The cow horns have arrived!

The cow horns have arrived!

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

At the end of a damp, grey and dreary day the young cattle were brought in and housed on the right-hand side of the main barn, the bedding having been spread earlier in the day.  

Tim is firmly back into the winter animal feeding routine which for the cattle at least should be easier this year. 

All seems well with the sheep. At the end of the week all the lambs were weighed, Chris, Tim, Rosie and Boots all working together and staying focussed and cheerful despite the cold and damp. All this had to be completed obviously before the lambs going to Ford Hall Farm could be separated out. So, the number of lambs now on the farm is under 100. 

The weather has not stopped work on the barn but as a result mud seems everywhere along the routes used by the agricultural machines, and in particular around the left hand side of the barn where, drains having been put in, some 1500 cubic feet of soil has had to be excavated before the section between the two barns is concreted and the other feeding tombstones fitted. The gutters on the new barn are still not fixed. This is fortunately the responsibility of the contractors since the length of guttering supplied was several feet too short!

At the end of the day we have high hopes of a really professional setup which meets the needs of stock and storage without needing to repeatedly damage the pasture in which it is set. Looking at tracks across one of the fields the consolation was that unless the damage is too great or repeated damaged ground recovers amazingly quickly.  

I suspect my listening obsession this week with the choral music of William Byrd is a reflection more of the weather rather than the ongoing absurdities of Donald Trump. 

The remaining cow horns have arrived and sit in a large cardboard box in the centre of a living room – so far, I have avoided tripping over it.  

The new Agricultural Act and ensuing thoughts

On a national level there was a statement by the Secretary of State on the new Agricultural Act followed by a lengthy question and answer period.  

As you can imagine I listened carefully to the statement and followed closely the debate – sadly, I felt little better informed. But typically, it was what was not discussed or said that struck me as most concerning.  

  • There was nothing about organic, let alone biodynamic farming, despite the insistence that the Act was about the environment.  
  • Although ELMS comes into play in 2024, most of us are in the latest Government Stewardship Schemes which are contracted to end on or about 2028 – there was nothing said about this.  
  • Though there was a suggestion that the role of Defra might be reduced, there was no mention of the role of the advisers working for Natural England except for an almost throwaway line to the effect that farmers would be supported through this process by ‘expert advisors’ but no indication as to who these might be.   

Though the minister did not deny that current subsidies are all that makes farming economically just about viable, and though no one can argue at the intention to eliminate a subsidy that relates solely to the area of land farmed, given that that subsidy is crucial to small and medium farmers, and survival depends on it, is the same amount going to continue to be paid  for conformity to some unknown activity.  

On Wednesday two Statutory Instruments were laid before parliament, being the secondary legalisation necessary relating to part of the new Agricultural Act – 1387 and 1388. Some of what I heard answered questions from Monday.  

I listened to the motion proposed by the Farming Minister and the subsequent discussion. I admit without the Act in front of me I was somewhat handicapped in following the discussion, but that is not a criticism of either the Minister or Shadow Minister. The key points I registered were as follows.  

There is to be a new Livestock Movement service which will integrate the current three services – cattle, sheep and pigs. It will not in the first instance include poultry.  

  • There seemed no answer as to whether passports as currently for cattle, will be required for sheep, goats and pigs.  
  • Of immediate interest to us is that sheep will transit to this new system the spring of 2021.  

The Instrument relating to Direct payments for livestock was at first hard to follow since the word ‘livestock’ was initially used. It subsequently was clear that the issue was about the phasing out of the Basic Payment Scheme and the main points that I noted were: 

  • Firstly, the claim that government fully understood the financial impact on farmers and that money saved as this payment was phased out would not be lost to the overall agriculture budget.  
  • Secondly, that payments this year were based on the exchange rate prevailing in 2019 and so would be generous  
  • Thirdly, that the grants were already paid to 95% of farmers.  

I am happy to confirm we have received our payment and that a favourable exchange rate was used.  

There was a public recognition that on average 75% of farmer’s income came from government grants, and the aim was about changing the basis for payment, not to expect that farming could be economically viable without government support.  

In elaboration the Minister made clear farming was expected to add to its current primary function of producing meat, cereals, fruit and vegetables and restoring the environment, wildlife and flora by reforming farming methods.  

There was additionally the promise that bureaucratic demands on farmers would be dramatically reduced and that greening rules would be taken out.  

As a last aside the Minister stated that the average age of farmers claiming grants were well over 70 years in age!  

In that I have in the past twelve months complained a great deal about attempts to get answers from officials, I think I am duty bound to share with you that on Thursday morning I telephoned to ask when our Higher Tier Payment might be expected. Instead of wasting forty minutes or so after battling my way through the automated service as in the past, all was efficient and very helpful – a very pleasant surprise.  

As a personal aside, it seems to me increasingly necessary for farmers to accept the need to use the internet to ensure they follow reports from Hansard, and the detail of statutory instruments, and of course the discussion on them.  

It is perhaps hardly surprising that there will be apparently generous grants to allow farmers to retire!  

Watching the parliamentary television channel this week I was reminded how much I dislike the planted sycophantic questions that are asked by MP’s of whichever party is in power – I believe the Americans have a special word for these, something that sounds like ‘bun dock’. I meant to make a note at the time I heard it but failed to do so. I assumed at the time ‘bun’ was an abbreviation of ‘bunk’ or ‘bunkcom.  

