Zero grass or phenomenal grass growth?

Writers Posted 21/06/21
It’s either too little or too much.

“Be careful what you wish for,” I thought, as I gazed in horror at the ewe with twins who laid flat out with rasping breaths and frothing mouth. Perhaps the taste of the three magnesium buckets out in the field were not to her liking. Her lambs had retreated to a safe distance and watched as I administered treatment by subcutaneous injection. I desperately willed the ewe to continue breathing as I wondered: was I too late?

What gives farmers the greatest headache, zero grass or phenomenal grass growth? It seems both scenarios come with their own set of problems. On the plus side we’ve already made some silage and are keen to commence hay making. With an abundance of grass and sunshine, it’s looking promising for replenishing our barn stores. Our new mower has been unpacked from its box and stands in our farmyard looking very shiny and bright; these heavy crops will be a good test for it.

Just as lambs recover from joint ill, some are starting to limp due to soreness caused by the long grass. I haven’t needed to footbath the flock for several years, but this year it will be necessary. The majority of my sock lambs have been weaned. The initial fun of feeding lambs soon wears off; mixing milk and cleaning equipment is a time consuming chore. That said, there are some great characters. We used the alphabet on these, rather than numbers, I wasn’t responsible for the names: Aphrodite, Brutus, Carlos, Donny, Ecstasy, Fabio, Greta, Horacio, Izzy, Josie, Kinky and Loopy.

This gang is now frolicking in the field, with access to a creep feeder. I pity any footpath walkers because this inquisitive bunch push, shove and nibble while on escort duty. The gang has no fear and is ever hopeful that a bottle will be produced; in other words they are a complete nuisance.

I really should wean Number 81, who has a daily bottle; he lives with the flock. When called he runs like a greyhound and greets me so enthusiastically, I haven’t the heart to disappoint him. I really must toughen up – at this rate I’ll be carrying a bottle into market for him.

Lamb 129 wasn’t thriving; a single with an attentive mum who’d plenty of milk. He was so weak I intervened, bringing him into the shed. I found him drinking water in preference to milk, so I gave him limited access to his mum and supervised feeding. He progressed well, gaining strength to the extent that one day he broke out of his pen.

He was on his way to his mum when I witnessed ewe number 70 viciously attack him for no apparent reason. Sadly he died as a result. I was horrified and his mother was devastated. Number 70 was in the shed because her own lambs, initially healthy, had mysteriously developed injuries. Social services’ sheep equivalent might like to investigate. Number 70 will be culled.

The nappy lambs were in the house, running with the dogs for my convenience. The grandchildren found this hilarious, convinced their Grandma had lost the plot. Maybe true, but these lambs needed a few days of ‘little and often’ feeds. It was a temporary fix and now they are nappyless, having moved to a pen in the garden. Naming them would seem like tempting fate; from slow beginnings they are now happily improving. One had problems with bloat and I tried all sorts of regimes and treatments; interestingly natural yogurt has been the most successful.

Enough sheep stories… can you tell that I don’t get out much these days? Despite having received two jabs I’m strangely reticent about going off farm. Watching the news convinces me that I’m happy to stay put, lucky to live and work in the countryside. After all there is never a shortage of things to do on the farm. I don’t seem to miss socializing – maybe I’ve just lost the knack of it.

I feel like it may take some time to readjust to the aftermath of Covid-19. We may have to learn to live with it. I do enjoy belonging to farming groups on Facebook; the chit chat amongst like-minded people is both entertaining and informative.

One thing that really bugs me these days is scams. I’m totally fed up with answering the phone to machines. “The fraud squad for Amazon, £1,100 has been taken from your account, press one.” I slammed the phone down. The landline is particularly bad for this. But my mobile is not immune, it sounds like a young child: “Our records show that you’ve recently been involved in an accident.” I press the red button. Text messages: “You missed your delivery this morning.” Delete. Surely more should be done to stop this bunch of rogues.

I grew up understanding the concept that “nothing in life is free”, which makes me sceptical when it comes to handouts. Even when applying for grants there’s a part of me that feels uncomfortable; I hate jumping through hoops as I like to be my own boss. But the modern world seems to embrace this way of living.

I recall years ago treating a farmer in the hospital; a cow had trodden on him. He told me how he’d received a load of forms from MAFF and how satisfying it was screwing them up and throwing them in the bin. Then another farmer informed him it was worth £20,000 so he described fishing them out of the bin and straightening them out. Money talks.

The media has made much of the proposed lump-sum retirement scheme for farmers. The proposal looks like a minefield. Consultants/advisors etc will probably gain the most out of it. It would be better if government concentrated on helping young entrants get into farming. The youngsters will need optimism, resilience and adaptability in abundance. I would advise them to celebrate the wins, learn through the losses and enjoy living.

I’m celebrating the grass growth. Luckily my ailing ewe pulled through.

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