While I remove mud from Tilley, she tries to convince me she only has three paws and makes a big fuss about her fourth paw being showered. It takes time for the warm water to run through and she doesn’t like it. I’ve told her that Nigel says “cold showers are invigorating”. Apparently it’s fashionable. Tilley’s not impressed. I agree, this modern craze of taking cold showers and winter sea swimming is not for me. That said, Tilley doesn’t think twice about retrieving a bird from a pond, but she insists mud removal requires warm water. Clean feet is a small price to pay for being allowed to mind the fire in the evening.

Lockdown rules dictated that our spaniels didn’t get much work, so on 1 February we decided vermin control was a good idea. Sadly, the vermin seemed to outwit our two guns, but family beaters and dogs enjoyed themselves. Our bag totalled a single grey squirrel. That’s one less to cause damage to growing trees. Next morning when we opened our curtains there were two resplendent cock pheasants perched on our garden fence and several hen birds just out in the field. I swear they were taunting us. Locally there’s been a concerted effort to reduce fox numbers. Let’s hope this gives the larger number of ground nesting birds a better chance of rearing young.

The recent spell of snow and low temperatures certainly increased the numbers of lapwings that I’ve noticed while checking sheep on the marshes. This weather has the advantage that the dog’s paws stay devoid of mud, and it’s enabled me to use Shrek (ATV), which is a lot quicker than walking. I delivered hay and high energy feed blocks out for our sheep, which had found a sheltered area and appeared unfazed by the snow. I’m relieved we no longer lamb early, because the bitterly chill winds must be taking their toll.

Good news for sheep farmers. There are higher prices for hoggets, both finished and stores, and even the cull ewes are fetching decent money. This certainly helps the feel good factor of life during these harrowing pandemic times.

We rarely sell cattle in market, but our British Blue cross Angus cull cow was sold for good reason. Aged 10 but good meat, we’d optimistically hoped for a better price. She was empty, but given no second chance because of her history of cranky behaviour lasting 48 hours post calving. After birthing and as soon as her calf attempted to stand for suckling, she would go mental, bellowing and knocking the hell out of it. We would end up risking life and limb in an effort to get her to accept her own calf. It was a shame, because after a couple of days struggle, she would suddenly accept it was hers and become a devoted, docile mother.

We are calving at the moment and bizarrely we have another British Blue cross Friesian, with good mothering instincts but who initially produces what looks like pure blood from her udder. Her bag is soft with no signs of inflammation providing it’s sucked. There lies the problem. It could be described as Dracula’s dream drink, but the calf isn’t keen on the taste. Thankfully it turns to milk after a couple of days, so perseverance and encouragement are required, which is time consuming.

Floss made a mistake. She is Tilley’s daughter and devoted to her master, so much so that on evenings when they are snuggled up in the armchair together, I feel a little like a ‘wallflower’. Early mornings, Floss always accompanies him up to the farm. While ‘other half’ potters around the animals, she seeks out interesting smells and occasionally they check up on each other. He just happened to be connecting up the above-mentioned calf when, unbeknown to him, Floss decided moral support was required and stood behind him. The next thing he knew he was thrown against the wall. Floss hastily retreated. The cow perceived Floss to be a danger; unfortunately ‘other half’ was in the way. Luckily he didn’t sustain serious injury. This just illustrates how quickly things can go wrong.

The freezing temperatures enabled us to get more inside field hedges cut and dung out of the yards without marking the ground, but today it’s returned to mud making weather. I’m back walking and the lapwings are gone. Spring is in the air. I witnessed an amorous pair of swans doing some impressive courting moves. They gave me a stern look as I passed by; I apologised. The sheep are eight weeks from lambing and just beginning to get a taste for feed blocks. They’ll be heading home shortly in preparation for lambing and to give the marshes a rest prior to cattle turn out.

I hope March brings more cheerful weather, not only for those lambing and doing spring cultivations but because we’ve got 2,000 hedging whips to get planted in the ground by the end of the month. I’ve splashed out on some extra stout spades, informing the family planting team that for first person to break a spade, the ‘drinks are on them’. I’m looking forward to having more new fencing erected. The hedges will need it because local deer numbers are growing.

Due to lockdown restrictions we found ourselves buying machinery online. A nerve-wracking experience, with warnings of scams ringing in our ears. We pored over pictures, videos, facts and figures and had endless conversations. Eventually we took the plunge and agreed to pay 50% prior to dispatch and the rest on safe arrival. I don’t mind admitting I was mega worried. Communicating via computer and phone is not the same as seeing things in the flesh and a handshake. Anyway, we are delighted with our JCB Loadall. I felt strangely sad saying goodbye to our faithful old Matbro, which was taken in part exchange. However our grandsons are super excited and constantly demanding videos of our JCB in action.

For Valentine’s Day I slow cooked some venison and pondered what flavourings to put with it. Google randomly suggested blackberry and apple, which I duly added. It tasted delicious, or was that the port I put in for good measure?