Our first cut for haylage

Our first cut for haylage

Watching Sibley bat reminded me very much of watching a Test Match at Old Trafford in the dim and distant past – perhaps 1980? – when the crowd got so restive, they were begging the other side – Australia? – to get him out. I think it may have been the match when Botham and Lilley really went to town. And now it is to be Lord Botham, the world gets ever stranger.

In truth this has been a rather uneventful week on the farm, indeed the cricket rather mirrored it. That in no way is a complaint, nor does it mean that there was nothing done. Nor was it a result of the weather though that has been fairly miserable and already leaving us feeling as though autumn is all but here.

The weather has at least allowed one field to be chain harrowed, and another rolled. It also seems clear that some topping is needed in several fields to deal with the dry grass stalks which no animal will touch, and after a dry day on Saturday it was possible for our first field of the year to be cut for haylage on Sunday.

This is over and above the endless task of collecting unused equipment such as hurdles, and collecting them all in the one place. The windrows have a line of machinery and equipment not currently in use – feed trailers, muck spreader, stock trailer, hedge cutter, roller, grass harrow and so on. It all looks quite impressive, but we are still lacking much desired things such as a tedder, bailer, grass cutter, long trailer and of course a less exhausted tractor.

What now seems a weekly routine has been the setting up of electric fencing prior to animals being moved onto fresh pasture, followed by reeling in existing fencing to allow the animals to move. The benefits of this regular activity are clear to see both in the growth of the cattle and sheep and in the regrowth in grazed pastures.

All three movements were completed on Saturday, the suckler herd given the other half of the field they were in, the young cattle given half the field in which the scrape is located and the sheep now on the field by the drive.

Sadly, last year’s problem with New Forest Eye has returned. It seems primarily to affect the younger animals. It appears to cause no long-term problems but does require appropriate treatment. Flies generally so far this year are not otherwise causing real problems as yet, though this week they have been bad on at least two days. As regards the lambs, we shall very soon be moving into the pattern of weighing every two to three weeks to check that growth is proceeding normally. All should be well, looking at the flock on Thursday no dirty bottoms were evident and though one ewe appeared slightly lame she appeared to be the only one.

A new minor hazard has emerged. When hedges or trees are planted, to protect them from grazing animals, plastic guards are used. Over time these disintegrate. In most cases fences are also in place to give further protection, but if they do not exist the disintegrating plastic can become dangerous.

As last year, we have been renting land to make up the shortfall in our own haylage production. Much of this land is, as the crow flies very close, but this year we have managed to rent three additional fields to which there is direct access from one of our fields. As I have said many times, life is a matter of swings and roundabouts. We need this extra land to compensate for the restrictions imposed by joining the Higher-Level Stewardship Scheme.

Grass for baling

An outcome of the fencing programme is that we have a number of heaps of tangled wire and timber. The wire can obviously be sold, the fence posts are a different problem and while just burning them in situ seems an obvious solution it leaves a patch of ground covered in staples – a hazard to all animals. The solution I guess is to move the contents of the heaps onto the windrows and burn them there. Punctured tyres then become the problem!

As a result of research carried out by Paul, we now know of a moth whose caterpillars feed exclusively upon ragwort and groundsel. Groundsel is of course much loved by birds such as goldfinches. The caterpillars are bright striped and poisonous and turn into rather attractive black and red moths. Ragwort is as you know a curse. We have one plant in the verge of the drive and caterpillars have been collected from groundsel in the garden and placed on it to see how effective a natural control this approach might be.

As far as the pastures are concerned, ragwort has reappeared in the field which has always had the problem, but otherwise, though the odd plant has appeared, all looks good. You will remember the plants must be pulled and then burnt because dry, cut foliage is particularly toxic to animals

Our decision to leave the verges along the driveway uncut has really been a good one. It has shown at least three things. It takes quite a number of years for the effect of weed killers to wear off, but seeds can lie dormant for many years, and leaving the ground uncut is very important. Sadly, for some ‘tidiness’ is seen to be more important.

Trefoil

I have managed to find a copy of Grasses by CE Hubbard which contains very detailed information of some 158 grasses to be found in this country. At the back of the book is useful information in relation as to which grasses are best for which uses and climatic and soil condition. Over 65 years of laboratory work since, makes some of the information outdated but overall, the book is still useful. What seems not to be referenced is the toxicity associated with some varieties of the grasses called fescues. That I suppose could relate to its publication date of 1965!  Other sources indicate the potential danger lies in the fungus which can live in the tissue of the plant. Seedsmen have developed varieties which are apparently completely safe.

