Relief that our herd is free of TB

After a week in which we have all been in tenterhooks I am very happy to share with you that our TB test on Friday showed that, in terms of the test, our herd is free of TB. I cannot yet say hurrah because we have to go through the whole rigmarole once more before current restrictions are lifted but it is still very good news.

A mixed week as far as the weather has been concerned with one really cold night and several very chilly days. We have had very little rain, which at this stage of the year is a good thing as it means we can leave our young cattle outdoors for the moment.

Suckler herd move indoors

The suckler herd came into the barn on Tuesday and now will stay there until the spring. We have slight concerns about two of the cows but otherwise all is fine except that between TB tests, six animals had lost their ear tags. They will have to be re-tagged since it is a legal requirement.

Fighting rams

There is appropriate action going on in the tupping fields, though we have been experiencing the downside of each flock having more than the one ram with them! The idea, which we tried last year was based in the premise that operating this way should reduce the number of ’empties’. Sadly what also happens is that the rams waste energy ‘fighting’ each other. Already our Vendeen ram has had to be taken out of his field and is in barn hopefully recovering! Otherwise, from the farm’s point of view in terms of feed and cash, by the end of the week we had 45 fewer animal in the flocks.

Concern for Flash’s health

A concern this week has been the health of Flash. All but impossible to believe is the reality that she is now eleven and in dog terms the same age as Anne and me. The concern was sufficient for us to get our vet to check her over. All seems well despite her rather ‘staring coat’. Her teeth are excellent, calendula oil should sort out her coat and she will have her annual worming brought forward just in case.

As is so often the case at the farm meeting on Friday, the number of jobs that could be ‘ticked off’ was small but some at least should be done next week, including too many jobs outstanding related to contractors who had failed to do what they had promised, and a more appealing job – collecting our apple juice. Jack has had his first experience of loading sheep onto the trailer on his own and continues to be a very real asset to the farm and us all.

The ‘race’ and ‘crush’

I am aware I use the terms ‘race’ and ‘crush’ but not sure that I have really written about them in any detail especially since in common parlance we talk about setting up the race for sheep and the crush for cattle. For accuracy a race is the part which funnels the animals into entering the crush. The crush, whether for sheep or cattle is that part in which an animal can be held in isolation for treatment or examination.

In practice, because the two species differ so much in size, weight and potential danger, the materials used for the race and crush are very different as obviously is the size! The race used for sheep is made up of light aluminium ‘hurdles’ that can be easily attached one to the other and to the crush. The crush is a compartment in which a sheep may be held and commonly has weight bars in its base. Isolated, they can, in addition to being weighed, be scanned (by law sheep are eid chipped) and condition scored. The addition of another crush allows the sheep to be rotated onto its back so that feet can be examined or treated.  Setting it up and using it is relatively straight forward and unlike most farm equipment relatively safe to handle, except for the crush that turns a sheep upside down.

The cattle ‘crush’ on the other hand, features prominently in the risk assessment paperwork for the farm. Perhaps unusually, ours is mobile and so can be used anywhere on the farm. In practice its main use is in the barn area but is normally parked elsewhere. The apparatus is both the race and the crush and consists of five attached parts all constructed of heavy steel. Before it can be moved the crush and attached race has to be jacked up so that only the wheels are on the ground. This is an exciting event in that it is awkward to jack up both sides at once, so it wobbles each time one side lifts, until the wheels are actually on the ground. To add to the hazards, once on its wheels, the race which is made up of two heavy hinged 8′ ‘wings’ on each side that can swing freely unless strapped onto the body of the crush correctly.

Once set up, the animal is driven through the race, formed by deployment of the ‘wings’ into the crush, where a sliding gate holds it in position while the narrow width seriously restricts movement. In passing, the width is so narrow that fitting the bull in is a challenge in its own right. Our cattle crush actually has two compartments so two animals can be isolated at a time.  At the front, two narrow ‘doors’ can be opened to allow the animal to exit. Given that our cattle are horned this can in itself be a tricky business. To open these doors is all but a two-person task.

