Bales and barns

“Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.”

It would be absurd for me to claim that David Bowie was any more than a name to me, but on Wednesday morning I heard the quote set out above on the radio, and since some of you may be as young as Anne and I, I share it with you.

We have had a good week on the farm, mirrored by England’s performance on the cricket field. I say that, even though not all has gone well. The number of bales of haylage made from our first cut of the season was slightly lower than last year but that reflects what seems to be the position across the country. The hundred bales of bought in organic hay has been settled in the barn, and this import means we should not be faced by having to buy in feed next spring at prices up to four times today’s prices.

Bales

The young stock had to be brought into the barn for a while to make their eye treatment easier. On Friday I had to order more Staphisagria 30c which we seem to be using a great deal since sadly all seem affected and it is no consolation to know we are not the only farm with this problem!  

Otherwise, the animals are thriving on the new fields to which they were moved. Perhaps most happily, we welcomed the arrival on Saturday of a calf, probably one of the last contributions which we can attribute to Baachus, and certainly is the final calf predicted from the last pregnancy check made in the 1st November 2019. With Postman now running with the cows all through the year as and when we test the cows for pregnancy is less obvious. As is almost invariably the case, no human support was necessary for the birth.

New calf

The sheep are currently on the field next to the Orchard, whether they are content with the rather long grass is unclear – certainly on Thursday they were pretty vocal! The five rams have not been neglected, whatever their futures might be. All are now on the Ram’s Field and have been treated against “fly strike”.

Our weekly review of the pastures was positive, and it was particularly good to see new growth on fields that had been cut, topped or grazed. We have a video of the grass being cut which hopefully can be shortened for inclusion. What it does not clearly show is the variety of birds following the tractor – seagulls, kestrels and four buzzards. A critical reason for the exercise of reviewing the pastures is so that decisions can be made, if tentatively, about future field use; noting fields that might be left for eventual cutting, and fields to be next on the grazing programme. The light rain towards the end of the week will have been helpful.

Grass cutting

Although our appeal against the RPA drags on – the individual handling the case is now on holiday – we, and others, have had formal notification that we have a year’s extension on the capital works, and that certainly relieves a lot of pressure.

Groundwork for the barn has now started, and a massive job it is. Not only does 450 square metres have to be flattened out, it also has to be some 9” lower than the side of the existing barn to ensure tractor access. Without going into technicalities which would bore you and probably trip me up, a crucial issue is that the uprights for the new barn will be closer together than the uprights for the existing barn. This has meant some adjustment to positioning which will leave the back of the new barn not level with the existing barn. Putting up the barn itself will take place in the autumn before the cattle have to come in, although a certain amount of concreting will hopefully take place early next month. The area within the barn will in due course need to be lowered yet further so that a non-earth floor can be added.

Barn extension

A nagging problem which arose because of my ignorance of plants was happily laid to rest by Danny. I was concerned that as wildflowers come into flower at different times, some fields would be cut before seed could have set. An unnecessary concern, which I should have worked out for myself. All the wildflowers we have sown are perennials – simple as that.

One area where I have been continuing to do some homework has been weeds. On the bridle path are white daisy like plants, while behind the barn where bare soil was exposed, a flourishing weed has taken over. The white flower is called May Weed and the other, Prostrate Knotweed. It turns out both are mildly toxic but rejected by both sheep and cattle. In my search however, inevitably according to Anne, I found myself gazing at a publication from Kansas which listed all poisonous weeds and seemed very threatening. Calm returned when I realised most are not found in this country though we do have a number of our own!

A recent series of emails on haymaking on the Pasture-Fed site illustrated how valuable the site is for newcomers to farming, though one of the emails realistically ended with the words “Farming is a gamble”. As you know, we gave up trying to make hay here some years ago for oft stated reasons, including reliance on contractors and the weather.

One of the sadder features of life is coming to terms with the fact that we have so little interaction with our woofer Daniel. That is entirely my fault for not getting out more, but when he is involved with something well away from the house it is perhaps inevitable. I am aware that he has been helping Tim with the animals, and from my walks, I can see that he has succeeded in clearing docks and thistles from the verges of the drive.

We have now heard that our Demeter inspection is likely to take place very soon. This inspection will also be conducted by phone and email. Still we should be more ready for this approach second time round! None of us envy the individuals having to work in this new way. May it no longer be necessary soon.

