Hopping but hopeful describes my predicament right now. I was just going about day to day farming chores when I received two phone calls saying that three of my sheep were “running the roads.”
On investigation I spied a young mule with twins in the distance. They sped off, turning into a crop of peas. Leaving our ATV blocking the road I went to turn them back. I was running when it felt as if I’d been shot in the back of the leg. Not that I’m experienced in getting shot! The pain was excruciating and I crumpled in a heap realising that this was not good.
The escaped sheep knew her way back to her companions through a wood shaw and around a dried up pond. She popped over the fence, no problem at all. She wasn’t even ours! If I did ever catch up with her, I’d be tempted to spray paint a message saying “doesn’t belong to Monica” clearly on her side.
There’s never a good time to be injured. A&E confirmed my suspicions of a ruptured Achilles tendon with no quick fix. Although I’ve shown hundreds of people how to use crutches, using them while farming is more difficult than I’d imagined. I’m full of admiration for flamingos and wish they’d give me some balancing lessons. I’ve been lent a knee scooter to use in the house: this is great fun and speeds my mobility, but dogs and humans risk having their toes run over.
We’ve had some extra paws around recently as my Springer spaniel Tilley gave birth to six adorable puppies. It wasn’t a shotgun wedding: much thought went into finding a husband with suitable credentials. On their first meeting I was horrified by the lack of pillow talk. But I’ll forgive him this lapse in etiquette, as he threw such lovely offspring. The puppies are such fun, very entertaining. I look forward to seeing some of them working.
I’ve reluctantly had to hand over shepherding to the men, as sheep work in hopping mode simply doesn’t work. My fingers are crossed that everyone survives this interlude. Ten weeks of dry weather has created brownish grass fields, which remind me of the New Zealand look. Harvesting has started early. Today our plan of applying fly repellant on the ewes got altered because it miraculously started raining. Sustained rainfall which should have done some good, but the heatwave continues. The sheep are free ranging and looking surprisingly well on tight rations. We haven’t given any supplementary feed as yet, but we will soon need to.
The day before my injury I ventured over to West Sussex attending an AHDB “Forage for Knowledge” event. The grass leys on Didling Farm were performing well in the dry conditions. The leys based on high sugar grasses have a high clover content and some hairy backed chicory, modern cocksfoot, timothy and plantain. We were all given sward measuring sticks and told not to let sheep graze below the level of four to five centimetres or for cattle lower than six centimetres. Right now I daren’t measure our fields as I’ve a sneaky feeling that my accomplices are ignoring this rule. I believe there’s always room for learning and find these events thought provoking. But as my husband rightly points out, our farm work won’t do itself.
I stayed one night in Chichester with our youngest daughter exploring her new home. We watched an England football match in the pub, a riotous and entertaining experience – and no I wasn’t the one dancing on the tables! While the football success didn’t last long, it was refreshing to hear some upbeat and positive news for a change. I get so fed up with all the political doom and gloom: it puts me off watching the news. That said, the plight of the Thai boys stranded in the caves just shows what can be achieved when everyone pulls together.
It’s all change at Hockham Farm. Nigel’s been out of the city for three years, learning the ropes. It’s debatable who’s learnt what! But generally we rub along quite well. Nigel has recently been turfed out of his accommodation by his sister and partner. They’re moving back home part time to enable them to follow their dreams of setting up a cheese making enterprise. The good thing from our points of view is that we’ve been given the role of chief cheese tasters. The cheese world is a whole new adventure so there’s never a dull moment on this farm.
Nigel will continue helping us on the farm while living close by in Ninfield. Here he will be project managing the building of his eco house. Last year he obtained planning permission and can now begin putting the practical aspects into action. No doubt he’ll encounter some challenges along the way, but it’s exciting times for him. First things first, we needed to put in a driveway and after a wet spring, we eagerly waited for it to dry out. At the beginning of June, with the minimum of fuss and total professionalism, Robins of Herstmonceux’s team set about creating a roadway. The transformation has been impressive and we are delighted with the resulting fit for purpose access to Modern Barn Farm and Nigel’s new home.
Nigel spent this weekend at the Lambeth Country Show in Brockwell park, south London, promoting his Indie Farmer brand. With 150,000 mostly urban people attending it’s a good opportunity to tell the farming story. Conversations with this audience revealed alarming numbers of millienials being influenced by vegan campaign videos on social media depicting animal cruelty. Farmers need to counteract this: present a positive image, improving our industry’s hopes for the future. I also hope to get back on two feet.