NEW BLOG: Two very different farm dogs are big personalities at Stockwood

Within the life of a year on a stock farm, there are a number of key events. One of these is the putting of the rams in with the ewes. On Friday that was the task for the day. A task not quite as straightforward as it might appear.

Firstly, as a paper exercise, the ewe flock has to be split bearing in mind both the rams that will be used, and the age and parentage of each ewe.

Secondly, as a physical exercise, the split has to be affected; that done, the, in our case this year, two new flocks moved onto their ‘tupping’ grounds.

On a wet day this is a pretty unpleasant activity; this year the event coincided with the coldest night so far this year, and a very heavy frost, hence the need for many layers of clothing. Putting that slight discomfort to one side, it was a beautiful morning, the fields all white and the remaining leaves gently dropping of the trees. A picture postcard scene!

Finally, the right rams need to be put with their designated flock. In the event the rams still have to join their ‘ladies’…

the boys

By the next morning, Saturday, what a difference a day makes! It was in some ways a truly horrible day for any outside work. Milder, but very wet, and the ground correspondingly muddy. It was par for the course that this weather coincided with the day when 60 lambs had to be sorted and separated, ready for loading, and when the trailer had to be reconfigured to take that many animals.

Sky

The boys, Chris and Flash were very wet and uncomfortable by the time the sheep were loaded and ready to go. In the event, we all went, as our destination was our friend’s organic holding, ‘Model Farm’. The weather didn’t let up with rain nonstop both ways!

As the pastures, unlike the bridle path, remained firm – up to Saturday morning – it was possible to compost field 4 during the week. This is the field that has caused us considerable concern in the past, but now two years into the new sowing has done us proud this year and has ‘matted’ up very nicely.

All but one of our fields at the top of the farm show two distinct soil types and this shows up clearly in the grass growth pattern. The farthermost ends of each of these fields have thin limestone slabs close to the surface; The same type of limestone that is used as a building material in the village of Inkberrow and revealed in a cutting on the A422 close to the village.

However, there is no evidence of quarrying for this from the farm. That said, in the field known as the ‘gallop’ there is clear evidence of quarrying for gravel. From all of this you will gather the surface geology of the farm is more complicated than at first sight it appears, even if the predominant ‘soil’ is blue Jurassic clay.

Our Country Stewardship contract with Natural England expires next year so we are eager to explore the ‘what next’ option. On Friday we had a most encouraging meeting with our local advisor and are beginning to feel really positive about a new relationship with Natural England. It really does seem as if they are fully signed up to a strong concern for the environment – something we obviously are fully committed to.

Though photographs of our two farm dogs have been shared over time, it has been pointed out to me that I have written little about them. The eldest is Flash, a tri-coloured border collie from the Marches, of no particular pedigree but from working stock. She, like Millie is both a working sheep dog but also, perhaps unusually, a household pet. Now some ten years old we have had her from ten weeks old. Once she was old and secure enough, she was sent on two residential training courses over a period of 15 months which fitted her to be a working dog.

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Millie comes from the north-east of England, has a distinguished pedigree, has been away for appropriate trading courses but, so far at least, shows no sign of soon being able to take over Flash’s role. She is still young so we have hopes, but in manner, she is totally different from Flash. Indeed, in that aspect she is very much like a family pet we had some time ago, a cross highland terrier/jack Russell who lived with us for some 14 years and also had a similarly strong character!

Millie

Milly, chosen partly on account of being a ‘cute’ little white bundle as a puppy, now looks totally unlike Flash. Her ears are a particular feature, one stands up, the other droops (they interchange), and both are white spotted with black and reminding one of a spotted hyena. That said she is a devoted friend of the children and lacks the nervousness typical of border collies and very much shown by Flash.

Both however have one behaviour in common. They regard the business park as their territory and have their favourite units to visit for attention and food. Given half a chance, in working hours, they go ‘awol’ regularly – despite our best efforts to break them of this habit!

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My reading this week has been rather patchy with the main emphasis being on farm related issues. I have however read ‘The Quest for Mary Magdalene’ by Michael Haag and found it well worth reading. It was good to be reminded of how early Christianity developed, of how passionate were the debates going on about what the new faith entailed, and of how much today’s authorised Bible is a construct made by men following their own agenda’s.

It was worth also being reminded that in the very early days, the new religion differed from the Jewish faith in the much greater role it gave to women, which was an approach which characterised Christianity in England before Rome brought in a quite new understanding dominated by St. Paulian constructs.

It is possible that one or two of you may have noticed the absence of any recent reference in these notes to the radio programme ‘In our time’. This is partly due to time pressures, and partly due to the topics chosen by the programme. The discussion on the Picts for example did not lead me to wider thoughts.

This week however, though I heard only part of the discussion about Madame de Stael, what I did hear did caught my attention. Of the many gaps in my knowledge, French literature ranks highly; I had heard of de Stael but that was it; I was not aware, for example that she wrote a number of novels, nor that she was very much a supporter of women’s rights. She may have known of Mary Wollstonecraft, that noted English writer on the subject, but whether she did or not, she was very much of that ilk.

Two points really caught my attention. The first was that ‘Egalitee’ – that pillar of the revolution – excluded more groups that it included. The second was the light her experience threw on the character and beliefs of Napoleon. When sent a copy of her first book, he replied that the role of women was to have large numbers of children! Her later observations made clear he was an even nastier piece of work than I had thought.  That of course may be an overstatement and unfair, but enlightened and liberal he was not.

Having referred to autumn leaves I conclude with a verse from the Elizabethan period and one more recognisable (and more cheerful) from the Victorian period.

“When the leaves in Autumn wither

With a tawny tanned face,

“Wrapped and wrinkled up together,

The year’s late beauty to disgrace;”

And

“Fall, leaves, fall; die flowers, away;

Lengthen night and shorten day;

Every leaf speaks bliss to me,

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile where wreaths of snow

Blossom where the Rose should grow;

I shall sing when night’s dead

Ushers in a drearier day”

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