“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”
What a week for the world, what a challenge to all our complacent assumptions, what a relief to be able to focus on the farm!
I think that for me the highlight of the week was five hares seen interacting with each other along the northern edge of the wood – I sadly I was not the one to see them. Whatever else may be happening on other farms, here an eco- sanctuary exists. As I write this a woodpecker is shinning up and down the wooden post from which a birdfeeder is attached – how fortunate are all the inhabitants of this plot of land.
The weather has not been good or bad in that it has been frost free, drizzle rather than pouring rain but not a great deal of sunshine and real warmth.
This week we have seen the arrival of three more calves, a clear sign that we have at last reached our intended herd numbers, if not actually exceeded it. The last delivery of the week needed significant support from Tim and Paul in the birthing process, perhaps because the calf was very large.
Paul was amused by the bull resting its head on his shoulder while he worked, but it was only mild interest being shown. Fortunately, our cows rarely need help in giving birth – if significant help is needed, at least two humans, but preferably three need to be involved – I shall share no more with you than that a strong rope and ratcheted winch are essential.
We have over 30 breeding cows, so in theory we should have 30 calves a year, together with 30 animals each year ready to sell – theory is of course some way from reality so, for example if our herd TB test in April indicates we have one or more infected cattle, numbers can rapidly change.
Staying with cattle for the moment, a matter for serious discussion this week is whether to use wood chip for bedding the cattle. As always there are pros and cons. Wood chip is substantially cheaper, and we have a source near us, but after the initial floor laying of say 6”, how does one keep it clean? Straw is much easier to spread to keep the litter bed clean. A visit to a farm using wood chip is obviously essential.
This is a matter which has been discussed before, but the need to get tree surgeons in to reduce the height and spread of the willows close to units, to cut up and clear the fallen oak, and to take out the dead horse chestnut trees led to us finding a plentiful source of wood chips which resurrected the idea of using wood chip as bedding material.
The sheep, after drenching, were split into two groups, with the smaller group made up of ewes which looked rather thin. Both groups are having organic hard feed, but obviously the smaller group is getting proportionately more per animal. For sheep and cattle, drenching consists of shooting a measured amount of the drench down the animal’s throat. While not exactly a joyous exercise for drencher and recipient, it is, from the handlers’ point of view, less perilous than giving injections when, if unlucky, the handler may stick the needle into themselves! While most animals are quiet and resigned, this is not always the case, and it is then real caution is needed.
An extremely tedious and time taking task started last week and will probably take two hours a week for several weeks more, and that is pulling hemlock. Usually associated with Socrates demise, it is dangerous to stock, rather like ragwort. It is an annual, but unlike ragwort has a less complicated root system, and at this time of year the plants can be pulled out relatively easily and complete. Ragwort comes later in the year and often when the ground can be like concrete.
As advised, the island on the scrape has now been strimmed ready for nesting birds, and the daffodils on the drive are starting to open. The chestnuts along the drive that we have already felled have marvellous fungi life growing on and around them.
Further good news is that we were very pleased to learn that the younger brother of a French student who stayed here some four years ago is booked in to join us in July. His brother used to charm the cattle with his trombone playing, Yannick is bringing his saxophone!
Normally I only refer to our flower gardens. We actually still have a significant vegetable garden, and so the growing season is soon upon us once more.
I confess that this week the disturbing situation in Ukraine has driven me to read crime novels only, and so far, I am managing one a day. Rather more usefully, Ulula has been sending products to Poland bought from them with donated money and adding to the bought items matching contributions from the company itself.
So apart from two issues on which I feel I can write with some hard experience, the remainder of this note merely highlights a few items which you might have missed and the concludes with the translated verse of a patriotic Ukrainian written in 1845.
So, turning to the theme of leadership and thoughts on news that is no longer as pertinent as it was a few weeks ago, none the less, having spent a large part of my life managing and tutoring managers, I feel I am duty bound to comment. In doing so I understand the strangle hold the Police Federation has on change since I very much experienced the activities of teaching unions in Labour controlled authorities. But it is important not either to be cowered or under their thumb.
Two obvious mistakes were made by the Commissioner: The first was to lose sight if the fact that the police do not exist to give policeman secure jobs, but to protect the public. The second was to allow herself to get too close to her officers.
Her work, of course, made all the more difficult by the size of the force and its structure.
