A new heifer calf

A new heifer calf

I described last week as drab. Despite the unsettled weather, this week the colours outside have been less uniformly depressing. When the clouds have lifted, the sky, whether against white or black clouds has shown as a bright blue. The leaves on the trees in sunlight show a splendid variety of yellows and yellow browns. Set against these has been the fertiliser-free green of our pastures.

To reduce pleasure slightly we have the sight of the sickly yellow from ‘sprayed off’ fields near by, and the leaves of our own suffering chestnut trees – or as a 19th century poet put it:

Now that the birds are gone
That sang the summer through,
And now that, one by one
The leaves are going too,
Is all their beauty but a show
To fade for ever when they go

Nay, what is heard and seen,
In time must pass away;
But Beauty, born within-
The blossom of a day-
Unto its hiding place again
Returns for ever to remain

The news about our beautiful cattle is basically good. We have had a new heifer calf and though one young animal showed possible New Forest Eye it appears to have been a false alarm. Ryan is meeting cows up close for the first time and sensibly sticks close to Tim when the herds are walked through. Our young animals are friendly but very curious and unaware of the damage their horns can do, so though they love a scratch, a head shake is always a potential hazard.

Ryan has settling in well with us and will be spending this coming weekend with family. Like many people on both sides of the Atlantic he has family on both sides – as we do also.

A key problem with the Hereford cattle is their ability to put on fat. This past winter as a trial we largely fed the young stock on organic straw. The result, good conformity but no added-on weight when they went into grass in the spring. Not having any means of weighing them, these judgements rest on observation not hard data, but we will act on them.

We now have 83 cattle and a number must go. An organic market has been found, but this requires a more legal relationship with Pasture-Fed. Fortunately their inspection needs can be met when our Demeter inspection takes place on Wednesday.

It is very sad that our buyer finds Pasture Fed a better selling point than either Soil Association or Demeter certification.

We have not yet had any further orders for lambs. This week our lambs were separated from their mothers, and the ewes were checked for condition. Only two are a problem, perhaps explained by the larger number of deaths among the ewes over the last 12 months.

Ryan worked with his dog Tomato for the first time here, and she did a good job moving the lambs. He aims to try to make Milly more reliable as a side issue, in addition to all the other pieces of work he is engaged in. He is working on repairing those styles which are our responsibility, and opening up access to styles that are not our responsibility. In truth these paths are rarely used, as is the bridle path, except for ourselves and horse riders. He even got my useless but hard to discard citrus trees inside!

The rams are in very good condition and they join the ewes in about 4 weeks’ time.

The pastures are too wet to stand any vehicle going on them. The grass continues to grow, but frost is forecast for next week so that growth is likely to soon slow down or halt. Field 8, the field by the drive has substantial small ‘ponds’ in it. Indeed, if I were much younger and not just walking the dogs, with a full moon reflected in those small ‘ponds,’ and a crisp night, it might well have felt to be a romantic outing on several evenings.

I have spoken to the Demeter Certification Office again about our inability so far to do further spraying and I had a reassuring response. What has been managed is the filling and subsequent burial of 100 horns, and the surplus stirred filling has been spread on two of our compost heaps. The process was a team effort and a bonding exercise as it is every year.

Filling the horns
Burial of the horns

This week has for me entailed far too many hours on the phone to the Rural Payments Agency. As always, the people at the end of the line are courteous and want to be helpful but are merely cogs in a ghastly bureaucratic system. 

More interestingly I have been sorting out the paperwork for next week’s inspection. In an ideal world this would require minimal effort, but since our collection of data is essentially for our own benefit, and held in more than one place, the exercise is very time consuming. Mind you, I have at least learnt how to move a file from one folder to another on the computer!

Sebastian continues to work on making the bridle path less challenging for users, and when that is completed, he will be doing the groundwork for phase two of the Benefit’ Societies plan to update the 25-year-old sewage system. This means not only digging a hole for a more modern septic tank, but also new drainage pipes. Evidence I think of a lean approach to management when the Chief Executive is quite so hands on.

In the news this week

Listening to Turkish soldiers shouting ‘God is with us’ was a sad experience. The way in which God is still invoked to support armies and beliefs in this way, by every group of people and actions, I find deeply depressing since it seems the majority of human beings are still stuck in a form of thinking that can be traced back to the earliest knowledge we have of human society.

And sadly we now also see science abused in this fashion – as scientists and lay Individuals latch on to bits of knowledge and build policies and beliefs on these. The news that London is apparently aiming to ‘eliminate’ meat and dairy products against all informed scientists thinking, is quite simply typical.

So often it seems we forget scientists are human beings and not robots; that journalists are selective in what they share and promote, that headlines rarely reflect the content they cover, that the reality is that minority voices claim more air time than they merit, and finally, that we need to recognise that even scientists cannot keep abreast of the constant stream of research papers. It also seems clear that reliance on something called ‘peer review’ is dangerous in itself.

I am no scientist but one thing my work and life have taught me is to be cautious in making judgements on research, and check out what are beliefs rather than ‘facts.’ Certain basic questions are so often forgotten when coming to a view. I realise that my definition of science is very much based on Popper.

Climate change

All that said, I have read some fascinating scientific papers this week, including one with an interesting new take on climate change.

The first was a paper published under the in-print of the International Panel on Climate Change based at Oxford University, which essentially rubbishes the notion that methane emitted by cattle is an issue of great significance. In fact, it goes so far as to claim that if cattle were not fed grain, and land was not overstocked, it aids biodiversity and soil improvement. The article is to be found in the Veterinary Journal published last week, but be warned it gets rather technical.

The second Is to be found in the latest Regenerative Agricultural podcast, which includes an interview with the Director of Healthy Soils, Australia. An idea which stands out from this lengthy interview is that water is a major driver of climate change, and improving the ability of soil to hold more water is vital.

‘Making of the western world’

Music has not figured a great deal in my life this week and my progress through the ‘Making of the Western world’ is slow because the material is dense and requires ‘time outs’ to reflect on what has been read. 

Two pieces of information were certainly new to me. I had not known that in the 4th century.  St Gregory of Nassau, an apparently very influential Christian philosopher, reached the (obvious) conclusion that slavery was incompatible with the teaching of Jesus – naturally vested interest and custom rejected this notion.

The second was that the first Pope of Rome was almost certainly not Peter but Linus. Wikipedia have gone with thoughts from the 2nd century and relegated him to be the 2nd Pope after Peter. Not a matter of great significance perhaps but interesting, nonetheless.

Finally..

I feel I wasted too much time and thought on Brexit and the wretched situation in the Middle East this week, while all the time impotent to act. Saturday was touted to resolve much but yet again, the direction was changed. On a more positive note the World Cup Match between Australia and England was both exciting and came up with the right result. Rugby is a strange mix of barbarity and order and throws into sharp relief the sickness of football.

Reflecting these thoughts below, from the Greek, somehow seem to fit the mood:

If man might know
The ill he must undergo,
And shun it so,
Then it would be good to know:
But if he undergo it,
Though he know it,
What boots him know it?
He must undergo it


Sir John Suckling – who died by his own hand aged 33

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