Changes: Zöe Colville
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:05] Hello, I'm Annie Macmanus. Welcome to Changes. As you can hear, I still have a little bit of Glastonbury left in my voice. It is still there. It is Wednesday. I got back in the middle of the night on Sunday, so technically I should be recovered but I'm not, and that is a measure of how much fun I had in those fields. Talking of fields, this week's guest is someone who spends, I would say, 85% of her day in fields, but it wasn't always like that for her. Her name is Zoe Colville, otherwise known as the Chief Shepherdess on Instagram. Zoe started out her career as a hairstylist in a salon in Soho in London. Cocktails, going to bars after every shift, living the London life completely. Now she is a shepherdess. How did that happen? What was the love affair that involved her leaving London life and moving to Kent and helping to birth lambs in fields? How does someone go from being a vegetarian to watching lambs be killed in abattoirs? All of these extreme changes explained in today's episode and more. I hope you enjoy it. If you've ever wanted to completely turn your life around to change how you work, where you work, what your lifestyle is, then this is definitely the episode for you. I hope that you find it inspiring. Ultimately, this is a story of an extreme life change and a rollercoaster love story. So, Zoe Coalville, the Chief shepherdess, let's get into it... Zoe, welcome. Would you mind beginning this conversation by telling me your typical working day?
Zoe [00:01:51] Wake up with the sun. Coffee firstly *Annie laughs*, and then usually we'll have an argument because I'm taking too long to get ready, we'll get into the truck and drive to the farm because we don't live on the farm. First things first, you've got to check everything's alive. So it will just- everything that's at the base farm, we just have a walk around, let the dog stretch her legs and we will then check everyone's got food and water. That's like, top. And because we rent grazing land, grass, all round the county, we then have to go round and check the same on every single- and then once we've done that, we can work out what's the best plan of action. And then yeah, when it gets dark, we go home.
Annie [00:02:39] What's the kind of biggest change you're going through right now, would you say, in your life?
Zoe [00:02:44] Learning to not be in control. So when I was a hairdresser and my whole professional life, everything was planned to an inch and now I kind of- I can't plan for anything. And at the moment, we move our sheep every 48 hours to keep them on fresh new grass, and we're kind of get into the point now where the grass isn't growing, we haven't had rain for a month. There's absolutely nothing I can do. And, you know, before too long the sheep are going to get hungry, but there's nothing. And that is something that does not come naturally. I like to plan my life.
Annie [00:03:22] When you mentioned we, tell us who you mean.
Zoe [00:03:25] We is myself and my other half. He's Chris, he is the driving force behind all the changes that I've seen in my life in the past ten years. We actually knew each other when we were younger. He would be at house parties and I would be at house parties. He'd be like a wildfire, no one could control him and he would just do anything that he wanted just because he felt like it. We're really not compatible in that sense. And I was living in London and he Facebook messaged me pissed saying that he thought I was fit. And I kind of thought, oh my God, it's that guy again *both laugh*. And he basically badgered me for probably about two weeks. I was not open for dating but I kind of gave in. I thought it would be an easier life to just give him his date *Annie laughing*, which when I look back I think, oh my God, but I just kind of like 'well come on, come to London then! If you want to come up, come up'. And he was obviously looking forward to it and I just kind of- I was really nervous and I didn't know why I was nervous. I was living in Stoke Newington, we had a really nice date. I went outside for a fag and I just remember just all the alcohol I'd drank that whole time, just smacking me in the face and I just said to him, 'you have to take me home. You have to take me home', and he did take me home and I'd said to him, 'stay in that room, don't follow me' and that was probably his personality coming out and being caring he kind of came downstairs with a glass of water and he told me that I looked fit while I was vomiting *Annie laughs*. Yeah, he didn't go home the next day and yeah- I still wasn't sure if anything would happen but because he was from where I was from, he kind of felt quite safe. Obviously, I'd known him before, I knew he wasn't a serial killer, I guess *Annie laughs*. And I kind of was quite at peace with that. I would say the rest is history but it took a long time for us to-
Annie [00:05:48] Well he's just proposed, hasn't he?
