Well, this week the weather has had to take a back seat, even if we have had several lovely sunny days. If Brexit was not a sufficient challenge, we now have Coronavirus. Planning for any farmer is, given the vagaries of the weather, testing, the new challenges make it all but impossible. Is this like the millennium fear that IT systems round the world would collapse as the year 2000 came in, or is it Armageddon?? Not a time perhaps to be our age; perhaps it’s a plot to solve the problems facing social services!

After being on tenterhooks all day on Friday, I am delighted to report that all of the herd tested free of TB. That means at least six months before the process is repeated. We were as always impressed by the professionalism of the vet, and she was suitably happy at our organisation and efficiency. 

Otherwise I am happy to report that we have had another calf, and probably need to arrange to have selected cows checked for possible pregnancies as we normally have this done in February and November of each year. There is no doubt that the cattle, though very well behaved, would like to get outside again and enjoy the freedom that gives. Once, and if, the ground dries out quite a lot more, that will happen.

Looking at our derogation of last autumn I was reminded that four fields still have to be re-seeded. One at least may just possibly be ready now. I have therefore contacted our expert Johnathan Boas.

My next task is to collect the data and supporting paperwork to meet the demands of our Soil Association inspector. Even after all these years of very successful inspections, I have a degree of nervousness, but that is probably better than being over complacent.

While TB testing and the health of the herd has dominated day to day thinking, we do still have nearly 200 sheep on the farm. Though the lambs sold last week were not as light as feared and in reasonable condition, the remainder clearly needed to be put onto fresh grass. This they now have, though there is a downside to placing them in this field, and that relates to the brambles. A lamb or sheep caught by brambles has the sad inclination to just stand there until death arrives – the fact that they could free themselves just passes them by. A daily chore therefore is clearing all stuck animals. All that is needed is to clap your hands or walk right up to them in 99% of the cases.

It had been the intention to run the ewes through the race this week to extract any looking thin and hold them separately so that they got a proper share of the feed, but that did not happen – though it will next week. The universal law that ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’ applies even to the share of feed a ewe might get.

As regards the water logging on the farm, it is clear that the flushing out of field drainage pipes worked very well everywhere but in the gallop. The photos below were taken only 24 hours after last week’s big rain. For the gallop, it seems clear that to solve that problem we shall have to put in one or more field drains running either to the main ditch or directly into the river. A task for the summer.

The civil engineering works in the business park have all but finished the first phase. All drains now discharge into the new tank. The ‘tank training ground’ is unlikely to be sorted before the summer. Redundant tanks have to be dealt with and the great heap of soil will have to be found a new home…

Furkan is gone but not forgotten. As expected, when we went to ‘mothball’ the mobile home until June, we found all had been left splendidly clean and tidy. We now anticipate a gap of three and a half months before three students from Lyon join us. We look forward to that because the institute sends us only the best of visitors.

A number of major matters that have come to light have serious implications for farming, of which the worst, and demonstrably the most stupid, came from a close ally of Dominic Cummings. This individual suggested that since farming and fishing contribute so little to the nation’s gross domestic product they should cease to be supported in any way by government.  All this is based apparently on the fact that Singapore thrives without either enterprise. What an absurd analogy, as Singapore is only 31 miles long and 15 miles wide. I shall resist saying more since it hopefully is a total nonstarter, as well as ignoring the reality that just under 70% of the UK is farmed. It has to be a concern though that the present agricultural bill is said to make no reference to food production.

More positively, it appears that on the TB front we might be moving to the use of cattle vaccines and vaccination of badgers rather than culling. It has to said, ‘about time too’. A second possible change relates to the 30-month rule. You need not know the gory details, but this was brought in after the BSE crisis. It applies to all cattle even though BSE was confined essentially to dairy herds and beef herds that were not solely grass fed. The regulations particularly hit native and grass-fed cattle since they mature less quickly than those fed cereals – for which the cows digestion system is not suitable.

Finally, a word on our excitements with the RPA. Our thanks go both to the Farming Community Network and our MP who continue to work on our behalf but, as of Sunday, no monies have been forthcoming, not even our revenue payment for last year. Still, on Thursday I did at least receive a ‘phone call to tell me that, after some 5 months, the appeal procedure was starting for the Capital Claim that you may recall was for the seed we paid for last September. On Friday I heard that the Revenue Claim had moved on to the finance team and that money might be paid in two weeks or so. I have been told this before, so we are staying calm about the matter.

Merely as a reminder, the RPA staff are paid by the taxpayers to pay out monies collected from the taxpayers of which I, even at 78, continue to pay. A pity they appear to forget this.

Starlings and other birds

At one time the climbing rose on the back of a unit in the business park housed a large group of very noisy starlings. Sadly, the rose had to be severely trimmed back to avoid the wall collapsing. Since that time the farm has not had a large flock of starlings in residence. So, it was with enormous pleasure a murmuration of starlings developed above the gallop as a large flock was disturbed. Their departure was followed inevitably by flocks of rooks and seagulls.

