The barn is taking shape

“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

As always, I write in an entirely personal capacity and views expressed are my own, for which I take full responsibility. If Victor Meldrew was a hated figure for you, pass over the next few paragraphs!  

I think that I must start by acknowledging what a desperate position so many local people are in financially. Good people unable to pay their rent or council tax, unable to get a job because of the scarcity of work and the inevitable recruitment, where there is any, of cheaper-to-hire young people – made worse for unskilled jobs where recruiting is restricted to the age group 17 to 21. And of course, if you are a citizen from the EU it is even worse. Add, now lockdown has come, as the icing on the cake.  

I have no answers, though it does seem to me that we have brought it on ourselves with our drift into a society based on consumerism, greed and a buy now, short term approach, allied to a pay later ability, together with a rampant capitalist model which has delivered for a few people enormous wealth.  

I can actually remember the excitement when Sir Bernard Docker became the first millionaire – little did one guess what this presaged. Salary inflation at the top of organisations, and minimum wage at the lowest level. Perhaps we should have emigrated to New Zealand in the early 1970’s as we thought of doing, but are things actually different anywhere? I doubt it.  

I suppose we have coronavirus to thank for exposing this grim reality, which let’s be honest merely reflects a too common basic human weakness, together with our society’s inability to find a balance in the division of power between the state and the individual.  

Arbitrage is not a new concept. The Spaniards were using it from the 16th century. The modern variety appears to be Bitcoin Decimal. Historically, cruder versions were employed, such as using carrier pigeons to transfer news, of which horse won early enough that bets could be placed while bidding was still open. Arbitrage is not infallible, but moves the odds sufficiently in your favour to earn money on investments, at minimum risk. Businesses need long term investment – this kind of action may help individuals but can destroy businesses. 

As I have written before, it is the farm and family which makes it all not just worthwhile, but good. The farm because it represents our best efforts to retain values now so often discounted while the family and personal relationships are the most important things in life.  

Farm life

Midweek the weather changed completely and suddenly we were plunged into colder, if brighter conditions. All this after a fair amount of rain. Interestingly though the water level in the Bow Brook was raised no more than just under an inch, it was sufficient to fill the scrape which I suspect in the not too distant future will need some dredging. The Brook by the way is regarded by the Environmental Agency as a river, which makes sense since the Brook runs some thirty miles before joining the Stratford Avon.  

This means the bulk of the rain was absorbed by the pastures. Splendid in many ways but also meaning that the cattle must be brought in soon if they are not to do damage. Also we are already putting out hay for the young stock though there does remain grass for grazing. 

Driving rain or bitterly cold weather often provokes concern in visitors for the sheep. Understandable, but not really a cause for concern. The fleece of a sheep is full of lanoline which repels rainwater, external infection and cold. For the animal it is a real blessing, for the farmer and in particular for the wool merchant or would be user of the wool, not quite such a blessing unless you actually sell products based on lanoline.  

For the farmer, shearing needs to wait until warmer conditions to reduce the amount of lanoline in the fleece. For the buyer of the wool, extracting the lanoline, so the wool becomes something a customer would recognise, is not straightforward. For the individual, one interesting approach is called ‘suint fermentation’ for which all that is needed is a dustbin full of water, time and an ability to live with bad smells. 

It had been hoped that the lambs could be weighed this week but that proved impossible. The rams, who have been cossetted in recent weeks, will join the split breeding flock within the next two weeks. Each flock will have two rams allocated to it. 

There was a great deal of tension on Friday as we waited for the vet to come to complete the test for TB. And a great sense of relief when all animals were declared free of the disease.  

Work on the erection of the barn once started was rapid. Erecting the framework took two days and the roofing was completed before the end of the week. At this stage the sides are entirely open. Before the barn can actually be used, the ground under the roof has still to be prepared. This could not be completed until the erection was over because the machines used would have caused great damage. Next week hopefully that and also the concreting in the left-hand side of the main barn can be done. 

With the arrival of a new 1000 litre spraying machine and dry weather this week, hope has risen that the third spraying of the whole farm with preparation 500 may be possible. Our existing sprayer can only hold 450 litres. 

