Sheep and cattle breeding debates

‘British Summer time’ official ended on Sunday, and fittingly it feels as if winter has really arrived! An hour’s difference to adjust too, and weather that is cold but sunny, and a hard frost predicted for tonight – these two occasions in the year always cause irritation and disruption in the mind.

It’s black and large and here we were thinking bats hibernate! Do we leave a window open at night or what? Our fear is that if we do, that the huge local population might choose to move in. One immediate consequence is that Anne sleeps with the duvet over her head!

A good growing season

Hopefully you all have had as good a season as we have had with vegetables, berries and other fruits: apples, damsons, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. For over a week now we have been enjoying both apple and damson purée having earlier in the season enjoyed strawberries and loganberries!  Making the purée requires effort, but is a great use of windfalls, and worthwhile. We still await news of how many bottles of pressed apple juice we will have, but expect, if not a record number, a goodly number. All in all, a very good year especially after the poor pickings in 2017.

Biodynamic spraying at sunrise

Tuesday morning saw a very early start as preparation 501 had to be sprayed as close to sunrise as possible. Spraying the whole farm with 501 takes less time and less water since the dilution is greater than when spraying 500.  Often unrealised, is that the spraying is in some ways the easiest part of the operation. Before the spraying can begin, the reservoir for the flow form has to cleaned so that traces of 500 are removed. That done, rainwater is pumped into the now clean and empty reservoir, which will then be circulated through the flow form for an hour. Finally, the potentised water is pumped into the sprayer fixed to the tractor. The sprayer of course has first had to cleaned. All in all, a lengthy process!

For the first half of the week, despite a chilly north wind, daytime temperatures were very reasonable, and we saw a lot of sunshine. But, winter cannot be far away, so one of the many and varied jobs Jack has been involved in has been putting the flow form and its associated hardware to ‘bed’ for the winter after the final spraying of the year was completed. The last BD activity of this year will be inserting preparations 502 – 508 in field 3 because the compost spread there this week came from the only heap not so treated. Overall we have more than hit our targets for the use of BD preps this year.

Ensuring the meat you eat is safe

All our animals look in good health and, aside from the cattle and the rams, are not getting any supplementary feeding. The pastures are still showing growth, and so long as the predicted cold snap is short, this will continue to be the situation.

No lambs will be sold this week, but a further order is expected soon. So long as the demand remains strong all sales should be completed early in the new year.

Depending of course on the outcome of the 60-day TB test, only two further cattle might be sold this year. We are expecting to have up to 8 calves this autumn.

A further two cattle were sold on Tuesday and given the apparently spontaneous eruption of BSE on a farm in Scotland I think perhaps you might be interested in the process that has to be followed when an animal is sent to an abattoir. Much paperwork is involved, with forms to be completed and signed certifying that the animals are fit for human consumption and demanding details of any medicines previously given. Abattoirs are inspected in the same way that we are and, additionally, veterinary surgeons are always in attendance. The significant reduction in the number of abattoirs is directly related to this control of the whole process, and, though we, as farmers, regret the loss of local abattoirs since it means animals may have to travel long distances and this is a cause of stress for the animals, it does mean the meat you eat is safe – particularly if it is organic and Demeter.

Sheep and cattle breeding debates

Our current ‘in Farm’ debates concern both the sheep and the cattle. As regards the sheep, last year we put 150 ewes to the tup.  Of these three have fallen by the wayside and another 20 or so probably are no longer fit for breeding. We will certainly keep back a number of ewe lambs for replacements in 2020, but not put any of these ewe lambs to the tup this year. This path will see us with a breeding flock of under 130. This means less income next year, but reduced costs and less demand on pastures – an interesting balancing of pros and cons.

The issue with the cattle concerns our bull, Bacchus. He is now exactly six years old. The working life of a bull is theoretically 10 to 12 years but in practice a much shorter period. Though it might be expected that the working life of a cow would be shorter, this is not the normal case. The cow has to survive all that is involved with calving, but the bull’s activities make injury more likely for the male of the species. So, Bacchus has perhaps 3 or so years of productive life in him.

The ‘usual’ practice is either to move bulls on after 3 years in the herd, so as to avoid them covering their daughters, or sell the heifers produced by that bull. To really lower the tone of the conversation, the comparison has similarities to car ownership. Which is the most economic approach: keep your car till it no longer runs or change every 2 or 3 years. We have to make a decision.

We do need more rain!

It may be getting colder, but the bright, dry sunny days have allowed work on the land. In particular, our field in which the large scrape lies has had the benefit of a good spreading of compost as the field has had all of the compost in one heap – somewhere around 30 tons+ in total or 138 cubic metres!

Organic food is 25% better for us

There has been a lot of activity in the world of Ulula with both Christmas not so many weeks away now, and with ‘free from’ baby foods in ever increasing demand. With the general increase in the incidence of allergies in children being more widely talked about, and of course, also the publicity associated with the problem – this may well be leading to more parents of young children paying ever greater attention to what food their children are raised on. When you have a child with allergies, you certainly do become an expert on the subject – out of necessity if nothing else! The emergence of two new pieces of research on this subject hopefully will help both the farm and Ulula. According to this research, baby weaning needs to take place before four months to reduce the likelihood of children developing severe allergies, and organic food is 25% better for us than non-organic food.

