A busy month is March, on any sort of farm, and this year was no exception with largely ideal weather to press on with land work. Unfortunately the month was complicated by the unwelcome prospect of TB restrictions, imposed on a number of local farms by Deathra, as reported last month.

So with a 28 day window to send off any store type cattle (to avoid an inconclusive animal closing out movements), I sent off half a dozen Angus steers to Hailsham Market, where they found a good trade – although ideally I would have kept a couple of them longer. They were our “footpath wardens.” We are bedevilled with footpaths on the home farm where the dairy replacements are reared and over time we have found the sight of a stocky black beast running with a group of black and white heifers has a remarkable effect on a good many of the dog walkers who plague us.

We keep the odd one or two most years; the only thing they have to do is get noticed by the public. It’s good if they look fierce, although they are actually like tame poodles. One of these had spent the past four months with the cows up on the Downs where, after a few nervous days surrounded by females, he quickly learned to use the facilities available with the robots – particularly the cow grooming brushes.

Colin, as they named him, was to be seen for up to five hours a day standing under a grooming brush preening himself like a precious male model; he really did look a picture, quite soon developing the most perfect coat. But eventually the day came when he moved on and because of the concern over the TB issue we also sent his next in line so this year there will be no wardens.

Late February’s rain slowed up barley drilling but, with a dry week in mid March, blue skies and drying winds, the contractors finished the job pretty satisfactorily apart from in a couple of sticky areas. The variety is Propino, this year’s top barley I’m told, which will produce many bottles of lagers, although with the way forward prices are looking in this troubled world I don’t hold much hope of a profitable crop again this year. The only consolation is barley may not lose as much this year as milk.

This land and its quick drying loam appears well suited to growing malting samples – although it is presently limited to spring cropping because the Arun Valley, so neglected by the Environment Agency for more than two decades, is inclined to flood extensively within hours. To combat this we have agreed with a firm to regenerate our near two miles of flood embankment bunds to their original effective state and with a little bit of attention it’s just possible we can again keep the floods to a minimum and be able to grow a wider variety of crops there.

Being under water for six weeks, as it was in our first two winters there, isn’t conducive to winter cropping. Did I hear you say why did we buy the land? I knew it well when it was in a previous ownership. The then owner, a very great friend, John Gillingham, regularly managed to grow winter wheat successfully, almost anywhere on the farm, with very little flood damage. That of course was when drainage was in the control of people who knew how (or indeed had the inclination) to maintain waterways.

However, since I intended to grow cattle fodder there and maize primarily, it is very suitable for the purpose, allowing arable cropping from March until October with more safety from flooding. Once the bunds are repaired our growing window and options should be a lot wider.

Thanks to West Sussex county council we have now been able to provide the walking public with easy access through our aforementioned, multi footpathed, Home Farm, with footpaths in all except two of its meadows. There has been so much damage to stiles over many years that animal security had become a real worry and the council were finally able to come to the rescue by providing and installing some ten kissing gates to give dog friendly and, I really hope, aggression free walkers. It is much appreciated and I really hope our visitors treat the gates with the respect warranted. After all it is provided with their own rates! Thank you county council.

So to the rare good news. On Friday 20 March, we awoke to an eclipse that wasn’t noticable and a day of truth for our TB test. Having got so used to bad news with milk and cattle it was indeed quite stressful but, in the end, we sailed through it without a scare. Brilliant, and now (unless sanity prevails and further tests are cancelled) six months respite before the next test is due.

Why I am so cynical about it is the thought of these Deathra experts who impose such unwarranted stress on so many good folk. The animal which was found at slaughter to have the disease was from Wiltshire, and finished unfortunately in a nearby West Sussex finishing lot. It was found after testing to have a strain of TB from Wiltshire; it had been in a closed feedlot and yet in their wisdom Deathra decided to impose a sequence of tests on everyone within three kilometers. This is a four year testing area and the infected animal was an imported beef steer. Had it been a milking animal grazed out in the open there might have been a case for such intrusive check tests but this looks like severe overkill by Deathra.