Zoe [00:05:50] He has just proposed.
Annie [00:05:51] He's just proposed so there you go.
Zoe [00:05:53] So, yeah, I guess the rest is history but I do believe that even if we don't spend the rest of our days together, we're exactly where we needed to be with each other through the past ten years. And if it were to end tomorrow, we'd be better off for meeting each other and I think that's quite a nice place to be.
Annie [00:06:10] Let's go back to who you were when he was trying to get in your DMs on Facebook, and what life was like for you and what you were doing back then. So you would have been what? What age were you, early twenties or something?
Zoe [00:06:23] Yeah, so I moved to London at 18. Where I'm from is called Maidstone, so it's a little market town basically.
Annie [00:06:34] In Kent.
Zoe [00:06:35] In Kent. I'd been stuck at this all girls school and I kind of got to 16, 17 and they were talking about careers and I really wanted to be a hairdresser. I really wanted to be a hairdresser.
Annie [00:06:46] And where did that come from, do you think?
Zoe [00:06:48] I think I liked getting my hair cut. I think it's as basic as, I liked the relationship between the hairdresser and the client. I think that's what it is. It felt like you were in a therapy session and I think that's what I liked. I liked that really weird dynamic of, she or he's making you look pretty, but at the same time you're telling them your, you know, your boyfriend at the age of 14 wants to take it to the next step and you're not ready. I quite liked that kind of, they're your friend but *Annie laughs*- that's what I wanted to do.
Annie [00:07:21] And what did your mam and dad think of you wanting to be a hairdresser?
Zoe [00:07:24] Oh, they just want me to be happy. I was one of those girls that had a lot of fads, so they probably thought maybe me being a hairdresser was a fad. And then I was going to do A-levels, and I decided I wanted to be a therapist so I was doing psychology. So, they kind of just let me roll with it and kind of make my own mistakes.
Annie [00:07:43] So when you met your fiancee, you were working in Beak Street, right? Yeah. And how long had you been hairdressing then?
Zoe [00:07:51] Four years? Three or four years.
Annie [00:07:54] Okay. So you were fully ensconced in London life?
Zoe [00:07:58] Yep. Yeah, I met him when I was in Stoke Newington. I was split between working in Beak Street and they had a Shoreditch salon as well. So I split between those two salons. You know, I started work at 11 a.m. and I would finish at 8 p.m., but I would always eat dinner out after work and I would always have drinks after work. You never finished your client and commuted home. That's just not how it happened. And anyone that works in London kind of- it's just a different world. Your last client, they would bring you a raspberry mojito to the hair appointment *Annie laughs*, and then you would have a drink together and cut their hair. And that kind of lifestyle was very normal.
Annie [00:08:43] Yeah.
Zoe [00:08:44] And I'd eased into it over the years. So then when I met Chris and, you know, he was from back home and you have to go into the centre of Maidstone to catch, you know, to get dinner or you know, there was the local village pub and that's it and they definitely didn't serve a raspberry mojito *Annie laughs*. When I come home to see him, it was very much like, it was home but I was different. It was really weird, I felt like I was really myself when I lived in London and I thought I suffered from anxiety, but I thought I was just a nervous worrier. I didn't realise that there is something you can do about it so I just kind of lived every day with- I was absolutely terrified of getting the tube.
Annie [00:09:31] Really?
Zoe [00:09:31] Yeah, because one time someone projectile- literally projectile vomited because they were hungover, all over my feet in flip flops!
Annie [00:09:40] On the tube?
Zoe [00:09:41] On the tube.
Annie [00:09:43] Oh dear.
Zoe [00:09:43] And the smell. I couldn't get away. It was packed. The smell. I had to wait till the next stop to get off. So then every time I got the tube, I would be eyeballing every single person. Do they look a bit pale? Do they look a bit sweaty? Oh, yeah, of course they're sweaty because they're on the tube. Of course they're pale because everyone drinks every night of the week and they're hungover. All of these things, but I just lived with it. And, you know, I was funny about germs and God knows what else, but I just lived with it. And then when I came home to Kent, to Maidstone over the weekend to see Chris, I was kind of like, well it's not as busy here so there's not many germs and I don't have to get the tube. And although everything felt a lot harder work, I did feel a lot calmer.
