Extreme weather!

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

Farm News

It has certainly been a week of extremes as far as the weather is concerned. Three very warm days convinced the fruit and blossom trees to rush into bloom and then, almost par for the course, and a bank holiday because it is Easter weekend, the weather switches to harsh winds from the north. A fear of course is that we might have a hard frost on Monday. A last, and more positive comment, the decision we took last year to not cut the verges along the drive is again showing its benefits as the attached photographs attest.  

I am delighted to share with you that, following the spraying last week, two further outings saw the whole farm, including the three rented fields, now having had its first application of the year. The investment in a more modern and much larger machine has certainly paid off in terms both of time and fuel. Tab accompanied Chris who drove the machine and, as I can personally vouch, that is a challenge – they used the new tractor, which gives the driver a much more comfortable ride than the 14-year-old Zetor. 

Probably the next most important activity was the three of us discussing the results from the soil analysis and the blood tests on the cattle.   

To deal with the soil analysis: The first fact that stuck out was that none of the companies who have carried out testing over the years produced results in a form that enabled detailed comparisons. In fairness this must, to a degree, reflect the time gap between the tests. 

On two issues a limited comparison was possible; the level of organic matter in the soil – which showed a doubling of the percentage in the soil – and the high levels of iron and calcium. This recent test was looking at two issues in particular, and these related to the levels of phosphates in each field and the ph levels.  

This concentration reflected concerns about the quality of water in the Brook and the appropriateness of the soil for the growth of native wildflowers. Of all the fields, only one showed an alkaline response at 7.2 (7 being the divide between acidity and alkaline), while as for phosphates, these posed no threat to the water quality in the stream. So, all in all, as I shared earlier, very positive news and a reflection of the efforts of our farming approach.  

The blood tests on the cattle were the usual mix of very good news and the slightly less so. The very good news is that the herd remains free of BVD in the calves and young stock as testing has shown for years. Less positively, we still have a number, but proportionally fewer, adults carrying Johnes disease. This is not life threatening, or of interest to most farmers – after all it is thought that the vast majority of herds are infected. Last year our numbers were slightly worse, but for a variety of reasons we took no action. This year, given the size of the breeding herd we may act. 

We discussed this year’s lambing approach. Last year, as Covid struck, we were forced to lamb outside and not tag in the way we had previously. This year, tagging will take place, but since lambing will start so much later, it will take place outdoors again. Should the weather turn nasty the ewes can lamb inside given we have the extra space provided by the new barn. The new barn also means the cattle do not need to be turned out before the pastures are ready – very helpful given the grazing restrictions on over half our fields.  

We discussed the fact that though our lambs all sold, they did not ‘bloom’ as we had hoped. An explanation was not difficult to find – yet another consequence of covid.  

Returning to the cattle, two decisions were made, firstly that heifers must be put to the bull younger than has been recent practice, and secondly, to support winter feeding so that the best feed is given to the young stock since the mature animals manage to get fat on almost anything we might feed them. 

Happily, the cattle look to be doing well with one exception. The cow that prolapsed did so again and yet more stitches were required. Her days of producing calves are finished.  

The sheep, likewise, though two ewes chose, out of the blue, to just give up the ghost, are giving no cause for concern.  

They are all now on the intended lambing field.  

As far as the pastures are concerned, we have almost reached the stage of hoping for rain. Since one field is showing an area of young thistles, we reviewed our practice of only cutting at bud burst, to continue with that, but add a cut at this early stage as well.  

Short of digging up the roots, which is not only labour intensive but invariably leaves enough pieces of root in the ground for new growth, our only hope is to weaken the roots so much over time that they no longer are able to throw up new shoots.  

Finally, and just to add joy to our lives, we are due for inspection in the near future. While most required data is now held on computer, a certain amount of paperwork also has to be available, and collecting all this will require time and consideration. But we ended the discussion feeling we were in a good place.  

I have referred to wildflowers in the verges and trees in blossom. I conclude this section by saying our hedgerows, as every spring, are once again a glorious sight as the blackthorn and damsons are now in full flower. A lovely sign that life is returning and a source of joy and contentment  

To help lighten the words that follow I share two short pieces of ‘poetry’: 

‘Manners’ by Sir Stephen Gasalee

“I eat my peas with honey  
I’ve done it all me life  
It makes the peas taste funny  
But it keeps’em on the knife!”  

