“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”
Reading of the drought in 1540, and the situation in Italy, I wondered whether the risk analysis for the farm needed to be drastically changed, but exactly in what way presently defeats me.
The week has inevitably rather been overshadowed by waiting for the outcome of the TB testing. As a result of careless physical behaviour, I was at least spared being a tense onlooker to the process, instead having the alternate pleasure of sitting in the farmhouse awaiting the news.
Fortunately, I had the distraction of watching my newly returned and repaired amplifier being fitted by Nicki.
The result of the TB testing was far from perfect but losing only three animals is not the worst result, particularly since no inconclusive reactors (IR’s) were identified. What I have left unwritten is the amount of work entailed for Tim and Yannick; the barn to be strawed down, the handling equipment set up, even the working out of the order in which the four groups of animals went through, and then of course re-settling the herds.
A task carried out at the same time was to separate from the suckler herd a dozen young animals needing to be weaned or withdrawn from the proximity of the bull. The bull incidentally was disinclined to go through the crush but was calm enough for the vet to do the necessary as he stood there!
You may have forgotten our third dog ‘Dot’. She has been at residential sheepdog school and was visited during the week to remind her of her proper family. She was delighted to see Boots and hopefully can come home soon, and her brother sent off instead.
Oddly enough we had a new lamb this week. Too late to be called a cuckoo lamb, so in a class of his own!
Our final load of hay arrived this week with 150 bales of straw coming along later. What with the TB testing, and making the final arrangements for the show, topping and other jobs had to go by the wayside this week. At least the weather for the AGM was both dry and not too hot, and the room in which the AGM was held was cool as was, I am happy to say the atmosphere, alongside being positive.
Incidentally, I realised that I had not spelt out clearly the human design fault we know as ’gullibility’. Our potential to lap up total nonsense, whether it be that the USA arranged 9/11, or the CIA manufactured HIV as a weapon of war… I am reminded of this on regular basis by the arrival of a monthly magazine, and I am not on this occasion thinking of the ‘Farmers Weekly’. The magazine in mind is a monthly publication which often features the work of a ‘paranoid’ par excellence. Militarily, spreading disinformation is a most useful weapon, especially when there is frequent repetition, aided by an already prejudiced mindset in the listener. Sorry a natural link to Ukraine as below.
Incidentally our brilliant scientists have confirmed another matter about which no doubt existed. Drinking hot liquids in hot weather keeps one cool, especially at bedtime. Milk is best of all, and Horlicks knew this very well. Hot milk, whatever the temperature is an ideal aid to peaceful sleeping.
Some time ago Anne read ‘Borderland’ by Anna Reid, this was before I was trying in a limited way to make sense of the Russian Ukrainian war. Looking through the book the other day, two things leapt out at me – the ballad below from the 12th century, (which makes great sense of the Ottoman dynasty’s rule that each new holder was required to have all male challengers executed), together with a reminder of the way in which the Mongol Horde dominated Russian soil for generations, led to the saying ‘scratch a Russian and you find a tartar’. Indeed, how else can one explain the inhuman behaviour in peace and war…
At the death of Yaroslav, leader of the Kievan Rus, he pleaded with his sons to work together – faint hope!
The lines below come from the ballad written after his death, lamenting what actually happened as that kingdom was sucked up by the pagan tribes of Russia.
The ballad was called ‘The Song of the Host of Igor’. Actually, could fit many other situations!
“Brother says to brother
‘this is mine’
And that is mine tool
And the princes have begun to say
Of what is small: ‘this big’
While against their own selves
They forge discontent
From all sides with victories
Pagans enter the Russian land “
With the AGM ahead of me at the end of this week, I naturally thought of what I might say. Not too much because I think my real role, if I still have one, at these meetings, is to attempt to answer questions, and provide some assurance that all remains well, and the main report would come from Chris.
A number of headings came to mind, some self-explanatory, others not.
Age, hard to accept perhaps, but an unavoidable reality. The contribution that we the ‘aged parents’ can offer, over and above support, is ‘nagging’ as seems productive, while on Anne’s part continuing to advise on the use of homeopathic remedies and biodynamic practice, while on mine to try to sieve though the agricultural information that comes our way, and then jointly taking part in the really big decisions.
Since I have that sort of mind, the next had to be Brexit. For a Prime Minister to lead us into a morass of this size should at a minimum require a year in the stocks. To date I cannot instance one good thing resulting from it but a score of negatives.
