It has been a quiet winter’s week on the farm. The animals seem content and in good condition, the pastures dried out a little during the week as the weather was slightly colder with a good drying wind. However, unless we have a few days of heavy frost or many days without rain, tasks such as compost spreading and hedge cutting remain on hold.
Hedge cutting for farmers is prohibited during the period from the 1st of March through till 1st September – obviously a good thing for birdlife in particular, but sometimes a problem for those of us on heavy clay. Nonetheless we have been able to trim hedges along part of the drive and bridle path, and we realised this morning our hedge alongside the road really did need a trim.
More sheep go into the organic market this week which means that we have no more than 31 still to be sold. A very positive position compared to last year when at this stage we had over 350 on the farm eating us out of house and home!
However, with twice as many cattle these days, we are going to have to buy in more hay and bedding straw. At least we shall be going into spring with all but a couple of fields not grazed or cropped for many months. This should mean we are able to both take a heavier harvest of haylage and rotate the herds and flocks on a weekly basis; our experience of this last year has convinced us of the value of moving the animals around on as regular a basis as the weather allows.
Several events to look forward to this month are now in the diary. The sheep scanner is now booked in, as is our annual soil association inspection, while the diary also shows the young calves need their second clostridial vaccination.
In ancient times, spring began on the 1st of February, and though most weather sayings are no longer valid as the climate has changed so much in recent years, certain flowers and bushes whose growth seems unrelated to temperature are demonstrating spring is nigh. We are also beginning to see more animal and bird life on the farm, and a helpful soul has not only pointed out that now is the time when Tawny Owls are most vocal but that the ‘tu whit’ is the female and the ‘tu-who’ is the male responding.
On a different note, I seem stuck in my reading of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the parallels between the present and that period stand out starkly. Once again, we are divided as a nation not perhaps on religion but on our political future, with devotees on both extremes righteously knowing they are the upholders of the absolute truth and seeing their opponents as traitors and enemies. What on earth has happened to British phlegm and pragmatism.
Two recent personal dialogues have surfaced on the airwaves. This Sunday morning an impassioned speaker condemned the British – and she is one whether she likes it or not – as gripped by a false rosy nostalgia which was holding us back from the world as it is. She was preceded by a speaker despairing of a culture which she sees as defined by an obsession with winning. I have no urge to argue that point but was more struck by the fact that her experience – and she is of my generation – of team games promoted in school was that their aim was solely to promote the notion of winning at all costs, while my memory says a key message was that they were all about learning to cope with losing gracefully.
The second dialogue was about the difference between English and some other European languages. English, I have been told more than once, is ‘such an imprecise language’ and so it can be of course. Most English words have a range of meanings and the problem with most dictionaries is that, for practical reasons they chose only one of these. I have no doubt that whether it was Napoleon describing ‘perfidious Albion’ or misunderstandings that may have contributed to the two recent European wars, this is a factor dogging negotiations with the EU.
Finally, I am indebted to Andrew Graham-Dixon for presenting Prince Albert in a much more positive light than many commentators, and drawing attention to Albert’s desire to bring knowledge to the many and as part of this project, buying up much of South Kensington for the purpose of establishing museums open to all.
CEREMONIES FOR CANDLEMAS EVE – 1st of February
by Robert Herrick
“DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).
The holly hitherto did sway ;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.
Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew ;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.
When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.
Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.”