One of the most difficult decisions for farmers affected by TB restrictions is how a farm is going to handle the birth of new calves through the year. The problem being that, while they keep coming, one isn’t able to get rid of them without the, to my mind, totally unacceptable option of shooting the unwanted bull calves at birth. Many like me feel they should not be wasted, and a bullet through the brain so young can never be acceptable. So options are needed.
This conundrum arises, for anyone who isn’t aware, because being closed down with TB, either confirmed or suspected, means you are closed down for “movements off” for fairly indeterminate periods and, with a calf per cow per year, numbers soon build. There are some outlets available but in the South East they are very limited and the nearest will likely be the licenced “orange” markets for TB affected cattle, which are sales held at selected premises, mainly in the South West. Animals can only go with Animal Plant and Health Agency approval, and economically there need to be enough animals to make a lorry trip worthwhile as they cannot - for reasons best known to DEFRA but not particularly logical - travel with animals from other affected farms.
I am told on good authority that if calves are sent too young their value will probably not pay for the lorry and commission but, if they can be reared to say four to six months, they will make the going West Country prices, which are significantly ahead of South East prices. In fact if they are even older the prices get relatively better still but there are not many dairy farmers who have the staff, fodder or spare buildings to hold so many extra animals through long periods.
Our own plan is evolving and will be dependent on how our next 60 day test goes. For this reason I am not keen to tempt fate. Our next one will be carried out in the first week of June. Already we are holding some 35 animals, taking time, space and eating expensive feed, so it becomes a costly period. It is hard to miss reading the numerous reports about the purported decline of birds across the country. The most recent headcounts point, in general terms, to species doing significantly better up north. This is particularly so in Scotland, whereas down here the general decline continues. Knowing a little of Scotland there are several quite obvious (to folk with an open mind) reasons for this, but which the likes of the RSPB don’t want to acknowledge.
In Scotland there always were many less corvids , a lot more cover and a lot more people inclined to carry a gun. There were less vociferous neighbours too. Many years ago I mentioned to our old friend, Tom Hay up at Carnoustie, that I had seen a couple of magpies by an irrigation pond he had dug by his farmstead and he seemed quite shocked. “Magpies? Don’t hardly ever see them up here, it seems too cold for the devils but the keeper generally keep well on top of any he spots.”
It’s the same with hoodies, the Scottish version of our common carrion crow: yes, there were a few, but nothing like the huge marauding bands of crows we have down south. They often outnumber the fairly harmless rooks.
If one goes out with a gun now, neighbours are quite inclined to call the police, or abuse you, so there is less inclination to reduce these lethal birds, and their numbers relentlessly increase. In the breeding season they feed their young on the defenceless chicks of any small species being reared in trees and hedgerows and a single brood of young crows will need several broods of chicks a day, regardless of their rarity. Once they find a nest they don’t stop till they have cleared the whole brood. On top of this you have domestic cats, sparrow hawks, foxes and badgers sniffing out the ground nesting birds. Not forgetting magpies.
It is really quite amazing anything survives this spring slaughter. Even our local rookery has, in the past two or three years, been attacked by herring gulls which are moving in and harrying the adult rooks while their mates take the fledglings. It’s a very cruel world. Yet one sees few acknowledgements of these matters from the RSPB. There seems a total refusal to accept nature in the raw while of course it’s so much easier to follow the BBC Countryfile bias and blame farming practices, chemicals, plus of course the easiest targets, farmers.
On another tack, like many farmers we have been courted over the past 25 years to sign contracts with the mobile telecoms companies, Vodafone, Orange, O2 and their like. Recently they have changed tack and been pleading poverty, seeking to cut mast rents to the landowners, rents they themselves freely offered. I have already persuaded one that if they didn’t maintain their rental they should pick up their toys and leave, and this they have done. But now another has reduced their rent offer from around some £9,000 a year to a mere £270. Yes £270! There is certain to be a fight here and our extremely experienced agents are going to need to earn their commission.
I am somewhat bemused at the perception of equity here. This particular site is on an extremely busy main road, earning the company huge sums in call revenue. So what makes them think, when they are earning billions a quarter nationally, they can expect landowners to prostitute themselves for the price of a really good bottle of wine? It is sheer greed: resist!