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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

Programme Information

Network TV BBC Week 10
Interview with Kate Humble

Celebrating the humble lamb

The stars of Lambing Live – Kate Humble and friend

Lambing Live

Coming Soon BBC TWO

As hands-on experiences go, Kate Humble had a memorable one. One of farmer Jim Beavan's ewes had given birth to a lamb, but its twin was rather slow in following. She needed a helping hand and Kate was the one to do it. "I put my hand in and could feel two front feet at the entrance to the cervix," she says. "Following up the legs, I could feel the muzzle. You don't have to pull; you gently help the ewe who is pushing anyway and work with her to gradually ease the lamb out. It's a cliché but it was a miracle – a living thing. There was a rush and this great big slippery black lamb was lying there. You rub it with straw and put it under the mother who licks it and within two minutes it's on its feet and suckling. It was a fantastic moment, incredibly exciting."

The lamb, immediately nicknamed Humble, was an early delivery but BBC Two viewers can expect to see many more such births when Lambing Live covers one of the most vital weeks in the farming calendar over the course of five programmes.

For Jim Beavan and his family, lambing week is the culmination of their working year and Kate confesses that, in a cold-hearted moment, one might think that every lamb – they are expecting almost 600 to be born – merely represents profit. In fact it's also the first stage of the great fulfilment of farming life.

Lambing Live promises a mixture of the inspirational and the educational, but with a tough message too. "I was asked to do it after last year's Springwatch," says Kate. "It seemed an eccentric idea, five programmes just about sheep, but the result is an observational documentary about the whole process of farming in which in six months I learn the skills of a shepherd, while Countryfile's Adam Henson, who knows more about sheep than is probably legal, broadens the subject by introducing unusual breeds and the history."

Lamb is Britain's favourite meat, which is why 16 million of them are born in the UK every spring. From buying stud rams to introducing them to ewes, through pregnancy and scanning to birth, Lambing Live builds up a complete picture. "We get to know a farming family and what they do on a day-to-day basis," says Kate. "It's a celebration of sheep, which makes me giggle, but I think people will be surprised at how interesting these animals are. It's also a real insight into the realities of trying to make a living from farming. Farmers are often maligned in the press, but they have a pretty hard time and the Government in the last month has been saying we've got to start looking at farming practice and start producing more of our own food rather than relying on imports. Equally, we want our farmers to work in a way that's good for the environment and nature conservation, so they are really in the spotlight."

Kate says that Lambing Live is about educating people. "One of the things I'm proud of is that programmes like Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Frankincense tell people things they didn't know about, usually through me who didn't know about them either. We've got a generation of children who literally don't know that milk comes from cows; if we can show something in a responsible way without fear of reprisals then we should do it. We'd like people to appreciate what our farmers do, where meat comes from and why it costs what it costs."

Sheep farming is a tough life. "Some years are good and some bad," says Kate. "The recent snow has made feed costs expensive, but lambs fetch a good price. There have been years where a whole lamb sold at market for £25 or £30, now they are about £80 so they are getting a bit of a return, but there's no definite three per cent pay rise ever, everything fluctuates and you're really in the hands of the elements. It's very tough. I know there are farmers out there who don't do a good job or think about the implications of the way they look after their lambs, but there are an awful lot who do. I hope to give people a more rounded view of farming."

Standing in front of two of his lambs at the abattoir, Kate asked Jim if he felt any emotional attachment to his animals. Jim told her that he felt proud that they had been well reared and cared for, would make good meat and that he'd done the best he could. "I couldn't argue with that," she says. "I couldn't argue with it if I was a vegetarian and I certainly couldn't as a meat eater – this is a guy who works 18 hours a day every single day of the year, his family are in on it too. There are a lot of people in their working lives who never feel that fulfilled; it was a very good lesson."

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