Herbal leys and native trees

I had intended, just for a change, to start with the weather but we are all still reeling from watching the American Senate hearing on Thursday. It was worse than all the ‘soaps’ added together; sleaze, bizarre behaviour from the would-be Supreme Court Judge, a meeting chaired in the most partisan manner, and republican senators lacking any sense of self control. I think we have to replace the word ‘bless’ in ‘ God bless America’ with ‘help’. The woman involved, Dr Ford, was the only one to come out of all this with credit.

The whole episode was truly awful and displayed the American justice and political system as probably beyond redemption. We can despair at the current state of politics in this country but let us hope we never sink to the levels we saw this week in America.

An Indian Summer

It was sad to experience all that, since for the majority of this week we have had a lovely Indian summer; a touch of ground frost at night together with warm sunny days following – delightful, though at our farm meeting on Friday inevitably there were grumbles about the lack of rain!

The week has seen quite a lot of work for the team on the business park but also further tidying of the workshop, a matter dear to the heart of Chris. Jack came across pieces of ‘tack’ that he had never seen before and had no notion of their possible use!

Next week Jack will have another new experience, filling the cow horns, and when full, burying them for use as preparation 500 next year. There are also five compost heaps that need to have the biodynamic treatment. Whether or not we spray again later in October is not yet decided.

Loss of a ewe

Sadly, we have lost a ewe this week. As normal there were no obvious symptoms, but such deaths, fortunately for us, are not a common problem. Equally sad are the birthing troubles with one of our oldest cows. The prognosis is not good despite the best efforts of our vet. That out of over 120 births this is the first where we may lose both calf and cow doesn’t really help.

We had expected to deliver 18 lambs next Wednesday, but the request is now for delivery on Sunday. To select these, all the lambs will have to go through the race and this is not the way Chris expected to spend Sunday!

Herbal leys and native trees

Though we have had to move the lambs, all other stock have plenty of grass where they are. It feels slightly ironic that the field that has had the most compost this year has performed rather poorly. Talking about pastures, our experience mirrors much of what has been said on the Pasture Fed site, that herbal leys coped far better with this year’s drought than conventional ones. Here the chicory is about to burst into flower for a second time!

Incidentally, the wider world appears to have caught up with the fact that sheep and cattle benefit from, and enjoy, leaves and young growth from most of our native trees. Those of you who have been to the farm may well have noticed how the large willow trees on the left of the drive in the field mainly occupied by the rams have no growth below about 5 feet – clear evidence of how much the sheep enjoy willow. This year we ourselves did indeed supplement the grass with tree trimmings. It all makes sense since, of course, newly planted trees require protection from domestic animals as much as from rabbits and deer.

TB discussions ahead

We have now been paid for the three cattle taken away on the instructions of the government chief vet, and on the 8th October, we will have a formal visit by a government vet to discuss how and why TB could have struck a closed herd. In passing, it will be interesting to learn whether any of the three animals actually had the disease. Among the four that we sold last week, which included an ‘inconclusive reactor’, no health problems were reported.

Locally there has been a bumper crop for apples and so far, we have sent off about a ton of apples for pressing to supply us with juice for the winter. I have been toying with the idea that perhaps we should bring back the mash since our cattle love apples so much.

Away from the farm and business park, my mind has as usual been buzzing with a wide variety of thoughts arising out of conversations, radio programmes and reading. Showing, I hope, commendable restraint, I restrict myself to two issues which I hope ‘ring bells’ with others.

DNA sequencing

While I can understand the possible importance of DNA sequencing to improving health, and perhaps in determining a child’s parentage, I am less sure of its other uses. I concede my knowledge may be very out of date since it goes no further than the work of Bryan Sykes and his team, and that must be at least ten years old, but it smacks a little to me of the enthusiasm in genetics shown by the left wing and some extremists on the far right in the decades before the last war.  I suspect that their thinking was rather wider than what we describe as ethnic cleansing today, which appears to be more to do with religion or culture.