A matter of great concern is the changing climate. Yes, the heat is an issue, but the real threat comes from drought and/or rain at the wrong time. Grass will grow almost everywhere, but the type of grass varies entirely according to soil and climate. We are particularly fortunate in naturally having nutritious varieties. But looming over the horizon is the sort of ‘stuck’ high pressure system Europe experiencing and which touches part of England.
I am going to attempt to cover the environment, DEFRA and finance in one go.
No agricultural sector has survived without government subsidies for many years, and even with diversification, farmers in general live on the edge of financial disaster. The Basic Payment Scheme was the bedrock on which all rested, but post Brexit it was decided it should be phased out by 2028. Alongside this basic payment was, and currently continues, to be paid, Countryside Stewardship Schemes operate on three levels, depending on how interested you are as a farmer in environmental issues.
Post Brexit the government decided to support agriculture in two distinct and contradictory ways. The two were by funding for increased food production, and funding for enhanced environmental protection. Sadly, at the same time the urge to build more houses increasingly reduced the agricultural land available. Simultaneously ignorant people failed to understand how crucial to the agricultural sector was seasonal labour. I could, but won’t, hammer home the point that the English are all immigrants, and the better for it.
The whole thing is a miserable mess with no one, but no one, having any idea of what was going on unless it was all a plot to destroy agriculture as a way of life.
It is all too easy to forget covid, even if it is still very much with us. Obviously overall we all suffered, apart from the ‘cronies’ who got lucrative contracts. For the remainder it was a grim experience. Even for us, all vulnerable people, it was an end to friendships and a long, long period of isolation.
At a farm level it meant we became all but totally isolated from each other, and our Friday morning meetings could not continue. Since we were all regarded as highly vulnerable for one reason, or another the NHS did us proud.
For any stock farmer, the pastures are all-important. Our decision to put most of our fields into Higher Tier Stewardship was not taken lightly. On the positive side we had most of the field re-seeded with organic grasses and other common features of a traditional meadow, an expense far beyond our own means. Inevitably there was a downside in that the yield from these pastures would be less than from a perennial rye grass mix. Balancing that was that the pastures would not need re-seeding every five years! Overall, the decision meant keeping fewer stock or buying in organic fodder.
Hateful though, it may be to throw into the equation, returns per sold animal cannot be ignored. To date we have done no more than reduce our sheep holding but may have to consider a breed of sheep that can better cope with our low protein pasture mix. Our Herefords seem able to thrive on the roughest of pastures but our sheep struggle to reach finishing weight.
Our planned herd size was around 90, and that is about the number we have held in recent years. This last year the herd was afflicted by TB again. Indeed, on the day before the AGM we will learn whether or not they slaughtered enough animals six weeks ago. If not, more will go in the next few days. A wretched business from which there will be no escape until vaccination is accepted as the way forward. In other respects, our cows can expect an uneventful life until age ends their lives at between 16 and 17. That is not to say nothing ever goes wrong, but usually as they are carefully tended, problems can be nipped the bud.
Very occasionally birthing required human help but that is rare.
The numbers in our sheep flock have fallen steadily as the size of the herd has increased. This year, at no more the just over a hundred, it is as small as it was in our early days. This is not an easy piece of land to raise sheep on. According to our vets, the soil in this region is parasite laden, molybdenum saturated and with the stream close by an ideal site for fly strike. To be honest sheep are also much more costly to keep, both in terms of labour and veterinary support, but would it be truly a farm if it did not have sheep as well as cattle?
Comparing the farm to what it was when we started is perhaps the only way to appreciate what has been achieved.
Beginning with a commitment to biodynamics and organics, leaning on many, reading widely and basically bringing forward no preconceptions of what was normal, but very willing to learn we started small, undercapitalised and on a patch of land which had experienced years of neglect. What Anne and I began and took forward into a serious concern, Chris has taken forward more than successfully. The farm has been re-fenced, the barn more than doubled in size, our agricultural machinery expanded, and every opportunity taken to expand money making opportunities. The result a farm on which all animals are treated with compassion and respect, a farm on which that same respect is shown for the soil and the myriad of creatures large and small whose presence is facilitated, a world that its human inhabitants feel truly lucky to be a part of, and a model of farming still true to its idealistic beginnings. A joy to inhabit and one small patch of England where biodiversity is not merely welcomed but encouraged.