‘Let’s go scouting for bulls’ walkabout

Writers Posted 20/07/21
One particular troublesome young heifer seems to go on a ‘let’s go scouting for bulls’ walkabout every time she comes bulling.

Unpredictable weather has us on tenterhooks, checking forecasts, searching for a long enough slot to cut some grass. Ideally we need to crack on with making hay, but alas the ‘sun’ is proving elusive. Potential hay is being snatched as silage. Grumbling won’t help; no doubt the Canadians would be glad of our weather. Enduring high temperatures under the heat dome of 49 degrees plus can’t be much fun.

At least you can’t blame the weather on Brexit or Covid-19, which makes a change. All these factors have financial implications for farmers, but in particular the weather. This was well highlighted in the Clarkson’s Farm programmes, which I surprisingly enjoyed watching. I’m not a Clarkson fan but welcome any publicity that gives consumers a better understanding of the challenges faced by food producers.

The combination of Brexit and Covid-19 is causing problems at both ends of the food chain. Fruit and vegetable growers are having difficulties sourcing people for harvesting. Food distributors are encountering problems due to a lack of HGV drivers.

Not being able to move food to the right place at the right time increases food wastage, as well as creating unhappy shoppers, retailers and producers. All links in the chain need to function smoothly to provide an efficient service. Youngest daughter tells me that getting food delivered out to the supermarkets is a major problem. She blames me for voting Brexit. I’m unrepentant: ‘buy local’.

Shrek (ATV) is poorly. He must have got hungry because he ate up a substantial belt; this is becoming an expensive habit, as it’s only two months since he ate the last one. Meanwhile my Fitbit is ecstatic, awarding me all sorts of stupid badges. Getting fitter wasn’t on my wish list, but stock need checking so it’s back to Shanks’s pony, it’s too wet to use my convertible as a stand in. We can’t even swap Shrek in for a new one, as I’m informed that if I order one now, with luck it might turn up in a year’s time.

Secondhand cars and machinery have shot up in price. You can order spare parts, but no one has a clue when they will turn up, it’s causing chaos. It’s looking like a long wait for a pressure washer part. Meanwhile we’ve raided an old defunct one and, hey presto, it kind of works. Such times call for improvisational action. The B and C words are convenient excuses to cover a multitude of sins. Annoyingly the promise of less red tape appears to be a figment of our politicians’ imagination. Those of us who have to live and work in the real world will just have to get on with it as best we can. Good thing farmers are generally an adaptable breed.

Last night our family adapted into a removal team. The pickup truck and livestock trailer were spruced up before being loaded to capacity with furniture. Eldest daughter was moving into a second floor flat in Shoreham with a balcony overlooking the river Adur estuary. Many hands made light work, curtain rails were put up and furniture reassembled.

On the homeward journey we encountered night road closures which forced us onto the byroads. Turning the trailer around in dark country lanes was testing. It was gone midnight by the time we had done essential chores. I went to sleep dreaming of a lie-in.

Farming has a habit of bringing you back to reality. Early next morning we were woken by the phone; “cattle on the road”. One particular troublesome young heifer seems to go on a ‘let’s go scouting for bulls’ walkabout every time she comes bulling. She tends to gather up a few chums to accompany her; I suppose she thinks there’s safety in numbers or perhaps she wants a second opinion. While we walked these adventurous youngsters the mile back down the road I gave them a stern talking to, but I don’t think they were listening. No different to teenagers really. Then it was breakfast and the farming day began. It started with collecting faecal samples from my lambs to check on their worm status as I’m keen to avoid resistance to worming products. Taking samples to our livestock vet for analysis is no small task; the ten minute trip to the local town is long gone. Sadly, vet care for farm animals is now outsourced to ever-larger practices. Including traffic hold ups, it took me just shy of two hours for the round trip to deliver my egg-box containing samples. I explained my mission to a slightly perplexed receptionist.

I vividly recall my very first trip to a vet. Aged six, I clasped my young terrier pup wrapped in a towel. She’d had her first encounter with a rat and had arterial blood intermittently spurting from her mouth. I had no idea that I should apply pressure to the wound, and so consequently we were liberally sprayed with blood. My mother drove to our vet’s surgery which was situated within his house. Our vet became a family friend. He took one look and ushered us in, saying: “I think I’d better put the kettle on.” He then showed me how to restrain my pup and proceeded to pop in a few stitches. Then we all sat down together and enjoyed a therapeutic cup of tea. That’s what I’d describe as holistic treatment. I’m feeling nostalgic and thinking the old days had their merits.

Tapping into other people’s knowledge is always interesting. I’m finding the benefits of belonging to a farm cluster WhatsApp group are definitely a plus. I was astounded to learn that dried nettles are exceptionally nutritious for livestock; better than minced clover. I also enjoyed attending the ‘trees in the farming landscape’ session and I’m hoping to learn more on the value of ‘dung beetles’. I’m following the progress of trialling natural fly repellents as opposed to using insecticides. I’m told it’s a steep learning curve, but isn’t that true of all farming life?


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