Again, the push felt to start these notes with the weather news is great – be it a farming push, or perhaps because we are mostly here British! Either way, the warm, followed by the frosts, followed by sunshine and showers, followed by the north wind, and then once again rain, all within the last fortnight, is keeping us on our toes. We need to bring the cattle out of the barn ahead of lambing, so we need the pasture to be ‘less wet’ under hoof, and of course, we need the pasture to be growing well so the herd and ewes have enough to eat.

In a spell of a whole 4 days without rain, the youngest herd of young stock (aged 6-12 months) came out of the barn at the start of this week, and although there was a skip in their step, the last days of significant rain have left them pacing the far gates that lead back to the barn! We still have the older young stock (12-30 months) in the one side of the barn, and the Suckler herd in the other side of the barn.

Regardless of our worries, spring is sprung. The Goat Willow has been amazing. The Damson is in full bloom, early Cherries and Crab Apples are humming with the bees visiting, the hedgerows are turning white. Our local Thatcher came to get his annual haul of hazel from the wood, and as you might expect, the waterfowl are now frequent visitors – the moorhens and geese, and the pair of mallards that have moved onto the ‘scrape’ along the drive. Water Beetles have even been spotted in the standing water. Bird life is busy. Nests are being built all around us.

The Guinea Fowl are now out and about and providing regular entertainment. Their daily inspections of the units does not get old to watch! They are also becoming more and more adventurous. We have found them in Field 7 by the house, and Field 8 along the driveway. They have inspected the Field 11 garden too of course, and as far down as to the barn! Yesterday they met the young cows for the first time – a Mexican Standoff lasted a few minutes while they assessed once another. In the end, they politely determined to stay out of each other’s way.

We have had a new heifer calf from ‘Texas Cow’ – if in any doubt about why she is so named, the photo should explain all! We have also had a new bull calf. We are keeping on our theme and naming him Arthur.

Last Friday, we had just settled down for a cup of tea when the call came through – calf loose at the barn! Although the wonderful Lesley was already on the scene and trying to let us know, due to the patchy phone signal in the farmhouse we eventually got the message from a passing dog walker. Boots and I headed up to the barn and were relieved to find Lesley ready and waiting. The calf was saying hello to some of its older cousins in the young stock, who at that point were in the other side of the barn.

It was pretty clear how the calf had escaped – one of the gates to the suckler herd was wide open. Frankley we were amazed it was just one calf out and not the whole herd… It was the work of a minute to shepherd the calf back around, and usher him through the gate, with a few curious cows just starting to look like they wanted to come and join him outside. Needless to say, we made doubly sure to tie the gate shut with plenty of baling twine! The mystery of how it was open in the first place still remains…

Spring is the best time for housekeeping across the farm, and so the job list at the moment is to fix fencing where we have gaps, sort the gates around the barn and gallop, tidy the fallen trees – the Elms across the farm are all getting to that age… The grass around the flow form in the Triangle field needs clearing and fencing, and the reservoir needs patching ahead of this year’s spraying. The trailers and tractors need pressure washing to get all the mud out of their parts, even if we know that more rain will fall. We also need to get the Swift boxes up – especially as Alice heard one just yesterday, and get our new trees planted across the farm. The barn area now cleared of cattle is having the muck and bedding straw moved to the windrows ahead of cleaning before lambing.

The sheep are doing well, organised into areas depending on their lambs due. The ewes with triplets will be in the barn by the end of this week – the concern regards ewe’s casting when they are this wide is a real one, and we are all on the lookout for them. We are checking them daily.

The barn is, as we say, being readied for lambing, which is due to start in the next days. The equipment list is long and varied, from a book to record the arrivals, to the First Aid kit needed on hand. There is much talk in the farming community about castration of the male lambs, and how best to manage this job for the short- and long-term welfare of the animals. This was part of our annual review with our vet Anne back in October, and we remain mindful of the welfare of the animals being always the priority.

Ahead of the arrival of the lambs, and the sleeplessness that comes with that work, the job around the kitchen table is to devise the grazing plan for the year ahead – the plan will of course be based on all things being equal… On that theme, it won’t surprise you to know that the price of straw is climbing as farmers forecast low yields this year. Most have still not been able to get on their land to till, let along to sow.

