Webbed toes would make sense!

Tediously I have to begin these notes by referring to the weather which has all but dominated our lives this week. The wind has caused few problems, but the rain has taken us back to the position we were in some weeks ago. The brook has overflowed its banks, there are puddles in fields where they have not been seen for years, and we have no answers.

One small positive we have is that an old weather saying which has not held for some years, this year has come good, ‘February fill dykes’.  I note in passing how odd to have one word for both ditch and embankment! One meaning from the Norse while the other the other from German.  Even odder if you bear in mind that it seems the Germanic tribes came from Scandinavia. 

As for the current weekend coming so soon after the rain of last week – webbed feet would make much sense.

This is the driveway on Sunday morning – this is the worst we can remember it – but at least after all our work clearing the land drains, it will soon drain away.

Despite this and other problems, our farm meeting was cheerful, and we were still able to laugh at our woes.

The cattle are doing well, and we have had two more calves this week. The reluctant mother I mentioned a little time ago is now totally settled into her new role. All five calves are looking good. They are all tagged, and we await only the two passports.

During the week the bedding in the sections occupied by the young stock was changed, and that side of the barn cleared for the scanning which took place on Saturday.

Lice continue to be a problem and poor Dwaine looks less than handsome at the moment. He is still showing signs of lameness but when attempts were made to look at his hoof, he was very rapidly upright and moving away! Indeed, he seems able to move around quite freely.

Scanning on Saturday was not an experience to savour as Storm Dennis brought wind and yet more rain. Given the autumn it was, I suppose inevitable that the ratio of lambs per ewe was lower than last year. More worryingly, too many ewes are looking thin, so, on Monday morning I shall order hi-protein organic nuts to help them through the coming weeks. I have written before of our need to house the sheep in periods of inclement weather, the scanning figure and condition of the ewes underlines that need.   

Rural Payments Agency

Sadly, I have only mixed news to share as regards the Rural Payments Agency. One letter was positive though suggested we might have a long wait for monies; the other, which arrived on Saturday morning, apart from being negative, was riddled with mistakes. How nice to be able to sit in a comfortable office and happily write nonsense while telling a farmer that because of a procedural error nearly £16,000 will be withheld.


In extremis I responded in exactly the same way as the hero – Herbie Kruger – of a thriller writer of the last century,  who in his low moments always listened to a Mahler symphony – I listened three times in the course of the weekend to Mahler’s symphony number 1. The writer’s name will no doubt come to me after this is posted but his books were written at a time when few conductors programmed Mahler’s works. Now of course, every conductor of note has recorded all of his symphonies; some of which – the symphonies that is –  are hard going, but not the first, which is full of easily recognisable themes and dramatic moments. It really is a joy to listen to, though it would be remiss of me not to admit it is his second symphony which is widely regarded as his masterpiece.

Civil engineering works

Civil engineering work continued all week and the installation is getting ever closer to the point when it can be linked to the existing pipes. There is still more trenching to do, but the trench will not need to be nearly as deep as the first part, and the distance is considerably shorter. Martin who has been doing this kind of work for years probably has found the exercise rather tame compared with some of the other sites he has worked on – no skeletons or archaeological finds of any kind.

Wwoofer news

Furkan is now very much part of the team and our afternoon conversations are both informative and enjoyable. Though he has lived in Germany since he was three, Turkey has a special place in his heart, and he is generously talking to me about a world and culture very different from our own. I, of course, only really know about the Ottoman Empire and its successor state Turkey from my reading. Britain’s history of relations with the former Empire was far more distant than that of Central Europe and as I understand it, interest at British government level only became serious in the middle of the 19th century when great efforts were made to ensure the Ottoman’s Empires continued existence – not of course out if altruism but in order to keep power in Europe balanced


A dreadful gap in my knowledge came when I learnt Cyprus was actually Turkish till leased to the British government, some time before the end of the 19th century and them was taken over when Turkey joined the German side in the First World War. Also, worth realising that the country Turkestan and the area around it is the area from which the Turkish people in the 8th century moved into what is now called Turkey. Of course, a knowledge of Persian would have made that even more obvious.

The Agriculture Bill

The Agriculture Bill progresses. Some issues raised by farming groups have been acknowledged, but there remain concerns; those of the National Farmers Union are inevitably rather different from those of the Soil Association. The new Secretary of State for the Department for Environment and Rural affairs, George Eustice, was a minister in that department and is a farmer, but his personal stance on organics for example is not clear.

The importance of soil

Now that the importance of the soil has at last been re-recognised there is a flood of scientific literature becoming available. To be honest there is much that without a relevant degree or experience that I struggle with. However, there does now seem one issue on which soil scientists are agreed – tillage or ploughing is a bad thing in terms of carbon retention. In so far as I understand it, this is related to the notion of there being two types of organic material. One is particulate and the other mineral related. The former is of immediate benefit to growth in that it releases nitrogen for easy use but is effective only for a few years, the other is in contrast is seen to be slow to release its nitrogen and is more in the nature of capital rather than revenue. Assuming all this is true, ploughing causes the rapid giving up of carbon to the atmosphere which is, of course, a bad thing. 

Ploughing and poetry

The image of ploughing at once brought to mind words from Thomas Hardy. These two verses could not more vividly fit the bill.

At Middle-Field Gate in February by Thomas Hardy

The bars are thick with drops the show
As they gather themselves from the fog
Like silver buttons ranges in a row,
And as evenly spaced as if measured, although
They fall at the feeblest jog.

They load the leafless hedge hard by,
And the blades of last year’s grass,
While the fallow ploughland turned up nigh
In raw rolls, clammy and clogging lie –
Too clogging for feet to pass

Further along the brook, where our nearest neighbouring hamlet lies, the waters were very high on Saturday, and by Sunday across the road – only the top of Priest’s Bridge visible. It reminded me of the poem below:

The Brook By Alfred Tennyson

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
   I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
   To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
   Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
   And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip’s farm I flow
   To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
   But I go on for ever.

I chatter over stony ways,
   In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
   I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
   By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
   With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
   To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
   But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
   With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
   And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake
   Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
   Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
   To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
   But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
   I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
   That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
   Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
   Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
   In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
   I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
   To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
   But I go on for ever.

Comments are closed.