The really exciting news of the week is that the farm has had its first twin calves. Both are heifers, and both seem well, as does the mother who had them during the night, so no human assistance was involved. That means we have now had four of the twenty we hope to have this spring and summer. Our latest thinking is that if we succeed in being accepted onto the higher tier Stewardship, we might aim to for a breeding herd of 40. That of course would require another barn, so it is a ‘perhaps’!
Roe deer spotted
Nearly as exciting was the sighting of six roe deer on the fields at the back of the farm. I know they might carry TB, but still great to know we have our own little herd. Those we usually see are fallow deer; muntjacs have not been seen for a while. There has also been a tentative sighting of a polecat.
Cattle remain cooped up
The state of the pastures continues to be a source of concern. The cattle should have left the barn at least two weeks ago. As it is, they have to remain cooped up while being fed on hay and straw. However, the young stock must go out since lambing proper should start next week – as evidenced by the first prolapse of the season – and the right-hand side of the barn must be available for this. At least no significant rain is forecast for several days and the increasing warmth is returning colour to the farm.
When we lived in Saskatchewan, the ‘show’ that was the ‘much watch’ during the long winter months was the weather forecast. Those of you who have seen the film ‘Ground Hog’ will recognise the major role weather presenters have over there. This Friday night, the weather presenter uttered the classic phrase: ‘the weather yesterday was not quite as predicted’!
Unplanned lambs reach ten
It appeared that the weekend would be dry, so the ewes were moved onto the field by the barn, although this field offers particular dangers to heavily pregnant ewes as it is one of two on the farm that has very distinctive ‘ridge and furrow’. A ewe which lies down, is at risk of rolling over onto its back (technical term ‘cast’), and because of its condition is unable to get back on its feet. This is potentially fatal if no one comes along and helps it back on its feet within the next 12 hours or so. The grandchildren now have a new employment over the weekend! The unplanned lambs are now ten in number and doing very well. Some of the mothers were able to provide milk at once, while a couple came into milk later, so of the ten, only four now need to be bottle fed.
Possible lightning strike fells an ancient oak!
No cuckoos have been heard yet, but the geese have returned and are nesting, while the feeder in the garden is again being visited by long tailed tits. The greater spotted woodpeckers sadly seem to have no need of our feeder – a great pity because they look quite spectacular, if much smaller, than one imagines from bird watching manuals. A feature of the bridle path down to the river was an ancient oak tree. A few days ago, it came down, the trunk having split right down to the ground. It looks as if it might have been a lightning strike, but we think it probably was merely a structural fault.
Beautiful hedgerow blossom
Driving back to the farm from a brief foray into the wider world, we passed both blackthorn and pussy willow in flower. The latter is really spectacular. Arriving back at the farm we were reminded we are in a frost pocket – our hedges and willows not yet being in flower. One of the many advantages of not cutting our hedges very often is that for a period of perhaps two months they are covered in white blossom – first blackthorn and then hawthorn. It always hurts to see hedges whose owners feel it is essential to every year cut them back to a bare minimum – not good for birds, for protection against spray drift or for blossom followed by sloes and then haws.
We were concerned that Beatriz’s break in the Lake District would be spoilt by the weather. Happily, that was not the case. Snow may have prevented them scaling the peak of Skiddaw, but they were able to manage one good long walk and were struck by the beauty of Great Longdale.
The ‘home of opportunity and freedom’
A programme about the Civil Rights movement to mark the death of Martin Luther King brought memories flooding back. Many moons ago I became friendly with the son of the local cobbler. His father was appropriately proud of him for he had fought in the Malayan insurrection and had distinguished himself, gaining both promotion and a medal for gallantry. With hindsight he was probably suffering from post-traumatic stress and, as a way of coping, had immersed himself in recording of songs from the American south – soul music. Given most of the records were Bakelite 78rpm and suffered from both age and being recorded in the field, it was then that I first really began to understand the situation of black people in the southern American states.
I never really became a fan of this original ‘blues music’ of the 1920’s and have to admit that later classics such as ‘Swing low sweet chariot’ and ‘Strange fruit’, the latter popularised by Billie Holliday, were only enjoyed at a superficial level. During the week I learnt that the former song referred to the ‘underground railway’ that facilitated the movement of escaping slaves to the north while the latter was an anti-lynching song of protest at a time when the Ku Klux Clan was murdering blacks. My failure to understand was of course Indefensible if understandable because few of us knew of or could believe the situation still prevailing in the ‘home of opportunity and freedom’. Thirty years later I was part of a delegation to Little Rock, Arkansas. Segregation was now illegal, but the overriding impression we got on the racial situation was that, segregation still existed, even among the professional classes when it came to time away from the offices. There was no genuine rapprochement between black and white – and so it continues today. Useful to remember and helpful to put in perspective our own racial/religious tensions.
There are a large number of poems about April. Many are well known but the poet I have chosen is perhaps less well known. German born but with most of her life spent in England, because the political views of her step-father were not welcomed in her country of birth, she in the 1880’s achieved fame in the English literary world. Though she wrote at least one novel, poetry was her first love in which her radical views frequently intrude.
April Rain by Mathilde Blind
The April rain, the April rain,
Comes slanting down in fitful showers,
Then from the furrow shoots the grain,
And banks are fledged with nestling flowers;
And in grey shaw and woodland bowers
The cuckoo through the April rain
Calls once again.
The April sun, the April sun,
Glints through the rain in fitful splendour,
And in grey shaw and woodland dun
The little leaves spring forth and tender
Their infant hands, yet weak and slender,
For warmth towards the April sun,
One after one.
And between shower and shine hath birth
The rainbow’s evanescent glory;
Heaven’s light that breaks on mists of earth!
Frail symbol of our human story,
It flowers through showers where, looming hoary,
The rain-clouds flash with April mirth,
Like Life on earth.