Shearing sheep and waiting for the rain

My concerns about the weather have proved well founded. According to the ‘experts’ we have had but a fraction of the rain we might have expected this month. Moreover, the latest ‘forecasts’ suggest a mini heat wave with no sign of rain. Thank goodness the sheep have been sheared and we have a field which will provide them with shelter from the sun. The cattle, aside from the shade provided by the edge of the wood, will only have the big scrape to cool down in, but in any case, they seem to cope with heat better than do sheep.

This lack of rain impinges on the farm in two ways. Firstly, it is not what the pastures need, and secondly, we rely on rainwater for our BD spraying programme – even a full 2100 litre tank is insufficient unless we have more rain, and though we can extract water from the pond it would be far less convenient.

Spraying commences

I normally report on stock at this point, but instead am very happy to report that the whole farm has, over three afternoons, had its first spray of preparation 500 for 2018. All credit to the three key players; Chris for getting the flow form and pump operational, Anne for masterminding the exercise and ensuring the mix is as it should be, and to both her and Tim for filling the sprayer, and then for Tim spraying his way across all our fields.

The suckler herd is no longer in the field by the drive which is rather a shame since it meant the attendees at Saturday’s AGM had either to walk or get a ride to see them. In the event, they found themselves moving both the young stock and the sheep into new fields rather than having the expected farm walk.  All the indications are that this was a much-enjoyed activity.

Another two calves

Another two calves arrived this week from heifers calving for the first time and again there was no call for human aid. This time, after a run of female calves, we had one of each sex. In theory we have another nine to come before the end of September. They, like the young stock are inevitably very troubled by flies.

The ewes were all shorn on Monday afternoon. Shearers have a short work life so one can’t begrudge them their fee of £1.35 an animal. Aside from time taken to set up and then dismantle their gear, to actually shear 150 sheep took two men no more than 80 minutes!

Though we hear lameness is a major problem in the area, our ewes, touchwood, seem fine, though there is some scald in the lambs who therefore were put through the foot bath. Next week the lambs will have their second clostridial jab and their first weighing of the season. The orphanage, by the way, has finished its task for this year and its residents have joined the main flock.

Topping duties

The tractor has had other tasks in addition to spraying duties. A number of fields required topping – topping you will remember is the main way on an organic farm of keeping thistles, docks and nettles in check. Obviously, the topper cannot get to all parts of a field, so where necessary, the strimmer is used. Ragwort and hemlock have to be treated differently because they are most poisonous when dry so require digging and hand pulling – taking precautions and wearing gloves is necessary.

The tractor has also been employed in continuing to empty the barn – tedious tedious work with just the one vehicle. The vehicle itself needs a service, and yet another pto (power take off) requires replacing, but fair do’s, we have got our money’s worth out of it.

AGM

We have had talks with our usual contractor about flattening out the bridle path but that sadly could not be done in time for the AGM. Also, sadly one particular tenant struggles to maintain the area around his building both in terms of litter and what appears to be junk but probably isn’t!

I attended the AGM, which was held outside in the expectation it would be warm, to chat to members and answer any questions, but wasn’t able to accompany them on the farm walk to preserve my back.

Collecting evidence for Higher Tier Stewardship

So next week will be about the sheep, and starting to collect the evidence we need for our application for higher tier Stewardship – and also, probably, spending some time wondering both how to make it work and does it make sense financially.

We have now reduced the number of fields we are contemplating entering to ten but still have for each field to take 4 photographs of the hedges and mark on the map the positions they were taken from, similarly four photographs of the sward – positions all marked on the map, measure with our newly acquired measuring wheel the length of hedges and fences, get three competitive quotes for seeds and contractors and most importantly stay sane and good-tempered since all this has to be done before the end of July and, as you all will realise, the work will fall on one person only who will still have to fulfil his various other roles. At least we know we will get much help from the Worcester office of Natural England, in so far as it can be given legitimately.

An interesting piece of news from the Soil Association indicates they are working on a closer alignment to European rules and regulations. A first read suggests two mildly significant changes for us. The first is a relaxation of the length of the withdrawal period after the administration of drugs, while the second appears to suggest derogation is less demanding so long as the farm has a clear and justifiable animal health plan agreed by the certification officers – Steve if I have got it wrong please tell me! At this stage we have had no indication whether Demeter have plans of this kind.

Troubling hay fever

The hay fever this year has been diabolical. All three of us suffer from it and even though, because of new rib trouble, I have largely stayed indoors, my breathing has been very tight. Chris and Anne have been without that excuse and their eyes and breathing are suffering badly but it has not deterred either from doing what has to be done.

As referred to last week, I have enjoyed two of Louise Farrenc’s symphonies but am not so sure they will be listened to frequently. Her piano music on the other hand I found more interesting, though the recording I have is not well balanced. Last week I indicated that I was tempted by the issue of a boxed set of all the known music by W F Bach -known as Friedemann or the ‘enigmatic’ Bach.

I did of course succumb, and though I am not a great a fan of the harpsichord or the organ I have enjoyed his Sinfonias, flute music and his cantatas in particular. I shall, in due course, make the effort to learn to love harpsichord music. Inevitably I also tried to find out more about the elder son of J S Bach, and very fascinating I found this for those who fancy following up on the matter.

Listening to ‘Ombré mai fu’ from Handel’s opera Serse sung by Cecilia Bartoli reminded me just how moving the female voice can be and how many amazing arias and duets Handel wrote. Sadly, I do not listen to opera as much as part of me would like because of the chunky recitatives which have the same ‘turning off’ effect of as cadenzas. I don’t have a complete recording of this opera but am tempted by a DVD, though slightly put off by the need to remember how to use the DVD player!

Finally, just to confirm my taste is reasonably eclectic, I was moved by a performance by Mahalia Jackson at the Newport Jazz Festival I found on YouTube which reminded me I should listen to my vinyl records more since most of the Jazz I have is on vinyl but……

For the young at heart or who have young children or grandchildren, a poem – retrieved from my childhood and expressing exactly how, no doubt, many young children feel today, and perhaps worth sharing – my own copy of his ‘poems for children’ was printed in the USA and came in a parcel of goodies sent by family in Canada to us in 1944:

‘Bed in Summer’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

And for those of you who are keen gardeners, a poem from c1568 which looking at our garden, feels very apposite:

‘The Rose’ by Thomas Howell

 Whenas the mildest month 

Of jolly June doth spring,

And gardens green with happy hue

Their famous fruits do bring,

When eke the lustiest time

Revivith youthly blood,

Then springs the finest feature flower

In border fair that stood:

Which moveth me to say 

In time of pleasant year,

Of all the pleasant flowers in June

The red rose hath no peer.

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