The week on the farm was largely dominated by the snow which remained ‘clean, crisp and even’ for the greater part of the week, accompanied at night by low temperatures not experienced for several years. The coldest we have ever experienced here was -17C; this past week was some way short of that at -10C.
The sheep had to be moved onto fields where feeders could be placed on hard ground, but otherwise, they coped well with the 6 inches of snow we had. Despite the icy roads, another 30 lambs went off to Fordhall Farm and we were very happy with their weights and condition.
A real downside of the snowfall, apart from the extra feed needed by the sheep, is the large puddles left in two of the fields. The puddles in the field by the drive are the direct cause of the demise of long stretches of daffodils.
The snowfall added urgency to our regular item for discussion in the winter – how supplies of haylage, organic straw and bedding straw were holding up. These are the sort of concerns not perhaps understood outside the farming world. The issue is not just about whether and when we might run short, but about balancing costs against the damage to field structure by both poaching by the animal’s feet, and over-grazing.
One of our regular reads is the NFU’s magazine titled British Farmer and Grower. Mostly there is little of interest since the NFU has minimal interest in small and middle-sized farms, let alone those that are organic, but the January issue – incidentally why do we get issues for the month ahead rather than the month we are in – did contain three interesting articles, one of which was about the government’s figures for farm income for the previous year, which are shared each year.
As has been the case for several years now, in farm sectors such as cereals, grazing stock and mixed farms, all made a loss on their direct agricultural activities. As seems always to be the case, grazing livestock achieves the lowest farm business income. Again, as always, without agri-environmental schemes, what used to be called the Rural Payment Scheme and diversification are critical in determining whether farming makes any sort of profit or, more likely, makes a loss. With the loss of the significant financial support from the Business Park it has been increasingly important we find other income streams and we are working very hard to achieve this.
A further heifer calf was born towards the end of last week and seems to be doing well. Our concerns about last week’s calf were lifted as it ended the week apparently ‘full of life’. Otherwise the only cattle event was the night they pushed open one of the gates and got free access to enjoy baled hay not scheduled for their enjoyment this week. No need for real alarm as other gates ensured they could not stray far. Now that numbers are over 60 we are starting to wonder whether without further building we can accommodate many more.
Usually when snow is lying on the ground, foot prints in the snow reveal wild life activity. This year few signs were seen, so we assume the animals remained in the wood. On the other hand, birdlife was more apparent. Three herons were seen roosting in a willow tree by the brook, the bird feeder was finally rediscovered and, sadly, the jackdaws returned.
In the middle of the week we had our annual meeting with Anne Gibbs, our farm veterinary surgeon, to review the year that had passed. The starting point was our notes from the previous year’s meeting discussed against our notes of the year that had passed in terms of both the sheep and cattle. As always, we felt the discussion valuable and have decided small adjustments to our practice. Over ten years of such meetings there has been a noticeable shift towards concern about the soil and the life within it.
One of the annual events is the completion of the sheep and goat inventory. It requires all farmers to list the exact number of animals on the 1st of December. At nearly every one of our weekly farm meetings I try to pin my colleagues down on exactly how many sheep we have but rarely get a clear answer. So, it was last December I wrote in as honest a figure for the number of breeding ewes. It proved significantly wrong because two uncastrated lambs impregnated a fair number of the ewe lambs they were with!
For the record, this year I wrote in 150 breeding ewes and 220 other sheep – I hope I am correct. Sadly, I have to admit that I have no idea what central government does with all this dubious information.
My Cornish Grandma P. who was the matriarch of the family – strong in her religious beliefs, astonishingly capable – at the age of 67 she took over running our household after my mother died – frighteningly knowledgeable despite leaving school at 12, a first-rate brain and hence great bezique player and a woman of prodigious memory who loved reciting poetry. One of her favourite poems to recite was the ‘Jackdaw of Rheims’ – whether this was because of its anti-Catholicism or its humour I was never certain. The point of this tale is that I don’t think I had ever seen a jackdaw before we moved here and now, like magpies, are birds easy to dislike
I have received quite a lot of correspondence from friends who are former woofers, and was touched by the very nice comments recorded by Anthony on the Wwoofer UK website relating to his stay here and written on his and Thibaut’s behalf. I owe many people replies, including Thibaut, but finding a moment when my back-pain lapses enough and also coincides with a correspondence mood is rare at the moment. So, my apologies to all I owe replies to, and also for the fact that for the second Christmas in a row my activities on the Christmas card front are all but non- existent; if it were not for Anne some may well have concluded we had died!
I have made clear before my lack of interest in Cornish nationalism, despite an ancestry which is Cornish on both my father and mother’s side. This week was the last episode of the radio programme ‘Then and Now’ and the comparison this week was between the recent ‘rebellion’ in Catalonia and the Cornish ‘rebellion’ of 1643 led by Sir Richard Grenville.
All very interesting, but very puzzling since the only Grenville I remembered was an Elizabethan, and the only Cornish rebellion I was aware of was in 1497. The Grenville told of in the story was known as ‘Skellum Grenville’, a clear reflection on his approach to life!
An entertaining programme, but rather a stretch of reality. The events of 1642/43 that I am aware of are vividly brought to life in the well-loved novel ‘The King’s General’ by Daphne du Maurier which was not referenced in the radio programme at all. Neither, surprisingly, was any reference made to the DNA research that has shown the Tamar does actually mark two slightly different populations.
I have been up front about my lack of enthusiasm for much of the music of the great composer Bach. Actually, it is the music of his sons that I have always enjoyed more and recently I have spent a lot of time listening to the ‘London Bach’.
Alongside this attraction to that period of music I have always been a great fan of Haydn and always come back to the Haydn Quartets for moments of quiet peace.
There was some family groaning last week as a further box of Haydn quarters, in this case played by the Pro Arte group and recorded in the late thirties, arrived. I can highly recommend this set of 29 sonatas – fantastic sound and playing.
As many of you may agree, listening to music on headphones, however good quality they might be, is best used for small scale music since the concertos and symphonies of the 19th and 20th symphonies can be very overwhelming when pumped directly into one’s head!
A last spasm of negativity. Listening to a lunch time broadcast on radio 3 I was hit by what I can only describe as discordant noise. I was so irritated that I ‘stuck it out’ solely to discover who was the composer of this ghastly stuff. I should, of course, have guessed – Shostakovich and his 5th string quintet.
And so, let us move to a cheerier note on which to end; to wish you all, where ever in the world you are reading this, seasons greetings for the next week ahead, and for the week after, let me wish us all a far more peaceful, safe, healthy, happy and even keeled new year. Thank you for accompanying me and the farm through this year, and from us all, Merry Christmas!