Seasons Greetings

“The Week” gave us this bit of entertainment, which we feel Adrian would have shared here. What a year it has been on the political stage – both here and abroad.  

Then, to top it all off we lost The Queen. No ardent monarchist, Adrian was so surprised by how upset he was on her passing; but we have a new broom in the King, and the (current) prime minister, so we wait and see…  

Perhaps before we get too worked up, this is the right moment for a gentle reminder of how to balance out this angst against the knowledge in later years of just what is important… 

Politics by William Butler Yeats 

In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms’ – Thomas Mann 
How can I, that girl standing there, 
My attention fix 
On Roman or on Russian 
Or on Spanish politics? 
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows 
What he talks about, 
And there’s a politician 
That has read and thought, 
And maybe what they say is true 
Of war and war’s alarms, 
But O that I were young again 
And held her in my arms. 

So, we turn to this last week, with Brendan returned from his travels, and the cold weather continuing its hold on the farm. 

After a very enjoyable trip to the US, it was excellent to be back at the farm. To arrive from a (relatively) warm Virginia to see snow covering the ground even in London was something of a surprise – the walk from the station to our car was rather perilous!  

The farm was as usual, beautiful, although bitterly cold, with temperatures getting to around minus ten for several nights. The clear, cold air and high clouds mixed with low winter sun was a recipe for some spectacular sunsets, although I doubt anyone here would disagree that we are glad that things have warmed up a bit now.  

On Friday the cold really set in, meaning that the water to the barn stopped flowing, and the troughs had to be broken into with a lump hammer, and filled with a hose pipe twice a day – not a warm job at all!  

Perhaps the cold weather offered up something of a silver lining for the nation’s plumbers, as if most people have had the same issues with their outdoor (and some indoor!) pipes as us, then they must be making hay! Chris and Martin managed to fix the leaking water pipe in the front garden, following a comically high quote from a local plumber, so although we admit budgets mean we are more ‘Heath Robinson’ here than we might wish, we are still, as a team, able to fix, find solutions for a way through. We have certainly been reminded of the importance of proper winterisation across the troughs in use and will look at ways of lagging the taps, and to add insult to injury, the biomass boiler for the farmhouse decided to empty itself. Thank goodness for log burners! 

Easily the biggest and happiest news of the week for our world was the relief that has come with our second TB test results. These tests are never fun, but with such a lot riding on this, the tension from Wednesday’s first day built to an almost unbearable level by Saturday’s results test. Every time the vet felt the need to pull out his callipers, the knot in the pit of your stomach grew a little tighter – fortunately able to relax when he waved the animal through. The debate around the efficacy and accuracy of the TB testing continues to circle, but we are just so relieved to be able to now move some of our young stock off the farm. A hundred head of cattle seem to have been getting though around 12 bales of hay a week in winter feed, which is a little alarming!  

The wildlife seems to have been enjoying the cold weather, or maybe the white backdrop has simply made it easier to spot them. Regardless, on Thursday we spotted four deer in a field near the brook – normally they stick close to the wood. Not far from them, in field 4, we saw a fox glowing red, perhaps on the scent of a harvest mouse that Boots found on the bridle path! Field 3, below the wood, and with the scrape at the bottom, is a favourite of the hares, and it was nice to see they are still there. We also spotted five dear crashing through the wood, and we have been enjoying the birdsong in the clear air. A robin has evidently moved into the barn and has been keeping Tim company when he feeds and beds-down the cattle. It was nice to see him (the robin that is) flitting about the place amid the tension of the TB testing. Making use of the extra helpers – thank you Nicki, Rosie, and Boots – we decided to move the remaining lambs to fresh grass, in the hope that they will soon fatten up. The little flock coming down the track is almost comically small now, however, they still manage to escape if you let them, so the more help the merrier. They are now in field 7 by the house, and it is nice to be able to see them grazing away. 

Excitingly, we were able to collect the juice from our apples from Pershore college as well. 188 bottles all told, and Boots and I went on a marvellous adventure in the Land Rover to collect them. A diversion took us along the country lanes and through Rous Lench, which in addition to having a marvellous name, is also very pretty. Watching the sun rise, and dipping in and out of the mist, was quite extraordinary, and almost made up for the ineffective heating in the car! I was amazed that even when we arrived back at the farm the radiator grill still had thick frost coating it. Gathered around the Aga to thaw out, we cracked open the first bottle and were extremely pleased with the results. Sweet but still with a little tang, and very, very appley! Indeed, I am enjoying a mug of warm apple juice as I write this. Many thanks to our volunteer Tom and everyone else who helped pick the apples. 

