried about contamination in your chickens’ water, look no further than the all new Cleanflo Drinker from BEC

Read more
Thursday, November 9, 2017

Vet Charlotte Mouland discusses ringworm in cattle, the disease to watch out for in winter

Read more

Most Read

Newsletter Sign Up

Country Smallholding monthly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

This Year’s Shows

Country Smallholding cover image

Don’t miss our comprehensive guide to rural events

Find out more

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter