Working through our weekly job sheet on Friday, I was able to tick off four items as either completed or as being ‘in hand’! The most significant of these involved checking the condition of ewes and lambs, and then separating them into two flocks. Judging by the lack of noise from either group, as with most animals, there comes a point where the mothering instinct goes until the next birthing sequence. Happily, though there were half a dozen or so animals needing treatment to their feet, the condition of lambs and ewes was good. To date, aside from giving a mineral drench to ensure deficiencies in mineral needs are met, there has been no need to use a worming drench. Next week another 15 lambs are to be sold.
We had a buyer look at our steers during the week, and four more animals will go on Sunday with two more to go later. The sale of lambs and steers means cash coming in for the first time since last February – a great relief since the cost of feeding and bedding the cattle last winter was, for us, astronomical. On a different front, cattle numbers falling below 70 removes some concerns about housing and feeding.
The farm team has been enhanced this past week by the addition of John & partner Linda. John, father of Chris, and in pastimes a farmer of 3,000 acres, was, despite war wounds, more useful than me in moving stock and giving moral support.
Jack, despite dangerous winds, has, when set free from other jobs, been busy filling up crates with apples. We really do have a bumper crop so should have many, many bottles of apple juice this winter. He has rapidly become a member of our team.
Our pastures are looking good. In an effort to ensure their grazing usefulness into the winter we continue with our own version of ‘mob grazing’, which of course means no more than ensuring no pasture gets eaten down too close to the earth.
Brendan and Jack, using a hired digger, have created a hard-cored area at the back of the barn for the tractor to access the bales in winter. That done, they made a significant length of the bridle path more user friendly! All in all, a very worthwhile use of time, and done before the storms which brought both heavy rain and wind.
While there is no news to report as regards our higher tier application, Natural England are suggesting that we may get our last payment under the Higher-Level Stewardship agreement shortly. It should have come in April, but better late than never. Sadly, it is delays like that which can only earn the banks more money and increase the constant tension every farmer feels amount finance.
Inevitably as I start to pull together data for our Demeter inspection I get a better picture of how the year has gone. Despite the drought, at this stage, I am prepared to cautiously say we can feel pretty good. Lambing and calving has been better than in the past, our BD spraying programme has gone well, and for the first year ever we have been a position to mulch seven fields. Our overdraft is frightening rather than terrifying, and we have a confirmed market for our sheep.
Finances next year are going to tight because we will not be seeing money from higher tier for many months, and we have to find our share of the money to pay for the funding of the refencing of the farm, together with any associated costs arising from the reseeding of ten fields in the same year. What Brexit may mean, of course, hangs over us all – thankfully in our family ‘nil desperandum’ is the motto.
I have shared our recent experiences with TB having been ‘seen to be present’ in a number of our cattle. Some aspects of this process brought to mind certain experiences in central Africa. In Zambia we frequently passed through an area where tsetse fly was prevalent, (flies which carry ‘sleeping sickness’ and are very dangerous for humans, cows and horses), so there were barriers on roads exiting such zones where you were sprayed with DDT to ensure you carried no flies out of the area.
These barriers were manned from 6am to 6pm since it was judged those were the significant hours. For obvious reasons this was always a source of amusement, not least because of the assumption that the flies only flew along the few roads…
While this is not quite ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’, it does have similarities with the requirements now demanded upon us post the identification of possible TB in some of our cattle. We humans are a splendidly absurd species!
Bearing in mind my past comments about American determination to cling to absurd myths, it felt appropriate to listen to Ian Hislop discussing King Arthur and Alfred the Great in English mythology. I suppose there must be some who believe in the former, and in some of the stories about the latter, but it has to be accepted that national myths are certainly not unimportant at different times in a nation’s history. Symbolism can matter!
Oddly, having referred to American exceptionalism on the 9th September, I then heard the American novelist, Kurt Anderson, speaking on the 18th September, defining that exceptionalism as a ‘commitment to the implausible’, and more lately to ‘total individualism and a commitment to acceptance of the notion ‘anything goes’ by those on both the left and right’ – the home of paranoid obsessions. One suspects this later impulse is gaining ground in this country.