[00:10:27] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:10:30] So you're drinking raspberry mojitos, going out, loving London life, right in the centre of like a big metropolitan city. Meanwhile, Chris is going back to being a farmer. He ended up having a really hard time, didn't he, where he was diagnosed with ME?
Zoe [00:10:47] Yeah, so before we met he went backpacking around Asia, got dengue fever, which is from a mosquito, and it basically means you bleed from every orifice, your ears, your eyes, your gums, everything. And he nearly died. He was in a hospital in Vietnam, they basically told him that he might not survive the night. When he told me this story I just thought, God, I could never handle something like that but he just did. He lost his dad when he was 12, his dad was the farmer. And I think that taught him that kind of resilience and, you know, to be strong and not be scared. Had prepped him a little bit for that kind of situation.
Annie [00:11:34] It's important to say he lost the farm, too, on his Dads passing, right?
Zoe [00:11:38] Yeah!
Annie [00:11:38] So the animals had to be taken away. So that whole lifestyle that he knew was taken.
Zoe [00:11:43] So he experienced loss from 11, 12 years old. So he kind of- I wouldn't say he'd been hardened to it, but that kind of hardship he'd gone through before, that kind of everything being up in the air, which my life was very much not like that. So when I learned of him nearly dying in Asia and him losing his dad and the whole life he had on the farm disappearing and him having to like, play football on a Saturday rather than riding a quad bike around the farm, I just couldn't really comprehend it at all because I really had had such a really lucky life. You know, I still had two parents that were in love. We still lived in the childhood home. I was in awe of how he understood himself and understood his life and where he kind of needed to be. And then he had a burn out. We're about to get on the train, we were going to London zoo believe it or not. And he's been fine, like, completely fine. And then we walked to the train station and he literally crumbled to the floor. It makes me feel a bit sad when I think about it because that was the most vulnerable I think I've probably seen him and he didn't know what was happening. He was terrified. And he was- I'd had panic attacks in the past and he was having a panic attack. He'd been suffering from post-viral fatigue from the dengue fever, but he hadn't stopped working. And the only way his body could make him stop was to give him a panic attack, I think. I truly believe that was his kind of, you will stop now. And, yeah, he was in bed for nearly a year. And me at this point, I was still living in London and coming home, so I was kind of coming home at the weekends and we were having dinner in bed.
Annie [00:13:39] But that's early on in your relationship, wasn't it? So you're only a few months in.
Zoe [00:13:44] Yeah, yeah.
Annie [00:13:45] So that's a big thing to happen.
Zoe [00:13:47] Yeah, two months in. I remember my dad saying to me 'are you sure?'. Because my dad hadn't met Chris properly because he was literally bedbound, he didn't know him. And he didn't know that his personality before was like a Duracell bunny. And now, literally, he would come downstairs, get a glass of water and have to lay flat out on the kitchen floor to get the energy to go back up the stairs. And the lactic acid would be so bad in his legs that he would tell me all the time that he felt like it was acid running round his body because he was in so much pain. And, you know, your dads girl aren't you so he was kind of like, are you sure Zo?. You know, the world is kind of your oyster in London and you're back in Kent laying in bed with a boy massaging his legs. And that sounds really nasty and he wasn't nasty, my dad was a gorgeous man but he just wanted what was best for me and he maybe thought Chris was being lazy, I guess, which he wasn't. We decided that- he was kind of get into a stage where he wanted to go out more and he was getting these little bursts of energy and he wanted to get his kind of fitness up and get some of his life back. So we bought a spaniel puppy. He would have to walk her, do all of the things you do with the pup. And in doing so, he started training her to be a garden dog, which obviously he went shooting when he was with his dad on the farm and him being in that world, I have never seen someone blossom so much. At the start, I wasn't involved whatsoever because I was still in London and I would come home at the weekends and I would notice him getting brighter and it was such a joy to see, but it was never like, this could be my life. I could just have a shotgun hanging over my arm and I could wear posh wellies and tweed like, I wasn't remotely interested. It was only, you know, after a few months of him doing that and he started working with the animals again and he ended up buying some sheep that I kind of, my eyes twinkled a little bit and I thought, oh, hang on. I've always wanted a pet. I've never had a pet before. These could be my pets as well. And that's how it started *laughs* believe it or not. And yeah, and then now, God, we've got five- we just lambed 550 ewes, this lambing just gone. And we've got a dozen or so cattle that we calve, and we've got a hell of a lot of goats that we kid. And it's my full time life now.
