The cattle are safely gathered in

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

Nearly every day of our lives we have to manage conflicting moral imperatives. They may be relatively easy – the white lie to avoid hurting somebody, or very difficult – as for example knowing your friend is cheating on his wife – do you shrug your shoulders or lose both friends, or a simpler example, you pick up a £20 pound note – do you hand it in to a police station, if you can find one, or just pocket it.  

This week we have seen these problems arise in public lives.  

I start with a relatively straightforward example. Saving heat loss from buildings reduces energy usage and costs – obviously a good thing. However, we now learn that from a health point of view, fresh air is vital if we are to have healthy lives.  

So living in our ancient home, which though insulated in the loft, is impossible to sensibly save heat, since there is no way we can make the building draft proof, is probably actually a healthier situation to living in a modern building – even if more layers of clothes are necessary in winter.  

The other example is slightly more complicated. We learnt some days ago that the two factories that produce farm fertilisers were shut down because of the rise in gas prices. Something, we thought, to be pleased about. Then we learnt that these factories are vital producers of CO2 – but isn’t that the gas most closely associated with climate change? But then we learn CO2 is vital to a whole host of industries from animal slaughterhouses to keeping food fresh for longer in our plastic packaged food, and of course for breweries.  

So, at the coming climate conference people will demand the reduction of CO2 emissions while knowing its production is vital to a whole host of industries. 

Life just isn’t simple!  

Farm Life 

In farming, as in almost every walk of life, one is constantly balancing what you believe to be right, against what you know is wrong from other points of view, from the trivial, such as trimming one’s hedges, to spending on vets many times what an animal is worth financially, against ones urge to do one’s best, even if you know it is a lost cause.  

As an organic farm, another tricky one is balancing animal welfare against certification requirements. But it does appear a corner has been turned with our certificated organic bodies, following the sharing of information provided by our vet, which was based on hard facts.  

As a result of this our ewes are going to experience treatment of two kinds, bolus’s and injections, while the lambs receive lighter treatment. Understandably the organic bodies are concerned that farmers might drop into a routine of treatment rather than a response to real needs. An understandable concern, particularly with antibiotics; however, for a farm this size, the financial implications of that are just not liveable with.  We shall, however, very reasonably have to elaborate our animal health plan accordingly.  

On the cattle front we have already brought into the barn the young stock, something which might puzzle you as this is very early. The reasons are quite simple and relate directly to the lack of any serious rain for many weeks. We must have pastures on which the sheep can overwinter, and while mature cattle can do well, even on poor grazing, it is vital for the physical development of the younger animals that they feed well.  

On Friday five bullocks went to Fordhall Farm, while on Monday we welcomed the birth of a bull calf.  

The pond

Otherwise, the major events of the week have been about the clearance of old fences and some ditch dredging as well. Given only a handful of ditches have any water in, that last activity disturbs no wildlife. As an illustration of the lack of rain I include a photo of the pond which shows by the sight of the inflow pipe on the far side, how bad matters actually are. As far as the removal of old fences, we no longer do it manually as we lack the manpower but rip them all out mechanically. It costs of course, but even if we had bodies, would still be the cheapest option. 

Additionally, we are having some hedges trimmed, in particular those along the bridle path.  

We learnt the other day that in this area the fox population has fallen, meaning that brown hares and hedgehogs are making a comeback. Certainly, we have always had a goodly number of hares, but for several years neither seen nor heard hedgehogs. Recently people have come across at least four on the farm – very good news.  

Less comfortable news is that myxomatosis is affecting our rabbit population. There may be too many, but that disease is not a good way to die. Following on from that word, the leaf fall is revealing the scores of elms now dead. They grow to some eleven feet, and that is that. More positively we have seen no sign of Ash ‘die back’ though perhaps the number of ‘stag oaks’ is up.  

Colonies, land and independence  

I am sure you will recall that not so long ago the Sykes-Picot line was much in the headlines. This was agreed between the French and British authorities in order to determine their particular areas of influence in the middle East. In addition to that, there was the notion of establishing a homeland for European Jews. Though we see and hear little of it in the headlines these days, the uprisings in Syria, the political disaster that is Lebanon, the actions of the Iran government, and the troubles in the Gaza strip bear witness to the results of American, British and French interference, and a certain attitude of mind still around today. That ex-President Trump could imagine buying Greenland from Denmark exemplifies that.  