The Budding Bronx……unsurprisingly anon!  

Der grass is Sprung 
Der grass is right 
I wonder where dem boides is 

Der little bonds is on der wing 
Aint’t dat absondern? 
Der little wings is on der boid

Thoughts around the word ‘rational’

Over breakfast on Monday morning, I found myself smiling about my use of a word as loaded as is the expression ‘common sense. I am thinking of the word ‘rational’. I reached that point in an indirect way, which I share because it reflects clearly the way in which we think. 

For some obscure reason I was thinking about a recent decision by the National Trust to review the background to all its historic buildings and ensure that any that belonged to a family associated with money brought in from the consequences of slavery should be marked. And to be dangerously honest, that thought alone made me smile since it is surely mere tokenism.   

The reason that this small island lies 5th or 6th in the list of wealthy countries rests, at bottom, on trade and the exploitation of its own and other people. You buy something cheap, either just sell it on at a higher price or, as was the case with cotton, add value by converting the raw material into a product which greatly increases its value. Alongside this you use your own cheap labour to dig the coal to fuel the machines which in their turn were made and operated by cheap labour.  

Despite any initial reaction you may have, this is not an ‘ism’, simply the way it was and is today. And, it was in the circumstances, the ‘rational’ way for a trading nation to succeed. And the further truth I am attempting to highlight, is that every one of us is the beneficiary of this approach and, a further truth, whatever some may feel, poverty in this country is rather different from those living in poor countries.   

Those people suffer from a situation which is not helped by the fact that the wealth of the richest is concentrated in a few hands and usually goes outside their country.  In this country, in that expansive period, the wealthy spent and invested their money, which absurd though it may look to us now, added to the prosperity of the country in a variety of ways.  

Sadly, this is rather different today. Consumerism ensures the value of imports far exceeds the cost of exports, and probably far worse is that investment is no longer seen as anything more than a way to gain quick money.   

Which brings me back to my use of the word ‘rational’. Was it irrational for the cotton manufacturers of the north-West of England to support the southern states of America in that country’s Civil War? From many points of view, it was despicable, but from the point of view of the manufacturers and the communities they supported very rational.  

Is it ‘rational’ for companies to buy the products of ‘sweated labour’ or imprisoned people to sell on – is it ‘rational’ for people here to buy these products? This problem is also very apparent in the way, for so many listed companies, the happiness of the shareholders outweighs the need to retain a share of profits for longer term profits.  

From the point of view of society as a whole, an entirely irrational approach, from the point of view of the Directors obviously, in this present world, totally rational.  

Rationality is an interesting and sometimes dangerous word but, a word to make us think and bear in mind that the word is as subjective, as of course, is another rather similar word, ‘truth’.  

The reaction to the recent report on “racial harmony” in this country is classic. For those who know society is dogged by ‘institutional racism’ the report is no more than a political whitewash of the present situation. Who knows where the truth actually lies? Speaking as one whose experience covers the overt racism of the 1950’s and 1960’s in this country, who has seen apartheid, and the ugliness of racism in the States, I feel able to write with absolute conviction, those worlds do not exist here today, and I feel it is a major setback to community cohesion to deny this.  

Tying this into another conversation, ‘institutional racism’ is of course not just a concept, but also a percept – as I personally feel it is now. Percepts are much harder to change since they are of an individual, or group of individuals, and may well have more to do with a wider world view.  

With the appalling reports from Burma and currently China, the obvious question is why the rest of the world seems totally impotent.  

I imagine it is for a mixture of reasons, but which might be most important and when, I am not sure. Those that I can think of include a fear of a major conflict involving China or Russia; a fear of escalation into the use of nuclear weapons by any one of the nuclear powers, the failure of past interventions, the probable refusal of the general public to, through the Commons or the Senate, to allow it, the reality that with defence budgets of 2% or less in the vast majority of countries, there is simply not the military power to do anything or, and I suspect that this is a core belief, the best thing is to simply just let the combatant sort matters out for themselves.   

Risking the use of that word ‘reality’ it is perhaps worth remembering that Burma, before it upset ‘John Bull’ and lost independence, was ruled by warlords; that after independence in 1945 the military very rapidly seized power, that many of the hundred or so distinct ethnic groups have been in rebellion continuously since 1945.  

