The fall of more rain this past week had been very welcome as it will further encourage the growth in the pastures, though whether the two fields we have composted, and chain harrowed in the past few days will provide the second cut we need is still in the lap of the gods!
Mid-week the lambs were weighed, and the average weight is up by 10kg with a good number ready for sale. The first of those will go at the weekend. All the sheep, ewes and lambs were checked for condition, and as I said last week, only a handful of the nearly 400 animals needed attention to feet. We did in fact lose a ram this week, almost certainly to old age. The entire flock has now gone onto a fresh pasture.
The cattle have also been moved and we stay as calm as we can as the date for TB testing gets ever closer! In the meantime, all I can say is they look a credit to the farm. The herd has increased in number by the birth of a new heifer calf.
Joan was away for the long weekend after a week in which he has come to terms with handling sheep as well as cattle. He was involved in tagging the new calf and in the weighing of the lambs and condition checking ewes and lambs. All this as well as digging up two tree stumps – happily he remains cheerful!
I have just reread the survey we had carried out in 2007 on the flora and fauna to be found in the farm. Hares then were rarely seen, how things change. It was no surprise on Wednesday evening that we came across two hares in one field since the number of hares on the farm has greatly increased. Mind you, if we had not young eyes to spot them on Wednesday I would have seen the field as being empty. I suspect the number of deer has fallen, but they do roam and only come back to the wood in winter. During other months they lie up in the long strand of uncultivated land which was the ‘long gallop.’ Swallows seem to be less abundant but are usually to be seen where the cattle are. Otherwise I am sure a fresh survey would show an increase in both numbers and varieties of plants, insects, birds and wild life.
At last some ‘hard’ information about what a no deal Brexit might mean. As a first response: relief that some thinking has been put in, and relief that government funding for basic payments is guaranteed till 2022, and Stewardship schemes for their full ten-year life time.
The sting in that tail appears to be coming from the EU. Apparently, our organic certification will not be recognised, and we will have to meet new requirements. As you all know, we are certified currently both by the Soil Association and Demeter. It feels ironic that a certification originating from Europe – Demeter, will not be recognised. Ironic also that the Soil Association, which very recently altered its certification requirements to match European demands, should also be unacceptable.
Add on to that the knock-on effects of there being less money in customers pockets and possible increased costs of organic hard feed for our ewes and….
But the real danger is that this farm, like the majority of small to medium sized farms, financially survives only because we have, as demanded by government and forced by artificially low food prices, diversified by establishing a small company which sells Demeter, and hence organic, baby foods. As no such quality food is produced in the U.K we have had to turn to Europe and all that is sold is imported. The extra income thus produced enables us to farm as we do and support three families if they live frugally. If that extra income goes, it is very hard to see the way forwards.
A recent reading of a book review took me straight back into the political turmoil of mid-seventeenth England and Scotland; as always, something new was learnt:
John Lilburne, ‘leveller’ then ‘agitator ‘but never a ‘digger’ was, it appears, a key thinker in influencing those who wrote the American constitution, and also as an authority still referred to in American legal judgements. Though a name unknown to most and forgotten by many of us who perhaps ought to remember, him he was enormously popular and highly regarded in his time, despite his abject failure to control his behaviour. Incidentally he eventually became a Quaker though it is hard to see how he fitted into that community.
Another book just published reminds us that high ideals were held to in earlier times: In the 18th century the view of the Royal Society was that “No European nation has the right to occupy any part of a country found by British explorers, or settle among them without their voluntary consent”, and from another source “No accession to the British Empire should be made by fraud or violence”. In India until the mid-eighteen twenties, marriage between English traders and company officials and Indians was regarded as culturally unexceptional, while the East India Company refused to engage in the trading of heroin to China. Sadly, it is only too easy to understand how greed, self-interest and external threats destroyed all this.
It was very interesting to hear Simon Jenkins making the point that we are allowing terrorism to influence everyday life too much. He was arguing that the London landscape was being disfigured by concrete and steel barriers to protect the public from attack, even though the situation in this country is hardly akin to Afghanistan. Where has proportionality gone – at some point the law of ‘diminishing returns’ inevitably comes into play. We have cattle. Every year in this country, one or two farmers or farm workers get killed by the farm’s animals. Obviously, this is a danger all have to recognise, and to take sensible precautions to reduce risk. But all day our lives are at risk just by living, indeed the home seems to be the most dangerous place of all!
This shift towards trying to ignore certain realities is part of a cultural change which assumes ‘accidents’ must be caused by failure by somebody. There is a thirst for blame and immediate action and rejection of any sense of personal responsibility. Associated with this trend seems to be the view that you are either for me – a friend, or against me – an enemy.
All this seems to relate to a reality which was recently, openly, expressed by Michael Gove – that the notion of ‘rights’ is entirely a human concept – “having enough food is a matter of public good not a right”, and illuminates the mistaken belief of most that rights are god given.
Also, interesting to hear that hoarding is now recognised as an anxiety related mental illness! Certainly, I had a period in my life when I haunted the local library to pick up for small change rejected books. I admit I had a real fear of boredom – bizarre since I now find I have just too many books to read and too many CD’s to play – pity we are not designed so that each eye can read a separate book at the same time and similarly for each ear!
At 9.30 in the evening on the BBC news channel it appears that a regular feature is a survey of weather around the world. It seems to be the season for tropical storms in the eastern half of the Southern Hemisphere. Knowing much more now than I did about European traders in this part of the world, astonishment at their courage in facing not just uncharted waters but horrific weather at certain times in the year – last week I commented on our risk adverse society, what would those characters make of us modern day Europeans!
One of the poems that has never left my mind is by W.H.Davies and is just entitled ‘Sheep’. The poet is probably best remembered today by his “Autobiography of a Super Tramp”. “Sheep” is too sad I think for sharing today, but having celebrated cows last week, I have turned to a poem by Ellis Butler the American author and poet which does I feel go well with last week’s poem.
The Sheep by Ellis Parker Butler
The Sheep adorns the landscape rural
And is both singular and plural—
It gives grammarians the creeps
To hear one say, “A flock of sheeps.”
The Sheep is gentle, meek and mild,
And led in herds by man or child—
Being less savage than the rabbit,
Sheep are gregarious by habit.
The Sheep grows wool and thus promotes
The making of vests, pants and coats—
Vests, pants and coats and woollen cloths
Provide good food for hungry moths.
With vegetables added to
The Sheep, we get our mutton stew—
Experiments long since revealed
The Sheep should first be killed and peeled.
Thus, with our debt to them so deep,
All men should cry “Praise be for Sheep!”—
And, if we happen to be shepherds,
“Praise be they’re not as fierce as leopards!”