I was gutted. Well wouldn’t you be, if you’d lost £4,000. How is that possible? Turns out it’s easy. Incidentally have you noticed how slippery those new notes are? I used to stuff a fiver in my jeans and because I’m thrifty it would stay there for months. Well not any more: those new notes have a mind of their own. They’re like escape artists, working themselves out of your pocket and when you need them they’ve gone! But that’s not how I lost £4,000.

Figuring out DEFRAs bureaucracy is like playing snakes and ladders – hope plunging into disappointment. I wasn’t in a game playing mood. I was sleep deprived and focusing on springtime activities. It was 10pm when I realised that the countryside productivity small grant application had to be submitted before midnight.
I filled in our details and the myriad of magical numbers until it asked for a CRN. What’s that? Clicked on the pop up guidance box, which said, it’s a unique number, and it’s on Rural Payments Agency (RPA) correspondence. We rifled through our paperwork to no avail. We wrote down a recurring number, which we subsequently discovered was an FRN – sounded similar! I’d have called if it hadn’t been silly hour.

We had visions of purchasing a mobile cattle handling system which would have been extremely useful, benefiting our cattle welfare and our own health and safety. I told the vet when she came to do our pre movement TB test that we were hoping to improve our handling facilities. I spoke too soon. RPA couldn’t verify our business! No grant for us. Now I feel like a convict with our customer reference number indelibly imprinted in my memory. Wouldn’t it be good to make enough profit from food production and not have to worry about grants?

I’ll console myself. It’s only money and that doesn’t necessarily buy happiness. Money is useful but working nights in the accident and emergency department certainly instilled the realisation that making the best of life whatever the circumstances is by far the best approach. Some of the happiest people I’ve met have lived a tough life, and I’m not talking about the drunks. Your physical and mental health is more important than money.

When it’s raining I admit that office work comes up my priority list. With the wet spring we’ve just experienced you’d think I’d have the paperwork all sorted: sadly this hasn’t happened. Generally I’d much rather be out on the farm than shuffling paper, and I’m terrified I’ll tick the wrong box. Yes it is worrying when inspections are looming. It’s stressful. There’s been enough research and statistics proving this to sink a battleship, So exactly when is the government hype regarding cutting red tape going to happen? It feels like empty promises to me.

It’s a relief to have our animals out. When you walk into the yard, it feels strangely empty and the sheds resemble a ghost town. The hustle, bustle, mooing, bleating and munching noises are all gone except for in one corner there’s a collection of spare lambs. Here there’s loud sucking noises as lambs jostle to have a turn syphoning up the milk through the tubes to the teats. Much of my time is taken up mixing milk powder and cleaning feeding apparatus. The economics of rearing sock lambs is questionable, but it’s rewarding in other ways. I understand the thinking behind survival of the fittest, but that’s not my way. All life deserves a chance. That said, when the milk powder bill came through I did have to sit down.

I nearly fell off my chair when “Mr Crack on” who’s constantly regaling me about the delightful attributes of Romney sheep, announced that he might try some mules. He quickly added he wouldn’t be pampering them. It was all hands and paws to work this week when we gathered up our ewes and lambs for the first time. We were applying fly repellant, immunising with Ovivac P and giving a preventative vecoxan dose to all the lambs. The lads were critical because a few lambs hadn’t been ringed. My defence was that I was cracking on with the work, and maybe if I’d been allowed to potter I wouldn’t have missed them.
We managed to get a lamb count, enabling us to quote numbers, keeping the bureaucrats happy. It’s early days yet but percentages look pleasing. Experience has taught me not to get too excited until the money goes into the bank. Nigel continues to sell our lamb and beef boxes: this is proving popular and helping margins.

Lamb producers should be happy, considering the prices that sheep are selling for at market. The sudden upward trend makes the job worth doing and allows for reinvestment. Let’s hope they stay up. Witnessing potential breeding stock being sold for slaughter makes me wonder where the prices will be at the autumn sales. Now it’s been publicised that lamb was on the Royal Wedding menu, surely it will become trendy to eat lamb. Let’s have no more talk about millennials not eating lamb. This is the new must have meat.

We recently enjoyed a hilarious evening’s entertainment at The Lamb Inn, Wartling, attending a supper and show. I totally recommend Living Spit: One Man And His Cow, a travelling theatre playing in local pubs. If they come to your area, it’s good rural humour, well worth seeing.

It’s not funny for the two farming families that own land between Bodiam and Robertsbridge. The Rother Valley Railway have served compulsory purchase orders to enable the extension of their steam railway. Is this critical infrastructure? The ethics are questionable, and it’s harsh for those who don’t want their land grabbed.