[00:16:37] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:16:48] What was the catalyst for making the move for good?
Zoe [00:16:53] My dad died. I'd wanted to quit hairdressing for probably six months, maybe. But I thought what I wanted was to buy a house with Chris, have a couple of kiddies, get married. Like I was obsessed with being a mother.
Annie [00:17:16] Yeah.
Zoe [00:17:17] And that kind of- something needing you. I always had imaginary animals and I needed something- I wanted something that needed me. And it was ingrained in me, whether it be from my friends, my family, what I've seen around me, on telly, whatever, that that's what I needed to be happy was that family unit. And I was sure that I'd found Chris and he was going to be the one that I'd do it with. And I was earning the money to put money away for a house deposit to start that journey of the house, the babies, this, that and the other. But without the money, I wouldn't reach my dream of those things. And without hairdressing, I wouldn't have the money to do those things. So I was stuck in hairdressing even though I wasn't that happy. And then, yeah, my my dad went into hospital and ended up in intensive care and they thought it was a superbug that had taken over his entire body, but it actually turns out he had three different types of cancer, and he'd been suffering a lot with sciatica, but it turned out that the sciatica was actually bone cancer. This was pre-COVID. This was 2018. And we basically all just moved back into my mum and dad's house. My sister was at uni. I was in London. We hadn't all lived in that house for so many years. And then it was like all going back in time into this house, but instead of the mum and dad caring for the two kids, it was three adults essentially caring for my dad. Five weeks later, he died at home. And-
Annie [00:18:54] I'm so sorry.
Zoe [00:18:55] *Sighs* it was grim. It was grim. Of course it was. But I do believe that people- we all have our life span and it was- I do believe it was his time. He was never into the farming, this is the thing that makes me absolutely wet myself laughing because obviously I've written the book now about farming, and farming is very much my life. But he was never into it at all.
Annie [00:19:21] And was he into the idea of you doing it?
Zoe [00:19:23] No!
Annie [00:19:23] Okay.
Zoe [00:19:24] He thought it was a fad. He thought it was a fad of mine *Annie laughs*. He just thought it was like, oh Zoe just likes playing around with the animals. And if I'm doing something like- we were having a really rough lambing, a really rough lambing with this ewe and I was literally past my elbow trying to rearrange this lamb up her you know what, to get this lamb out, and I just started wetting myself laughing, I just thought jeez if my dad- honestly, he genuinely wouldn't believe it. Even now, you know, years later I just think, I do wonder what he would think. Anyway, he died and I toyed with the idea of going back to hairdressing. I was very loyal. Like when you see someone every six weeks, a client and you're going through- you're literally going through IVF with them, you're going through divorces with them, you're going on, you know, cheating partners, you're going through getting diagnosises for their kids behaviour problems- you're so involved with their life and they were so involved with my life, I didn't feel ready to share that part of my life. And I couldn't see a way that I could offer them the same service and be the same person without probably dying and a bit inside and like suppressing the grief to give them the service. So yeah, I decided not to go back to the salon and I didn't know how long it would be for, and I didn't really have a clue what I was doing but I do genuinely feel it was the right decision. And like I was like, losing the fake nails, and then I was losing the make up, and then I was losing all these things to get to the point where, you know, I can now hold my own on the farm and like Chris will go away and do stuff and I can handle it. Even now, like years and years down the line there are moments where I do have a little cry and just think, God is this me? I dunno if this is me. But I don't think that's unhealthy.
Annie [00:21:17] No, not at all. Not at all.
