A step back in time

 “This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”   

For many decades, scientists at Porton Down attempted to find a cure for that well-loved affliction, the common cold. Still enjoying a full-blown version, I marvel at how the body can manage to produce the material for the nonstop runny nose and all the other aspects of the illness you will know well. We hear about the midges of Scotland, the tetse fly of Africa, the biting sand flies of Guadeloupe, but our special problem gets ignored. 

For many years I kept a farm diary, which together with the notes on our weekly meeting ensured not just some sense of progress but also, as needed, accurate reminders when inspections became part of our lives. Given the farm diary was handwritten by myself, re-reading them many years later is not always easy.  

Chosen at random, I pulled out that for 2008, which was the last year but one in which we took a proper break, and so between the 29th of October and the 23rd of November, the record is blank – but what I do have is a clear idea of the remainder of this week in that year.  

The first thing to jump out was, what a wet year we had had, and the need to get the cattle off the land; the second was that all was not well with the sheep and the tupping programme. In those days our knowledge of and understanding of the dangers to sheep of parasitic worms, was limited. Indeed, we had assumed the land would be relatively ‘clean’ since the fields had not been grazed for a number of years. A major error, as it turned out the land was far from clean. All our preparations from analysis of the quality of the hay and haulage, and assessment of the nature of the land had failed to include what was to be vital information from the local vets about the endemic problems that all farmers in this locality had lived with for decades.  

In those days we used a ‘teaser’ to prepare the ewes, and this was the first sheep to die from parasites. Why exactly we thought a ‘teaser’ was a good idea escapes me, but probably on advice – certainly it is not a practice we have used for years.  

The event of the week however was without doubt our Demeter inspection which took up a whole day, but was a most useful learning day, particularly as to the proper use of biodynamics. Happily, despite our novice background, we passed with flying colours.  

The farm, when we arrived lacked any infrastructure, but by 2008, some progress had been made. In particular, to the outrage of those who had felt free to hack all over the land, the bridle path not only had been fenced, but redirected to its proper line. I accept I am no horse lover but, actually, for our organic status, animals fed on non-organic food have to be kept from the pastures.  

So, what now: Rush Farm is very different in many ways, more professional, no longer attempting to grow cereals, many times more cattle and sheep, yet in one important sense very much the same. Our commitment to biodynamics and the organic world is undiminished, and after more than fifteen years, we are, while still learning, now, if that is not a dirty word, ‘professionals’. Sadly, our first sheep dog Flash is no longer with us, but her successors are a vital part of the scene. Moreover, as Anne and I become less and less physically capable, our grandchildren have, if I may use that expression, ‘stepped up to the plate’. Chris has largely taken over from us, and ‘succession’ – such a common problem in farming families has been no issue here.  

On the basis of this comparison, no claims for climate change could hold water, but the weather issues that concerned me then, were, as now, essentially limited to rain, sunshine and heat (or lack of it). The only obvious changes over the fifteen years are that winters are not as cold – we had two winters of -19 degrees centigrade early on; the pattern of the weather no longer matches the old sayings, and the trees and hedges lose their leaves later than when we started.  

Farm News

This week on the farm we have had frost most nights, but little in the way of rain, and even some sunshine. Indeed, of all the days, Friday was perhaps the best. This was the calm before the storm which was promised, and duly arrived during the night. The strong wind naturally found a weakness, and in the middle of the night, uncertain whether or not it was burglars, I felt bound to investigate, only to find a swinging window which had broken free of latch and other restraints. We were clearly merely on the fringes of the storm, though did have a smattering of snow which settled only briefly in the morning.   Probably the main news of note is the arrival of a new calf as shown in the accompanying photograph, and the bringing in of the cattle – to ensure we have grass next spring for the sheep. The lambs are starting to come ready for market and this year, so far at least, prices are relatively good, and some will be sold before Christmas.  

Our feed stocks are good and our pastures, which have probably stopped growing for the season, are firm and well grassed. Obviously normal winter-feeding patterns are now well in place. 

I aim to confine myself this week to a couple of issues only.  

Banter

Naturally given the accusations against Yorkshire Cricket Club, the issue of what ‘banter’ is, has no doubt been in all our minds. In this household for certain, ‘banter’ is very much part of our lives, and I know I am one of the worst offenders.  

That said, there are a number of unwritten rules to stop ‘banter’ slipping into abuse and bullying, and in any family or organisation I would expect leadership to ensure that slippage either does not occur, or if it does, results in instant and appropriate reaction.  

Banter may begin at home, but is certainly a feature of school social life, and often is no more than a form of bullying by causing unhappiness through picking on some aspect of a child that others know concerns them, and schools have a responsibility to attempt to address this. Whether child or adult ‘banter’ is not restrained to one gender, women indulge in it as much as men. But as I said, if the rules are understood and followed, it is a source of good humour.  

So, what are the basic rules? Keep it to individuals of equal status, and ensure it is a 180-degree exercise. Additionally, always be aware of the impact of what you are saying – always. Avoid, even among friends sensitive areas, unless otherwise agreed, and I would suggest that there are a range of issues always to avoid when in banter mode.  

Free speech is part of our cultural heritage, and must not be lost, and I have no time for those who complain because views are expressed that they dislike. The line should however be that drawn by the law, not a minority group shouting the loudest. 

A musing 

Not a real issue, but just a minor amusement. We all know that whatever we may think to the contrary, it was the Chinese who first both invented everything and explored the world first, we now learn courtesy of the South China News, that it was the Chinese who 2000 years ago introduced laws in their country to protect the environment, its flora and its fauna. And these laws held until some 100 years ago – now of course China is one of the worst offenders though to be fair, steps are being taken. 

Poetry

Finally, I introduced the name of Mary Leapor last week as one of a handful of women poets from the ‘labouring classes.’ Needing to know more, I foolishly acquired collections of poems of the 18th century brought together by Roger Landsdale. I use the word foolishly carefully.  

Mr Landsdale’s collection of such poems runs to well over 500, following that came his collection of poetry written by women – this runs to over 300 poems.  

Reading poetry is like nothing else. First it has to be read, use of language made sense of and then thought about, word by word, line by line, and then just thought about – the image of a tea or wine taster come to mind. I just have not enough years left to me to do justice to these collections. 

What it did open my mind to was to question why it was in the 19th century men espoused such stupid ideas about women. That has to be a future topic. 

To escape the 18th century and its flamboyant language, the poem I offer this week, in translation, is set out below by Rose Ausländer  

Autumn  

In autumn too  
the birds do sing  
this people of the chosen  
We carriers of masks  
we have unlearned  
to listen  
to the blackbird‘s call  
and to the inner music  
of autumn.  
the friendly foe  
Place your space  
into the frame  
of time  

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