Hooray, we’ve finally gained permission to put up a livestock building. It’s taken two years of blood sweat and tears, not to mention expense. We’re frequently told to be more efficient, to invest in our future, which is a sensible theory, but our experience of obtaining planning consent proved tricky. We aim to improve welfare facilities, enabling the use of modern machinery for feeding and bedding down cattle.
In the first instance the planners asked us to amend our application. We had written the farm name on the address, but they asked us to add ‘house’ as apparently this is our official address. Nit-picking in the extreme. The postmen understand and I’ve never known anything go astray due to the omission of the word ‘house’. The farm name usually suffices, and I can confirm we do live in a house, although during busy times it could justifiably be described as a pigsty.
The location of the proposed shed is adjacent to our other buildings, and we’ve already planted a hedge to help screen it. However, not too far away is an area of land we affectionately refer to as piggyland because we kept a couple of sows and their piglets there. Historically it includes a pit where clay was dug for the brickworks down the road. It’s now called a pond and its existence has cost us a lot of money. The planners requested an ecologist’s report, which found four great crested newts. I pointed out that these have lived quite happily in relatively close proximity to our farm and we didn’t propose placing the building in this area. We embrace the concept of nature-friendly farming but have discovered that this can be detrimental when making improvements to farmyard infrastructure. Thank goodness we didn’t get around to putting up the owl box. I didn’t dare mention that bats sometimes get into our house, because I get the impression we’d probably be turfed out in deference to them.
The ecologist also wants to do an on-site fingertip search for dormice and thinks she’s spotted fox and badger prints. The health and welfare of farmers and their animals appears to be of low importance. These experts seem to forget it’s the farmer’s management of their land that creates the habitat. When our building is up, we’re going to call it Newtsville. Updates to follow.
Pre-lambing, we try to keep the handling of the ewes to a minimum, but when we immunised them I was concerned by their good condition, wondering if that would spell trouble for lambing. It might be good for colostrum production, but will it cause more problems with prolapses and difficult lambings. We will soon find out. Recently we’ve had a few getting stranded on their backs; one overnight casualty had a close call when the crows attacked her eyes and backside. However, she’s proved to be a tough cookie. She was totally blind for several days, requiring much TLC, cleaning of eyes and application of eye ointment. Now she has enough vision to stay with the flock and I’ve grown rather fond of her.
Why do I only get up early at lambing time? I enjoy the special hush, the bird song, the tapping of the woodpecker, the mist in the valley and the spectacular sunrises. The fox and I seem to coincide our early morning check of the lambing field. We regard each other with equal suspicion, but if it touches a lamb, its days are numbered. When I find sheep in trouble, I get exasperated that they make it so difficult for you to help them. But when my efforts are rewarded with delivery of live lambs it makes it worthwhile.
Usually cattle are less work, but this year’s spring calving has been a rollercoaster. On the plus side, my mother would be proud of my milking skills, learned on a ‘needs must’ basis. Suckler cows aren’t used to being milked, but mostly they tolerate it if they’ve got their head in a bucket of food.
Once that’s eaten you can be sure to receive a tidy clout from a hind foot if you’re in the vicinity of their bag. This definitely sharpens your senses and teaches you to ignore your aching hands and wrist muscles; speed is preservative. There’s nothing worse than seeing that precious milk sent flying, especially when it’s what you were hoping to use to sustain their calf.
The first ten cows to calve were perfectly normal. Then we had a disastrous calving as described last month. Now we are struggling to keep new calves alive. It’s been a time consuming and stressful experience.
When you have livestock you get dead stock, but it still feels like failure when that happens. I made a call that I never like to make. I clasped the phone and when it was answered, I said: “Good…afternoon”. I had been about to say “morning” but a glance at the clock revealed it was later and I expressed my surprise. The voice on the receiving end replied: “as you’re calling us, I’m guessing it’s not good either.” I replied: “No, it’s terrible, two more dead calves to collect.” In all we’ve lost five and only managed to save two of the sick ones.
When born, the calves look good and strong, they’re up and sucking for the first 12 hours, then lose their appetite, produce a watery scour, quickly dehydrate and die. The vets did a post mortem examination, took blood and faecal samples. We cleaned out and disinfected the shed, treated the calves as instructed, but continued to get losses.
Now we’ve turned out, four have calved outside in the past 24 hours and remain alive as I write, fingers crossed. Luckily the weather has turned warmer and the grass is beginning to grow.
The grandchildren and sheepdog pups are a welcome diversion, providing entertaining company. Modern thinking is that children should talk about their emotions, described as colours. When checking stock, we now discuss whether the animals look blue/sad, red/angry, green/peaceful yellow/happy. The pups just look and think what fun they’d be to chase.