Make Hay While the Sun Shines takes us behind the farm gate and follows a year on the farm: from calving cows to maintaining machinery, from mucking out to planning and building a brand-new cow shed. Tom gives us a unique insight into everyday life on a busy dairy farm with all its highs, lows and hard graft. Full of heart, amusing anecdotes and unforgettable characters like Tom’s dad, Andy – aka the Ginger Warrior – this is Tom’s story of determination, adventure and how to keep a smile on your face even when you’re knee deep in cow poo.
I grew up in a somewhat rural area, surrounded by fields – though unfortunately, many are now filled with houses. But the one thing I always remember was the smell of muck spreading on the dairy farm that ran along the far end of our road. This farm was a pretty small operation (and still is) but all the milk that was sold in the village shops came from there and there was something about the taste of it that just reminds me of being young.
When I was seven and in Mrs Smith’s class at primary school we were taken on a field trip to a classmate’s family farm. I remember very clearly hating the mud and the smell, but the feel of that cow’s soft nose against the palm of my hand was the highlight. Being called ‘prissy’ by the teacher because I didn’t like the mud, was a low point, but I was seven, I didn’t have wellies and it really was a miserable wet day!
So, what am I saying? Reading Make Hay While the Sun Shines was like returning to certain moments in my childhood combined with a lesson in the incredible hard work that goes into running a farm.
Tom Pemberton makes it very clear from the off-set that he loves his family’s farm, that he loves the work and wouldn’t swap it for anything, but he makes no bones about how difficult it can be. Reading about the process of running a farm, all the things you are responsible for, all of the sacrifices that are made, all the expense, the hours sitting on a tractor, all the planning. It’s overwhelming, as a reader.
The passion for the legacy he is part of fills every single page and even when things seem as though they’re getting tougher (like during the pandemic, or when there were the issues with the newborn calves) not once did I, as the reader, feel as though he wanted to give up.
At my primary school, there were a number of children who grew up on farms, a couple from dairy farms in the area, and another few whose parents bred sheep. They would come in every single morning rosy-cheeked having already been up since the crack of dawn working with their parents. The farm was their life, their livelihood and they loved to share that a new cow or sheep had been born, that they had been in the milking shed, or feeding a new lamb. That’s what I got from this book, the joy, the exhilaration of every experience.
Throughout there were stories about things Tom had enjoyed because of his YouTube channel, such as a trip to Austria with Mercedes, and the poor drones that were victims of a new learning curve. We met his wife Jo, his cousin who decided to help them mow the fields because he was bored, and I learnt that the Red Tractor on milk bottles isn’t just there for decoration (something that I was not aware of before).
The book was filled with funny little anecdotes, and bits of advice that can be adapted to life away from a farm.
I loved the top tips from Tom and the Ginger Warrior (his father), and the illustrations that have been used occasionally to separate sections of longer chapters.
I read this book not long after enjoying the collection of Diddly Squat columns that were compiled by Jeremy Clarkson, both followed a similar construct. However, Clarkson’s was amusing tales and lessons learned by a new farmer, while Make Hay While the Sun Shines was a detailed account by someone who has got so many lessons to share.
Though this is a book of facts, it is also a story of growth and experiences and I really enjoyed reading it. In fact, I am going to recommend it to my mum, who still lives in the village where we grew up and on a windy day can still smell the dairy farm at the end of our road.
- Shows how hard yet satisfying farming can be
- Highlights how it’s more than just about milking cows
- Enjoyable writing style, conversational
- I wanted to learn more about the new barn