A Dairy Merry Christmas... and a '˜cheesy' Christmas feature

The Friday before Christmas is generally dubbed '˜frantic Friday', as shoppers make last minute preparations for the big day... but for the region's farmers,

With 20 million hitting the roads to see families in the run-up to Christmas, the Friday before Christmas (which this year falls on December 21) is set to be the busiest day on our roads, with 2.8m trips predicted, as we pay visits to loved ones.

While most of us will be looking forward to some well earned time off, not everyone can relax over the festive period. Yorkshire’s farmers will be hard at it, hoping to snatch a few hours on Christmas Day, enough time for a spot of Christmas lunch and some time with their families in between chores.

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But cows still need milking, fences repairing and hedges trimming and there’s always the firm possibility of being called out to deal with the birth of a calf or some other emergency.

John Banks

So while you are tucking into your turkey or enjoying a glass of mulled wine, spare a thought for those unsung, hardworking, lion-hearted grafters who form the backbone of our country, because without them there would be no turkeys, nor cream for the Christmas pud... and you can forget about that cheeseboard.

Behind prison workers and the clergy, farmers place in the top three when it comes to industries pulling shifts on the day itself. In Yorkshire alone, only three in every 100 people will find themselves working on Christmas Day but farmers rank high among them.

The Leeds-based farmer owned cooperative Arla estimates it will sell over 7,000 tonnes of Cheddar in the UK this December. In a recent survey, it found that a staggering 76 per cent of us think Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without it and 68 per cent prefer British cheese to our French counterparts.

John Banks is one of many Yorkshire farmers who works all year round to ensure our milk and cheeses really are the crème de la crème.

Jonathan Sharp

Based in York, John is one of 2,400 UK farmers that are part of the Arla co-operative’s and his is larger than average, with 500 cows. John and his team produce top-quality milk which goes into Arla’s products sold across the UK.

The lead up to Christmas doesn’t really change for John. He says: “There’s still work to be done but with a big team, the rota means everyone can have time off to enjoy parts of Christmas.”

John tries to see the positive side when it comes to working on Christmas day. He fits the farm work in between spending time with family and believes it is good exercise after eating so much over Christmas.

Volumes of production for speciality cheeses triples in November and December and when it comes to our tipples, it takes three months for milk to end up in our creamy liqueurs.

Over in Skipton, cheese lover and Arla Farmer, Paul Bolland has just two other people working on his farm, his wife and his son, next generation farmer, James.

Paul uses high tech trackers on the necks of his cows to monitor their health, meaning he can take a little time off on the 25th, putting his feet up and letting the tech do some of the hard work... at least that’s the plan.

He said: “In the run up to Christmas, we try to get everything done a little bit earlier so we have more family time, but we’ll still need to milk the cows at four in the morning and four in the afternoon.”

As with most farmers, Paul and his family are gearing up for a bit of graft on Christmas day. After milking his cows, family time starts in the afternoon at the local pub, treating himself to a well-deserved Christmas dinner feast.

Keighley based Arla farmer Jonathan Sharp uses technology such as collars for monitoring heat on the cows and a high-tech Moocall sensor on the cow’s tail which sends the farmer a text when it goes into calve.

On Christmas day, Jonathan is still working for a minimum of seven hours because just like every other working day, all the cows will need to be milked, fed and mucked out.

After working hard in the run up to, and on Christmas day, Jonathan’s Christmas routine is unorthodox, but he always makes time for a little fun.

He said: “We do things such as taking the staff out to the races in the run up to the big day and we celebrate two Christmas days, one with my family and then one with my wife’s family.”

Arla’s survey found we’re geared up to spend £2bn on cheese over the festive season, equating to £37 each.

If you like Wensleydale with your Christmas cake, in true Yorkshire spirit, your love of cheese is certainly in good hands thanks to the region’s farmers, who’ll be working hard to bring us our festive fare to our plates.