Thoughts on climate change and farming with the new WWOOF-ers

Sunday morning, the sun is shining, the humid air has been shunted off (so the threat of fly strike is reduced), we have had rain, Jupiter appears to have recovered, and the VAT return just about covers our latest bill from the vets! Life, briefly perhaps, feels more positive.

moving-the-cows-6

Whilst reviewing last night what had happened over the past week with a view to writing this note, I got side tracked by a discussion we had had at lunchtime. Lunchtimes are of course the moment of the day when most of the family and all the WWOOF-ers congregate in the kitchen for sustenance and chat and usually much laughter. The conversation, as so often, turned to the weather and one of our visitors told us how even in his lifetime the climate seemed to have altered considerably and we responded by coming up with folk lore sayings which no longer seemed to make any sense. Which somehow led to chat about how the failure of the potato harvest in norther Europe in the 19th century led to the mass movement of people’s from Ireland across Northern Europe and Scandinavia to North America and was the result not just of ‘blight’ or monoculture but also of climatic variation.

Leaving aside any consideration as to whether climate change is made by ‘man’ or nature I was reminded of thinking in the late 1950’s. My three A levels were Pure Maths, Applied Maths and Geography – a combination which at that time was seen as wilful. Geography then was made up of two components – physical and regional.

Though there was recognition that a relationship existed between geography and history it was political incorrectness to image that climate had anything to do with differences between societies or historical events. Mind you, although it is hard to imagine this today, at that date we were all looking forward to a prophesied imminent ice age!

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Whatever, later on in the day I was driven to re-visit Global Crisis by Geoffrey Parker, a massive time in which the climatic record in the 17th century is shown to relate directly to historical events and which might usefully serve as a reminder that a key driver in the mass exodus from the Middle East is actually climate change and crop failure as much as western misbehaviour.  And then this morning turning to ‘The Running Hare’ (a follow up to ‘Meadowland’) I was reminded that in earlier times Plough Monday was in early January. In our times spring ploughing on our heavy clay is usually impossible before late March so the weather pattern clearly has changed greatly in the last 800 years.

So easy at my age to slip into a rant – I was just thinking of the alleged views of Henry Ford and Tony Blair that either history was ‘bunk’ or totally irrelevant – short termism and ignorance seem very modern curses!

We had marked Monday and Tuesday afternoons down for spraying 500 but the rain ruled that out. There are good days fortunately in the coming week so the cancellation has not caused any serious problems. We will be spraying 501 towards the end of the month.

24 August 2015 - Wwoofers

The garden team has been busy as always and especially with watering and picking as the tomatoes, cucumbers. peppers and courgettes are now coming on stream in addition to the other vegetables. The soft fruit season is all but over now except for the alpine strawberries which continue to flourish.

Friday’s farm team meeting was concentrated on issues relating to the stock and tasks to be attempted while Chris is away. Next week will require most animals moving onto different pastures while the lambs will need to be croveced (against fly strike) and will be weighed next when Chris returns.

Deciding on which animals to move, and which fields to move them into is not straightforward! With over 500 sheep still on the farm, and fields to be left un-grazed so we can take a late summer haylage cut, the problem is obvious.

The challenge next year will be even greater unless the TB test goes badly. We are expecting 14 calves this autumn and as many again in the spring. In anticipation of this growth in numbers work on the barn extension began on Friday. The effect will be to double our barn area. In readiness for this Tim and Tieran had a very busy time clearing out the winter litter and establishing new compost heaps.

One thing we were not able to move was our wool clipping. It is a yearly nightmare attempting to agree a date when we can take our wool to the collection yard at Bromyard. No doubt the Wool Marketing Board is a splendid institution but it would help if it were a little more customer friendly at the grass roots level.

Trouble with our rather overworked one tractor is forcing us to consider buying an additional vehicle. The prices, as you might imagine, are quite daunting since the main market for tractor manufacturers is not the small farmer. We all went out to a farm in the Black Country to allow Chris to ‘try out’ a recently sold tractor and loader. Impressive but perhaps a little concerning that the tractor driver – of 33 years’ experience – said that after six weeks he was still learning how to use it! We were impressed and at half the price would have been tempted.

Tractor2

The geothermal installation continues and it seems that next week ‘moles’ will be used to connect up all the different buildings on the business park. The solar panelling has yet to be installed. It is that which should produce the energy to drive the heat pumps.

We have two new tenants on the business park and we wish them success in their very different ventures.

We are enjoying the company of our new WWOOF-ers. Michelangelo, Sébastien and Marion have made the caravan their home and their help here is invaluable. They each bring different experience and skills to the table, plus the additional benefit that they are teaching the children their languages – Italian and French respectively.

summer-3The children are very taken with them all and are having a wonderful summer basking in all this attention, and it seems the three are equally taken with them, which is lovely. An added bonus is that an exceedingly delicious homemade Italian pizza was cooked for us all last night, and to accompany it, fine French Wine and tutelage in how to drink it – so as you can imagine, we are very happy too!

Since both Chris and Paul are to be away in the middle of the month it is a great comfort to know Tim has the back up of these strong young people while those two are away. Paul goes to Poland for the wedding of one of the boys who in our early years came to us every summer work to with us on the farm. Chris goes to Zimbabwe, also to a wedding and is away for slightly longer. When they return and after the dreaded TB testing which takes place in the last week in August, Tim will have his chance for a break.

Still looking ahead, on the coming Saturday, 13th we have our annual summer fete at which we look forward to seeing many of you, and in ten days’ time will once again have fresh lamb to sell to any meat eaters who live near us!

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