Zoe [00:21:19] I think it's a good thing sometimes to be a bit like, oh, could there be another option for me in life?
Annie [00:21:24] Let's talk about what you learnt in that time, the things that surprised you about it. The bad things. The things that you couldn't get over.
Zoe [00:21:33] Okay, so it's probably a good time to mention I was a vegetarian at this point.
Annie [00:21:37] No wayyy!
Zoe [00:21:39] Yeah.
Annie [00:21:39] Ohhh, I didn't know that.
Zoe [00:21:41] Yeah. So I didn't eat meat, I hadn't eaten meat probably from early teens. My mum and dad were meat eaters, my dad was a huge barbecue fan, always barbecuing, and he found me really annoying that I didn't just eat normal food. Like it was hard for me to be a vegetarian *laughs*. But I just- it all comes- I had food poisoning from, like, rotisserie chicken that you get from a deli or whatever. It was just easier for me to not eat meat. And then it wasn't when I met Chris and he was a meat eater and he would do a roast or something and I'd think, oh actually, is it a bit weird that I don't eat meat? I don't know, I'd kind of lost why I hadn't eaten it. And it wasn't even an animal welfare situation, it was literally I don't want to get food poisoning and meat is a high risk food poisoning in my immature brain. And yeah, and then the lambs that he had bred were ready to go off to the abattoir and I remember he sold them all at the market, all the lambs, and he had one slaughtered and butchered for our freezer. And I remember feeling like it smelt good and I was going to try a bit and I ate some and it had, it had kind of gone full circle. I had seen the lambs be born and now I was eating them, and although it tasted good, it freaked me the fuck out. I was like, oooh, that animal's gone from being a living, breathing thing and it didn't feel normal. And then I didn't eat meat for quite a while after that. And then when I was getting more into the farming I actually thought, it's fucking cool that we actually know what that animal has actually even digested. We know everything. I even got to the point where when we went to the abattoir with some lambs, I asked the guy if I could watch that end process because I felt like I was giving my heart and soul to keep them animals happy and healthy, I didn't want to like fall at the last hurdle and for it to be a scary experience. And all I'd known is like the viral videos on Facebook you see of animals screaming in distress-
Annie [00:24:07] *Sadly* yeahhh.
Zoe [00:24:07] Before they're kill- and we all know them! We all know those kind of like black and white click baits you get of like a really sad looking pig or whatever. And I just needed to know. And I saw the process and I was pleasantly surprised.
Annie [00:24:22] What is the process? How do they kill a lamb?
Zoe [00:24:23] So in the UK and in the abattoir we use, there obviously are halal abattoirs.
Annie [00:24:32] And halal is when you let the animal bleed out?
Zoe [00:24:35] Yeah, so Halal is- I've never seen a true hello dispatch slaughter. So the wat they do it in ours, it is a halal slaughterhouse. But what they do is it's a stun halal, killing, slaughter, whatever. The halal part is, they bless the animal as it's bleeding out. So where we go, there's probably about between five and eight lambs in a pen. Now, our animals are in pens all the time because, you know, you have to treat their feet, you have to do all sorts so they're in pens all the time. So that part probably not any different for them. Not really a high stress environment. Then what they do is they get, imagine like giant barbecue tongs and they place it either side on the temples of the sheep and that basically stuns them, the current obviously. And now, I'd asked Chris about it and I thought there would be a degree of suffering or a few seconds where the animal is dying or- I genuinely kind of was prepared emotionally that there would be a bit where I'd kind of, screw my face up because it was awful. But the animal went down, the the lamb, the sheep, whatever goes down like a sack of shit. Like instantaneously when these tongs- they hit the deck and they are gone. There is no brain function left there which surprised me. I really thought there would be a few seconds of fear where I would feel uncomfortable.
Annie [00:26:22] Yeah.
Zoe [00:26:23] Anyway, they're then hoisted up onto a pully system. The next stage I guess is their throat is cut open and they're left to bleed out and then they're obviously skinned, gutted, all of those things. And I was so shocked and I was- I felt really privileged, I think, to have been able to see that because majority of meat eaters probably don't know how the animal was even reared, let alone privy to how it's died. And I felt really privileged and that really shocked me. I thought I'd be like vomiting and, you know, absolutely scarred for life and I'd feel like I was in a saw movie and I'd be running out there screaming, becoming a vegan or something. I just didn't expect to be in the truck on the way home, feeling like I was really lucky to have experienced that.
