A lake in field 6!

A rather subdued week on the farm. The RPA continues to be negatively robotic. Tim’s mother has not been well, and this has impacted on us all. A period without rain ended abruptly on Wednesday night. The farm is now wetter than we have ever experienced. The ground is so saturated the water can do no more than lie in vast puddles.

More positively, generally, all seems well both with the cattle and sheep. However, the unwilling mother is unfortunately no more willing to accommodate her calf, but she does have milk and the calf somehow is growing. Attempts to help matters homoeopathically continue. Our first thought was that sepia might be helpful but indeed it appeared to an adverse effect, so she is now on ignatia.

Interestingly, following an in-house discussion as to whether it might be worthwhile drenching the cattle for worms – something we have never done, the issue came up on the Pasture Fed site. The discussion was helpful in throwing some light on why worming cattle is rarely necessary on any farm but even less likely to be needed with cattle raised as they are here.

A different source – seemingly reputable – has come to the conclusion that cattle have friendship groups and can recognise a friend when shown photographs. Fortunately, or otherwise, this ‘memory’ seems to have a limited life – absence leads to forgetfulness not a strengthening of the bond. Less surprisingly, cattle grow better, produce more milk and are happier when there is a strong bond with the same humans.

Yet another source sadly informs us we have to have a six-month TB test. No date has been fixed yet but probably it would be best to get it out of the way early and before lambing.

As last year, we have had to use a lot of straw for bedding and had to buy in another load this week. The resulting composting and use of BD preparations adds value to our soils, but it must not be forgotten that it is at the expense of other pieces of land. Talking of BD, we are aiming to spray both cattle and sheep with preparation 501 very shortly. Additionally, there is now apparently a BD app. I cannot yet comment on it since my IT skills are such that I require it to be loaded for me.

No date has been settled for scanning the ewes but contact has been established, and they somehow still have clean fleeces. The same cannot be said for the lambs, though despite their dirty fleeces they seem to be at least holding their condition – indeed the last batch that went may have been a little light but all but one were graded R3L.

Efforts to reduce the ‘lake’ on field 6 having failed we are hiring in a machine to insert into land drains which can generate a force of 3000 pounds per square inch, and drive itself forward. If that fails to solve the problem, we shall have no other option than to lay a new land drain running into the river. The ‘lake’ in field 5k is of less concern since it was created under the HLS scheme though it has never before held water for such a long period.

It was the Oxford Real Farming Conference this week and Sebastian gave a talk on community land ownership. The Pasture Fed group bolted on an EGM to the conference and Christopher reports that some hundred people attended that meeting. As a side comment I can tell you he met Humphrey who spent two weeks with us some time ago as a woofer – a happy chance for both parties to update each other.

It is now fourteen years since we took over the farm and I have written to the Board of the Society summarising these past years and indicating that the time has now come for the Society, as our landlords, to support us with some capital investment. With the obvious climatic changes that are taking place we need to be able to house all our stock at the same time. We also need limited financial support for the re-fencing of the farm. Such investments obviously add value and enable any tenancy to remain viable whatever the future may hold.

We do of course face a new threat other than Brexit. Veganism has been held by the courts to be a philosophical belief and so subject to protection. Add to that the attack on eating meat and the threat worsens. There seems absolutely no understanding that intensive meat production poses a totally different threat from that raised on organic farms. And, as we saw over Brexit, if the media ‘gangs up’ on a view, they have enormous influence.

The week has slipped past extraordinarily quickly and on a personal level left a feeling of non-achievement despite a number of meetings. Perhaps that had something to do with the distraction of the 2nd test match in South Africa. Be that as it may, I have indulged in a minor Grieg fest, listening to both his solo piano pieces and his symphonic works except for the piano concerto.


One aspect of Norwegian music I could not then, or now, hear with pleasure, was the Hardanger fiddle. The instrument bears some obvious relationship to the violin but has more strings, a flatter bridge and often several strings appear to be played at a time. In this it seems to resemble the baryton. This musical instrument together with the works of Grieg were and continue to be a great source of national pride.

