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Counting sheep and kids; PROFILE Amanda Owen left city life behind to become a shepherdess on a remote farm in the wilds of Yorkshire. Hannah Stephenson finds out about the triumphs and torments of becoming a modern day James Herriot.

Byline: Hannah Stephenson

HER mother had her down for a career at Marks & Spencer but feisty teenager Amanda Owen had other ideas.

Today, she runs a 2,000-acre hill farm in the unforgiving outreaches of Swaledale in north Yorkshire, tending 1,000 sheep and looking after seven children with her farmer husband, Clive.

So how did she go from Goth teenager with nose piercing to welly-wearing mum-of-seven, who hasn't had a haircut for 27 years but endeavours to wear lipstick and waterproof mascara every day, so she doesn't lose her femininity? Owen's story is charted in her memoir, The Yorkshire Shepherdess, from her upbringing in the industrial town of Huddersfield to working on a farm for her work experience, then becoming a farm worker, shepherdess and unwitting TV celebrity on the ITV series The Dales.

Inspired by the James Herriot books she had read as a child and her love of the great outdoors, the Yorkshire lass has never wavered or thought of giving up the life she has chosen at the remote Ravenseat farm.

The 39-year-old 6ft 2in shepherdess is up at 5am and her day ends at 9pm, but she never longs for an easier life.

"It would be a lie to say that every minute of every day is skipping about thinking, 'This is brilliant!' It's not just a job, it's a lifestyle. You can go from highs to lows. If you've got a cow that's just calved, that's fantastic, but other mornings you can wake up to total disaster."

We meet in the lambing season, when Owen is at her busiest, making sure her sheep give birth safely, dealing with complications and often assisting with the delivery.

And it hasn't been textbook deliveries with her own family of seven children, as Owen has a tendency for extremely quick labours. Being two hours from the nearest hospital, she's given birth three times in a layby, once in an army barracks and once at home.

The children, she says, speak their own language to each other and a speech therapist visits the school to help them pronounce words so others can understand them.

"They have a slant on how they talk, mixing letters up. You have to tune in. It's like a very strong dialect. They had to put sub-titles in when they interviewed my daughter Edith on television. I can understand the children, but I'm convinced they will grow out of it."

Owen hasn't ruled out having more kids, but says they have had to adapt as the family has grown.

"The lifestyle costs money. With children, it depends what you want out of life and how you live. If I wanted to go to the cinema or the pub, I wouldn't have the children. But what we enjoy here is having a more traditional family life."

She says the children won't remember her untidy house, but they will remember bringing their pony into the living room.

Her eldest daughter Raven, 12, first assisted with calving at the age of 10 and is now toying with being a vet or a doctor.

The kids watch some television during the winter months but in the summer, it's hardly on, as they are always out in the fresh air, she says.

"They regard the TV as a treat.

They don't have Xboxes or PlayStations. They go outside, they help me sort out the animals."

She has chosen a harsh, unconventional lifestyle but in many ways, it is healthier and happier than that assumed by the friends she left back in Huddersfield. She doesn't miss much about the town, she reflects.

"I miss a hot takeaway, as the nearest Chinese is about 15 miles away. The children's school is 30 miles away. It costs a fortune to get internet access, which comes via a satellite dish and is incredibly slow. We have no mobile phones as there are no signals. There's no hospital on the doorstep if you have a heart attack. There are pros and cons."

She says she becomes very attached to the sheep, many of whom she names, even though they are sold to lowland farmers to fatten or use as breeding stock. And the family eats some of the lambs.

"Our lambs are not reared intensively on feed and cake. They grow naturally, running around, and eating what they are supposed to eat. People should take a pride and feel more confident and happy to know where the animal's come from, and how it's been reared and looked after.

"People see my kids feeding the pet lambs and we have pigs as well. Somebody once asked Edith, who's only five, 'What's the best thing about pigs?' Edith said, 'Crackling'. Does that mean we're heartless and terrible? No."

Today, as well as running the farm, she has converted some old shepherds' huts into B&B accommodation, attracting visitors to the Dales and walkers from the Coast to Coast trail, which crosses the west to the east coast of northern England and runs through Swaledale.

"Sometimes, the walkers who pass through Ravenseat ask whether I have walked the Coast to Coast. I tell them that I reckon I cover the same distance, all 182 miles, every week.

"I go up and down the moor and between fields, backwards and forwards between the kitchen and the picnic benches, balancing a tray in one hand and with a baby under my arm or on my front or back.

"Multitasking is what I do, on a whole new level. Clip a sheep, make a cream tea, drive a tractor, breastfeed a baby; there is no combination of activities that hasn't been tried and tested."

The children, she says, have an incredibly healthy lifestyle.

As newborns, each has been strapped to her front in a waterproof onesie as she heads up the hill to tend her sheep, waking and sleeping with the rhythm of the farm.

"We have all this room. In the summertime they are out and about, running up and down the fields in their pyjamas, swimming in the river, riding the horses. Holidays don't work for us. We have tried, but subconsciously, we're always looking for somewhere like where we live."

Her everyday wear is wellies and waterproofs, although she has been known to wear pretty garments underneath the wax jackets. People have given her clothes and she's bought random pretty outfits, but they sit in the wardrobe.

"I'm determined not to lose my femininity even though I do a 'blokey' job," she says. "Mind you, I've got hands like shovels, so even if I do try and dress up, everybody knows."

The ITV series The Dales has attracted some attention, as visitors who watched the programmes seek out the farm, she agrees. But it's remote enough not to become a recognised tourist magnet.

"I think we get the best of both worlds. Throughout the winter months, it's as it's always been: remote, quiet, you're there with the family and the sheep and may see no-one else week to week. By the time lambing's over and you're into May, you're ready for some company again."

Viewers have sent her clothes, she observes. "I think I attract a certain type of viewer. If I was wanting a box of chocolates or Louboutins, I'd be disappointed. I just get cardigans knitted for me."

But she has no intention of returning to city life.

"I'll be at Ravenseat forever. I'm not intending on going anywhere. It does something to you. It becomes a part of you. I wouldn't like to be living anywhere else."

The Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen is published by Sidgwick & Jackson, priced PS16.99.


Amanda Owen out on the isolated moors she loves so much and dragging feed up to her flock. Inset, the book about her life
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 1, 2014
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