If it were not for the utterly depressing political situation, we all would be pretty cheerful this week, despite the desperate act in nature to give us far more than a sensible share of the world’s water. Even writing that makes me feel guilty as other parts of the world suffer from devastating drought or life taking floods.
With that out of the way, I can share with you that our inspection for both Demeter and Pasture-Fed went very well. It was demanding of course, and many hours had been spent in preparation, but the inspection team were appreciative of what they saw. As usual, the first part of the inspection was spent in looking at the pastures, the sheep, the cattle and our infrastructure. Thereafter we worked through the paperwork which covered everything from animal health and treatments, to records of pasture use, sale and purchase records, and overall management. By the end of the exercise both parties were tired but in good spirits.
The evening before, over a fish and chip supper, we had a lengthy review with our vet as to the health status of both the cattle and sheep groups. While there was little to say about the sheep, other than that ‘steady as she goes’ was the right approach; we talked at length about the herd health, time was spent on the outbreak of New Forest Eye among the young stock, and then we talked in particular what to do about the three animals which were possibly carrying Johnnes disease. Among the decisions made were that two of the three cattle, both of which had birthed still born calves should go, that pregnancy testing should be brought forward, and that all animals should have the approved mineral drench (as you may recall our soil is light on a significant number of trace elements).
It was a very useful meeting, and as was also recognised at the inspection, our medical records showed a very low use of allopathic medicines.
The week had other highlights. On both Monday and Tuesday afternoons, a number of fields were sprayed by hand with preparation 500. This was very much a team effort. Tim and Ryan were accompanied by most of the extended family from the youngest to the oldest – a great bonding exercise all led and managed by Anne. The only absentee was myself, but then all know my back problems are just a tedious fact over which I have minimal control.
We had another calf early in the week, and for a day or so had concerns as the calf struggled to find the source of milk but, with help she has managed to work it out in time, and, with her mother, will stay in the barn for a few more days to recover.
The suckler herd are on an old pasture, and these pastures hold up under the wet conditions far better than modern leys. The young stock however had to be brought in for the sake of the fields and so are now in the barn. Far too early really but, needs must.
It is hard to describe how wet the farm is at the moment but even the sheep are getting muddy. Indeed, they were all brought in for checking mid-week because one lamb appeared to have fly strike. In the event it proved to be no more than mud!
We are still without the tractor which makes most jobs harder and some impossible. Tim and Ryan, in preparing the barn for the cattle had to spread the straw by hand. Fortunately, round bales have obvious advantages over rectangular ones in this situation.
Using the tractor as a natural link I understand that some have wondered why we don’t use horses instead. A perfectly reasonable question but the reasons why not, are I think sound.
When Anne was a child her father used heavy horses and had a staff of eight to work his farm of 250 acres. When he retired, he had no horses and only one employee. His original team of eight included a stockman and a ploughman. The latter had responsibilities for the horses since the reality was, and still is, that even heavy horses, have needs that require a dedicated staff member. Add to that the fact that many tasks are just beyond the capabilities of a horse and that every task they could be used for will take horses much longer to carry out than a tractor and then throw into the mix, cost and it all adds up to our owning a horse is just not a possibility.
Clearly tractors are not ideal power sources to use when considering climate change, but in a host of other ways we are trying to minimise our carbon imprint. As more and more information comes into the public domain, the way forward looks ever more challenging and our thinking is not helped by the media’s approach of ignoring any information that runs against the tide of politically correct thinking. For example, it was last July that evidence came out about the dangers to the climate posed by computer servers. It has been calculated, and never challenged, that the emissions from big server centres total as much as the total of all world-wide aircraft emissions. Aside from this, their demand for electricity is predicted shortly to require 20% of world production! And of course, the more we use smart phones and social media, the more server centres are needed.
In so many ways, new knowledge can set us back on our heels. Mind you some is positive. For example, we, like many farmers have worried about moss in our fields and in some instances taken action. Yet a little reflection reminds us of two salient facts. Moss is a natural part of the ecosystem. Moreover, its capacity to hold water significantly exceeds that of grass. Regular grazing by cattle will ensure a good balance between grass and moss is achieved.
The market for beef appears to have slumped by over 10%. Many factors account for this ranging from drought in South American countries causing a flood of meat into our markets, uncertainty about Brexit, and possible tariffs. Add to these, science which makes the fair point that intensively raised cattle fed on cereals could be damaging to the environment and finally, very much of late, veganism. The original source of vegetarianism I had always assumed sprang from concerns about raising animals for eating. However true that might be now, a little delving identified its roots as being in a belief of the Church of Later Day Saints in the 1850’s that eating red meat led to an increase in sexual appetite and unacceptable solo sexual habits. A very different motivation than that which initiated and supports the Vegan Movement.
Essentially we have given up buying a newspaper during the week, but this Friday I found myself buying a copy of the Guardian – a paper which I probably read every day into my mid-forties – and synchronicity struck. The edition contained a long and not uninteresting article on the origins of veganism and its growth in recent years, but also why feelings towards vegans and feeling of vegans towards non-vegans are so malevolent. Worth a read if it comes your way.
I suppose I should remark on the weather we had at the end of the week. In the first decade of the century we coped with several floods in the fields by the Bow Brook – most in the summer rather than the winter. Subsequently we had a period of no floods but very low temperatures in winter. And now we saw slight flooding again after torrential rain on Friday night and Saturday morning. Fortunately, given the low level of water in the two brooks, and the short headwaters of brooks, and the forecast for the coming week, by Monday the waters will have receded. Whatever, no animals were at risk, and that was the really important issue. If you live in an area like this, it is important to realise that the real floods come after the rainfall has ceased! Perversely, but this is England, Sunday morning came with bright sunshine and a heavy frost.
Despite the bountiful food supplies in our hedgerows and wild areas, the bird feeder is as popular as ever – indeed on Saturday there were seven small birds on it at the same time. Among the usual users a young woodpecker is now a regular visitor. A bird we never see on it is a jay. Indeed, it is only at this time of year that jays are frequently seen. For many years, jays like magpies, were regarded as vermin. While magpies seem to have lost all fear of humans, that is not the case with the jay. A great pity that, since they are such a colourful sight, but it is only during acorn fall that they are usually seen.
A last political comment: polls published on Friday suggested a large proportion of those polled believed physical violence was acceptable behaviour towards politicians. For my generation, Edward Gibbons ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, even if only read in the truncated edition published by Penguin Books, was a salutary reminder that Empires naturally came and went. I suspect the next equivalent blockbuster will be the ‘Rise and Fall of the Anglo-American world’…
This has been a demanding week for all of us here, not least because dealings with the Rural Payments Agency are a nightmare but cannot be ignored because for us and all farmers, some 40% of our income comes from that very same agency. But we survive, so far only battered, rather than defeated.
In these circumstances I share a poem I often turn to when the absurdities of human behaviour oppress me:
‘You are old, Father William’ (1865) by Lewis Carrol
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door –
Pray, what is the reason of that?”
“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment – one shilling the box –
Allow me to sell you a couple?”
“You are old,” said the youth, “and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak –
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”
“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose –
What made you so awfully clever?”
“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you downstairs!”