From Invertebrates to Opiates!

You might well have expected some comment on the first of a three match test series with the West Indies. In the circumstances I can think of nothing printable!

There is no particular news on our animals. As indicated last week the lambs have been moved on to a fresh patch, but otherwise the ewes continue to move around the five fields they have open to them. Amusingly on Monday night when we had a thick fog, while out on my nightly dog walk, I smelt the sheep long before they could be in sight. Such a very different smell from that of the cattle in the barn.

Pre-calving support for in-calf cows

There has been a voluminous number of emails on the issue of pre-calving support of in-calf cows. I have been much cheered by two farmers who run Herefords, including traditional Hereford’s, expressing surprise that this such a big issue for so many colleagues in Pasture-Fed. Obviously we cannot just dismiss the matter without thought, and indeed have used bolus’s when blood samples justify it, but not in connection with pre-calving. Many farmers obviously use broad spectrum bolus’s as a matter of course, while others only use them where blood samples show trace element deficiencies. We reviewed our position at Friday’s farm meeting and agreed after the TB testing and PD scanning on the 8th we should carry out two reviews. The first amongst ourselves is whether some cows are failing to calve regularly, the second, involving Anne Gibbs our vet is to review evidence from the last blood testing and see if we need to test again.

In passing. it is clear that there are a range of views as to the best time for weaning – not a matter on which we have a fixed policy. and in all honesty all we have to go on is the indicative information from the scanning.

Compost & Invertebrates

We can look forward to having plenty of compost in due course – another 14 trailer loads have been put on to the pile in field 6, and there will be more to come before the cattle are let out. The dank weather meant more bedding straw was used than was ideal, but the key consideration has to be animal welfare.

There has also been a much interest, together with suggestions, on the importance of invertebrates on any farm. Some ten years ago we commissioned a whole farm survey on invertebrates to be found here. Reviewing changes on the farm, I can see no reason why this should be an issue here. Hedges remain a key feature of the farm, uncultivated areas have not been reduced, much cut timber in the wood has been routinely left in piles to rot, the cattle are not wormed, ewes are wormed only at turn out, and most lambs are drenched only the once. Admittedly we have ceased growing any cereal, but that, essentially, is the only change. However, given that we have an expert on this issue farming just down the road, a discussion will be initiated. One thing does seem certain – car windscreens do not get spattered with dead insects as they used to. 

Obviously, if this a real issue, there is a simple solution – farm organically!

Birdlife on the Farm

With the forthcoming bird survey in mind, I can report the sighting of a nuthatch but not of a blackcap. These were common visitors to our garden in the centre of Bromsgrove. Perhaps certain animals and birds have discovered urban living suits them best. We watched a heron a few mornings ago – as an exemplar of stillness it was most impressive. More negatively, I need to admit I have developed a very real dislike of jackdaws and squirrels, a shift from my long-term dislike of magpies. For rabbits my feeling are ambivalent except I would prefer they died from natural predators rather than man induced disease. Fortunately, a stoat or stoats have taken up residence close to the vegetable patch leaving us only seriously challenged by slugs.

Archaeology, history and cannabis

Archaeologists and anthropologists are renowned for their ability to speculate and build castles in the air from fragments of information or misunderstanding. In the area anthropology, Margaret Mead is a leading example; in the area of archaeology, an example was the belief that the Anglo-Saxon invaders wiped out the British population. The latest speculation comes from a study of the Kung tribe who are a Bushman people living in the Kalahari. It appears that this group maintains civil stability by the killing of violent individuals who threaten this. Is it possible that capital punishment historically fulfilled the same role? Going back a few centuries in this country life often ended brutally if individuals were seen to be a threat to society. (In the time of the Ottoman Empire the Law of Fratricide prevailed until the 27th century, the first action required of a new Sultan was to have killed all male relations in order to reduce the chance for challenge). Actually, the numbers executed in England were not in general that great since juries felt more comfortable with sentences of transportation!

A comment from Anne on the acceptance of cannabis in Canada and many states in the USA led me to indulge in a small speculation myself. Opiate use has been a feature of life in the UK for many years – laudanum, for example was an accepted part of life and in the port’s heroin dens became a common feature. After the ending of the East India Company, the sale of heroin into China by American and British merchants all but destroyed Chinese society as it was then. How ironic that our Anglo-American world is now struggling to cope with the impact of opiates and their use by all classes. The loss of the American colonies in the late 18th century led to a strong public feeling that God had withdrawn his favour from the ‘English’. Should we now be feeling God has decided we need to suffer from past misdeeds? (I do realise that it is no longer acceptable to see ‘English’ as a shorthand for all the denizens of these islands).

