“Be careful what you wish for”, they say, but hoorah… at last those elusive clouds that previously avoided releasing their rain on our fields have come good. Lack of water this summer has taken its toll, but hopefully most plants will recover and thrive. We’ve recently put in some new grass leys. It’s always a relief to see the little green shoots emerging. Establishing any new crop takes time, effort and money, so it’s always good if the weather works in your favour. We needed the rain but now we’re hoping the autumn will be kind and winter will be short.
In the spring farmers will need to check for leather jacket damage to their grass, as there’s large numbers of crane flies around this autumn. Many pheasants are appearing on our land chasing those tasty ‘daddy long legs’. Our spaniels are delighted as they find pheasant watching far more exciting than looking at sheep and cattle. The shooting season is fast approaching and the spaniels are eagerly anticipating getting those birds up on the wing.
Shooting has been specifically listed as an exempt activity from the ‘rule of six’ as long as reasonable measures have been taken to limit the transmission of Covid-19 and a health and safety risk assessment has been undertaken. Some large commercial shoots have decided not to operate this year though and overall there’s said to be a 27% reduction in shoot days taking place.
In these strange times, there has been a shocking number of dog thefts; it’s worrying because working dogs are being particularly targeted. What a terrible ordeal for both the dog and the owner; it must be completely heart wrenching. I struggle to comprehend that people can be that cruel. With an economic downturn, rural crime is likely to rise and farms are often seen as easy targets. Once the autumn work is done, a little time spent viewing your farm from the aspect of an intruder and taking appropriate preventative measures could be time well spent.
I think Brie our sheepdog is on her best behaviour because she’s trying to make amends for her recent act of vandalism. Today she performed a spectacular long-distance cast and text book lift bringing the lambs back to me for penning. I felt so proud of her. You have to allow me some bragging rights because we don’t always work in harmony.
Brie hates criticism and revels in praise, (don’t we all). However she wasn’t popular when I left her in Shrek and popped into a garden to have a socially distanced chat for a maximum of ten minutes. On my return, I found a wire pulled out from under the dash board chewed into three pieces; tried the key… silence, we were going nowhere fast. Phoned other half… no reply. Found string and made up four slip leads and walked the mile home accompanied by my canine friends.
After I called in a family mechanic to fix the damage, I decided to put in chicken wire around it to prevent a repeat offence. This turned out to be a bad idea as it got caught up in the steering and took me an hour to untangle. This was not one of my better days; it was dark by the time I got through my daily tasks.
We’re going through lambs weekly and drawing off the finished ones. Hailsham market was overflowing with sheep yesterday, and the market team did a good job. Markets, auctioneers, haulage companies, abattoirs and butchers are all vital links in a functioning food chain. There’s a shortage of skilled butchers at the moment. The British Meat Processors’ Association has successfully ensured that butchery was added to the ‘shortage occupation’ list that will be used when they vet skilled migrants. However, we still need to train up more British butchers; it takes two years to become fully skilled. All links of the food chain need to be fully functional for the system to run smoothly.
There’s been much talk within our family about climate change and the target of net zero carbon emissions by 2040, and how altering farming practices can be part of the solution. ‘Carbon sequestration’ has become a real buzz phrase. I understand it refers to the capacity of grassland, cover crops, woodland, hedgerows etc, to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it. Also good news; grazing ruminants, which have been much demonised in the media lately, are now being heralded as a key part of the solution to help keep carbon in the ground.
Farming needs all the positivity it can get, so it’s all for the good if our customers the consumers see us as working to save our planet. Nigel is a keen advocate of regenerative farming, whereas my other half is less keen to ditch the plough. Tilling the soil is an ancient practice and he wonders if this is a passing fad. I question why it has taken so long to realise that ploughing releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and that breaking up the structure is harmful for the soil? It’s an interesting debate. No ploughing matches this year due to Covid-19, but will they become consigned to the history books? Good ploughing is a skill; I love the sight of those beautiful horses pulling the plough and our grandsons like watching the tractors working.
Last autumn we got rid of our inefficient oil burner and replaced it with an air source heat pump and on the whole we have been pleased with it. Last winter was relatively mild so perhaps it wasn’t fully tested, but it was pleasant having the whole house kept at a comfortable temperature. We still have a wood burner to light if we want the luxury of sitting beside a fire. There’s always a plentiful supply of wood, but we sometimes lack the time and energy to get it into the house.
I was amused to find a renewable energy salesman knocking on our door this week. He wants to populate our farm with solar panels. As we live in an area of outstanding natural beauty I think it unlikely the planners would be so enthusiastic. But the money sounded tempting.