Weekend listening

On the radio at 8.45 on a Sunday morning is a 15-minute programme called ‘A point of view’. Will Self is turned to frequently by the producers, and though sometimes his arguments are interesting, his louche delivery irritates. John Grey is always worth listening to even though one is left feeling rather depressed. Howard Jacobsen last Sunday was particularly interesting. His essay had two themes – both interesting – but the second particularly so. Having spoken about how the digital platform allows instant gratification – allied of course to easy credit – he wondered whether our negative feelings about politicians’ stem from their necessary inability to respond instantly to demands. When you consider how attention spans have shortened, this is perhaps another part of the reason for the growth in popularism.

I have at last got around to listening to Enescu and while his rhapsodies certainly spoke to me, his symphonies did not. Indeed, I was reminded of Bernstein, he of the great musicals, but whose symphonic writing frankly leaves me cold. I recently re-listened to Bernstein’s second symphony and struggled to stay with it to the end – the problem was certainly not the French pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet in that performance.

Learning from our European Wwoofers

Our present wwoofer, Jack is English and in this he is unusual as in the main our woofers come from France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Meeting and making these new friends has helped me understand our language better – get to see the world from a younger point of view, and a less anglocentric point of view – and caused me to widen my knowledge and understanding. Though Anne and I have spent many years outside England, the truth is that what was British Central Africa and Canada hardly gave me an insight into European thinking and culture. A recent encounter led me to review what I knew about Romanian history. Even a cursory search revealed both my ignorance and what a hideously complicated history that part of the world has.

Despite many many attempts to become multilingual, the blunt truth is I have failed. I have enough French to get by if my accent can be deciphered; can read philatelic books in French and German, but that is essentially my limit. As regards music I am familiar with the music of most European composers, but as regards literature I have read and can talk about, it is many more French authors than German, though am much more at home with Scandinavian crime novels. My knowledge of the history of European states is patchy as I said above. My best excuse would probably be that, aside from French and German historians, little has been translated into English.

Working with young people from these countries has, for me, not only underlined the fundamentally different approach to matters Europeans have, from that of the English, and the need to recognise this on both sides of the Channel but also thrown light on unfamiliar history such as that of the two Kingdoms, Naples and Sicily. A factor no doubt, is how little of European writing is to be found translated into English and how, of that, most relates to crime fiction!

Given that, despite French efforts, Germany is the most important country in Europe, it is perhaps surprising how few German novelists have been translated into English. A quick count of the number of German authors published in Penguin Classics (hardly scientific I know) came up with the figure seventeen, with Nietzsche, published the most. In terms of novelists I could identify only two, of whom, Theodor Fontane, with his novel Elise was one. Clearly this is both unscientific and I know, incomplete since this Theodor was a friend of Theodor Storm, writer of ghost stories who was in fact also translated into English at about the same time. At this point an apology is clearly in order since the poem I quoted two weeks ago was in fact written by Theodor Storm not the notable classicist Theodor Mommsen. The simple truth is that I got carried away by my reflections on the Mommsen family and the contradictory views of grandfather and grandson and that was the surname in my mind when attributing the poem.

Fontane, was of a school of novelists seen as comparable to the English school of whom a leading light was Thomas Hardy, and was widely read in his time even in England. To be truthful, to date, of all I have read, it’s the poetry I have enjoyed the most, and hence the poem that follows below, written by the said Theodor Fontane whose rhythm rather reminds me of horse riding.

Squire von Ribbeck at Ribbeck in Havelland by Theodor Fontane


Squire von Ribbeck at Ribbeck in Havelland,
In his garden there stood a pear tree grand,
And when autumn came round, the golden tide,
And pears were glowing far and wide,
Squire von Ribbeck, when noon rang out, would first
Fill both his pockets full to burst.
And then, when a boy in his clogs came there,
He called: ”My lad, do you want a pear?”
He would hail a girl that chanced to pass:
“Come over, I have a pear, little lass!”


Many years thus went, till the noble and high
Squire von Ribbeck at Ribbeck came to die.
He felt his end. It was autumntide.
Again pears were smiling far and wide.
“I depart now this life” von Ribbeck said.
I wish that a pear in my grave be laid”.
And after three days, from this mansard roofed hall,
Squire von Ribbeck was carried out, `neath a pall.
All farmers  and cottagers, solemm-faced,
Sang: ”Jesus, in Thee my trust is placed”,
And the children lamented, with hearts like lead:
“Who`ll give us a pear, now that he is dead.?”
So the children lamented. It was unkind,


As they did not know old Ribbeck´s mind.
True, the new one is skimping niggardly,
Keeps park and pears tree `neath lock and key;
But having forebodings, the older one,
And full of distrust for his proper son,
Knew well what he did, when the order he gave,
That a pear should be laid in his grave.


From the silent dwelling, after three years,
The tip of a pear tree seedling appears.
And year after year, the seasons go round,
Long since a pear tree is shading the mound.


And in the golden autumntide
Again it is glowing far and wide.
When a boy is crossing the churchyard there,
The tree is whispering: Want a pear?”
And when a girl chances to pass,
It whispers: “Come here for a pear, little lass.”

Thus blessings still dispensses the hand
Of von Ribbeck at Ribbeck in Havelland.

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