Then, in just a day, the weather turned from icy frigidity to balmy – a bit of a shock to the system, and certainly the plumbing! Anyone who went out wrapped up in all their layers soon found themselves sweating as the temperature continued to climb, minus nine to 12 degrees in about 24 hours. Apparently, this is as a result of the gulf stream moving across and sucking warm air up from Africa.  

Looking ahead, we’ve been talking this week about the “Three Kings’ Preparation” – Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  

 “an indispensable trio to be used in the garden at this time of outer chaos, confusion and destruction of Nature’s living web.”  

Hans-Gunther – Biodynamic Gardening Club  

This preparation was developed after observations from Hugo Erbe, a German biodynamic farmer (and also opera singer, who unforgettably gave an impromptu concert at the supper table to Anne’s family when she was a young child!), to support and enable the natural world’s work to bring light & warmth to our soils for the much-needed regeneration of nature – including ourselves! Something for us to try and achieve on Epiphany for the Festival of the Three Kings.  

The younger members of the family are looking forward to walking the farms’ boundaries with a bucket and brush to spray the preparation. Although talk soon came to sitting in the back of the vehicle to do this… but that would require the grounds to be frozen underfoot and better yet, may well miss the point of the exercise! 

As this is the bumper “Christmas edition”, we get to look to the future and try to predict what will happen next week. Weatherwise, the wind, which has just arrived, and finally stripped the Wisteria of its leaves, is due to stick around, and the 12 degrees we have been enjoying is not due to last. We are bracing ourselves for plenty of rain, although perhaps this is no bad thing given the drought of the summer.  

Chris and I will be heading to Worcester to receive training on how to properly administer medication to the animals – never mind the combined years of experience between Chris and Tim – as we mentioned last week, a piece of paper is required for our Red Tractor certification. Having said that, it is important not to be too cynical and to remember that you can always learn something new. 

Encouraging news from the vet’s newsletter is that prophylactic (preventative) antibiotics are now illegal in this country, a step forward for nation’s health which makes you wonder what on earth the government is thinking, making prophylactic antibiotics illegal here, while at the same time ensuring that we import American and Australian meat that is full of them. More than half of all antibiotics imported into Australia are added to animal feed as a growth promoter, and similarly 62% of American antibiotics are used in animal feed. The mind boggles. 

Alice has managed to get some time off from her farm for Christmas and will be joining us for a busman’s holiday. We plan to run the breeding ewes through the race in order to scan them all and fully ‘digitise’ the flock. Other than that, there will be the inevitable pre-Christmas busyness as we all try to get ready, oh yes, and a bout of intensive cooking! Excitingly we have been gifted a goose this year, which is good news as we had all but given up on the thought of finding a nice turkey. 

I will end with a few thoughts on the farms I saw in the US compared to those on this side of the pond. I particularly enjoyed chatting to a fellow beef farmer whose farm is on the outskirts of Charlottesville – I was excited to discover that he has a herd of 60 “miniature Herfords” as he called our traditional Hereford’s. We agreed what wonderful animals they are to work with. The big difference was that, from the US perspective, they were completely uneconomic as they are just not big enough, so they are kept mostly to make the fields around their converted AirBnB houses look pretty! 

Related to this was the view from the roads of vast, rolling fields. Spectacular to look at, and with equally vast Angus cattle on them. Very fine beasts indeed, although one wonders whether they reached that size through grazing alone or with help from some. It does make us sad though that our government seems so keen to forge trade deals which will mean our lovely British grass-fed beef will be replaced by this pumped-up accepted meat from America and Australia.  

My personal highlight was seeing a small herd of gorgeous Red Devons grazing a paddock which was shared by magnificent racehorses – probably not economic either, but a sight for sore eyes!  

A good trip, and a good reminder to keep our eyes on the wider world as we forge on with our own here at Rush Farm.  

Now, we must wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year – let’s hope 2023 is a healthy, peaceful and kind to us all! 

From the farm, thank you. 

Anne, Chris & Brendan 

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’ 

Alfred Lord Tennyson

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