What a wet week! The lambs now look like the rain clouds Winnie-the-Pooh tried to emulate. With coats of mud rather than fluffy white, they are, however, not stopped from having marvellous spurts of excess energy every now and then, and leaping, one after another, all four hooves off the ground. So entertaining to watch if you are fortunate enough to be looking at the right moment!
The brook continues to run high and fast, but fortunately has still not flooded the fields. Our ditches are burbling along very cheerfully, and the scrape is looking much more like a lake now. You can stand in the middle of any field and the ground is alive with the sound of running water. It is quite magical. Having said that I’m sure the sheep would be grateful for a bit of sun!
The two fields that run along the driveway have large puddles once again. You may remember that we did great work on the land drains under these fields some winters’ ago hoping it would alleviate the problems. Sadly, it seems that although that work helped a little, the puddles still form. The winds were so strong on Friday that small waves ripples across the top of the water.
In the garden, the birds are getting busier, and the moorhens continue to visit. We have our first Apricot blossom, and the wall flowers are starting to colour. The snowdrops leaf tips are up above the ground, and despite the cold winds in the last days, there is a sense that Spring is almost sprung.
The Tawny owls have been hooting at dusk since before Christmas. The female call, usually a sharp “keewik”, it is (some might say of course) the male that makes the familiar and softer “hoo, huhuhuhooo” call. To hear both as often as we are at the moment is a most beautiful sound.
Ahead of this years’ lambing, we ran the ewes through the race to scan them and fully digitise the breeding flock. Although we were not expecting this to be a particularly strenuous activity, a few of the ewes had other ideas! Perhaps because there was a small crowd of onlookers to impress, a couple escaped the race, one leaping effortlessly over the hurdles apparently from a standing start – we can see where last year’s lambs’ jumping skills come from! In this case, fortunately, Chris was on hand to channel his inner rugby player, and the ewe was soon back in, with no more casualties than a pair of ripped waterproof trousers. We also took the opportunity to split out the rams, who have been re-united and are recovering in field 12.
We haven’t seen much in the way of wildlife about the farm, but have discovered an interesting, and as yet, unidentified wader in the scrape. It is reminiscent of a lapwing, but smaller, and with a strange croaking call.
The endlessly wet weather inspired Brendan to dig out his copy of ‘The Secret Life of Weather’ by Tristan Gooley in an attempt to understand the stunning array of clouds that have been alternately gliding or crashing overhead – any finding will be reported here!
Some of you may have seen in the news (although it was hardly front-page stuff) that the Oxford Real Farming Conference happened at the beginning of January. Although we didn’t manage to make it to Oxford in person, Brendan was able to attend virtually, watching a selection of lectures online. It was interesting to hear of community-owned land projects around Europe which are guaranteeing that land will be farmed responsibly, and that people will have access to it. Interesting in light of the decisions Dartmoor have just taken regards wild camping…
Something that in this country is perhaps take for granted is the network of footpaths and national parks that allow people ‘free access’ to the countryside. The local group just in this village alone work hard, all volunteers of course, to walk the pathways and ensure access is kept, and the paths aren’t too tricky to ramble along. We have many paths across the farm here, and one of the silver linings of the covid lockdowns was seeing so many families using the paths to get out and about.
Generally we are very fortunate not to have issues with gates being left open, dogs off leads, or rubbish being left, and that would seem to be thanks to the village being as small and conscious of country living as it is, in the main; As Adrian would remind, us, it does seem to be a shock to new members of the community when they discover this is working farmland around and about us, and tractors on the lanes are a necessity not a nuisance.
Back to the conference, particularly inspiring was a co-op in France that not only owned the land communally but provided local farmers with a buying group that allowed them to bypass the supermarkets to find a willing local market for their produce. It was shocking to hear that these farmers were now able to sell their produce for up to five times the price they had been, while the cost to the consumer remained the same or dropped. It is hard not to feel despairing when thinking about the UK’s reliance on the supermarket, and therefore their buying power, but also hard to argue with the convenience when we ourselves use them. There is something here of course regards the central European countries being still more community based, having not followed the US model of consumerism that the UK followed, and which we are now so used to.
The other big news from the conference was an announcement by Mark Spencer, our farming minister, about the new environmental land management schemes, which are set to replace the EU’s common agricultural policy.
It is encouraging that the government is keen to place environmental health at the heart of agriculture, but one wonders how effective it will be. Particularly frightening as it becomes clearer that the most immediate threat facing the environment is not climate change, but a diversity, ecosystem and soil health collapse. As Mr Spencer said at the conference:
“…as custodians of more than 70% of our countryside, the nation is relying on its farmers to protect our landscapes as well as produce the high quality food we are known for, and we are increasing payment rates to ensure farmers are not out of pocket for doing the right thing by the environment.”
Noble words indeed, and I’m sure we all hope that he means it.
To return to our world here at Rush Farm, and in a “gentle” weekend activity we had decided to carry out a fecal egg count on our sheep, to aim to get an accurate picture of the worm burden. Interestingly, where the lambs had a really very high burden, the ewes appear to have extraordinary resistance to the worms. We haven’t had time to properly think about what these results mean – if anything – and what we will do about it, but it will be good to collect this data going forward.
With the lifting of the TB ban, the farm is free to move cattle off the farm and onto other farms, so, to save the best news till last, Chris has arranged the sale some of our young stock this week. 12 will be going to Fordhall Farm, a great partner for us as you will remember. Whilst sorting out the young stock, the last two heifers from our previous bull, twins born in 2020, now join the suckler herd on the other side of the barn.
Of particularly enjoyment over the last weeks has been spending five or ten minutes early in the morning, after forking up the cow’s hay, standing in the barn and watching how their society works. The jostling for position amongst the adults, the sudden bursts of excitement in the calves. One morning, the bull was plainly feeling amorous, and gently pursued two of his ladies round and round the ring feeder, lowing gently; they managed to give him the slip after about six circles!
From the farm, thank you Anne, Chris & Brendan
Leisure by W.H Davies
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?-
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.