Having had a taste of winter, it now seems that mild weather is to come. Indeed, aside from leafless trees and cruelly trimmed hedges, given the multitude of catkins, the green of our pastures and the first shoots of snowdrops and daffodils together with the few primroses in flower, one might almost think spring has come.
Sadly, the green of the pastures does not mean the need to feed stock is much reduced, and at this time of year as always, the worry is whether we have feed enough. All stock seem well, but signs of spring cause some discontent among the cattle over their ‘imprisonment’ in the barn continuing.
Aside from one cow, all the cattle seem fine. The animal causing slight concern, aside from one the issue seems otherwise content and pain free. A brief conversation on the quality of calves that Bacchus is siring left us content, but as we know he will have to move on soon.
There is some lameness in the ewes and as a safeguard we will disinfect the areas around the feeding trailers. Another batch of lambs go this weekend, so we now only have 30 or so left to sell. This winter has not been kind to our rams, and we have had to cull two. We have held back two replacement lambs but may feel the need to buy in new blood.
Those who have walked the farm comment on the mud, but the reality is that we have so far not had nearly enough rain to make up for last years’ shortfall. Indeed, the pastures are as firm as might normally be expected in September. Given the extensive sowing programme we plan for this year, we may already have a problem.
In recent years, only minimal work has been carried out in the wood. Without human intervention, woodland at ground level descends into a wilderness of brambles and shrub. Jack has this week started on the task of attempting to undo some of our neglect. His actions will not be appreciated by the inhabitants of the ‘wild wood’ – deer, hares, squirrels and smaller mammals face some disruption, but it would be good to get back to the time when primroses, cowslips and bluebells made the wood in springtime a magical place.
We are already receiving requests from woofers. Choosing from the many applicants is something we take very seriously not least when we hope to be entering into Higher Tier Stewardship.
Key topics on the ‘pasture-fed’ site have been holistic management, calving practice and the value of seaweed as a fertiliser. This last takes me back to a time when every spring and autumn I would carry full compost bags of wet seaweed up the very steep slope from the ‘Whistling Sands’ beach to the car park at the top – and all this for our composting at home where we kept an extensive fruit and vegetable patch. Of course, it’s probably illegal now, and the thought of just getting my body up that slope today alone, yet alone carrying the seaweed is unimaginable!
The issue of when to calve is not unimportant. For years we sought to calve twice a year – spring and autumn. More recently we have abandoned this approach for a variety of reasons, most down to practicalities. One or two calves a month is easier to manage, finding a location for the bull, when he is not with his ladies, another. Of course, he could just live in the bullpen for two months at a time, but that feels not quite right, or he could be put in a paddock with a steer for company, but that ties up a field when we are usually struggling to follow a modified mob grazing approach.
As an individual I find certain words hard to understand, holistic is one of them – so I have lifted the following statement to make all clear what it apparently means in farming:
“Holistic Management is a value-based decision-making framework that integrates all aspects of planning for social, economic, and environmental considerations. From farmers in the UK, ranchers in the USA, and pastoralists in Kenya— this framework has been practised all over the world to help farmers develop successful businesses as well as improve the health of their land so they can continue to support their communities with quality food. Holistic Management is a value-based decision-making framework that integrates all aspects of planning for social, economic, and environmental considerations. From farmers in the UK, ranchers in the USA, and pastoralists in Kenya— this framework has been practised all over the world to help farmers develop successful businesses as well as improve the health of their land so they can continue to support their communities with quality food”
I am tempted to say – “so there!” – but that would be cheap. I would like to think our approach might be regarded as holistic, but perhaps defined slightly less grandiosely and more practically.
Before the matter totally slips from my memory, I cannot resist commenting on the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna. As sleep overcame me, I was first reminded how boring it is to listen to an endless series of barely distinguishable pieces of light music, and how the main interest becomes counting how far the orchestra is getting on – on the equality front and noting the minimal progress. The second thought is that it is no wonder these empires such as that of Austria collapsed when so much money was poured into palaces at a time when social unrest was growing. The third is, why was so much effort and money poured into rebuilding structures that reflect a period long past – was it essentially in the interests of tourism, or is it an attempt to deny the past?
While I am not an uncritical supporter of the BBC, especially its news coverage, I have always been a supporter of radio 3. In recent times I have found much on radio 4 worthwhile and challenging, particularly since I no longer have to leap out of bed at 6.30!
For national radio to run such programmes as “In Our Time” and “The long view” surely reflects the best in our culture. I accept my stance strongly reflects my view that while ‘historicism’ is a false way forward, a lack of knowledge and understanding of the past is a sad and potentially dangerous position to be in.
A better understanding of what is going on in the battle over Brexit comes from realising that the argument at the heart of Brexit is not new – either in this century and country or at other times and in other societies in the past. It is about whether an economy does best on ‘laissez-faire’ or tariffs. This argument has brought down at least two conservative governments in the past 150 years and at the moment finds the Labour Party with no clear position.
But these are not the only programmes of interest! I have just finished listening to a fascinating series on how five countries see the English today. Hopefully some of you may have listened to it. For myself I had never properly understood the role Lugard played in Nigeria, nor the importance of missionaries in ensuring the end of the British Empire. And how did they achieve this – by spreading literacy. In passing, some of the programmes emphasised the follies of all empires in creating artificial countries. In addition, the programme on Nigeria pointed to the positive attitude taken by British governments to the Muslim world also shown in the partition of India, 40 plus years later.
Reading Paul Lever’s book “Berlin Rules: Europe and the German way” left me thinking what an amateur Donald Trump is when it comes to attempts ‘to put your country first’. This is a book which should be required reading for those, perhaps a minority, with the nervous energy left to think about Brexit. Perhaps the poem chosen last week would be most appropriate now but…
In the present circumstances, not least the arguments ‘raging’(?) over Brexit, I think a non-contentious and charming poem is necessary.
Lone flower, hemmed in with snows, and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day
Storms sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art though welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years.