First thing last Monday morning, two rams went into the tupping fields. They will be there for six weeks and then put elsewhere to recover their strength for next year. For sheep, pregnancy lasts about four and a half months, but we won’t know how successful the tupping has been until the ewes are scanned in January. If there are ewes that are not pregnant we shall have to take a view as to whether to put them to another ram and potentially then have later arriving lambs.
The number of lambs and ewes in the farm reduces every week, but bluntly, it depends on market prices how fast the fall in numbers becomes. We are aiming to cut back to 150 ewes in the breeding flock and that is still some way off.
How can one fail to be entranced (or perhaps obsessed) with the English weather? The strange mix of glorious days followed by grey grim and damp days; the sudden movements in temperature, the gales followed by absolute calm. That said, on the cold grey day that the television crews were in Harare, if my back had been better, I would happily have got on a plane to that place we remember with affection!
Earlier in the week it looked as if yet again we would have to postpone spraying the tupping fields with 501, Friday was however right in every regard for that purpose so, in the afternoon, the flowform having been cleaned and filled with rainwater on Thursday, the tractor was able to complete the last spraying of the year. It can now, like the heavy roller, be drained, so as to survive the winter safely.
Thibaut and Anthony are leaving us very soon. We have considered confiscating their passports, but they are certainly entitled to new adventures! Thibaut is off to Australia in the new year so to ‘break him in’ we leant them a DVD of Allo Allo! Having watched it twice they managed to raise a few smiles.
Their contribution to the working of the farm has been significant. Both are, I suspect, never going to forget the smell of sheep!
We shall miss them a great deal, they have been enormously helpful. Indeed, this year, as in past years, we have had our lives greatly enriched by the young men and women who have spent time with us and become very good friends of the family.
There is more pressure on the family as I have managed to prolapse another disc in my back, which almost encouraged me to quote an autumn dirge by Shelley – but with the joys of Brexit I felt unable to then inflict that on you!
I have written before of our membership of the Pasture Fed body. What is of particular value to us is the exchange of thoughts on alternative approaches to pasture management. We have read about and considered ‘mob grazing’ and indeed moved slightly in that direction. The new issue under discussion is ‘bale grazing’ an approach that is beginning to be used by a number of farmers. The idea amounts to putting a bale of hay or haylage into a field, not using a feeder, and so letting the cattle get to it directly. Obviously, the advantages are many, but what damage would it do on heavy wet land – something to be chewed over I think.
The possibilities for change in our practice that came from the talk on soil that we attended, continues to be explored. One that is already agreed on is that we will make next year’s compost heap on the edges of the wood which this year has seen an explosion of fungi.
The great event of the week for the family had nothing to do with the farm. With a key member of the family having been born and educated in Zimbabwe, the news that Mugabe had resigned was a moment of real relief, excitement and joy. For Anne and myself it marked the conclusion of an historical event – the beginnings of which we had experienced first-hand.
From March to December 1965 we lived in Southern Rhodesia where both of us were involved with the University. We were there when Harold Wilson came – not to deal with the insurrection but to capitulate to the Smith regime. In December, being English and being associated with the university, we were “obviously” communists and so served with deportation orders.
And so, with our passports, our puppy, all that could be packed into our estate car we crossed into Zambia. Compared to what subsequently happened to both black and white citizens of that small territory, this was a ‘nothing’; for us merely both a glimpse of real politics and a minor adventure.
All life is full of small ironies; the British got involved in this territory because the warrior Matabilee people were overrunning the agrarian Shona people. Mugarbe was a Shona and what was one of his first acts, massacre thousands of the Matabilee!
To borrow and slightly amend part of a long poem by Aleqxander Opicho written as a piece to mark the birthday of Kenyan president Daniel Moi in 2014:
“God has enabled you to live long
Up to the rare age of ninety years
Not as a blessing to you whatsoever
But as a curse of Knowledge,
For you to realize the evils you did
During your reign of terror,
You owe apology to the people of Zimbabwe
and all others in the diaspora,
For the stark misrule and reign of tyranny
You perpetrated on them for four decades,
Your ninety years of life are not a blessing,
But God’s timing for you to contrite
To repent and repent your heinous sins,
I personally wish you not happy birth day
But humanity wants you to apologise,
To those unhappy families and communities
That you detained and killed their kins.”