In the Army and Navy there is a recognition that to manage large scale forces management must break these down into smaller units, and that the leaders of these smaller forces are managed by leaders who are responsible only for a small number of leaders, together with recognition that the next layer has the clear understanding of their responsibility that the ‘vision’ is not loss, and the culture recognises this. I caught a number of episodes of a channel 5 programme called ‘Warship’. What stood out for me was the emphasis on transparency of task, and leaders spending their time with those they were responsible for, and instant dismissal for breaking cardinal rules.
With both teachers and service staff there are lines which if crossed mean instant dismissal. Surely the Police Federation could be driven, if only by public opinion, to recognise that some actions by police officers are so awful that there must be instant dismissal. The way in which the Charing Cross affair was mismanaged struck one and all as being totally beyond the pale.
This of course is not to say the defence forces are free of bad characters, but the normal explanation is poor management.
I recognise also the power of group loyalty, whether shown by school children, teachers or policeman, but management must learn to ensure this takes people only so far. A significant part of my working life was liaison with local police agencies – after all I was working in Manchester when the Moss Side riots took place. In my experience, the office wallahs, the top brass, did have a commitment to the vision, but utterly failed to act on what they knew – which was the problems lay with station commanders and their sergeants.
An American author wrote about management by ‘walking about’, a recognition that office work should take place after the shift; during the shift, time should almost exclusively be spent with your staff. You should not expect at a senior level to work only for 37½ hours, and this should be recognised. As one who failed to make the retirement working age of 65, I say bluntly, if the job requires 50-to-70-hour weeks, which is what a leadership role normally requires, then the stress effects need to be recognised by a shorter working life as also does hard manual labour.
I think I have before mentioned that we take the American monthly magazine ‘The Atlantic’, as you would expect most of the essays concentrate on matters American, though often these are enlightening or challenging to the situation her.
Last month’s copy contained two articles I believe are worth sharing. The first was about matters American but would remind any reader of the dangers of ‘labelling’. Apparently, there are some sixty million ‘Hispanics’ in the country who, when they vote, split fairly equally between the two American parties, though the Democrats seem to believe Hispanics will automatically vote for them, despite knowing the voting patterns in Florida.
The very interesting point made is that the label ‘Hispanic’ does not recognise the reality that these people are not such a homogenous group as white people ignorantly imagine.
They actually are as split in their views as the white population is. It is suggested that part of the reason is that Hispanics have a background history as both colonisers as well as colonised. Again, there is something here for all people in this country to ponder on. I remember hearing of a ‘Where do you come from’ programme, in which a BBC presenter who saw herself as entirely black, discovered that she had entirely legitimate claims to have white plantation owners as part of her ancestry, she was extremely discombobulated.
The second essay really deserves far more space than I can give it. Entitled the ‘Satisfaction Gap’, it explores why happiness can be so difficult to find for so many people. You may not find it easy to read the Atlantic, but the author Arthur C. Brooks may well be found using Google or another such network. For those of you of my generation you may well remember the board game ‘Careers’ based on the simple idea of attempting to gather enough points to win, by collecting the points you had set as your target given at the start when you had to decide what weight to give to either career achievement, wealth, or happiness. A game which actually could be very revealing.
Finally, I turn to Ukraine and a number of you may have read the novel entitled “A short history of tractors in Ukraine’, others will recall the opening up of Ukraine to British farmers. Beyond that, most of us are totally unaware of the long and imposing literary and poetic tradition of that country.
The poem that follows was written by one of the famous and respected Ukrainian poets, Taras Shevchenko. The poet was born in 1814 as a serf, but had his freedom bought for him in 1838. He died in 1861 – the year in which serfdom was abolished, spent time in exile, and years in one of Russia’s notorious penal settlements. The words of the poem, which was written in late 1845 as he lay desperately ill, echo so closely the words of Ukraine’s beleaguered leader that it seemed very fitting to close these notes with its emotional words which also reminded me of a poem by Rupert Brooks.
Taras Shevchenko’s “Zapovit” My Testament
Vera Rich Translation
When I die, then make my grave
High on an ancient mound,
In my own beloved Ukraine,
In steppeland without bound:
Whence one may see wide-skirted wheatland,
Dnipro’s steep-cliffed shore,
There whence one may hear the blustering
River wildly roar.
Till from Ukraine to the blue sea
It bears in fierce endeavour
The blood of foemen — then I’ll leave
Wheatland and hills forever:
Leave all behind, soar up until
Before the throne of God
I’ll make my prayer. For till that hour
I shall know naught of God.
Make my grave there — and arise,
Sundering your chains,
Bless your freedom with the blood
Of foemen’s evil veins!
Then in that great family,
A family new and free,
Do not forget, with good intent
Speak kindly of me