In the Field 11 Veg Garden, the waters rose again, leading to a weekend of finding, and then jet washing the land drains which had become full of tree roots. Some of the roots were less happy than others to leave their perfect growing conditions. Paul can remember undertaking this job nearly 30 years ago, so no wonder the roots were quite as substantial as they were! We have the dates for spraying 500 in hand, and despite the weather, we can proceed hand spraying both the field 11 and house garden. Stirring the 500 for an hour is a meditative task thought of long before the mindfulness of today. A perfect opportunity for us to have to be still while the water’s swirl. The nematodes have been applied, and rotavating is on pause while the rain flows. All seeds except lettuce are up – we will have to retry with the lettuce now that the slugs, hopefully, are less. The new Veg Box scheme is fully subscribed. Remember too, if you are nearby, Village Fabrics open day is fast approaching!

The official invitation from the alumnae has been sent out, and we are looking forward to hosting this in July, and currently we are working on plans for a Lambing open day. Lambing late like we do is perfect for visitors – at least, we hope it will be; that the days will be a bit warmer. 

We are not sure how much on your radars’ is the many negative effects of Brexit, but at the turn of this year, a new law came into force requiring every living import (plants) and all products derived from animals (e.g. baby formula) to be given a health certificate before it can enter the UK. We know that M&S have had to employ a group of vets for this purpose, but for small companies – like Ulula – learning the process and finding access to authorised vets to work with, to get the required health certificate, to ensure that the Holle order to be allowed into the UK, took 4 weeks, for one piece of paper, and one stamp. It is hard to cope with in thought, but in actuality is even more frustrating. What a pointless waste of money, energy and time.

The brightside of this experience for Ulula was the driver who brought the first, long overdue order. He arrived on Saturday morning, was enormously cheerful and helpful as they unloaded, and, until he was given another job, he had to find somewhere to stay, so was offered the business park. He explained on Sunday morning that he had enjoyed his best night’s sleep. It turns out that when you park up in a lorry yard, you sleep with one eye open as you are likely to get your fuel siphoned out – and at £1000 a tank full, you can’t afford for that to happen. He still hadn’t been given a job on Sunday, and so asked if there was anything he could help with. Help he did, all morning working with Paul on a carpentry project, where he learnt to drink tea with milk – which he agreed was much better and would introduce as a real thing to his wife when he eventually got home!

As protests continue across the channel, the UK farmers are still trying to be heard by those ‘with power’ – the latest in the UK, a protest by 50 or so tractors driving through Westminster – quite a sight to watch the news reporters trying to clamber into the cabs to interview the farmers inside! This is of course a complex issue, and many faceted, made worse by a lack of real understanding of the situation on the ground. As ever, we are told that they are ‘listening’, but with food security as critical as it is these days, what do they think will happen when we reach the tipping point of farmers giving up their farms to try and make ends meet in another way…

In many ways, the world is feeling a little bleak – should we take up the Malthusian or Boserup theory… or perhaps safest is a mixture of the two, except, will that lead to more inaction? Either way, with the Guinea Fowl/Young Herd as our inspiration, we were steered towards Ted Hughes.

Wishing you all a good and peaceful Easter weekend.

A Woman Unconscious by Ted Hughes

Russia and America circle each other;
Threats nudge an act that were without doubt
A melting of the mould in the mother,
Stones melting about the root.
The quick of the earth burned out:
The toil of all our ages a loss
With leaf and insect.  Yet flitting thought
(Not to be thought ridiculous)
Shies from the world-cancelling black
Of its playing shadow: it has learned
That there’s no trusting (trusting to luck)
Dates when the world’s due to be burned;
That the future’s no calamitous change
But a malingering of now,
Histories, towns, faces that no
Malice or accident much derange.
And though bomb be matched against bomb,
Though all mankind wince out and nothing endure —
Earth gone in an instant flare —
Did a lesser death come
Onto the white hospital bed
Where one, numb beyond her last of sense,
Closed her eyes on the world’s evidence
And into pillows sunk her head.

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