Whatever the mix of reasons, 24 hours news makes it impossible not to ignore the suffering of other human beings, and to feel absolute shame for just doing nothing really meaningful.  

Racial hatred, religious or tribal hatred are not easily or quickly going to be susceptible to easy outcomes. Strong leaders are short term solutions and rarely survive past the death of that or those individuals – Yugoslavia, the USSR and historically empires across the world – too many to list, though perhaps Burma illustrates this so clearly.  

It is rather like the problems with overseas aid, which so often seems to achieve only short-term easement of a problem and does nothing to relieve the underlying problems – corruption, poor government, land not designed for the weight of population living on it (or to put it bluntly overpopulation), and of course, living in a world which encourages the belief that without the toys that we in rich countries have, dissatisfaction is appropriate.  


Anne and I have an ongoing discussion about democracy – what it might actually mean, and why it is slow to be adopted – something we each feel is the ‘best’ form of government, and which, until recently, seemed threatened in the largest democracy in the world -the United States of America, and to many people left fears of another ‘Trump’.   

India, sadly, surely has forfeited the right to that title. The reality seems to be that it is only in the Anglo-phone countries that it has found a lasting home. Elsewhere in the world, fascism, whether it be right or left seems to hold sway, though I would obviously exclude much of western Europe from that statement.  

A critical mistake, that certainly the UK made, was to believe that something that had developed slowly over time in these islands could simply just be adopted by other societies.  

As we have seen in so many ex-colonies, though they may have constitutions and elections on a semi-regular basis, at the drop of a hat, it seems they revert to a form of dictatorship. It of course is not just ex-British colonies which suffer from this curse. There are many countries which claim to be democracies, such as Turkey and Egypt which have a totally different concept of what democracy means to that which lies behind the constitution of America and democracy as we have it under a constitutional monarchy, which both sit within the ideas formulated by the group of which Thomas Paine is the best known.  

My negativity towards written constitutions is not that they have been imposed – though that is true of countries both in Europe and the far East – but they have the built-in weakness of not having naturally evolved and so inevitably fight to survive in societies to which the notion of individual rights sits uncomfortably.  

A natural consequence is that when matters go wrong or a demagogue wraps him or herself in the cloth that people are familiar with and lived with for centuries, the majority naturally gravitate towards that past system of government, 

Associated with all this is religion, and very often tribalism or nationalism.   

Some democracies self-describe as secular or, as is the case here, events over time make the religious card meaningless. Ataturk forced secularism on Turkey, now that has been overthrown. India and Burma have rapidly seen religion damage what once existed. India is now dominate by Hinduism, Burma by Buddhism and only recently has Eire thrown off the stifling powers of a Christian sect.  

Finally, as I read in an article by a columnist recently, we need to remember democracy is fragile. Every democracy will contain groups who might be anarchists or fascists – left or right. While the number of members of such groups may be small, their ability can never be underestimated. The importance of security services is, sadly, crucial to the survival of our society. A recent (2018) publication shows how in WW2 dangerous, though small, groups of Nazi sympathisers and anti-Semites, had the potential to inflict serious damage to the war effort. The situation in the UK is explored in detail in a book published in 2018.  

So, it is if I appear over critical of behaviour here, or in the United States, it is because we, together with countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand are the bastions of democracy as we understand it and must all do our best to live up to our fundamental beliefs while fighting the warts that inevitably develop.  

I am sorry, this has all been a bit heavy, but it does follow on from a positive view of the farm.  

To try to add to that balance I have chosen a poem written about spring as seen through the eyes of a child. Not typical of Blake perhaps but so what. 

Sound the flute!  
Now it’s mute!  
Birds delight,  
Day and night,  
In the dale,  
Lark in sky, –  
Merrily, merrily to welcome in the year.  

Little boy,  
Full of joy;  
Little girl,  
Sweet and small;  
Cock does crow,  
So do you;  
Merry voice,  
Infant noise;  
Merrily, merrily to welcome in the year.  
Little lamb,  
Here I am;  
Come and lick  
My white neck;  
Let me pull  
Your soft wool;  
Let me kiss  
Your soft face;  
Merrily, merrily we welcome in the year. 

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