Let’s stop all this faffing about

Writers Posted 04/01/21
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” my eldest daughter assures me.

As a frontline NHS worker, my eldest daughter has already received her first dose of vaccine and is looking forward to getting her second early in January. She also has a self-testing Covid-19 kit at home. Progress has been made from those dark early days when the pandemic first arrived in the UK.

Then she faced the scary experience of nursing Covid-19 patients in intensive care and having to spend her non-working time in isolation for fear that the precautions taken might have failed. The UK has done well to get the vaccine up and running; its implementation should pave the way for a return to a more normal form of living.

Let’s hope 2021 turns out to be a better year. Younger family members ask: Do I regret voting to leave the European Union? Not at all. I realise that the transition out of the EU is not going to be easy. There will be tough times ahead, compounded by the economic effects of the pandemic, but personally I’m convinced that in the long run it will be better for our nation.

This is not to say that we can’t work with Europe for our mutual benefit, if they will allow it. The UK becoming more responsible for its own destiny should be a positive move. Given time, it will be interesting to learn our grandchildren’s verdict on this matter. Right now, we just need to lose the negativity which is rife in the media.

Britain’s new year resolution should be a change in attitude; regain energy and implement a ‘can do’ mindset. Start to believe in ourselves as a nation, stop relying on others, rebuild some industry. It might require some ‘outside the box’ thinking and creativity, but that could be good. Cat lovers please excuse the expression, but there is indeed “more than one way to skin a cat”. Everyone will need to adapt to build a better future. Let’s stop all this faffing about and get on with it.

We’re told lamb producers will be hit hard. Shepherds of necessity are a resilient bunch. We’ve had poor returns before and survived. The possible banning of live exports could further complicate lamb sales. Animals travelling vast distances to be slaughtered is far from ideal. The fact that small local slaughter houses have become unviable in this country is a travesty. I’d like to see this situation reversed. It may very well be true that in parts of the south, slaughter houses in France could be closer than English ones. Animal rights campaigners have not helped matters by targeting abattoirs. By demonstrating against these, far from promoting animal welfare, they’ve made the situation worse.

Farming is Changing is the title of a booklet received from DEFRA. Hasn’t farming always been changing? Like our ancestors before us, we’ve strived to improve; the land, stock, yields etc, aiming to produce food and build efficient businesses. What is new is that with world populations rising, food seems to be missing from the agenda. The booklet says: “This is an exciting time for English farming”. I want to believe this, but I can’t help the underlying feeling of scepticism. Luckily, I don’t have too much time to dwell on it, because farming keeps me busy.

Our good news is that we passed our TB test, all cattle are housed and we are tweaking feeding and bedding arrangements as best we can with what we have available. We want to upgrade the cattle shed, making conditions suitable for using modern machinery. DEFRA tells us to invest in infrastructure that improves farm productivity; sadly the local planning authorities have not received the memo. The process is expensive, slow and involves a lot of bureaucracy; we’re working on it.

Alongside reading the TB test, the vet checked the pregnancy status of our cows. He was perplexed by my reaction when he cheerfully announced that the first cow was pregnant. “Oh no,” I said. “This cow is 15 years old and had she been empty I’d planned to cull her.” She’ll stay. Due to low water levels last summer we had to remove the bull from the cows earlier than usual. We were worried he might go on a walk/swim adventure. It turns out he was rather efficient with his time.

The rains this winter have produced some impressive floods. Typically, our first day back working the spaniels was wet. Not that it deterred their enthusiasm, but we all got soaked. At the end of the day, with energy levels running low, I was reluctant to go moving sheep. My dilemma was that one flock was grazing in the valley. The river levels looked ok, but the weather app showed a wet night. As I drank a cup of tea, husband announced high tide was due at 2am. It was dusk when I decided to move those ewes onto higher ground. We had three inches of rain and the whole valley was under water the next morning. That was a close one. At this time of year I’m appreciating my hunter/gatherer instincts. We’re eating pheasant and reaping the benefits of fruit and vegetables from the garden. Back in the summer, harvesting the produce was a struggle at times, but I’m glad I persisted. We’re enjoying plum, blackberry and apple jam and puddings. Apple juice, stewed apple, pies. We’ve feasted on lettuce, beans, tomatoes, squashes, courgettes. I’ve been impressed by how much produce our small, no dig veg patch grew. It was well worth the effort. My leeks will soon be ready to pull and I’ve got some peas, onions and garlic coming on.

I’m reading a book entitled Sacred Cow (The case for better meat) ‘Why well-raised meat is good for you and good for the planet.’ Refreshingly, it dispels anti-meat rhetoric. It proposes ‘solutions’ to the flaws in our current food system. As a livestock farmer, its message is music to my ears. I live in hope. Happy farming in the new year, keep safe and healthy.


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