Aside from casual curiosity, knowing one’s DNA merely confirms that, for most of us, at least, we are mongrels.  For the purpose of debate and perhaps to irritate the sensitive, I am, when it suits my purpose, happy to make the claim that I am, unusually, English through and through, but in truth if my statement means anything at all it merely refers to aspects of my cultural position. I could claim to be Cornish since family on both sides have ancestral links but if I were seriously to claim it, what else might I  claim…

I am not decrying interest in ancestry, nor how satisfying an interest it can be, but aside from it being interesting, it is hard to see how one can use it either as an excuse for present behaviour or as a source of pride. We are not actually pedigree cattle or sheep even if John Gray argues we are, at the end of the day, just animals.  We are no more responsible for the sins of our fathers than entitled to take credit for their achievements – should they have had any!

The significance of the sea

A matter that has been rumbling around in my head, perhaps because I have to hand a biography of a great-great-grandfather, is the degree to which modern Britain seem to have completely lost sight of the significance of the sea in our history. All that seems to remain are a large number of idioms – mostly inexplicable to many – reflecting that past, and a medley of hornpipes traditionally played at the last night of the Proms.

Yet the sea was critically important to this country in so many ways. Indeed, there is no way to understand our history without understanding that. From the peopling of these islands, through to the creation of the largest trading block in the world, shipping of various forms has been essential. Going to church in Great Yarmouth at the height of the herring season, the hymn which was sung each week lustily by Scottish and English alike was “Eternal father strong to save, whose arm hath bound the restless wave” and where the last line of the first three verses reads” for those in peril on the seas”.

At one time ‘Cargoes‘ was a poem all would have been exposed to, and remembered for its last verse:

“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,

Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,

With a cargo of Tyne coal.

Road-rails, pig-lead,

Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays”

Or the opening line of the poem ‘Sea fever’

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,”

All these, and many other poems, were written by John Masefield (1878 to 1967) a poet largely forgotten and ignored today.

Thinking of my great-great-grandfather, who spent his life at sea from an early age and lost it when his ship hit a shoal in the entrance to Madras harbour, I turn again to John Masefield for another, perhaps less familiar poem.

Masefield was acutely aware from personal experience of the dangers that seamen were exposed to, and faced up to that reality, in a number of poems such as the one below. What it is not is a plagiarism of Tennyson’s ‘In memoriam’.


HARBOUR-BAR by John Masefield written in 19011


All in the feathered palm-tree tops the bright green parrots screech,

The white line of the running surf goes booming down the beach, 

But I shall never see them, though the land lies close aboard, 

I’ve shaped the last long silent tack as takes one to the Lord.


Give me the Scripters, Jakey, ‘n’ my pipe atween my lips,

I’m bound for somewhere south and far beyond the track of ships;

I’ve run my rags of colours up and clinched them to the stay, 

And God the pilot’s come aboard to bring me up the bay.

You’ll mainsail-haul my bits o’ things when Christ has took my soul, ‘

‘N’ you’ll lay me quiet somewhere at the landward end the Mole, 

Where I shall hear the steamers’ sterns a-squattering from the heave, 

And the topsail blocks a-piping when a rope-yarn fouls the sheave.


Give me a sup of lime-juice; Lord, I’m drifting in to port, 

The landfall lies to windward and the wind comes light and short,

And I’m for signing off and out to take my watch below, 

And – prop a fellow, Jakey-Lord, it’s time for me to go!

And compare this with the final written words of the same man at 85:

‘Let no religious rite be done or read

In any place for me when I am dead,
But burn my body into ash, and scatter
The ash in secret into running water,
Or on the windy down, and let none see;
And then thank God that there’s an end of me.’

I read that he was honoured with being the last poet to be buried in Westminster Abbey. Having read his final lines, this perhaps sums life up nicely.

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