You might know Jimmy Doherty best for his food programmes, but he spends most of his time on his farm in Suffolk.
Now he has let the cameras in to show what life is like for a farmer during lockdown, and how all the animals at his adjoining wildlife park are coping with their new circumstances.
Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com about his new series Spring at Jimmy’s Farm, he reveals it’s a worrying time for people in his profession, and pleads with us all to visit our zoos and wildlife parks when they re-open.
He has all sorts of tales to tell too, from getting up close and personal with emus, to dealing with violent chicks and finding jobs for restless alpacas. There’s never a dull day on the farm!
Jimmy, were you nervous about letting the cameras in during lockdown?
Well I have actually proposed this type of show before because people don’t realise what goes on at a farm day-to-day. Then in lockdown C4 thought it would be ideal time to come and film. I’ve been doing television projects for the last eight years but this is the fastest turnaround I’ve ever been part of – what you’re seeing on the telly only happened just over a week ago. Luckily we have a very good crew here, they are used to filming animal shows. Social distancing doesn’t matter so much with wildlife!
We’ve seen the gorgeous lambs on your farm – is it true we can expect baby reindeer too?
Yes and they are the cutest things on earth, they are basically a bundle of fluff with long legs. They really are the sweetest creatures and we’re expecting two so that’s exciting, and our goats should be kidding soon. We’ve had calves and chicks hatching recently, it’s what spring is all about.
How are the animals reacting to lockdown?
A number of them are quite upset that the people aren’t here because they’re show offs. The donkeys miss our visitors and Jerry the alpaca always comes running up to see you because he’s desperate for attention. I’ve had to find him a job to keep him occupied – what he’s really good at is being a guard dog, so he’s gone to stay at my friend’s farm, protecting his turkeys from the foxes! Our meerkats lives have changed too, because they’re usually so popular. One of them, Steve McQueen, keeps getting out – he’s never escaped before but I think he wants to find all the people that have suddenly gone missing!
Which animal is being the naughtiest?
I’ve definitely seen wildlife encroach into the park now that we don’t have visitors, which is lovely, but foxes have been coming out during the day and stealing our goose eggs! I’ve also got a chick called West, who was hatched on the farm. He became quite naughty and started pecking all the ducklings, so I’ve had to take him home and my kids are looking after him. We’ve got a little vegetable patch and he has the run of that with a small house – we let him out every morning and he runs round, he’s so pleased with himself. Our dog, Whiskey, would be quite keen to eat him – they have to stay apart from each other!
Lockdown is a stressful time for any business owner – how worried are you for your wildlife park?
It’s a massive worry because the staff wages might be covered by the government but there’s the electricity bill to pay, and all the feed to buy for the animals. I would urge everyone to support your local zoos and farm parks when this is over, for years these places have been helping to promote conservation and they’re finding it really hard because their income has been turned off overnight.
Are there any silver linings to lockdown?
I feel blessed every day that I’m feeding the lambs out in the garden, looking at all the apple blossom or watering the plants in the greenhouse, to feel the sun on your face is great. Without visitors we also have time to do more maintenance and we are rebuilding the guinea pig village. They have a castle on the hill because we’re in Suffolk after all, they’re getting a pub, a hospital, a farm shop and lots of houses and roads too.
What’s the strangest job on your spring to-do list?
We have to sex our emus. We’ve got a group of young emus and we don’t know if they’re boys or girls yet, but we need to find out so that we can separate them. They are too young to be able to tell just by looking at them or by hearing their calls, so you have to actually get physical and find out internally what’s going on…
Spring is a stressful time for a farmer – how do you relax in the evenings?
Spring at Jimmy’s Farm airs Thursdays at 8pm on Channel 4, and is available for catch-up on All 4. To keep up to date with everything on telly, check out our TV Guide.