Recently a headline reported that a farmer was reduced to composting his wool cut. Amazingly it appears that the public was not aware that the cost of shearing even without adding in the cost of fuel and time to deliver to the ‘nearest’ collection point of the Wool Marketing Board far exceeds the wool payment. You of course know of this reality since I have many times made clear that we shear for the sake of animal welfare accepting that shearing is just another cost.  

The pasture-fed website continues to be active, though recent topics have either been of more interest to non-organic farmers or matters, though interesting to stock farmers, hardly of interest to you. There has been some discussion about moss in pastures and what action needs or could be taken. A matter that has concerned us in the past when we acted on, the generally agreed notion that aeration is required.  

A throwaway line elsewhere suggested that the push towards lighter cattle, such as the Traditional Herefords we raise, was less to do with consumer requirement changes and more to do with interest in overwintering cattle outdoors. A later post suggests that there is actually a mini-Hereford breed originating in the 1890’s in the United States from a Traditional Hereford bull named Anxiety 4. I confess this is the first I have heard of this. Whether this is true or not, on our heavy clay, our smaller, and hence lighter, animals do far too much damage if not brought in, and unless these  ‘mini-Herefords’ are little bigger than a Dexter I find it hard to imagine we could overwinter them outside. 

A a truly amusing post was the suggestion that continental cattle breeds were introduced to be used as oxen. Ploughing with teams of six to eight oxen persisted here from Saxon times into the 18th century. The breeds used were certainly local native breeds including the Hereford, whose upkeep was certainly cheaper than continental breeds of horses. 

They were eventually superseded by heavy or draft horses such as the shire and Suffolk Punch which were more powerful and covered the ground more quickly without as much cosseting needed as for lighter breeds.  

Books!

Browsing in the book room the other day I came across ‘One-Upmanship’, by Stephen Potter. Though long dead, many of his books are still available – his first, Gamesmanship was followed by many other books all having ‘manship’ in their title. I think it now safe to admit that his writings were among the variety of books that helped developed my life skills. Although these books were humorous, many of the ideas within them became part of the notion of Transactional Analysis, as developed by Eric Berne, and still widely regarded as a useful way to understand behaviour; the approach of Donald Trump – which seems entirely transactional – should not be allowed to damage this basic idea. Berne’s bestselling book was ‘Games people play’ – as valuable a read now as it was when written.   

As regards Potter, he seemed not to recognise when he had exhausted that particular seam of humour and the quality of his later books reflected this.  

The demise of The Department Store

This week marked the end of an era. The Department Store will no longer be a focal point on the High street. I confess I am rather sad at their demise. When I worked in Manchester, Kendal Milne’s was less than five minutes from my office and the place to go to for birthday and Christmas presents. In all big towns the big department stores could be relied on for clean lavatories and good places to have a cup of tea.   

Coming from Bournemouth I was spoilt for choice – there were at least four, and we still have the wedding presents of cellular blankets bought from Plummers. I also had access to information about the history of one of the South coast’s most famous stores – Beales of Bournemouth. My father in retirement set up an active Local History Group whose members met regularly in the winter for lectures and slide shows, and in the spring and summer went on walks and coach trips to explore local sites of importance. In the early days he wrote the majority of pamphlets, but over time most members also took to print.  

Given his local reputation, the Beales family asked him to write their history from 1881 to the 1970’s and gave him full access to archival material. The end product was a set of three ‘booklets’ happily accepted by the family and widely read. However, by the end of the nineteenth century the downward spiral was firmly entrenched. Beales staggered on until fairly recently, but that era is now all but dead and buried, certainly in town centres.   

Perhaps the memory will stay as long as television keeps showing old programmes such as “Are you being served?” –  a last momento of a bye gone age of both the stores and ‘double entendre’. 

I have decided that for my last post of the year I shall attempt to highlight changes during the year. As much, to be honest, for our benefit as yours. It is very easy to lose track and sight of change when time for reflection is hard to come by. Already I have surprised myself over the length of the list, but weeding is not needed for some time yet.  

December came in with a light frost and then bright sunshine and the full moon was still visible even after daybreak. By the end of the week we were back to cold, grey, damp and dreary weather. However, despite this I shall stick with a poem chosen earlier.  

Robert Southey may well have been a second-rate poet and rather a ‘windbag’, but there is no way I could not use part of his “Ode written in the 1st day of December”.  

Those who already know the poem will see for reasons of space I only quote the first six verses.  

Tho’ now no more the musing ear  
Delights to listen to the breeze  
That lingers o’er the green wood shade,  
I love thee Winter! well.  
 
Sweet are the harmonies of Spring,  
Sweet is the summer’s evening gale,  
Pleasant the autumnal winds that shake  
The many-colour’d grove.  
 
And pleasant to the sober’d soul  
The silence of the wintry scene,  
When Nature shrouds her in her trance  
 
Not undelightful now to roam  
The wild heath sparkling on the sight;  
Not undelightful now to pace  
The forest’s ample rounds;  
 
And see the spangled branches shine, * 
And mark the moss of many a hue  
That varies the old tree’s brown bark,  
Or o’er the grey stone spreads.  
 
The cluster’d berries claim the eye * 
O’er the bright hollies gay green leaves,  
The ivy round the leafless oak  
Clasps its full foliage close.

The remaining five verses trip off the tongue as sweetly as these. 

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