Swinging in the wind

Writers Posted 26/05/21
We had a near miss recently with a steel framed barn on the home farm.

We had a near miss recently with a steel framed barn on the home farm. It had been used predominately as winter housing for young cattle until the last animals left in early Spring 2020, when it was cleaned out and left empty. We have always cleared the stock yards in early spring, as soon as the weather allows, with surrounds scraped clean, being very conscious of what dung and urine can do to metal.

The building has been unused since, although looked at regularly. We had some quite hard frosts after the new year and in mid-February I walked around and was horrified to see the bases of all the stanchions along the open side almost ‘swinging in the wind’, while under each was a small pile of rust dust which, I surmised, had been ‘brought off’ by those freezing conditions. The barn was only 28 years old and had shown no sign of such advanced trouble, although like most steel bases of cattle sheds they were showing rust.

Over the years I have seen similar damage on older barns and replaced a few with new feet, but to see the whole lot in this state was a real concern. So what to do? – apart from praying the north wind doesn’t blow and bring the whole thing down. On second thoughts, it might flatten a troublesome phone mast! I called a neighbour who has spent many years working with metal, and then called my regular farm fitter/repair man Nick, and we talked through the options, Then, with a decision made, Nick set to, cutting and welding in some substantial steel supports. It was a delicate job but was completed and the barn is still standing. It is just so lucky the weather conditions had removed the rust and exposed the extent of the problem. Anyone with similar cattle and steel barns, I suggest you check them for similar erosion. Of course, you probably do.

It seems, finally, many in the farming fraternity are ‘digging their toes in’ over the ever-expanding burden of our farm assurance, inspection and levy schemes. Schemes which many have long seen as very poor value for anyone’s money; except perhaps those employed by them.

To my mind, while there may have been a case for some of them, their size and costs have multiplied beyond all justification and, in so doing, they have become a parasitic liability on most practical agricultural businesses. Once they may have been useful tools for ‘cracking the whip’ in the industry. Now they are simply yet another tax.

Whatever, they are generally more of a drag than an aid. Box ticking run wild. Many questions on the inspectors’ clipboards appear simply to be put there to justify employing yet more office staff to think new questions up. I am not singling anyone out in particular in case there are yet more sensitive ‘feelings’ I might upset.

The only such scheme we have ever really been involved with was related to the dairy herd. Initially routine dairy inspections helped teach many of the new inspectors about real dairy farming, rather than helping improve dairy farms. Doubtless they may have initially tidied up a few of the very small herds still around in the latter years of the old century, but in the past 50 years bigger herds have been driven by the simple need to survive the changing times and unrealistic milk prices, so through necessity farmers have needed to run ‘tight ships’, and be animal friendly.

But I recall many of the questions on the inspector’s clipboard would better have suited primary school children. I particularly recall a regional female dairy inspector, Tammy something… in the latter days of the Milk Marketing Board, back around the seventies/eighties, who came in on her annual visit and invariably found fault with almost everything, on whichever farm she appeared.

Finally one day we asked her to leave our dairy and reported this to her office. Thereafter she never visited us again, apparently a little chastened… If it had happened today she would most likely have brought a sexual discrimination charge.

I also remember, some years ago, being visited by a fellow from the local council who seemed concerned about inspecting our cattle fences. Not for the cattle, but for the public. They were, as in the photo, post and barbed wire, or a strand of electrified wire, so I asked him “where was the problem?”, because there were no public paths in that field. “Someone might get lost and stumble in the ditch overnight,” he said, leaving me with clear instructions to “put posts in at three yards and five, yes five, strands of barbed wire”.

So we changed it to three strands of barbed wire. Shortly after, we heard he had been moved on to greater things. A real expert. We never saw him or a replacement again, and no one ever fell in the ditch. There was no sense in what he said and he had no idea of the cost of providing and maintaining his ‘ideal’ fences. Is it possible he was just overcome with his authority?

We always had the view that if any official was coming to inspect anything, you needed to leave them some aspect they could fault, and so exercise their ‘enforcement powers’ to justify their existence. Then you would engage them in small talk as you skirted what you felt were any potential problem areas (slurry pits…) and they would walk past chatting cheerfully about their holidays, football or children. That was an old technique; of course, nobody would surely use it these days. But it usually worked.

Tweets from @southeastfarmer