The resident pair of buzzards have been very much in evidence recently either grubbing around in a pasture or sat on fence posts. Given our real interest in ornithology we were delighted to hear that Gert, who last surveyed the farm’s bird population some ten years ago, is now able to carry out the survey again this year. Last time, if the varieties of birds around the house, were included, over seventy species of birds were recorded. Our great hope is that this number has held up if not increased.

It had to be admitted that time and finally excessive rain lying on areas where the daffodils bulbs sit, means that the display this year along the drive is reduced. Elsewhere the advance of spring continues, with most plants showing new buds and shoots. The snowdrops may be over as are the blossoms of the Mirabelle plums, but the primroses, weigela and daffodils add much needed colour to lanes and gardens.

Canadian stamps

Since I mentioned my Canadian stamp collection last week, I feel I owe you an update. The experts from Ulula filled and documented 13 boxes weighing around 130 kegs and all departed on Thursday. They are such professionals and managed to not make rude comments on how I could have collected so much. Those of you who know me well will know the space created is being filled rapidly!

‘Slightly Foxed’ 

A straightforward ‘plug’ for those of you who are not signed up with ‘Slightly Foxed’. This small group of enthusiasts publish a quarterly review containing a number of essays and from time to time a poem. They also publish beautiful reprints of books for young and old, long out of print, and abandoned by the big publishers. Nothing like the Folio Society I hasten to add, smaller, less pretentious and the review contains essays, just the right length, and a pleasure to read. 

‘Silence, A Christian History’ reviewed

I have at last finished Diarmaid MacCulloch’s paperback on “Silence – A Christian History”. Puzzled, having read it, I turned to reviews for the views of others and also found an engrossing hour-long interview on an Australian radio station. 

The book is in four parts of which the last is easiest to read and perhaps, for some, the most contentious. Certainly, it was the part which caused most thought on my part as to exactly what we mean when we use the word ‘silence’. At first sight a singularly uninteresting question but, taken slowly, a range of meaning begin to emerge.

The first three parts were very challenging. Without knowledge of the bible, hardly worth reading. Even if, like myself, one can claim to be reasonably well acquainted with it.  MacCulloch, for me at least, gave new insights, and in particular demonstrated how my reading, or if you prefer, interpretation, was so influenced by my upbringing and own view of the world. I have talked before of how Paul has been traduced over the centuries. I now discover passages in John that badly jar and illustrate how easy it is to skip over a verse you find repugnant. As a final thought when we darkly mutter about interpretations of Islam, the saying that comes very much to mind is, ‘those living in glasshouses should not throw stones’

Mudlarking and memories

I read  ‘Mudlarking’ by Ted Sandling  over the weekend, and as I read was overwhelmed by memories; of the time when the London docks were still central to British life, of the coal ingrained sands exposed at Shoebury when the tide went out, of the colliers being beached at high tide for offloading at their own short jetty, of Thames barges with their traditional red sails and rigging sailing past when the tide was in.

A fantastic book for everyone. Well written, splendid photographs and 2000 years of history gently bought to mind.

Sadly, most poems about the Thames completely miss the nitty gritty of life, but the poem set out below seems to me totally apposite. Kipling’s poem ‘A rivers tale’ covers the time before the poem below and is one all young people living in this country should be exposed to but is far too long to reproduce here.

Mudlarks by Victor Keegan

History can be read in books but for something more
Meander as a mudlark on Rotherhithe’s shore,
A museum of history from days of yore.

Observe, twice daily; the angry sea drives
The Thames back upstream then quickly subsides
Straining the banks that can barely cope
Shaking the foreshore like a kaleidoscope,
Leaving freshly churned history on the beach
Medieval pipes, bricks, tiles, shards each
Could tell a story if only it could speak.
Who last smoked this pipe? What mansion unknown
Was stealthily stripped of this half-hewn stone?

Is the flint and chalk that splatters the strand
Discarded from ships and then dumped unplanned.
Could those animal bones whose shapes you see
Be discarded bits from a tannery
To be made into handles or something more
To make a few pennies for Rotherhithe’s poor
Even those twines could give scavengers hope
They could be sold – yes, money for old rope.
Tread softly on all that oak stripped from ships
Which ended life here after perilous trips
To form platforms where ships were broken down
With the wood sold to locals to grow the town
And soon you will find thrown up by the swell

The silver remains of an oyster shell… ‘

Rotherhithe  by Victor Keegan

“…Rotherhithe creates a dream-like friction
So quick it can morph from fact to fiction.
Where else as imagination unravels
Could Gulliver have started his famous travels
Or Thames-ditched corpses meet a morbid end
As Dickens described in Our Mutual Friend.
This town adjusts with fiery passion
To the shifting whims of global fashion
But always knows if one is being frank
There is one above all it needs to thank.
It is Father Thames, that benign giver
Who turned the town with its passing river
Into a source of wealth soon to provide
Much needed jobs, houses and civic pride…“

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