Once in the crush, safe access is possible to all parts of the animal by small gates in each side. Many vets will not work on an animal unless it is held like this. Injections, blood samples and pregnancy diagnosing are now relatively straight forward. Drenching or working on the animal’s head is another matter. On the face of it you might imagine that to hold the head steady all you have to do is hang onto the horns but bear in mind we are working with animals weighing up to 800kg and their neck strength is formidable.

Being on a 60-day TB testing regime means the number of times in a year this process has to be gone through is very testing for both the animals and the humans involved! Hopefully the photos help make the exhausting words above more understandable!

Folk songs

I watched an interesting programme on Vaughan Williams and Holst last week, which highlighted their interest in continuing the work of Cecil Sharpe in recording the folk songs that were once a normal part of rural life, but perhaps more importantly, in establishing an English school of music resting on the pattern of the music of the folk songs they recorded. Perhaps perversely, the music I have been listening to and relistening to since, is Caesar Frank’s violin sonata. Whether that says anything about my mood I know not, but it has been a favourite of mine for as long as I can remember.

Some time ago I shared a poem by the Roman poet Horace. Melvyn Bragg on the 15th November devoted 45 minutes to a discussion of Horace’s life and poetry. On the face of it we have yet another example of an artist’s work being possibly far greater than the person behind it. Whatever, much that was said was entirely new to me, not least the various types of poetry that preceded his Odes, which were the summit of his poetic life and clearly need to be read when time allows.

The school library

All very interesting and at my age an inevitable triggering of memories – in this case hours spent in the school library…

For a variety of reasons, the school library became a favourite haunt. Having worked my way through Percy F Westerman, G A Henty and R M Ballantine at an early age, I discovered Trevelyn and Gibbons. The former’s three volume Life of Gariboldi fascinated me as did the twelve-volume history ‘the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire’. In today’s terminology I was rather a ‘nerd’ except that when asthma allowed, and it eased over time and with the introduction of the adrenaline inhaler, my ability on the sports field offset, as far as my school mates were concerned, this slightly unnatural behaviour.


Though a ‘remainer ‘ I confess to only accepting myself as a European in Africa, but as those who have persevered with my weekly rambles will know, I have been trying to broaden my horizons. Hence this past week, having been struck by my ignorance of a country like Rumania, apart from struggling with its history and – to be truthful – its myths, I have been reading as many poems in translation from the Rumanian as I have been able to find. The choice seems limited.

Mihail Eminescu, despite a very short life in the late 19th century, is seen as perhaps the greatest Rumanian romantic poet. Certainly, in terms of the few Rumanian poets translated into English, romanticism – happy or tragic, seems built into their psyche. This, I felt, was hardly surprising given that country’s history. Is the poem I have chosen ‘fatalist’, realistic or perhaps optimistic – I not am quite sure which, but it tempts me into making the gross generalisation that their poetry seems more Slavic than Dacian.

Translated from the Rumanian by Corneliu M. Popescu

With life’s tomorrow time you grasp,
Its yesterdays you fling away,
And still, in spite of all remains
Its long eternity, today.

When one thing goes, another comes
In this wide world by heaven borne;
And when the sun is setting here
‘Tis somewhere else just breaking dawn.

It seems somehow that other waves
Are rolling down the same old stream,
And somehow, though the autumns change,
‘Tis but the same leaves fall it seem.

Before our night does ever ride
The queen of mornings rosy skies;
While even death is but a guess,
Of life a notion, a surmise.

Of every moment that goes by
One fact each mortal creature knows;
The universe is poised in time
And whirling round for ever goes.

Still, though this year will fly away
And soon but to the bygone add,
Within your soul you ever hold
Each thing of worth you ever had.

With life’s tomorrow time you grasp,
Its yesterdays you fling away,
And still, in spite of all remains
Its long eternity, today.

A radiant and brilliant view,
In many rapid glimpses caught,
Of infinite, unending calm,
Bathed in the rays of timeless thought.


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