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Who needs a playpark when you live on a farm like Fergus and Elizabeth in Carse of Gowrie?

Michael and Tessa Sands love giving children Fergus, 4, and Elizabeth, 3, the farming upbringing they enjoyed.
Cheryl Peebles
The Sands farming family with adult and child-sized Gator UVs.
Michael and Tessa Sands with children Fergus, 4, and Elizabeth, 3. Image: Mhairi Edwards.

For a back garden Fergus and Elizabeth Sands have 35 acres of fields and rolling countryside.

Instead of pets they have hundreds of sheep, turkeys, horses and hens.

For breakfast, it’s often a freshly-laid egg they’ve collected themselves.

And no need for scooters or go-karts – the siblings whizz around in a mini Gator utility vehicles.

For farming families like theirs it’s a lifestyle easily taken for granted.

But for most of the rest of us living in villages, towns or cities, the outdoor upbringing Fergus, 4, and Elizabeth, 3, enjoy is a rural idyll.

The Sands family with pony Pickles
Michael and Tessa Sands, with children Elizabeth and Fergus and pony Pickles, built their farm from scratch and as well as sheep now have turkeys and a livery. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

At Oakfield Farm, in the Carse of Gowrie, Perthshire, their parents Tessa and Michael share their way of life with those outside the agricultural community by running lambing tours and a pre-school playscheme.

So they were only too happy to reveal life on the Sands farm near Errol when we visited to find out about farming families.

Farming family life

And as we soon learned, there’s no typical routine when mum and dad are farmers!

Tessa, 31, says: “I don’t think we have two days the same in the 365, I honestly don’t!”

An early rise is a given, though, with 6am considered a long lie. And it’s often a tag team effort to juggle farm work with looking after two young children.

Before Michael, 33, leaves the house to tend to the sheep Tessa will be on early duty at the livery yard.

Elizabeth, 3, rounding up turkeys.
Elizabeth rounds up the turkeys. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

When it’s time to feed the hens and turkeys Fergus and Elizabeth are roped in – and the eggs collected might become breakfast.

Work is interspersed with play throughout the day as animals are fed and checked and maintenance done around the farm.

Fergus and Elizabeth love to help out where they can – at least for a while!

An ear tag scanner for the sheep is Elizabeth’s “magic wand”. Fergus loves herding the sheep with the sheep dogs.

Fergus and Elizabeth help to feed the flock. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

Tessa says: “They are pretty hands on. Because we’re a small farm we don’t employ anyone, we do it all ourselves, so we do have to get the kids out and get them involved.”

Jobs unsuitable for children are often saved for when Fergus and Elizabeth are at nursery or when grandparents can help with childcare.

Otherwise, they’re outside mucking in or playing nearby while mum and dad work.

When you tire of helping there’s plenty of fun to be had on a farm. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

“If Michael and I are busy they’ll pick up sticks and make their own game or play hide and seek,” Tessa says.

“At lambing time they’re great. They will feed the pet lambs and move them when needed.

“At the liveries, they help me when the horses are out in the field and they’re safe to wheelbarrow straw.

An iPad in the tractor

“They love it but like all kids they last 10 minutes and they’re bored!”

So even on a farm screens can save the day when you’d rather be sitting in the tractor watching CBeebies than cutting hay!

“You can take an iPad and snacks in the tractor so six hours later when they’re over it you can pacify them somehow,” says Tessa.

“We make it work because we’ve got to.”

Lambing time is the busiest season for the Sands. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

With a flock of 350 sheep, lambing season in March and April is when the ante is really upped in the Sands household.

Tessa says: “At lambing time Michael will be out for 18 hours a day.

“During the night he will be up twice. It might be 10 minutes to go and check or he might go up there and find there are three that have lambed so they all have to be segregated to stop them pinching each other’s lambs.”

“I’ve been to a playpark with them probably twice in my life!

Ensuring Fergus and Elizabeth get enough outdoor exercise has never been a worry for Tessa and Michael.

“We are allowing them to spend so much time outside doing physical stuff, it’s not like we have to take them out for a cycle on their bikes,” says Tessa.

“We just go and do something, even if it’s just going to feed the dogs. Then we will be off doing something else, like going to get eggs from the hens.

“I’ve been to a playpark with them probably twice in my life!

Feeding the turkeys. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

“We’re very fortunate to live in such beautiful surroundings and the kids do just run around feral!”

So getting to sleep at night is rarely a problem for the Sands children.

And neither is eating a healthy diet when you’re brought up collecting your own eggs, harvesting your own potatoes and rearing your own meat.

Tessa says: “Without realising it they have that whole story of farm to table.

“They’re involved in rearing food and baking and cooking traditionally because that’s what I was brought up with and what my husband was brought up with.

“Farming life is about cooking and eating your own produce and the kids learn that.”

Helping to rear the turkeys. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

That was something Tessa was pleased to share with pre-school children who attended her Tots on the Farm play scheme earlier this year.

She said: “We had a potato week and the children got to dig up a couple of potatoes.

“Lots of mums sent me messages afterwards to say their son or daughter had eaten potatoes by choice for the first time because they had understood; they had come to the farm, had a really fun experience digging their potato, washing it, taking it home, cooking and it and they were really proud that it was their potato they had harvested.”

Farming may be hard work with long hours and few holidays, but it’s not a lifestyle the Sands are likely to turn their backs on.

No neighbours, no street lights

Before moving into Oakfield they lived in the village of Dunning for a short while.

The experience of having neighbours was novel and they enjoyed it while it lasted.

But Tessa says: “We are used to open space, living without neighbours, without street lights. It’s just what we know.

“I definitely couldn’t see us moving into a flat in the middle of Edinburgh.

“We went to New York on holiday once.

“Why do you need to go on holiday when you’ve got this?” Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

“We’ve ticked it off the bucket list and it was a good experience but we wouldn’t go back by choice!”

“Why do you need to go on holiday when you’ve got this?,” she says, signalling the countryside and wildlife pond on her front door.

And the 9 to 5 life is certainly not for the Sands.

“We don’t want to go and do an office job, we want to be able to make an income from our ground and support our kids,” Tessa says.

“I think most farmers would say it’s a vocation not a job.

“It’s definitely a way of life. We’re really fortunate and we probably take it for granted and Fergus and Elizabeth will too.”

Is your family a little bit different? Maybe it’s who you are, maybe it’s what you do that sets you apart. We’d love to hear your story. If you have a tale to tell let us know.