The wood is waking up

It wasn’t snow that reached us but rain, and then some more rain, and then a lot more rain after that. The fields that had temporarily dried out are ponds again. We experienced the usual localised flooding as the rain fell, and thankfully that water always recedes as fast as it arrives. The barn was again flooded at the lower end – where the hay is stored. The ridge and furrow in the fields was extremely successful at channelling the water to this part of the barn! The temporary solution was a ditch dug at speed to help keep the hay dry.

The ewe lambs in field 1 were on high ground. The pregnant ewes were in field 7 and seemed unbothered by the puddles that formed. The Shetland flock were in 5K and were discovered the next morning together in a group at the highest point, but they were calm, and more than happy to follow Alice like the pied piper as she led them to dryer ground.

The plans for the veg box scheme continue at pace, with an ambition to have produce ready by the middle to late May. Sign up here: The first outside bed, tilled and composted, will be seeded this week. We have plans to bring Woofers back to the farm after the hiatus last year. All being well we will find someone/s who can help us across both the farm and garden through the growing & cropping months. Lambing days are also in the planning.  

The foraging group will be on the farm across three dates in spring, which is great.

The weekly weighing of the sheep is helping us with the ewes, not just in checking on their wellbeing, but also helping us to see how we can improve on our pasture management plan we want to follow – in essence, making sure to move the animals across the pastures in good rotation to look after the grass. The ewes are all well and all show encouraging weight gain. One of the ewes with triplets is almost too wide to go through the weighing scale, but with a squash and a squeeze, managed this time! This now is the time of year to check the sheep through the day to make sure none are stuck on their backs ‘cast’. This happens when they lay on their sides and then accidentally roll down a slope, or hole.

The wood is waking up. We have spotted the leaves of the first wild garlic up, primroses in bud, bluebell leaves appearing, and discovered a fallen tree, roots and all – which we researched and learnt becomes an incredible part of the woodland eco system. The hole where the roots were makes a crater for a small body of water perfect for newts and frogs. The Swift and Owl boxes are ready and waiting to be put up across the farm and are part of a Spring Clean we are taking across the farm – making sure all equipment, old fences and gates are brought back to the barn. This is the perfect time of year for such a job, as generally, although as ever the work is physical, it is also somewhat routine.

The Rhubarb is up. The Guinea Fowl are getting bigger and starting now to find their voice. They should be ready to leave their pen soon. A new heifer calf safely arrived, and although one ewe has pneumonia, the vet and we are treating her, and so far, she is responding well to our care. Not one but two whitetail Queen bees were spotted as they did a fly by, and Alice was lucky enough to be serenaded by two Sky Larks over the weekend. The bird song at dawn and dusk is really something. Even the Tawny Owls are joining in – they appear to be in and around the hedges of field 7 most nights at the moment. The Apricot is in full bloom – the scent so beautiful, and a newt discovered in the Ulula unit on the business park was taken back to the pond – not willing to disclose to its rescuers just why it was so off a newt’s beaten path!

No one would have believed that Jeremy Clarkson could become the spokesman for the realities of farming life, but ignoring his need to swear so readily, he really has been able to demonstrate this admirably in his programme. Not only is this a surprise, but he also was able to generate Entente Cordiale with the French farmers too. The state of the world politically is teetering rather, or so it seems to us. Nationalism vs democracy polarised as if we can’t comfortably healthily support both ideologies; decisions and actions taken by the powers that be, across the world, that seemingly forget the lessons of the past, and/or to look at them through the prism of now. One of the grandchildren is currently studying European history up to and after WW1 and there are so many political similarities to today that one could quite easily go down a rabbit hole.

Since that is no good for our health or morale, we will redirect to the French farmers up in arms. A little bit envious of the way they did just get in their tractors and bring Paris to a halt, it got their message front and centre. They are protesting the fact that they are being asked to farm for low wages, under heavy regulations and with unfair competition from abroad… just like Germany in 1929 under Stresemann ‘Golden Age’ we might wonder? It seems that basically, the Common Agricultural Policy bites again. A bit of lateral thinking, and perhaps food security could come from the food each country grows for itself in addition to the food we import… but perhaps it is that, unless the governments stop using their duties and taxes as an import/export leverage, and make subsidies for farmers meaningful, the farmers will continue to be asked to provide food to sell at less than it costs to produce it. This would not be accepted in a board room, and yet…  

Talking of food security, a ten minute sit in front of Countryfile this week informed us of the new ‘whiz’ idea for developers – the Biodiversity Net Gain Regulations (BNG) that all new developers will have to adhere to – basically, that, using a habitat-based calculation, each new development must provide a similar sized piece of land plus 10% for wildlife habitats. It is being piloted in Warwickshire, where new housing developments have had to use an exact acreage of land for wildlife as that which has been built on. The habitats will be a ‘dynamic mosaic of habitat types’.

In this pilot, the house prices have been brought up because they are buying the house and the wildlife reserve beside it, but going forward nationally, the developers will have to fit the wildlife habitat alongside their development, OR, pay another land owner for that land to be set aside for them – measured in Units – OR, buy government credits for each unit, which can then be used to ‘buy’ units via the government scheme. Off we went to a farm which has stopped arable farming because they made a gross profit of £94, to now ‘host’ these units. At a cost of, they have been told, perhaps £20/30,000 a unit, a one-off fee for 30 years land management. That is quite a risk. New ideas are always a welcome relief – a sign someone is interested but has this really been calculated to be the best plan for all stakeholders. We will have to wait and see.

The farming life really is at the coal face of life and death, bringing one the greatest joys one moment, and the next, the deepest of sorrows. Last week we lost the new Shetland sheep ram Ezra in the blink of an eye, with no time for rescue. Adrian would be the first to remind us how easily a sheep gives up, and that this feeling of sorrow is why we don’t name the animals – but he would also be the first to offer a hug, and then reminisce on his own great losses of pets through the years. Although the late Queen said it herself some years ago, it was Adrian who said it to us all first – grief is the price we pay for love – and whether we lose one of the dogs, or an animal on the farm, it hurts.

Mistletoe by Walter de la Mare

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen – and kissed me there.

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