On a much lighter note those of you who have visited the farm will know that there is a large pond adjacent to the business park. It was apparently dug as a slurry pit but never used as such. It is the home to moorhens as well as a variety of water life. It has always been a problem not so much because of safety, but because there existed no drainpipe to ensure its level never reached a level when it would waterlog the next-door orchard. That problem is now solved.

Some years ago, the area around the pond was cleared and sown with a mix containing wildflower seeds as well as a variety of grass seeds. After a long wait we now have a rich variety of plants in the area surrounding the pond. There are benches to sit on and in the summer, these are well used.

Common Blue

Obviously for our younger generation, the urge to build rafts has been a strong one for quite a while and the remnants of earlier efforts are still there. Last weekend our grandson Theo brought over a splendid new effort fitted with hand operated paddle wheel and rudder. All very impressive and as you might guess Theo and Boots had it on the pond in no time. A very happy family gathering watched and admired.

Rafting

One evening just before sunset on my nightly walk I stopped to watch the numerous bats flitting over my head and the adjacent field. Reprehensibly the words of a socially incorrect song of the 1960’s came to mind. It began with the words ‘Standing on the corner….’. This took my mind to a story by Patrick Campbell, which you can find in the P.P.Penguin called “Ot Hounds”. In its way as awful as the song, though in a different way. But, found very funny by the middle-class audience he was writing for in the 1960’s.

People watching

And then at the beginning of the week there was film of a fire on the West Cliff of Bournemouth and at once my mind took me to the joys of people watching. As children, my grandmother owned a beach hut at Shoeburyness on Sea, and every summer we spent perhaps two weeks staying with her. After swimming we sat huddled in towels, sitting on a deck chair trying to get warm. And while doing this, one of the fascinations was watching the day trippers from London go past. On a sunny or windy day, they began the day looking a pasty grey colour, but by the time they left they were lobster red! In those days of course, getting sunburnt was part of having a seaside holiday and calamine lotion was always at hand.

Much later when we had children ourselves, first my parents, then we and then my sister hired a beach hut for the summer on Bournemouth beach. After living in the tropics, sea bathing was no longer of interest to me, but over and above the joy of the children, what was always of interest were the people who walked, ran or cycled past. Part of the pleasure was building stories about who they might be and the lives they lived. It was also an opportunity to see that family life continued. People watching is fascinating in its own right, even though I have to confess that as a group we are not an attractive looking bunch! The fire, by the way, was almost certainly adjacent to the beach hut we hired for years – hence the digression.

I don’t believe it! 

My other excuse for talking of the past is my need to get out of the cantankerous mood so ably and according to those who knew him, part of Richard Wilson. The phrase ‘I don’t believe it’ fits so often the news we hear. Imagine what the scriptwriters or the man himself might have made of Trump, and here the inaction over Russian interference, Brexit, the treatment by the Home Office of our immigrants of the 1950’s, the removal of the whip from Julian Lewis, not to mention the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

There was a time when every Wednesday I made sure I managed to watch Prime Ministers Questions. After the arrival of our new Prime Minister, and after the first two or three sessions I swore off it. This Wednesday I was foolish enough to tune in – never again. Listening to Mr Johnson answering, or more accurately, not answering questions on the recent report on the response of governments to Russian interference reminded me exactly why I should never again waste my time in this way. In addition, the conservative back benchers seem as sycophantic as Republican politicians in the USA – probably backbenchers have always behaved in this way. 

More and more I realise how it is the select committees that really hold governments to account, which makes it all the more sickening that attempts were made to make Grayling chairman of a vital select committee, followed by the pettiness of withdrawing the whip from Julian Lewis. All this came at a time when Jeremy Corbyn was expressing anger and shock at the Labour Party decision to apologise and pay compensation to seven whistle-blowers who reported anti-Semitic behaviour in the party.

Poetry

To end, fortunately, neither Anne nor I lost a father in the war. For my father who was in the RAF, this was a particularly poignant poem, and given the 80th commemoration of the Battle of Britain and the death of Vera Lynn I feel it reasonable that I remind ourselves of that period.

John Pudney, like HE Bates, saw his talents used as a war poet and writer, and both wrote superb pastoral novels after that period.

The poetry and prose that spun out of the Second World War is too often ignored, perhaps because it does not fit with the thinking of a group of influential people.

For Johnny by John Pudney

Do not despair
For Johnny-head-in-air;
He sleeps as sound

As Johnny underground.
Fetch out no shroud
For Johnny-in-the-cloud;
And keep your tears
For him in after years.


Better by far
For Johnny-the-bright-star,
To keep your head,
And see his children fed.

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