Excellent inspection news!

I think I must start by reporting that our inspection on Thursday went really well and so we retain our Red Tractor Assurance and Soil Association status. Our inspector we last saw in 2012 and 2009; we are confident that had the weather been better she would have picked up on all the changes since her last visit. She was very complimentary about both the cattle and sheep.

As always, preparing for an inspection does serve to highlight areas for the future where record keeping could be improved. Steps have already been put in place, and we are trialling yet another software programme to enable us to answer new questions more easily. 

I must comment on the weather which has been quite topsy-turvy and living up to April’s reputation. What we certainly no longer need is rain!

Bacchus the bull


After a great deal of attention our bull, Bacchus, continues to give us concerns about his eye and the ewe that was attacked remains wobbly. This weekend the last of our lambs for sale will go, leaving us a couple or so for our own consumption. Otherwise only a few ewes are showing significant ‘bagging up’; incidentally we were very glad to miss the snow though we did have a fair amount of hail. Subject to the weather forecast being accurate the main herd will go out next week.

Ewes, fat like boulders scattered in the field

The nursery is ready!

A follow up test on the possible cattle with Johnes has sadly identified one that will have to go. We shall know next week whether TB will take more.

The fine weather on Monday brought the masonry bees out, I hope they survived the two cold days that followed. Our male pheasant has already attracted in a female. Sadly, a pair of crows are seen too often in the garden.

Our newly acquired infrared camera has recorded the sighting of various innocuous creatures though no foxes as yet. Observations in daylight have been of four fallow deer, numerous hares and a muntjac.

At the end of the week I got in writing confirmation that any capital work we started on now would get paid. With that written assurance, seed for 40 acres has been ordered and the first two fields to be re-sown identified. With a fair wind, cultivation may be possible at the end of next week. At the same time, we have been thinking about the fencing. Not just who should do it, but whether to be untraditional and go for a mix of metal and wood. I shall check out next week whether that would be acceptable should it make sense in terms of longevity and finance to us.

The pasture-fed web site, after a lengthy exchange of views on how to encourage dung beetles – not dung flies they are neither good or bad – decided on the answer being basically to use drenches as little as possible and has now moved on to the dangers of hemlock to grazing animals. All parts of the plant, rather like ragwort, are poisonous especially when dry. Our approach here is straightforward and the same as with ragwort. Wearing gloves, dig it up and burn. Time consuming but better that, than dead animals. The plant is easily recognisable from cow parsley by the purple splotches on the stems and contrary to what the books tell you, grows on dry ground as well as in wet areas. The key is not to let it set seed and not leave dead material on the ground where an animal may eat it. Contrary to what one hopes, animals short of grazing may eat plants that are not good for them.

The beauty of the Black Thorn

Letters to MPs

You will not be surprised to hear that my letters to MPs have not even been judged worthy of acknowledgement. Of course, how this country is administered is of little weight when endless hours can be happily given over to Brexit. An interesting development has been that big scale farmers who practice monoculture (cereals) have at last realised Brexit could sound the death knell of their businesses… just as the Corn Laws in 1845 had a devastating effect on the income of large landowners, which in its turn drove tenant farmers off the land, poverty in rural populations and accelerated the move to the urban areas. Few seem to realise what has happened to the coal and heavy industries happened years before to farm workers. Whether we like it or not the world changes and people are affected.

On a more positive note and following up on my personal recognition of less than full understanding of how parliament works, as relaxation after our inspection, I watched part of the discussion in the Lords on Thursday’s vote in the Commons. I have to say I was impressed and say that having no thought-through views on the need for reform of the second chamber. In terms of the quality of speeches the overall standard was far greater than that of MPs.

The Lord’s role is essentially to maintain good law by improving defective drafting in bills presented to them. Indeed, they have well-rehearsed and considered procedures, in particular, on how to discharge this role on fast tracked legislation, and these procedures are used more often than I expected… Apparently in recent years the Commons have completed all three stages in a day some 105 times!

One comment which really struck me. A member drew attention to the different reaction of the state to riots in France and the United Kingdom. In France, in extremis, rioters are faced with the power of the military and armed services. In the United Kingdom rioters have to face the law. This difference I assume relates to the revolution of 1789 and its aftermath which was not a path followed in this country where for the most part the law is recognised as our safeguard.

Robert Tombs 

I am making progress with Robert Tombs and his history of the English and indeed have now reached the18th century. While a history of Japan languishes unopened, I have found it impossible to resist dipping into Tim MacIntosh-Smith’s book on the Arabs. It may be nearly 3 inches thick but my goodness what a writer, and what a depth of experience and width of reading the author brings to bear. And what lines of thought it opens up to exploration. Do at least read reviews of it!

Medici quartet

Many years ago, Anne and I went to the Bromsgrove Concert Society to hear, played live by the Midici string quartet, all Beethoven’s string quartets. The experience was one that still evokes respect and admiration. These four musicians played demanding and emotional music in front of a live audience while showing all the mutual respect and concentration which even the earlier quartets demand. Trios, quartets and quintets provide more intimate music, and this is perhaps why they can be so enjoyable on cd. For myself, symphonic music played by a full orchestra is best heard live unless it is possible to play it very loudly at home and this is rarely socially acceptable. For myself I am currently listening to Johann Baptist Vanhal on the Naxos label – though described as symphonies, they are for small orchestras and enjoyable listening on my headphones.

In truth, listening or watching live music, drama, opera and ballet is surely always the best option if physically and financially possibly feasible.

I am in two minds about cricket in this context. In truth one sees on the television far more than when watching live. On the other hand, the experience of being ‘part of’ the live action can be a real joy.

Given the beautiful weather on Monday how could I not use this poem even though the weather went downhill for the rest of the week and on Thursday was particularly obnoxious.

Spring, by John Clare

What charms does Nature at the spring put on,

When hedges unperceiv’d get stain’d in green;

when even moss, that gathers on the stone,

Crown’d with its little knobs of flowers is seen;

And every road and lane, through field and glen,

Triumphant boasts a garden of its own,

In spite of nipping sheep, and hungry cow,

The little daisy finds a place to blow:

And where old Winter leaves her splashy slough,

The lady-smocks will not disdain to grow;

And dandelions like to suns will bloom,

Aside some bank or hillock creeping low;

Though each too often meets a hasty doom

From trampling clowns, who heed not where they go”

Given the effect on our morale arising out of the latest breakdown in Brexit discussions I found the poem below by Laurie Lee helpful to the spirit.

April Rise by Laurie Lee

If ever I saw blessing in the air 
I see it now in this still early day 
Where lemon-green the vaporous morning drips 
Wet sunlight on the powder of my eye. 

Blown bubble-film of blue, the sky wraps round 
Weeds of warm light whose every root and rod 
Splutters with soapy green, and all the world 
Sweats with the bead of summer in its bud. 

If ever I heard blessing it is there 
Where birds in trees that shoals and shadows are 
Splash with their hidden wings and drops of sound 
Break on my ears their crests of throbbing air. 

Pure in the haze the emerald sun dilates, 
The lips of sparrows milk the mossy stones, 
While white as water by the lake a girl 
Swims her green hand among the gathered swans. 

Now, as the almond burns its smoking wick, 
Dropping small flames to light the candled grass; 
Now, as my low blood scales its second chance, 
If ever world were blessed, now it is.

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