Our first snowdrops!

Where to start. Perhaps by sharing with you that we now have a date for this year’s Soil Association inspection. It will be on the 18th of March, so before lambing but around the dates we had set aside for our TB re-testing. We are of course wondering that now we seem to have settled group of muntjacs on the farm is rather ‘sweet’ or bad news?

Before that we have to have our SAC test. Still time enough to sort that out. While on positive news, our MP has kindly started to raise questions with the relevant minister about our RPA problem which has now reached the next stage of appeal. And the first snow drops are out, the daffodils are showing shoots and the self-sown lambs’ lettuce is ready to eat.

The Wolf Moon rose over the farm rather splendidly last weekend:

Wolf Moon

Hard frosts were back this weekend after the days of rain.

Frosty Puddles
Mist still over the Vale of Evesham when we climbed out of the fog!

Indeed, on Sunday we also had a fine thick mist. Sadly, the sun failed to break through and hopes some of the damp might be taken up into the atmosphere were dashed.

Stamp collecting

This week has also been a big week for me on a very personal note. Many of you know that in addition to my addiction to recorded music and books, I have all my life had an interest in stamps. As a child each Christmas my father would get his stamps out and inducted me into the hobby. For years family, work and limited finances meant I did little more than accumulate, particularly the stamps of the countries we either lived in or had once. As time passed there was more cash and eventually, I became a stamp collector.

Retirement (the first time) suddenly provided time, and trouble in the Balkans led me to become fixated on the stamps of Bosnia-Herzegovina – 1878 to 1918, the period of Austrian control.  For the first time I felt entitled to call myself a philatelist.

I have been lucky enough to make good connections with other philatelists across the world, and this week spent time with Dickon Pollard, once of Murray Payne, and now as the Senior Philatelist at Stanley Gibbons. Passing stamps onto others is rather like waving your children off as they head out into the world. As the last of the stamp collectors in the family, sharing my collection with other enthusiasts now is, according to my head the right thing to do, but the heart is sore.

However, Dickon visited on Thursday, and apart from very much enjoying spending time with him, came up with ideas of what might be moved on, while still leaving me enough to rebuild on. A much-appreciated time spent together.

Grass damage

Back on the farm, for the animals that are not housed, the fact that they have to be fed means that, even though the feeding trailers are on hard standing, the tractor has to turn on the grass itself and inevitably doing damage.

Tractor Tracks

In addition, the fact that we have opened up several fields to give the lambs the best chance of finding grass, means that ‘pinch points’ at gateways are now in a terrible state – when 23 lambs were collected for sale on Wednesday, Brendan reported the mud in places being 8” deep!

Muddy sheep on a muddy path

Good news regarding these 23 was that, despite the muddy state of their fleeces they were all accepted and once again conformity was good and this time weights respectable.

Thanks to the mud, rain and high-water table, it would be fair to say that morale has dipped somewhat, but we are in no worse a position than our neighbours – either in terms of water logging, winter colds or cash flow.

We do now have several cattle we could sell as breeding stock, but as luck would have it, we are not alone in being in that position. I dislike the thought of selling pedigree heifers for slaughter especially since there are probably less than a thousand pedigree females in the whole country, but it may come to that since we still await a routine subsidy payment from the government making money tighter than ever.

The methane myth and more farming news

The pasture-fed site has been rather quiet of late. The special meeting seems to have as yet yielded no movement forward, and general issues discussed have been few. While people with power ignore the nuances of science, myths become realities in the public mind. The emission of methane is a typical example of scaremongering based on belief rather than proven facts. 

Last Sunday afternoon the weather allowed the bonfire to be lit, and the weather also allowed some more hedge cutting along the bridle path – necessary because, even for horses being ridden side by side, the gap had narrowed too much in places

Now that Sebastian is unable to continue with the work, a trencher has been brought in to complete the work, including the insertion of the vast new septic tank. The water level hardly helps in that task. An issue town dwellers will be unaware of is the fact that sceptic tanks need emptying more frequently when the level of the water table is so high. I say no more, certain realities of rural life are best not commented on!

