Another birth!

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

While we try very hard to not allow ourselves to be too affected by the weather, the virus, Brexit or politics on either side of the Atlantic, the decision of the House of Commons to reject the Lords suggested amendment on the Agriculture Bill was very depressing.  

The government rejected writing a clause into the bill designed to protect animal welfare and health, thus possibly opening the door to imports of meat that ignore animal welfare, consumer health, and good practice as known here to date.

This is depressing in the extreme for many reasons not least because the government in their election manifesto had committed to retaining all such standards.  

Standards seem to no longer matter in the least whether it be the use of outright lies, accidental or deliberate confusion, misuse of statistics and if all else fails obfuscation.  

Moreover, it now seems clear that in the name of Brexit anything goes, as the people of Kent are now discovering. Do we really have to attempt to emulate the United States quite so closely? 

Thank goodness we have the farm and family to keep us rooted, sane and feeling the world might yet have a future – for a few more generations at least, subject to asteroids continuing to miss us. And it has not been a bad week at all, despite learning that urgent action was needed to boost iodine and copper deficiencies in the blood of our cattle.  

Though the growth on the pastures is now obviously slowing down, nearly all fields look good, and there should be no problems in choosing fields for tupping or overwintering the sheep and, despite some recent rain, the ground is not so soft that the cattle are doing damage. Running the bull with the suckler herd means there are no fixed calving periods. At the moment we seem to be having a new birth every week, and this week we welcomed a new heifer.  

The blood tests we commissioned on the 7th September finally yielded results in the middle of the week. Matters turned out to be more serious than we realised. Preliminary results had shown a degree of copper deficiency, but the final results showed iodine levels to be far, far too low. Our vet, on animal welfare grounds, advised urgent specific action which we have taken.  

The ewes, having had a period on limited grass, are now being fattened up a little in anticipation of the rams going in to join them.  

The new ram seems feisty and ready to go, so that augers well. In fact, all animals were moved onto different pastures in the course of the week.  

I referred last week to how dry the soil was at a depth of six inches. A more visual image of the lack of sufficient rain comes from visiting the large scrape. By now we would expect it to contain more than the odd puddle currently to be found in it. Visiting the scrape took us along the bridle path and what a bumpy state that is in – there is nothing we can do to avoid this as it is the result of horse movements.  

The bridle path elsewhere has been very much improved, though should we have floods, all that good work could be quickly undone.   

Elsewhere, the ground on the left-hand side of the barn is now ready for concreting and being fenced off from the field. I shall in fact for next year have to advise the government that we have reduced our agriculture area by 525 square metres or in the order of 0.05 hectares!   

The ground has been firm enough to allow our eldest grandson to start on this winter’s hedge cutting programme. As you will recall, in some fields, hedges have spread so far into fields that the fence line is unreachable without the use of the hedge cutter. 

I referred last week to the threat to our trees from ‘Ash tree dieback’. Sadly, having looked closely at a number of our hedgerows and the trees within them, I fear this disease has reached us. Certainly, many elms reaching the height of around 15 feet have died this season.  

The reseeded fields have all shown good growth. The one field still to be sown with a wildflower mix will, we hope, have that work done shortly. To help the flower seeds to germinate, the suckler herd was moved onto that field at the start of the week to reduce the existing grass cover.  

We are very conscious that only part of the farm has had its third spraying with the Biodynamic preparation 500, and Anne is identifying good days for that spraying. As always it is outside our control whether the weather co-operates. 

Following up on other matters. The latest news on Tim’s mother is pretty positive. Though confined to life upstairs, her healing appears to be going well and Tim is getting full support from his sisters.  Daniel leaves us at the end of this week and his help and presence on the farm will be missed.

The new owners of Milly’s puppies have all been visited or spoken to, while the family puppy, Dot, is learning to come, and similar basic rules. Periodically she visits us being a very curious little creature.  

Talking of creatures, rabbits are becoming a real problem in the garden. Their numbers vary considerably from year to year, and this year has seen real population growth.  

Protection for the vegetable garden is being strengthened, but that will do nothing for the hollyhocks. In the greenhouse the tomatoes and peppers are nearly over but the leeks, chard and beetroot flourish. 

School achievements and the Pareto Principle

Mid-week, Anne shared with me that a new talking point was that the children who did worst at school were white boys. The point being that she remembered well, how forty-five years ago, in Manchester, those of us working on pupil achievement data were enormously concerned that all the data we had pointed to the reality that it was white boys whose achievements were of most concern. Sadly, little changes.  

These thoughts reminded me of a paragraph I wrote last week. As a teacher, almost all my teaching was of mathematics to 15 and 18-year-old youngsters. 

A question asked periodically was ‘why on earth do we need to take this subject other than for getting over an educational hurdle’ – though not perhaps phrased in quite that way! Obviously, however it was worded, the answer had to be that mathematics underpinned almost everything in life – not necessarily an easy sell in rural Saskatchewan in the late 1960’s!  

The current coronavirus crisis has meant we are bombarded on a daily basis by numbers and interpretations of these numbers. A real problem is that the presenters and users seem to have only a rudimentary understanding of statistics. Some 90 years ago an Italian mathematician stumbled on a natural law. The Pareto Principle very simply says that many things in life can be explained by the rule of 80\20. Put at its simplest, as a teacher, 80 per cent of one’s time is taken up by 20 per cent of the class. More directly to my current life, why TB in a herd may often be traced to an individual animal.  

The relevance of this is that coronavirus we now at last realise, is not spread by all who have it, but by some 10 to 20 percent of those who catch the disease – the so called ‘superspreaders’.  

This reality at once undermines the value of the ‘R’ figure (which is of course an average) that appears to dominate thinking by some scientists and most politicians, and why ‘K’ – the dispersion parameter – is being referred to more and more. It also points to why test and track is critical because how else can the ‘superspreaders’ be identified – even this gives historic information!  

Clive James chose this poem because he felt John Clare had made a positive decision to write a more austere poem’  

All Nature has a Feeling  
All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks 
Are life eternal; and in silence they 
Speak happiness beyond the reach of books; 
There’s nothing mortal in them; their decay 
Is the green life of change; to pass away 
And come again in blooms revivified. 
Its birth was heaven, eternal is its stay, 
And with the sun and moon shall still abide 
Beneath their day and night and heaven wide.  


John Clare  

But if you feel an urge to explore statistics further, try this – part of a much longer piece. And obviously written by a statistician: 

‘Statistics is the parent of Probability; 
Statistics is the Art and Science of Forecast, 
Statistics paves the way for modern Science 
Statistics is a powerful weapon in the fight against Ignorance 
Statistics, however, are generally and intentionally misrepresented and thus misunderstood. 
 
For increasingly accurate figures, 
one must have a larger Sample Size 
and a Sample group that is a representative subgroup 
of the Whole 
 
This is intentionally abused 
by most of the News  
you read or see each day on Paper and Screens alike. 
 
If a “Statistical analysis” does not include at least 
Margin of Error or Probable Error, 
Mean (Average), Standard Deviation, and Sample Size 
do not take it as accurate. 
 
Depending on the source,  
it could even be deliberately malicious. 
 
Arm yourself with Knowledge.’  

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