The dry weather has allowed some hedge cutting to take place in one of our smaller fields. Work needed to enable the existing tired fencing to be replaced.  

We were delighted to hear from Daniel who is now in Spain enjoying the relative warmth! Delighted also that he spoke as warmly about his time with us as we felt about him. He has not been replaced, and while the virus persists it is not easy to see when we can welcome woofers again, though we are already being approached from undergraduates studying at ISARA in Lyons for placements next summer – a nice reflection on the past experiences of their students here.  

To be closed to woofers as we are at the moment causes me great sadness but at least correspondence continues with past woofers.  

Apple juice

On Friday Rosie and Paul collected from Pershore College 240 bottles of apple juice pressed from the apples of our very ancient tree which fruits only every other year. The unit at the college, which we have used for years is very busy at this time of year since many local fruit growers also use their facility.  

‘In out time’ and other thoughts

Thursday’s “in our time” programme reminded me of some of the many reasons I regret the influence of Plato and Aristotle on thinking in the North-West European world. The discussion centred on Mary Astell, one of a number of proto feminist thinkers and writers of the 17th century. I suggest proto because their main argument was for women to be educated rather than to have equal political rights. Looking back, how could the great male thinkers of the day such as Locke, who the promoted the notion of equality, not see the illogicality of excluding women from this. With hindsight, who and what caused this intellectual blockage in thinking is obvious.  

I was very interested and grateful to be pointed in the direction of the United States Farm and Environment newsletter. Fundamentally the argument being made in an article by Brian Barth was that the push towards consolidation of food businesses in the United States meant bad news for ethical and environmental farming, in that it forced down prices and forced into play appalling farming practices. The article brought at once to mind the very famous book published in the 1970’s “Small is beautiful” by E.F. Schumacher – a book still very relevant today.  

Hopefully if the amendment to the Agriculture Bill is, as is claimed, adopted, existing good practice in animal health and welfare together with the ban on imports of hormone filled meat and chlorinated chicken will continue.  

It is so easy to imagine that our beliefs are widely shared. For me the one that really sticks in my mind, is seeing horses’ heads on display outside a butcher’s shop. Not just because horse meat is rarely deliberately eaten here but as much for the fragrant disregard for EU regulations. The latest surprise for me was learning that in Denmark and the Netherlands mink is farmed on a commercial scale. I could easily believe it of Russia or the USA but ……. This was only reported because all 15 million mink are to be slaughtered in Denmark, so ending the practice, because mink it seems carry a dangerous variant of coronavirus, something that has also been found in North America. 

The odds are that most are familiar with the poetry of Hartley’s father, of which “The rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” is probably the poem title we all recall. The Coleridge family – still extant – has done this country proud. Samuel Coleridge’s eldest son Hartley was perhaps the weakest member. Not through the opioid addiction of his father but through his personal weakness’s including for alcohol. His gifts were many but sadly wasted.  

November by Harley Coleridge  

THE mellow year is hasting to its close:  
The little birds have almost sung their last,  
Their small notes twitter in the dreary blast –  
That shrill-piped harbinger of early snows; –  
The patient beauty of the scentless rose,  
Oft with the morn’s hoar crystal quaintly glassed,  
Hangs a pale mourner for the summer past,  
And makes a little summer where it grows; –  
In the chill sunbeam of the faint brief day  
The dusky waters shudder as they shine;  
The russet leaves obstruct the straggling way  
Of oozy brooks, which no deep banks define,  
And the gaunt woods, in ragged, scant array,
Wrap their old limbs with sombre ivy-twine.

PS. Those of you who also ‘enjoyed’ taking GCE English Literature at O level will remember no texts could be taken into the examination so that the favourite question of examiners ‘Compare and contrast’ demanded of us detailed memories of, was it four poems?, two plays by Shakespeare and a couple of classic novels. It was the same approach in Latin – an expectation that your memory could, under pressure, throw up relevant quotes to justify your answers. Those certainly were the ‘happiest days of our lives’.  

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