Colonial powers having acquired new territories, as a matter of course made sure to define the boundaries of their new colonies. By the way it is an ingrained habit in the British as those of you who have lived overseas will know. When we settled in our new home in Lundazi, the handful of British teachers at once fenced their patch of land. So it was that colonial powers saw it as natural to draw lines on maps marking out what was theirs – rather as territorial animals behave naturally. That these lines frequently divided tribes was, apparently, not seen significant at the time, but after independence it became another matter.   

Defending these actions by the colonial powers is difficult. Sadly, the truth probably lies somewhere between lack of respect, or conversely enough respect to feel the need to reduce the power of an aggressive tribe and, or failure to understand the importance of the tribe to the people concerned or even more likely, the lines were drawn by officials ignorant of the importance of tribal systems, let alone the variety of languages spoken. In Zimbabwe, for example, there are 16 official languages. Another reason not normally recognised, was that some of these European imposed boundaries ensured the protection of indigenous people from being overrun by the southerly movement of other African tribes.  

Before going further an apology is needed. In talking about the 19th century as being a period when colonial wars seemed to be fought every year, I forgot to draw your attention to the writings of George McDonald Fraser. Few will be unaware of the story of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” even though it was published in the 1850’s and was very moralistic. Subsequently the story has been made into films and TV series. A key character in the story is Flashman, a bully and thoroughly ‘bad hat’. Fraser came up with the idea of using this character, now as an adult, to explore the later colonial wars of the 19th century. Flashman is certainly not a hero, rather a coward and womaniser, who somehow always falls on his feet and becomes a hero to the outside world. The stories are very readable if rather ribald, and I think the series ran into the 20th century. Rather more to the point, each book, however fantastic the story, is based on solid facts which are set out in each book as appendices.  

The history of Afghanistan 

I have been concerned for a very long time but did not want to throw it into the emotional whirlpool earlier, at what I feel is the widespread ignorance of the history of Afghanistan, which if understood by those in authority, whether in Russia, America or Britain, might have saved many lives and avoided the fiasco of the recent withdrawal.  

The geographical position of Afghanistan has always been important as it sat on the major east west trade routes. In the 19th century it was seen as being a potential gateway for Russia to attack British India. And indeed, around the start of the 19th century Russia did seriously contemplate such action. But thereafter, the Russian threat was real only in the imaginations of the British – there are obvious parallels with Ireland, except it was not just in the British imagination that countries such as France and Spain saw that country as a springboard for attacking Britain.  

This fear led to the invasion by British forces, and humiliating defeat in what we now describe as the First Afghan War. Nobody in British Indian Army seems to have realised that tribal warfare was a way of life in that country, or that warfare in such difficult terrain required a very different approach, and so grievously underestimated the scale of the undertaking.  However, lessons were learnt, and in 1867 the Second Afghan War, and later the Third Afghan war, saw British India seize a chunk of what had been Afghanistan and incorporate those parts into what was then India. 

To solidify the position under international law, a treaty was signed, delineating the boundaries of the two countries – the Durand Line. An approach typical of that time, and while understood in Europe, not necessarily so in other societies.  

When independence came in 1947, British India was divided into two parts, and it was Pakistan that was saddled with the consequences of the drawing up of that line more than fifty years earlier. The Pashtuns as a tribal power occupied territory in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. So, when we in the West castigate Pakistan for not doing more to stabilise the situation, perhaps there should be more understanding on our part. They inherited a huge potential problem, to add to the difficulties facing that country as it inherited areas where tribal warfare had always been a problem – just as to the British authorities.  

With the British gone, the Durand line could no longer ensure the division of the tribes did not become an impossible situation to manage. Even today, Europeans and their derivatives assume that, as they think, is both how other cultures think or, if they don’t, should.  

I think a change of mood is definitely needed, and given my personal pleasure in hares, and my comments earlier I offer a rather famous poem: 

Hares at Play’ by John Clare


The birds are gone to bed, the cows are still, 
And sheep lie panting on each old mole-hill; 
And underneath the willow’s gray-green bough, 
Like toil a-resting, lies the fallow plough. 
The timid hares throw daylight fears away 
On the lane’s road to dust and dance and play, 
Then dabble in the grain by naught deterred 
To lick the dew-fall from the barley’s beard; 
Then out they sturt again and round the hill 
Like happy thoughts dance, squat, and loiter still, 
Till milking maidens in the early morn 
Jingle their yokes and sturt them in the corn; 
Through well-known beaten paths each nimbling hare 
Sturts quick as fear, and seeks its hidden lai
r.

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