Annie [00:27:16] You talk extensively in the book about bringing- like lambing, bringing lambs into the world, helping them to breathe and live and bond with their mums. And you care about animals. How do you reconcile, I suppose, that aspect of like each animal being unique and individual and knowing them and-?
Zoe [00:27:31] It didn't come naturally.
Annie [00:27:33] Right.
Zoe [00:27:34] It took a lot of work. Probably a couple of things. Number one is don't ever name anything that you might eat.
Annie [00:27:41] Right. I was going to say, do you not name them?
Zoe [00:27:44] It's so simple, but don't ever do that. Because- we're very lucky, because it's just Chris and I any animal on the farm, if we decided it wasn't going to go into the food chain, it wouldn't, we'd just keep it. We got loads of freeloaders on the farm. Loads of freeloaders that we just have for enjoyment. We don't have a boss that tells us production rate is down or whatever, so that freedom's nice. And another thing is, if I don't do it, someone else is going to do it. And if someone else does it, it might not be- the welfare might not be as high as us. It doesn't matter how food production goes, we will always eat meat in this country and we always will eat British produce in this country, and there will always be farmers, whether there's less of them who knows. And I kind of feel like if I'm doing it, I can sleep easy that the people that eat our meat are having grass fed, incredibly high welfare, you know, limited use of antibiotics, all of these things I can guarantee. And if someone else was doing it, maybe their standards would be a little bit different. Their experience at the abattoir might be- you know, you don't know for definite. Whereas I know for definite. Yeah, that was a big thing for me of if I'm not doing it, someone else is going to do it. It almost felt like I was doing a duty to the country which sounds- now coming out of a hairdresser's mouth sounds really weird, but especially during lockdown, people were walking past our fields and asking us, because they were terrified of going into the supermarket, if they could buy their meat from us. On the whole, lockdown for us and building that kind of community of were the local farmers and they're going to support us, that was a really lovely, lovely moment for Chris and I to feel like we had a duty to feed them. And it goes back to that feeling of me wanting to feel needed and I'm sure that's deep rooted *laughs* that whole like part of community, you know, it led to us actually, you know, building a cutting room and we do sell the meat off the farm now but I found a purpose, and the part of hairdressing I loved was the social chat. Farming is very solitary. It's just Chris and I. And then during lockdown be it with three metres between us, we were chatting to the neighbours and we were talking about farming and I had that kind of social thing and I think my dad being like the real 'well, you're not going to be a hairdresser now, so you've got to find a different life', then mixed with lockdown I was kind of like, well I've got the social bit of it now and obviously I was running my page on social media and chatting to people through there as well, it felt like everything had kind of come together and that's where I feel now.
[00:30:40] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:30:50] There's a line in the book which really struck me about, you know, your learnings about farming and how death is such a huge part of it. You know, it's completely huge. And you have a choice when you're farming. And I'm not just talking about death as in slaughtering, I mean death as in just animals dying all the time and you having to keep animals alive. You have a choice where you have to focus on the life. You have to just focus on keeping people alive. And I thought that was really, especially in the context of your dad as well, just the kind of like you have to choose, with grief, you have to choose to keep living, you know, to keep focusing on living.
Zoe [00:31:24] Yeah. And I think there have been points where- the parallels between my, I guess you'd say, mental health with grief and loss and depression and all those kind of things, like if you were suffering the biggest loss in your life, why would you go into an industry where you're surrounded by loss? Whether it be animals, as you say, accidentally dying and that kind of loss or sending them to the abattoir? Why did I do that? And I often think about it and it's because I can on the whole, control or limit the death in farming, whereas in-
Annie [00:32:07] There's a control aspect?
Zoe [00:32:07] There is a bit, isn't there.
Annie [00:32:10] Woooow, that's deep.
