BLOG: It’s time to reduce our breeding flock

I am happy to report that last week was a peaceful week on the farm! Tim has continued with the tiresome but necessary job of topping fields. There has been some movement of stock but neither any new calves or any losses. The bull calf that broke its hind leg seems to be moving well, we have one cow that seems rather lame, but otherwise the cattle seem fine. Apart from one nasty case of fly strike in a lamb, which was found to have maggots in a hoof, it is perhaps worth noting that this year we have yet to see orf on the farm; sadly, we can’t say the say the same about lameness, but actual foot-rot has been rare. The action we took against whipworm seems to have been effective.

More sheep went into the organic meat market this week. I have been clear in past notes that it is our intention to reduce our breeding flock significantly this year since we need the grass and feed for the growing number of cattle. This requires us to identify some 70 animals to sell. A first consideration will be to weed out those which have had mastitis or frequent health problems and/or are not in first rate condition. The next stage is to consider breeding and birthing records. Not a task to relish, but one to cope with every year, even when we are not aiming to reduce the total numbers since you only maintain the health and vitality of the flock by taking out the weaker animals. Obviously, some ewe lambs will be held back for breeding from – in due course. We need also to dispose of some Rams – seven is rather an excessive number for 160 ewes!

sheep face

Personally, I have had two tasks this week. The first was to sort out our files, make sure papers were where they should be, and discard papers no longer necessary. After eleven years it is staggering how things build up. As an inveterate hoarder, or so the family claim, this was not a particularly happy task but it has been done! One of the things thrown up by my search of papers was that, of the many cows slaughtered on suspicion they had TB, only two at autopsy showed any signs of what might have been an episode of TB. Hard not to drop into rant mode at this point.

The second task has been to start the process of completing forms for our Demeter inspection, pulling together records and getting into the right frame of mind. Do not misunderstand me, record keeping is important, especially in respect of our use of allopathic medicines; not only to show we are following organic rules but, also to enable us to have the information necessary about stock to keep the flocks and herds in a good state.

Earlier in the year when I was ‘out of action’ Chris had to simplify matters and bought in an Australian software programme to work alongside our existing software. What is critical with computer generated data is to remember the old saying ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’!  In the late 1970’s I was involved peripherally in the transfer onto computers of the personal records of several thousand staff. The teething troubles were exacerbated by the discovery that there was a 20% error rate in entering the data.

For our small concern, obviously, this ought not to be a problem but….’ought’ is one of those words that ‘ought’ to be taken out of the language!  Given that with some 4 months of my being only marginally involved in the detail of the farm, my confidence that I shall be as well briefed as in past years, is a little less. I shall just have to be particularly ‘contactful’ in my approach to our inspector.

A glorious Sunday morning brought its own excitements. Our neighbour’s cattle from across the brook decided to invade the field by the house. While the ATV with its load of three generations set off across the field, I went onto the business park to drive the one cow, which was enjoying the area around the skips, back down the bridle path towards the brook. Task done, time to turn on the cricket and not feel too guilty as Anne and Chris prepared the flow form for spraying later this week with a mix of 500, comfrey, nettle tea and cpp.
uninvited guests

I have rather wallowed in music this week. After familiarising myself with Gerontius I re-visited other works by Elgar, and then at the end of the week, having spoilt myself by purchasing a collection of music by C P E Bach, revelled in that.

I had hopes earlier in the week that a new series entitled the History in the United Kingdom would be just that, but in fact the first programme was confined to telling us what an enormously important thing choral singing is. All rather obvious stuff. The only piece of information that was new to me was that, allegedly, 2,000,000 people sing in choirs at least once a week – if true that has to be good news.

All this gives me a rather nice radio 2 link to another radio program that caught my attention. Apparently, the Royal College of Psychiatrists is funding research into the use of nature to help people suffering from stress, anxiety, panic attacks and so on. It continues to amaze me that ‘we’ can’t believe what is obviously true unless it has scientific evidence to support it. That science is no more infallible than anything humans are involved in seems ignored despite all its failures. If something cannot be replicated in double blind tests it is obviously false.

Listening to this programme reminded me of some 19 years involved with Sunfield Children Home and School. When originally set up in the 1930’s, the home and school provided places for children whose parents either recognised their children needed special help or wanted to abandon them. By the 1950’s, the institution was celebrated for its work using colour, music and painting therapies alongside a setting which provided easy and extensive contact with the natural world.

This work was pioneering; used with success before therapists or the rest of the world had taken it on board, and before the psychologists and scientists of the time had ‘tested’ it. In those days, outside of Sunfield, the thought that colour could be used to positively effect mood or behaviours was laughed at.

autumn colour

And today ‘Marketing’ has now taken this information over and used it for their own purposes. After all, why does Barclays Bank use blue so extensively in its branding – a simple answer, blue is seen as representing respectability, stability, reliability and so on. Why do those wishing to have us believe they have concern for the environment use the word and colour green so extensively, or why does white imply cleanliness. Of course, the other thing to add is that how we see colour is rather culturally determined…

Enough, I shall conclude with the surprising ‘fact’ learnt this week that it was John Bull, a character whose life spanned the 16th and 17th centuries who gave us our National Anthem and it was the Jacobites in the 18th century who gave it lasting life!

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