For a number of years Anne and I were regular visitors to a friend whose family had a property in a hamlet on the coast of southern Sweden. Aside from the company, the bird life on the water and the tranquillity, a real charm was listening to the singing of a thrush nightingale which we heard almost every night. Though it has been some years since we last went, ‘silent radio’ on radio 4 brought memories back by playing the sounds of a nightingale in Burgundy a few days ago. Amusingly, an indignant listener wanted to know ‘why had the presenter talked over the recording’!
When buying CD’s, there are essentially only three choices: music by only one composer, music by only one performer or music by a particular conductor. Depending on mood, any one of these is fine, but this week I have been listening to a set of recordings of English music conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. The variety is enjoyable even though some of the music is not to my taste. I think my next move will be to listen to a slightly more modern conductor, Neeme Jarvi. As an Estonian he was very much at home in Scandinavian music – a genre I much enjoy.
In the 1970’s I made a real effort to reach some understanding of the Irish and their history, since my work in Manchester much involved working within the community. Manchester had many flourishing ethic minority communities including the Irish.
I still have somewhere on my shelves a book written in the 1960’s titled “The Irish”, but this and the stories of Somerville and Ross only took one so far. In search of enlightenment, I went on to buy a book by R F Foster titled ‘Modern Ireland 1660 – 1972’. What I was left with, having read that book, was the feeling that it was no wonder the Irish and English utterly fail and failed to understand each other.
More recently I have just read ‘A game of sorrows’ set in Ulster in 1628 which has vividly fleshed out the history set out in Foster’s book, the first chapters of which I have just read again. Since the novel is written by a historian of impeccable respectability, the basic ‘facts’ can be taken as correct. More importantly the book for me brought to life the rather dry words of Foster’s early chapters. In passing, it also ‘shot down’ a number of ‘facts’ I thought were cast iron in their correctness. What an irony it is that the present Northern Ireland, as Ulster, was up to the 1600’s, was the last stronghold of the Gaelic language and the traditional Irish’ culture in the island of Ireland!
The author of this series turned out to be the author of the Seeker series, the third volume of which I read last week. Some time ago I wrote about John Lilburne. In this book, his more sober brother, Colonel Robert Lilburne (a signatory to the death warrant for Charles I), appears correctly as Governor of York.
We have come to accept the notion of histories of the world being euro-centric, but what is not so well understood by the English is how British history, as traditionally written, is so English-centric! How many of us south of the border knew that clan warfare in Scotland was alive and well up until 1688? Do we even have much understanding of the significance of the ‘clan’? Was the clan system inherited from the Irish who invaded highland Scotland in the 6th century and displaced the Picts? Was there ever a Clan Parsons? I think not!
Much to reflect on here, but well outside my knowledge zone!
I normally shy away from poems with a religious view – and that does reduce the choice significantly – but with apples so much on our minds how could I not share the poem below.
Under a Wiltshire Apple Tree by Anna Bunston (Mrs. De Bary)
SOME folk as can afford,
So I’ve heard say,
Set up a sort of cross
Right in the garden way
To mind ‘em of the Lord.
But I, when I do see
Thik apple tree
An’ stoopin’ limb
All spread wi’ moss,
I think of Him
And how He talks wi’ me.
I think of God
And how He trod
That garden long ago;
He walked, I reckon, to and fro
And then sat down
Upon the groun’
Or some low limb
What suited Him
Such as you see
On many a tree,
And on thik very one
Where I at set o’ sun
Do sit and talk wi’ He.
And, mornings too, I rise and come
An’ sit down where the branch be low;
A bird do sing, a bee do hum,
The flowers in the border blow,
And all my heart’s so glad and clear
As pools when mists do disappear:
As pools a-laughing in the light
When mornin’ air is swep’ an’ bright,
As pools what got all Heaven in sight
So’s my heart’s cheer
When He be near.
He never pushed the garden door,
He left no footmark on the floor;
I never heard ‘Un stir nor tread
And yet His Hand do bless my head,
And when ’tis time for work to start
I takes Him with me in my heart.
And when I die, pray God I see
At very last thik apple tree
An’ stoopin’ limb,
And think of Him
And all He been to me.