With regards the impromptu lakes in the fields thanks to the rain, unfortunately, we have no certain knowledge as to where field drains may or may not exist, though we do have draft maps. These are of only limited value because even if the work was done, there was subsequent land disturbance. The only substantive clues we have, come from finding brick head walls on the banks of ditches and/or the river. The machine we are hiring will be inserted in the head walls we have found, in an attempt to clear roots and soil.  When we first took over the land, we did arrange for a visit by water diviner’s but somehow failed to follow it through.

Tree planting and climate discussions

I commented very recently on the current craze for tree planting. As always only partial facts are considered. No mention of the fact that tree cover actually increases temperature since it does not reflect sunshine as effectively as pastures. Nothing at all is straightforward, whatever the media or ‘dotty scientists’ claim.

This has surfaced recently because the decline of the permafrost area in Siberia is throwing up disturbing realities – realities we were warned about in the 1990’s but which were dismissed as scare mongering.

Many years ago we sent our son a birthday card which featured lemmings plunging over a cliff to their death while one stood aside with a word bubble above his head saying ’it was at that point that Maurice realised he was different’. As far as climate change is concerned, we are just like those lemmings.

Turning to my rather battered edition of the 20th edition of the Farmers Calendar dated 1836 and costing 12/6d, I thought reading through suggestions for the month of January might give me an idea as to how the weather has changed. 

In fact, one of the first lines I read told me that overwintering young stock on straw was not a profitable idea – as we have just discovered for ourselves!

In terms of climate change, clues were limited; from the insistence of the importance of the straw yard – which is just not a possibility in this day and age – for both sheep and cattle. More importantly perhaps, from the point of view of our bid for capital resources – the value of being able to provide shelter especially for lambs in inclement weather. The second clue to weather change based on experience of 1786 was that oats might be sown in January. There may be others but those were the ones that leapt out to me.

It is a fascinating book in very many ways and not turned to often enough by me. For example, I realise that I now can have a challenging chat with our hedge layer the next time he comes. Of course, in that time, a significant permanent labour force was normal, and the availability existed to hire skilled travelling men specialist jobs. That said, the farm labourer of the early 19th century was expected to have a very wide range of skills and be no weakling! In one sense the book is close to modern practice in that profitability was no less important then as now. In other ways it is more akin to the practice of the regenerative farmer not least in the absence of herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilisers

By now slightly having lost the original plot I went to my 1876 publication “How to farm at a profit”. The first pages now are full of advertisements for mechanical equipment and agricultural appliances. Mechanisation has really arrived and obviously distance has been conquered by better roads, canals and the railway. The cost of, and availability of labour has also clearly changed.

Finally, leaving to one side my much-used copy of the Clifton Park system, published in the late 1800’s, I reread my copy of ‘The agricultural Notebook’. The first edition of this came out in 1883 but my copy sadly is of the 12th edition of 1953. And this is the book I should have turned to first since the first 13 pages are all taken up with maps showing rainfall, temperature and sunshine, and all based on averages of the previous 100 years. For where we are, the assumption then, was that we would have 100 days of ground frost and an average January temperature around 4C.


Of course, poets actually provide all the evidence we require of climate change. Hence choosing a poem about January is made the more difficult because our weather has changed so much. Now this month we rarely have snow and frost, but often have heavy rain. The Jetstream brings us depression after depression, all it seemingly laden with rain. Poets are not commonly drawn to writing poems about mud except perhaps in the context of WWI. Flanders and Swan of course felt no such inhibitions but those are lines most of us could recite in our sleep. 

Eventually turning to a book of poems by Robert Service, I found something I thought worth sharing – though in a different style from his poems of the Yukon – and rather more positive than might be expected.

Mud is Beauty in the making,
Mud is melody awaking;
Laughter, leafy whisperings,
Butterflies with rainbow wings;
Baby babble, lover’s sighs,
Bobolink in lucent skies;
Ardours of heroic blood
All stem back to Matrix Mud.

Mud is mankind in the moulding,
Heaven’s mystery unfolding;
Miracles of mighty men,
Raphael’s brush and Shakespear’s pen;
Sculpture, music, all we owe
Mozart, Michael Angelo;
Wonder, worship, dreaming spire,
Issue out of primal mire.

In the raw, red womb of Time
Man evolved from cosmic slime;
And our thaumaturgic day
Had its source in ooze and clay . . .
But I have not power to see
Such stupendous alchemy:
And in star-bright lily bud
Lo! I worship Mother Mud. 

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