Heat wave poses challenges for UK farming

And still the cuckoo calls! Has he no idea of the near disaster farming in this country is facing as a result of the longest period of heat and lack of rain since 1976? We do still have some grass on some pastures and are not yet feeding our winter stocks. The Bow Brook is very low, the swan on the scrape now has little water to ‘swan around on’, our main ditches somehow contain a small flow of water. Wildlife on the farm has water therefore, but while there is food for fruit, insect, meat and nectar feeders, grass eaters may struggle. The farm is awash with butterflies, moths and insects in a way we have not seen before.

All I can offer is:

Rain, rain do come today

And stay for yet another day.

All that said, it’s been an active and productive week on the farm. On Tuesday all our 250+ lambs were weighed, physically checked, injected with their second clostridial dose, given protection from fly strike and put through a footbath to deal with any scald in the flock. While the average weight at 23 kg is good, the heaviest lamb came in at 39kg while the lightest was only 8! To put that in perspective we had a further set of twins this week.

Animals feeling the heat

The suckler herd and flock now share four fields – chosen not only for having grass but also as they provide shelter from the direct sun at all times of the day. Heat and too much sun are as much a concern for animals as they are for human beings.

Another job that really is a ‘must’ in this weather is making sure the water tanks are clean and full of water. For the moment all seems well, as the photos show – contented cattle and Saturday afternoon’s new heifer calf.

New wwoofers settle in

Faris and Clement have settled in very well and are contributing greatly to a variety of tasks. On Friday morning for example they were out on the tractor giving all our fields a second spraying of 501. They have pulled ragwort, strimmed where the topper could not reach, and picked vast quantities of soft fruit and vegetables. On Friday they did of course watch the World Cup match in which France progressed into the quarter finals.

Hedgerow mapping!

Discovering we had a member of the extended family whose dissertation was on the mapping of hedgerows was a real treat! Chris and Judy therefore spent the better part of two blisteringly hot days this week measuring fences and hedges and photographing broken fence posts, hedges and patches of pasture – all required for our new Stewardship claim – the task is not yet complete but is much further along than it was. Our soil samples proved acceptable so that was good news. My task for next week is to collect in tenders from contractors and seed merchants.

The jobs for next week have already been identified including – once our tractor’s pto is mended – topping and compost spreading, and of course, a great deal of paperwork. At least despite a chest infection, my back and ribs are a bit better, so I can play a greater part in the dealing with non-active jobs.

Reith lectures

I have been listening to the Reith lectures given by Margaret McMillan whose reputation as an historian is internationally recognised. Her studies cover the First World War, the uses and abuses of history, women’s role in the Raj and a fascinating book on that great Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock.

Sadly, I felt the first lecture, which she suggested might better have been titled ‘The Mark of Cain?’ uninspiring and throwing no new light on well-trod paths. A newspaper review suggested it was more of a lecture to ignorant undergraduates and this I think was fair. Perhaps the only point that might cause dissent was the view that warfare/fighting is an essential part of being human.

The second was about the nature of those she described as ‘warriors’ and was certainly more gripping and perhaps more challenging in the way in which she used correspondence from soldiers. It caused me to review what I had heard from both my grandfather and father who fought either in the First or Second World War. For many they were both the best and worst of times. These were citizen soldiers and for the first time in the UK conscription proved necessary. I confess I drifted off task a little when she referred to Rousseau, a so-called philosopher, for whom both as a human being and thinker I have no respect whatsoever.

I am discovering an additional downside to giving or lending books, especially those which threw new light on history, I now have the additional problem that while my memory would find them easily on my own shelves, titles and authors are forgotten – so irritating when you know exactly what the book looked like!

Truth and fake news

I have been ruminating on that most difficult word ‘truth’, particularly in the context of today’s world where a national leader is happy to call something fake news when millions of eyes can see he is lying.

Typical of the way synchronicity works, in the first pages of a novel I am reading I came across a quote by the 17th century Venetian Fra Sarpi:

“I never, never tell falsehoods, but the truth I do not tell to everyone.”

At the risk of sounding defensive of the American President, I wonder how far we have moved from understanding that ‘truth’ is a pretty subjective word, to happily accepting misrepresentations. An obvious one is the celebration of 70 years of the National Health Service which is of course right and proper, but we should also not forget there was a health service before 1948 which by the thirties had improved public health significantly. Similarly, welfare and education had a rather long history of improvement before the Labour government of the post war period. This is not a country in which step changes come, our history is built on growth, often sadly too slow, but, especially since Victorian times when the reality of life for ordinary people was at last not only recognised but actions initiated.

In later years the statement ‘We have never had it so good’ made in the 1950’s was happily mocked, and yet it was on any objective basis completely true. Indeed, it was not until the 1970’s that other European nations caught the UK up in terms of growth, and the explanation for that is quite obvious. The UK spent 5% of its on defence, while other countries essentially spent nothing on defence. Remember in the early 1950’s France was in such an awful financial position that they applied for union with the UK!

How did we allow the Brexit discussion to be so puerile – lies and over the top claims becoming routine?

Why do we accept without complaint that reporting in all forms of the media overdramatises as a matter of course? Relying on statistical ignorance, the misuse of statistics whether about crime, medics, science or just about anything is every day.

The frequent lack of any relation between headlines and the words below is commonplace. Journalists may be loathed or venerated but we ignore the reality that just as companies have a first duty to their shareholders, journalists have a first duty to supply copy which keeps their media outlet viable and provides them with an income, and with the need to supply 24 hours news and newspapers many pages long.

The BBC prides itself on ‘balance’ so giving minority groups, of all varieties, a grossly over powerful influence. Political correctness rules, universities have given up their once valued role of allowing open and free debate and now cower to the power.

But to end on a positive note I discovered a Testament cd of Campoli playing violin sonatas composed by Handel – never even knew they existed, and I have been reading Martin Cruz Smiths latest novel set in Venice. He is, of course, famous for his Arcady Russian series. Those are fairly tough but compelling stories. For readers with weaker stomachs try ‘Rose’. It is set in Victorian times and in the coal industry of that time. A great read which I have turned to several times.

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