We had a new woofer arrive this week. In preparation Anne and I checked the state of the caravan and as we expected, found the last woofers had left it in an immaculate condition. We obviously also checked dietary matters. The one obvious problem is the rubbish left outside by the tenants of unit 1 which makes access to the mobile home rather unfriendly. Daniel is particularly interested in animal management and was much involved in stock movements on Saturday.

Dogs in the house..

One of the downsides of having two dogs in the house is their apparent need to lie across doorways and the uncertainty when stepping over them as to whether or not they will suddenly move. A greater hazard frankly at our age than when we were younger. I make no mention of dog hairs or mud shaken off their fantastic coats, but in fairness to Anne, I have to mention their habit of standing behind her when cooking or preparing food. This is I know not an unusual habit. My grandmother developed a strong hatred for a previous dog of ours which also had yellow eyes which she in her old age described as the eyes of the devil!

..and other animals

And having written the paragraph above it may not be totally inappropriate to share views on other animals. By and large I hold few insects, birds or animals in dislike. Spiders I can tolerate, scorpions however are another matter. Horses leave me absolutely cold except for the damage they do to the bridle path and the incompetence and or behaviour of so many riders on public roads. In fact, I cannot think of any animal to complain about. There are however two birds and one ‘thing’ that I fear I actually hate. Carrion crows, magpies and slugs. No doubt they serve some useful function, even if I have no real idea what that might be, but my opinion is unshakable. Likes and dislikes of plants does of course depend on which hat I am wearing – gardener or farmer.

Philosophers

I think today we have largely forgotten how influential some Greek philosophers have been on English and European culture over the years. It is easy to forget that Greek was the language of the Middle East, the language in which we received the New Testament, and books on astronomy and medicine which came via Arabic, while slavery was the norm in probably every society https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-53444752and still is in many.

When in later centuries questions began to be raised about the practice in Europe, reference to the writings of Plato and Aristotle, together with selective references from the Bible, were used to settle qualms.

This influence, in addition, led to the definition of a ‘gentleman’ in most European countries as a man who did not work, and may thus have contributed to the French Revolution, and much worse, the notion that women were property, like slaves and were lacking sense or intellect. Remember how long it took for women to get the vote, remember the pernicious class system that still dominated the first decade of the 20th century…

The influence of Greek philosophers, dramatists and poets dominated thinking in universities and our so-called Public Schools. This was not perhaps in terms of social mobility a particular problem until study of these two languages became restricted to an ever-smaller proportion of the population, while entry to the elite universities required acquisition of those languages.

Now it is the Public Schools alone which keep that knowledge alive, but entry to higher education no longer requires those areas of competence. Practice on the continent is largely uncontaminated by romantic notions on education, or the need to level down. But, and this is a very important but, practical competence is given the same respect as academic qualifications, and accepting that young people at a fairly young age know which track they wish to follow, and these continental education systems acknowledge this, while here we press on with social engineering, even if it is not in the best interests of young people or society as a whole.

Incidentally, I rather regret only having Latin, however vaguely, in my knowledge bank. Lack of knowledge of Greek means I cannot go back and confirm or otherwise translations. A problem of the modern age is, in my view, our willingness to accept too easily the digested views of professionals. Inevitable I suppose, but for me, a dangerous move. Wikipedia, google and whatever else is out there, clearly are very valuable, but may need to be treated with rather more caution than is normally adopted.

You may have the feeling my negativity is misplaced as regards Plato in particular, so I share with you from the preface to Popper’s ‘The open society and its enemies’ volume one, the following. But it is important to say that my concern is over what followers have built on his writing. It would be as daft to blame the man himself as to blame Jesus Christ personally for the Spanish Inquisition.

‘Jerusalem’

While we may all know the words of ‘Jerusalem’, I realised that I did not know the poem from which it was extracted. I found those well-known words in the preface to a very long poem called ‘Milton’ and was caught by Blake’s condemnation of Greek philosophers like Plato, I for the first time read the complete poem, having read it, I better understood why many query Blake’s sanity. But in this very long poem, from Book 2 I came across these lines which I felt fitted so well with my current feelings:

William Blake

50 First e’er the morning breaks joy opens in the flowery bosoms,

Joy even to tears, which the Sun rising dries : first the Wild Thyme
And Meadow-sweet downy and soft, waving among the reeds.
Light springing on the air lead the sweet Dance, they wake
The Honeysuckle sleeping on the Oak: the flaunting beauty

55 Revels along upon the wind : the White-thorn, lovely May,
Opens her many lovely eyes: listening the Rose still sleeps:
None dare to wake her, soon she bursts her crimson curtained bed
And comes forth in the majesty of beauty : every Flower,
The Pink, the Jessamine, the Wall-flower, the Carnation

60 The Jonquil, the mild Lilly opes her heavens; every Tree

And Flower & Herb soon fill the air with an innumerable Dance,
Yet all in order sweet & lovely.

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