Zoe [00:32:10] So like my dad died and there was nothing I- like the cancer was ravaging his body, like there was nothing in the world I could have done to make him live, no matter what drugs I gave him or whatever. And of course, there's animals that there's no hope in saving them, but I will always give it a fucking good go. Like even if I'm syringing water into like a comatose animals mouth, like I will always give it a go. Chris isn't like a hard, harsh person, he can be quite soft, but I have given a lot of animals chances that he maybe wouldn't have even tried because he didn't think there was a hope.
Annie [00:32:47] It's like you have the patience as well. There's something in you that is hopeful to try and make it work. And some of the things you describe about how you've kept like lambs alive and having to stick pins in their stomach when they've got too much gas and like, the learning- like watching YouTube videos on the go and trying to keep these little animals alive. It's fascinating.
Zoe [00:33:07] And I think it comes back to the control thing, doesn't it? Like I have a shot of making something live. So we had a situation where someone had thrown garden waste over the fence into the farm, and some of our lambs, they weren't teeny tiny they were, you know, four or five months old lambs, had eaten this garden waste and it had poisoned them. That death was traumatising. They were screw- like animals aren't very vocal about pain, like sheep will give birth and not make a sound. I've had to, you know, help get this gigantic lamb out of a ewe where, you know, she's been practically splitting and she hasn't made a sound. She might be grinding that teeth, but she hasn't made a sound. And these lambs were screaming in pain. And our local newspaper contacted Chris and said, we would like to run a story, it's good for awareness about, you know, not chucking garden waste- blah blah blah. And I said, okay, fine, you know, anything for awareness like flytipping is a huge problem where we are, that's amazing. They ran the story and they put it on their Facebook page, the torrent of abuse that I got. 'She's going to kill the animals anyway so what does she care that they're dying?', 'she's going to slit their throat' and I just thought, oh my God, like, the awareness really is not there at all. I'm keeping these animals alive and keeping them healthy and not suffering. Yeah, at the end of the day, they're going to go into the food chain but that time when they're with me, I have full control over that time. That period of- and because they're grass finished, the lambs are only fed on grass, they're with us for a lot longer periods so you do have a long time.
Annie [00:34:50] How long do they have?
Zoe [00:34:52] So they'll be nearly a year old. I thought that lamb that we eat was a lamb, but actually if I showed you a lamb that was going to the abattoir tomorrow, a lot of people would say it was a sheep.
Annie [00:35:07] I think a lot of people don't think at all about the food that they have on their plate, and they don't- when they're getting a lamb buna or a lamb curry or something they don't ever, ever equate that meat with the live baby animal, essentially. And I think that's really interesting. And I think you should know every stage. You know, if you're going to eat meat that's your choice absolutely but know what happens. Know how it works. And it's it's good to raise awareness of that, I think. It's very good to kind of raise awareness of the reality of what goes on.
Zoe [00:35:39] It's not just meat either, it's everything.
Annie [00:35:43] Fruit?
Zoe [00:35:44] Yeah, fruit.
Annie [00:35:45] Yeah, apples, bananas, everything. Where do they come from? How are they getting to your plate?
Zoe [00:35:49] I wouldn't have had a clue. I've had to consciously ask questions in the market. Ask farmers questions and one of the bits of ground that our sheep graze is a strawberry farm. I knew that strawberries were in season during Wimbledon, but I wouldn't have known where the strawberry season started and ended. I wouldn't have had a clue. And I don't think many people do because you can get strawberries in Tesco all year round, they're just a bit sweeter during one period. And I do feel quite passionately about that now. I think where I've been so excited by the learning process, I almost want to give that to other people so I do use my social media page to talk about maybe slightly uncomfortable food production related things. I really would like little kiddies to understand even basically, like that a McDonald's beef burger comes from a cow.
Annie [00:36:48] Yeah, I totally agree.
Zoe [00:36:48] Just something so simple. Like, it's just so- I don't think it's even the parents fault I just think it's like a generational thing that's just got worse and worse over time.