When I first visited Bergen some sixty years ago, the country was poor, provincial and still smarting from the War and its very negative relations with Sweden. The one real feather in the cap was Grieg, and Bergen in particular celebrated his life. Visiting Norway some ten years ago it was hard to believe the change in the economy and people’s self-belief in their nation.

Memory and truth

Hilary Mantel is not one of my favourite writers, or thinkers, but I felt she was speaking sensibly on the radio about the challenges facing historians and biographers even when dealing with contemporaneous information. It fitted in well with a conversation Anne and I had about conversations said to have taken place before we got married… For Anne the words and the setting might have happened yesterday – for me, there was not even a trace of memory. The song “I remember it well” with Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold(?) instantly came to mind. The point being of course memory is not infallible any more than contemporaneous records are necessarily factually accurate. The Benn diaries, completed every day of his life, may well record accurately what he was thinking at the time he wrote, but that does not make them ‘true’ – whatever that word means!!

On reading an article which claimed that England was now as wooded as it had been in the 1300, while Scotland was now four times as wooded as it had been then, after a first positive reaction, my next was one of doubt. How could I know whether to be delighted with this positive news or regard it as perhaps no more than a positive ‘spin’ for some organisation. If true, was the news actually good or bad? Pick your expert and chose the answer you like best!

I then wondered whether we as humans have a biological/psychological need or urge to believe in what we are told but are now disturbed because we have lost faith in all and sundry. And if so, how this is tied to our apparent biological/psychological need for certainty and discomfort when there is no certainty?

Walking the dogs

Part of my routine is to walk the dogs late at night. When clouds and the moon allow, I like to not use a torch as somehow it makes one feel more one with nature. At the moment most nights the dogs and I are accompanied by the calls of tawny owls. I had assumed this meant that they were out hunting but apparently it is because this is the mating season, so I need to try and differentiate between the calls of the female and male. Whatever, I enjoy the accompaniment and so looked for an appropriate piece of poetry on which to end.

I came across three poems that I might share. I was obviously tempted by William Wordsworth’s poem ‘There was a boy..’ but it has such a sad ending it had to be passed over.

Perhaps the most famous poet from the past from Wales was the 14th century poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. who wrote’ The Owl’. Sadly, the poet had no love for the disturbance caused by the calls but the poem is so fine I have included it as a postscript.

The one I have settled on is rather obvious but none the worse for that. It comes from ‘Loves Labour’s Lost’:

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot

Here is Lake’s (2007) translation of ‘y Dylluan’ (The Owl)

It’s a pity that the fair owl
on a branch will not be silent.
It will not let me say my prayers,
it will not be quiet as long as the stars are visible.
I cannot sleep a wink or rest at all,
woe [is me] from the hindrance.

It seeks a house on the bats’ ridge
to shelter from showers of rain and snow.
Every night, [it gives] me very little thrill,
in my ears, pennies of memory,
when I close, painful greeting,
my eyes, respected lords,
this wakes me, I have not slept,
the song of the owl and its voice,
and its constant hoarse shout and its screech
and its vain peroration from its mouth.
From then until the break of day,
As true as I live, unhappy vigour,
it sings, sad wailing,
‘hoo–di–hoo’, lively exclamation.

Great energy, by Christ,
it incites the dogs of the night.
It’s a slut, with its endless double call,
big–headed one, miserable call;
broad forehead, breast the colour of rowan,
old wide–eyed mouser;
busy one of contemptible appearance,
rotten is its court, tin–coloured.
Loud is its babble throughout the woods.
What an awful song above the chains of the trees,
and its face, visage of a mortal being,
and its form, ghoul of the birds.
Every bird attacks it,
filthy outcast. Isn’t its existence a monstrosity?
This one is more loquacious on the hillside
at night than the nightingale from the slope.
During the day it doesn’t shift its head
from a big hollow tree, wise behaviour.
It would howl freely, I know its face,
it is Gwyn ap Nudd’s bird.
Chopsy witch singing to thieves,
a curse on its tongue and its tune!

In order to drive the owl
away from me I have a song:
whilst I suffer the ice [of winter]
I will light a fire in every ivy bush.

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