Presenter and farmer Jimmy Doherty reveals which animals he think will be the stars of the show as he takes viewers behind the scenes his Suffolk farm and wildlife park for a new series on Channel 4...
Spring at Jimmy's Farm sees farmer and presenter Jimmy Doherty introducing viewers to a whole host of animals including an alpaca called Jerry, a meerkat with finely-honed escape skills and a camel he is hoping will get amorous as he opens the gates of his Suffolk farm and wildlife park for a new four part C4 documentary starting tonight.
Covering over 280 acres, the park which would normally be teaming with visitors at this time of year, but is currently shut because of lockdown regulations, is home to a vast range of domestic animals such as piglets, sheep and goats as well as a whole host of more exotic creatures including crocodiles, capybaras and tropical butterflies.
''We wanted to give everyone currently stuck inside the chance to see what's going on in the countryside and to enjoy watching the animals who are carrying on as normal.
"Spring is such a lovely time of year and there is so much going on. We've got lambs being born, the apple blossom is out on the trees, everything is bursting into life," says dad of four Jimmy who first started the farm with his wife Michaela in 2002.
Here Jimmy, who also presents Channel 4 shows Food Unwrapped as well as Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast with best mate Jamie Oliver, tells us what's in store, which animals are his favourites and which ones are missing the attention of human visitors...
Jimmy Doherty speaks to What's On TV about Spring at Jimmy's Farm
What's On TV: Were you going to be filming Spring at Jimmy's Farm anyway or was it something that has sprung up because of the current lockdown situation?
Jimmy Doherty: "No. I was meant to be filming Food Unwrapped and another show about helping to save bees. But of course life at the wildlife park and farm is continuing as normal, you can’t mothball animals! I started posting little clips on Instagram of the animals doing their thing and it got such a big response.
"People were saying how much they love the posts because it allows them to see stuff going on in the countryside when everyone is cooped up, so the show really came off the back of that. It’s a nice way to make people still feel connected in some way to nature and to the outdoors."
It’s a really busy time at this time of year in terms of new animals being born, what can we expect to be happening over the next couple of weeks?
JD: "We’re an interesting site because not only are we are a farm but we have a zoo licence too so we have all the domestic animals - we had some lambing yesterday, we’ve been moving cattle, planting stuff for the gardens, all the usual kind of activities you’d expect from the farm and then on top of that we’re expecting baby reindeer to be born, we’ve got crocodiles, we’ve got camels. There is endless activity. I’ve just been out on a digger excavating large pools for our tapirs to go and swim in."
Have the animals changed the way they’re behaving because there are no visitors around?
JD: "It’s a mixed bag. Some of them are not fazed at all, others are coming out of themselves a bit more. I was watching some stoats the other day running up and down, brazenly not caring, because there is no general public here.
"Other animals are a bit disappointed because they like to show off. We’ve got Jerry the alpaca who is like, ‘What am I going to do all day? I’ve got no-one to talk to?’ I have to say Jerry loves himself! He looks a bit like Ken Dodd and he’s usually very in your face but ironically, if you point a camera at him he often just wanders off.
"The tapirs, they’re desperate for a bit more interaction. So you go and tickle them, they roll over, they love all that. The lambs always love seeing the kids. This would be our busiest time of the year and we’d normally have loads of children feeding the lambs and things like that."
How does filming the show work? Are you having to do some it yourself because of social distancing and isolating?
JD: "We’ve got a very small film crew here and they’re all on lockdown. Because the farm is closed to the public it’s a secure site. Everyone has their individual Winnebago’s which are sanitised every day and we all follow social distancing. We’re using Go Pros for some of it. Yesterday we filmed a little scene where we’re building a new enclosure for our capybaras which are the largest aquatic rodents native to South America."
Which animals are normally the biggest crowd-pullers?
JD: "The pigs with their piglets and the tropical butterflies are always popular. Then animals like the camels, people love meerkats too. We’ve got one meerkat at the moment who has turned into an escape artist. He’s never done it before but he’s started jumping up against the side of the enclosure and hopping out.
"You can see all his friends looking at him going, ‘What are you doing mate?’ And then we find him out, running around. Or sometimes you see him trying to jump out and you shout at him and he suddenly lies flat like he’s sunbathing, like nothing’s happening. He hasn’t got a name yet but I think I’m going to nickname him Houdini."
Which animals are your personal favourites and which ones are you looking forward to viewers seeing in Spring at Jimmy's Farm?
JD: "That’s really difficult because I’ve got so many favourites. I do like the camels but my real passion are insects, particularly butterflies. But I think the ones viewers will love are Jerry the alpaca, the lambs, the tapirs and of course, probably the escaping meerkat. We’re actually hoping that the camels will mate. We've got a male and female here. The female is about twice the size of the male but we're hoping the male will do his thing and get a bit amorous but he’s not interested at the moment."
You’ve got four young daughters. How are they finding it? Do they have the run of the park to themselves now?
JD: "We actually live in another farm down the road from the wildlife park so although they’ve got the farm there to run around, we don’t have the variety of animals. My daughter Molly gave me a load of chicken eggs that I was going to put in the incubator and she said ‘If a little black one hatches can you bring it home’ because she loves those. They’re missing all the things they usually see, the hatching of the chicks, the ducklings, seeing the lambs. It’s fine for me to come to work up here but I can’t really bring them with me."
Are you worried about how the current lockdown situation will affect farmers not only now but in the future?
JD: "Yes, the farmers supplying directly to supermarkets seem to be ok because there’s still a great demand, but I think the producers, people like chicken producers who supply the restaurant trade are in a terrible situation.
"You imagine if you’ve got 25,000 chickens ready to be processed and there’s no-one buying them, you’ve got another 25,000 growing birds, hatching eggs, there’s a massive chain, so lots of those farmers are finding themselves in a very difficult situation. One good thing that's happened is the increase in trade for the high street independent butchers and independent food retailers and farm shops.
"When everyone was busy talking about Brexit it was a case of, ‘Well we can import this, or that, and all the rest of it.’ This has taught us a lot of lessons about looking after our farming industry because after all it’s the foundation of our civilisation, it’s what actually feeds us."
Spring at Jimmy's Farm starts on C4, Thursday 30th April at 8.05pm
Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.
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