Demeter inspection week!

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

Ian Dunn wrote in the ‘I’ mid-week: 

“We’re now witnessing the terrible, inevitable end of the Brexit adventure. It is an old story about people promising a utopia on the horizon. It’s ending the same way it always ends: in misery, poverty and decline”  

A promise heard in every colonial state in its quest for freedom. I suspect if writing at the end of the week, he might have written ‘we have now ‘.   

Away from the dramas of the world of politics, it has been a challenging week for the family and I. I have never concealed that I was born asthmatic, but thanks to parents who helped me not to feel I was damaged, I was able to see it as a source of strength, especially when new and modern drugs kept it in its place.  

A whole range of odd triggers might over time ruffle the asthmatic calm, but to no lasting effect usually. So, it was perhaps complacency, but certainly great surprise that led me to ignore signs weeks ago something nasty was brewing. It has taken a week of 24-hour home nursing, plus an enormous intake of drugs, to reach a position where our doctor feels the crisis is treatable, and the storm wearing itself out.  

My contribution to the farm is now very limited, but that system had to cope not just with me out of action, but key workers severely sleep deprived. The strength of the team was displayed yet again and yet again. How did my parents’ cope? And how grateful I am to them.  

My sister and husband were able to visit me early in the week, which was a great boost. Bringing not only old family photos which caused the family great noise as they discussed and shared them, but a completed project of our fathers’; a book where the facts of our family down the ‘Parsons’ line had been explored and investigated. Dad traced us back to 1707; the family came from Yatton, a village very close to Kingston Seymour, known around the world as the village overcome by a tsunami in 1607, when all records were destroyed – no doubt many of which would have been of family interest. The book is now completed, a request our father had left with his notes and findings, and the book has been much enjoyed by the family, and for me, a great peace-bringer to dip in and out of through these last days. It will be now for Brendan or Theo to take up the reins of the Parsons’ line one day. My sister wrote this out of her great love and affection for my father, which I share.  

Due to my ill health, I am as much editor, as writer for this week’s farm news, with another example of teamwork here.  

The Farm 

To the farm then. Tim has been on holiday this week, and on a farm like ours, such weeks often cause a quiet period. Now with Brendan both working for one of our long-term tenants’/ friends on site, and also now living with us, though not to be taken advantage of, he is available after hours, and on special occasions to the farm team.  

The week had two highlights, the first on Tuesday and the last on Friday. On Tuesday it was horn filling for preparing the 500 for next year. What follows is Brendan’s account.   

The making of 500, horn filling, is a farm/family activity which starts with walking round the suckler herd collecting fresh pats from our lactating cows. With wheelbarrows then full, their content was stirred for some twenty minutes, then used to fill 170 cow horns which, when all were packed in together meant it may be hard to look at an ice cream cone in the same way again! Obviously while some were loading the horns, others had dug a square hole about 40cm deep into which went the filled horns. They were then covered with a friable soil and a final layer of compost from the windrows. They will be excavated in April for use next year.  

Filling cow horns

The second highlight of the week was the Demeter inspection on Friday which Chris led. It is a hugely important event for us and as the date before the inspection gets closer, any one with time to spare needs to play a part in collecting relevant paperwork and collating forms. When we started the inspection process I did it all on paper, those days are long gone. We now use several computer programs, though always aware that the quality of the outcomes relates to the accuracy of the inputs.  

We were very pleased that this inspection was essentially based on observation. Despite pouring rain, Chris and the inspector walked every field, and gave each animal the eye, both individually and collectively. The downside is that, back at Head Office the data has to be verified, and we cannot claim too much until that process has been completed.  

The Demeter inspection day began sunny, and as soon as the trip around the farm began, the heavens opened, which made for a very wet and very efficient inspection. This heavy rain has continued on and off throughout the weekend. Our inspector was very genial, as they usually are, and this was her first year doing inspections on farms, having had to do remote inspections the last years, due to the dreaded lockdown.  

Happily, we had no non-compliances. The farm walk ensured every field was seen, and the woods and bees were much enjoyed. The farm really did look better for the rain, and her feedback was that the animals looked happy and content, but of course, as already said, we won’t know the final outcome until the reams of forms filled in are processed.  

This inspection seemed to be a welcome return to Demeter inspections gone by, in which the inspector properly inspects the land and animals, and really gets a feel for the farm. Should their colleagues in the office wish to know what is going on, they will be able to read a proper report rather than look at a soulless form. This is very much in contrast to some other certifications, which appear to have become largely tick box exercises, and a reminder of what Ofsted inspections have also become.   

A supportive suggestion that Cross Gates homoeopathic vets will be able to supply us with a remedy for the cow’s eyes was very welcome, but we need to first take swabs to try to discover what bacteria are lurking.   

The farm is looking good and starting to relax with more rain. The Brook is currently very full and bubbling away cheerfully. The pastures are green and continue to grow as, although we have had a few frosty nights, the temperature generally remains mild. Our application of biodynamic preparations to the land have ensured that our heavy clay soil copes better with rain than it did, however if it continues as it has been then the fields may become waterlogged.  

The young stock have moved to field A, and the water trough cleaned. It brought home how much cattle need to drink when they quickly emptied the trough after the tap had been turned off. They certainly made their displeasure known! 

Our volunteer Tom has been making himself very useful by mowing the drive, and around the pond by the business Park. He has also collected more apples to be sent for juicing. 

Apples for juicing

We are hoping to be organised enough to replace the dead fruit trees in the orchard before the winter is over, and are researching protected local breeds of apple, pear and plum. Our first attempt with the orchard was sadly unsuccessful due to inadequate drainage; however, this was rectified over the lockdown when a number of groundwork projects were carried out. Silver linings! 

In the wider farming world, there has been much attention given recently to using willow cuttings as supplementary feed for stock. Trying not to be cynical, we can actually see this as a growing realisation that cows, actually if not forest creatures, enjoy woodlands.  

There are those who believe animals will refrain from eating poisonous plant or fruit, of which some 23 are listed for this country. This year it appears the number of fatalities from eating acorns is higher than normal. Scientists will say to this, wishful thinking, but that is not necessarily true. Plants are more poisonous at some stages than others, stock, not unlike humans, may better tolerate various ‘nasties’ than others. In our experience, we are always in a slight dilemma over ragwort; to pull or risk the effect on stock eating it. Certainly, we would do our very best to keep it out of hay.  

Otherwise, I have been thinking about the discussion around finding the least damaging wormer for the dung beetles, which have such an important role to play in converting the end products into valuable soil.  

Music, poetry & relaxation

I have failed to listen to one CD this week so no recommendations for you to think about, however, I was reminded of one piece of music a couple of days ago when Brendan came in from a splendid sound and sight. He was out checking the animals at dawn, and as the sun broke through the clouds a vast flock of larks rose, as though to greet the new day, and my head was full of Vaughan Williams stunning composition written after a similar treat.  

The poem I have chosen reflects my state of mind at the time I chose it! Now I know rest and medicines can restore me, I will do better next week.  

When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be’ By John Keats   

 When I have fears that I may cease to be   
   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,  
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,   
   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;   
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,   
   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,   
And think that I may never live to trace   
   Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;   
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,   
   That I shall never look upon thee more,   
Never have relish in the faery power   
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore   
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think   
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink. 

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