Last week threatened to be both peaceful and uneventful… until the clutch on the tractor failed. Only having the one tractor has always been a source of concern to us, but the cost of a second tractor would require a bank loan and then we would be like so many other farmers being in eternal hock to a bank.
Breakdowns in the summer are an inconvenience, a breakdown during the feeding period is a potential disaster. By the evening the vehicle was moving again but for Friday we had to call in a contractor to do the feeding for the weekend. We definitely need a lottery win but sadly I am rather against lotteries!
In other ways the week was good. The vets have reported that our cattle are not suffering from either cobalt or selenium deficiency at the moment, even if, rather oddly, the copper levels are slightly high – I say oddly because soil and forage analysis consistently show that there is potentially a copper deficiency. The test results also show no sign of liverfluke in the herd. Given that fluke is endemic in this area the cattle are to be retested at the end of the month just to make sure!
The vets think that the still born calf born last week may actually have come from one of the two cows that showed up as empty at testing time. Quite how this might be the case rather baffles me, but it’s a more positive answer in terms of the number of calves to expect. A key problem with our cattle is that they rarely show any obvious evidence of either being in calf or about to calve. Calving will be at its peak between June and August so here’s hoping the grass is good then!
You will know that our cattle are pedigree Traditional English Herefords which means that over the past 200 years or so, when the defining characteristics of the breed were established, no strains from other breeds have been introduced into the genetic pool. The vast majority of the animals that are called Herefords are actually from stock that has been genetically modified through crossing with other breeds.
There are still more than ten native breeds of cattle in the UK, all of which in hardiness and temperament are very different from imported continental breeds. The reasons for this are fairly obvious, the continental breeds tend to be larger and grow faster – characteristics which make them financially attractive.
Although there seem to be a number of lame ewes, almost without exception, they otherwise continue to appear to be in good condition. The daily walk round the sheep is not merely a visual inspection, animals, on a semi-random basis, are felt to judge their condition. At this stage of carrying a lamb it is important that condition is maintained, and we will be providing hard feed to them soon to ensure that protein levels are good – so vital if new born lambs are to get the colostrum they need immediately after birth.
I mentioned recently that it looked likely we needed to buy in more organic hay and bedding straw and this week we took delivery of 14 bales of hay and 18 bales of straw. Much of the straw we will need for lambing. Mid-April may seem a long way off but forward thinking, as always, is crucial.
Since Christmas the demand for organic beef has fallen away – no doubt tighter personal budgets have something to do with this, but we expect to send off three steers towards the end of the month. We have looked at the possibility of having heifers to sell for breeding, but perhaps that is for next year rather than this. Certainly, we have now only 26 sheep to sell which is of course good news both financially and for the pastures.
Talking about finance, thanks largely to our local Natural England advisor, the autumn payment of our Stewardship has arrived. Held up, you may remember, by the absurdity of DEFRA using aerial mapping in a very slap happy manner.
Am I alone in noticing that the inclination to use hyperbole has started an unstoppable process of having to use greater and greater exaggeration. This is very obvious not only in weather forecasting, but also in the way the media treats weather events. ‘Temperatures ‘plummeting’, ‘trudging through an inch of snow’, ‘winter possibly continuing into March’. The examples are many. A sense of proportion and perspective appears not to figure as part of a forecasters or journalist training – or am I as usual just showing my age? No answers on that point required!
A recent commentator based in the United States (I have learnt that America is not the correct word to use) expressed surprise that in the history he had been taught at school, there was no mention of a battle celebrated by North Americans. He was of course referring to the battle in Louisiana which spanned the period December 1814 to January 1815. In fairness to him the Oxford history (volume XII) gives no more than two and a half lines to what it dismisses as no ‘more than a side show’.
The military disasters of 1806 in South America, in the Low Countries in 1809 and in Louisiana 1815 tend to be forgotten since in Britain, both at the time and by historians of today, these events were small beer compared to the main war which was about the overthrow of Napoleon. That of 1815 was/is no doubt celebrated in America in part because it took attention away from their failure in the 1812-1814 war to capture Canada. Those of 1806 and 1809 are probably as forgotten overseas as they are in this country.
It is a strange feature of our mindset in this country that the defeats that have dotted our history – and there have been many – rarely trouble or have troubled anybody with one obvious exception. The loss of North America did seem to rock confidence in the belief that ‘England was God’s own country’ and this resulted in an appreciable religious revival. There may be other instances, but this is the only one that comes to mind at the moment.
Finally, after listening to all Schubert’s 28 string quartets at least twice. and in some cases, more times, I have come to the conclusion I am no further forward in answering the question I posed all those weeks ago. Sadly, I have also not been able to recapture the emotional effect that the quartet ‘Death and the maiden’ once had for me. Anyway, enough is enough, I lift my hat to those critics who on Saturday mornings present their recommendations as to the best performance of a particular piece. Schubert is off my agenda for the present. I am undecided at the moment which composer, performer or genre to immerse myself in, but inspiration will I am sure come.