Quietly stuck in the 15th century and other reading

While I continue to read Robert Tombs, the truth is that I am still no further than the 15th century, since every paragraph requires thoughtful reflection and often re-consideration of my prior thinking.

I read a book titled ‘Quiet’ by an American author addressed to introverts who feel undervalued by a society which appears to applaud and cherish extroverts. Though I did not find the book that interesting, it did give us an issue which prompted discussion and debate over at least two lunchtimes! If we did reach any conclusion it was that we all, were, depending on a host of factors, able to display characteristics of both types.

A lifetime ago I was greatly enthused by a book called ‘The making of the English landscape’ by W.G Hoskins, first published in 1955 and, having read a review of a new book called ‘Origins’, I rushed out to find my copy of that book. This new book by Lewis Dartnell underlines the significance of geology and in particular the influence of the moving of the tectonic plates over time on the development of human civilisation. I shall buy it! What also came to mind was a book by the celebrated anthropologist Jacquetta Hawkes published in 1951 and called ‘A land’. In these enlightened days biographers are more interested in her active sex life and on/off relationship with J B Priestly.

I suppose I should also refer to John Ruskin in this bicentenary of his birth. I felt the need to at least look again at his three-volume set of ‘The stones of Venice’. Sadly, my set is not a first printing but what is described as a ‘New Edition’ and dated 1873. The set is in a pretty good state, though with some ‘foxing’. The illustrations are staggeringly good, and the preface is a delight to read. The third volume explored the design of 20 Venetian churches and his bile at architects and builders only operating according to this third volume is excellent. Most of what he saw being built or already built, incurred his straight forward contempt; ironically, the only piece of architect he approved of was the portal he discovered that fronted a public house – and this triggered real dismay. Sadly, the man is only remembered for false stories relating to his one and only marriage rather than for his work which included being the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford, his poetry, his philosophy, concern for the environment and strong belief fine art should be accessible to all. A belief that in due course inspired Kenneth Clarke to create that amazing television series and subsequent book ‘Civilisation’.

A snippet of Brexit

One matter I felt unable to refer to last week was that I watched and listened to almost all the five days of ‘debate’ on Brexit – although why it is called a debate when they clearly don’t listen to one another is a real puzzle. This ‘exercise’ both exhausted and depressed me since, by and large, speeches were both poor and ill informed. I admit, much to my surprise, the only speaker who impressed was Michael Gove. The sooner the dark cloud hanging over all our heads is removed the sooner will levels of depression lift. The ability also to blame anybody but themselves was hardly surprising since politicians of both sides have spent the last 40 odd years speaking and writing negatively about Europe. An interesting argument is that the year 2012 was what really shifted public thinking, and that was the treatment of Greece followed by the European Court’s judgement on migrants. Despite that politicians and the media must carry most of the blame, it has not helped of course that leaders in Europe both nationally and at the top of the European Commission have found it impossible to show any flexibility. We worry about ourselves but in a bigger way our concerns might be better addressed at the house of cards that the EU represents.

This weeks poem and a gentle challenge

This is from one of the 63 poems that make up the extended poem ‘The Shropshire Lad’. The high street in Bromsgrove bears a statue of the great man and his former home is now used to house the VI form pupils of Bromsgrove School. As to why he became so attached to Shropshire I do not know.

Blue Remembered Hills by A E Housman 

‘Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again’

And finally, a mild challenge. I have been reading William Langdale, who also wrote in Middle English, but the anonymous poem below predates either Langdale or Chaucer.  It seems to have been dropped from modern anthologies though it was once included in most. I hasten to add not chosen to reflect my state of mind. And like the Housman poem above written by an author who lived not so far from here and in the language spoken in Worcestershire and Herefordshire in the 14th century

Wynter wakeneth al my care,
Nou this leves waxeth bare;
Ofte I sike ant mourne sare
When hit cometh in my thoht
Of this worldes joie, hou hit goth al to noht.

Nou hit is, and nou hit nys,
Al so hit ner nere, ywys;
That moni mon seith, soth hit ys:
Al goth bote Godes wille:
Alle we shule deye, thah us like ylle.

Al that gren me graueth grene,
Nou hit faleweth albydene:
Jesu, help that hit be sene
Ant shild us from helle!
For y not whider y shal, ne hou longe her duelle

The last three lines ease the translation process!

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