Annie [00:36:58] As animals and meat has become industrialised, factory farmed, it's become so available that that kind of link you have to make to the farming aspect is just gone, isn't it? What's the ratio I suppose of farms like yours as opposed to the big factory farms in the UK? Are you rare? Are you more common now?
Zoe [00:37:16] It's more common now. There's like a revolution happening at the moment.
Annie [00:37:20] Tell me, tell me about the revolution.
Zoe [00:37:23] So there's something cool. It's become a buzzword now and it's called regenerative farming. So it's using old school ways of farming to up your production, but also it's all about soil health. And soil health obviously then has a knock on for absolutely everything. I'm actually going to a festival the end of this month, which they call like the farming Glastonbury. A load of agricultural people having a drink and going to talks and things like that of basically how farming's changing at the moment. And it's been happening for years and years, but it's suddenly got to a point now where like your average Joe farmer is understanding a bit more about how farms don't need to just like plough huge amounts of fertiliser on, you know, they can use the sheep to graze it and then the sheep are going to poo and then the poo will do the same as the fertiliser. And it's kind of- I feel it's, it's taken the price of fertiliser and things like that to shoot through the sky- and diesel and everything, to shoot up for the message about how we need to farm to get out there. Now, it's going to benefit not only the soil and, you know, the environment around us, but it'll actually mean the longevity of farming- we went last year and I came back obsessive with dung beetles. I mean, do you think the girl in Soho with a mojito would be obsessed with dung beetles? *Annie laughs* I thought a dung beetle was on David Attenborough when they're just rolling-
Annie [00:39:10] Yeah, me too!
Zoe [00:39:11] But, you know, healthy soil has dung beetles in the UK. And me and Chris came back from the festival and we were literally rifling through cow pats to find these dung beetles and getting like, overexcited when we find one with a blue belly. Like, it is exciting. And it's interesting you say about the whole kind of factory farm verses- it's such a good time to kind of ask the question because it's at a tipping point. And I know a lot of people feel like farming is like this real closed off community and I think in a lot of places it is, isn't it? I think it's getting to the point now with social media and with television, I think it's a really exciting time.
Annie [00:39:56] To someone listening, right, who maybe is feeling a bit like you where at the end of your hairdressing where you just didn't really feel inspired and so much of life is just kind of going through the motions and doing what you feel like you should do because society or culture has told you that, to anyone listening who might want to step out of that and do something different, what would you say to them? You've changed your life so drastically I suppose.
Zoe [00:40:22] The best thing I think is, if something excites you, to listen to that. So a lot of people they'll have their hobby and their career and they get excited for the weekends to do the hobby. But is there a way you can make that hobby into your career? Like, be a bit creative with it and you just never know. Because I understand that you need money to live and especially if you have people relying on you like kiddies and that you need money to live and feed them, but if there's something that gets you that excited, isn't it worth a go to kind of work out a way you could turn that into your career or at least a moneymaking side hustle.
Annie [00:41:12] What is the most beautiful thing about your job?
Zoe [00:41:15] Being able to live simply.This is so cliche but I've had to allow myself to feel things a lot deeper than I ever did before. I don't set an alarm. We sleep with the blinds open and we wake up when the sun comes up. And in the winter when it gets dark at five, we finish work at five. So we're well rested in the winter because we're working shorter hours. But then in the summer, we work longer hours and get as much as we can done. And it's just like, that's just our life.
Annie [00:41:45] So you're more connected to nature I suppose?
Zoe [00:41:49] Connected, yes. And that's what I mean by simply, I mean- like I'm really obsessive with fungi at the moment. Like I'm listening to podcasts about fungi. Before I would sit on the tube and I would be like, I don't know, Daily Mail scrolling through this, that and the other and it would be very surface level, whereas now I can feel things a lot more deeply. And I yeah, I don't really care about gossip and stuff like that now it's just a different life.
Annie [00:42:21] Zoe, thank you so, so much.
Zoe [00:42:23] Pleasure, pleasure.
Annie [00:42:27] Do please rate, review and subscribe to Changes. It is so appreciated and if you fancy sharing it on social media too, that would be amazing. The more people we can get listening to these episodes, the better. We want to tell our stories far and wide. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Thanks for listening!