It’s raining calves!

I am well aware that not all of you read past the farm news, and that some find the poems rather a ‘turn off’. Defensively, let me say it is not an affectation but more a feeling such as expressed by Robert Bridges a onetime Poet Laureate. I paraphrase: ‘Poetry is the most intimate expression of human spirit’. 

Bridges was a Christian poet and of his time and so, while accepting music as another form of spiritual expression, felt its moral purpose was uncertain, while “Poetry is of set purpose devoted to the high imaginative task of displaying the beauty, solemnity and mystery of man’s life on Earth”. I can well imagine what Spike Milligan might have said about such grandiose words but he himself actually took much of the poetry he wrote very seriously.

To the week just passed then, and what television programmes and tourist photographs fail to show is just what it is actually like in reality to work on a wet farm when the rain is falling and wherever animals or vehicles have been is just squelchy mud. It is not a world for the faint hearted even with modern waterproof clothing and warm homes to return to. Even the dogs can lose their enthusiasm for unnecessary excursions from their beds. 

What they also utterly fail to convey is how totally unfit for purpose the RPA is and the effects of that on farmers stupid enough to participate in their environmental schemes.

Communications received from them on Thursday morning saw me incandescent with rage and led to me telephoning their offices and telling some poor individual exactly what I thought of the management and its incompetence.

Apart from everything else, they appear to start from the position that all of us are cheats by nature. Typical of a world in which the well behaved get hammered but the real crooks get away with murder. The call made me feel slightly better, but I suspect it will be water off a duck’s back.

As a result, I had to take a diazepam and listen to a Mass by Michael Haydn to regain some sense of calm. Not at all good for my heart let alone our finances.

Clement said at lunch on Wednesday ‘it’s raining calves’. In the event we have had three. Two required no assistance, but one required serious manpower. In fairness it should be said that over the years calving has rarely been a problem.

I am also happy to share with you our reluctant mother is now becoming much more motherly! We have yet to book in with the vet our TB and SAC herd health test but that is a job that needs doing.

Very sadly Clement is on his way to Ireland next weekend. He will be remembered for so many positive contributions to our lives while he has stayed here – and not least the walk he and Katja took Rosie and Boots on yesterday. Saturday was actually relatively warm and sunny so the two ‘grown ups’ took the children and four dogs on a long farm walk. The walk included wading through the water to the small island in the large scrape, finding an egg which probably came from a goose, and ‘flushing’ two hares. This last led Boots into a fruitless chase. The egg could have come from a swan as the scrape, and this year the ‘lake’, do have swans in residence.

As Clement starts on his last week here, a new woofer from Germany joined us today. Furkan’s first experience of the farm could have been of loading sheep into the trailer – in at the deep end so to speak – but since he had no sleep he was let off! Hopefully the ‘overlap’ of a week with Clement will make his settling in easier.

The sheep appear to be doing reasonably well, but the need to start feeding some if not all the ewes high protein nuts is getting close. Scanning in is now booked, and ewes carrying multiples will be certainly require the extra protein. The number of lambs we have left to sell is now less than a hundred. It is one of the small ironies of life that we decided to reduce our sheep numbers to allow more cattle partly because of the market but this has now ‘flipped’! Certainly, this year our breeding flock is smaller than it has been for many years.

For the last few years we have spoken about buying in a new ram, this year we really must, and at the same time dispose of most of our existing rams. We need to bring fresh blood into the flock even if this years’ lambs have exhibited good conformity.

After much use, the high-pressure hosing machine has left the farm. It was certainly worth hiring for, apart from flushing out all the pipes on the business park, drainage in some fields has been much improved. There are still more headwalls to discover and so the task is not complete – indeed the lake in field 6 remains.

I remember writing some months ago about active volcanoes in Germany associated with the upper Rhine gaben or Rift Valley. Deep excavation in the business park has been difficult given the willingness of the sides to collapse. Turning to my geological map I realised it must be our location in the Worcester graben that is bounded on the west by the Malvern fault and on the east by the Inkberrow fault that is the problem. From the photos it is possible to see the soil layering with mudstones at the bottom. Fascinating stuff but a real problem for Martin who is doing the work.

We are closing in on that time when we have to plan both our seeding programme, but perhaps even more importantly how we cope with HTS requirements as to fields resown not being grazed during the late spring. All this of course without us having any idea as to what the weather may be in 2020. Additionally, we have still some 9 kilometres of fencing to replace before the end of the year. 

Perhaps the return of Death in Paradise comes at just the right time!

Witchcraft in England! 

A lifetime ago, I had a friend who had chosen witchcraft in England as the subject for his dissertation. At the time we all thought him strange in the head, but my own reading since then has forced me to accept that this is a topic of some interest. Now I am reading a novel by L C Tyler, the latest in a series set in the middle of the 17th century. A man is murdered, and the villagers believe it was the local witch ‘what done it’.

I have only one book on my shelves dealing solely with this issue, so I had to turn to the internet both to confirm and update my limited knowledge. I quickly became fascinated and finally realised why my friend had gone in this direction. Statistics are fascinating but merely lead to other questions. For example, why did witchcraft executions in Wales number but a handful, why proportionately were there so many more in Scotland. Why were certain areas in England particularly strong in their beliefs? Essex, east Anglia, Kent and Devon had more executions than in the rest of England. And of course, why was this such a deep rooted belief in Europe that it appears the figure for those executed was between 40,000 and 60,000 against a figure of around 500 from the time of the Norman conquest to today for the U.K.

Are we seeing a return these days to the view that nothing happens by accident? Is the ‘blame game’ no more than a modern replacement?

Incidentally the writing is first class. While the story is about a period and time hard to understand, the author manages to balance the darkness with humanity and the sort of humour Shakespeare might recognise. Moreover, the research behind the story sits lightly.

A busy spring garden

I had in mind a verse by Thomas Hardy, but especially as in our garden the snowdrops and winter aconite are out, visited this weekend by honey bees, and the crocuses will soon be, the daffodils shoots are now 4” high while if you look closely there are cyclamen, periwinkles and hellebore flowers to be found, while our hazel trees have catkins and the ornament fruit trees have ever expanding buds, I have gone for an earlier poet.

‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ By William Wordsworth

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;*
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:—
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

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