Does anyone have any toilet paper? It’s bizarre that since coronavirus hit the headlines, the shelves in the shops have been empty of toilet rolls. Australians are apparently fighting over them, so it’s a world-wide dilemma.

Mysteriously, none of the symptoms of Covid-19 include a need for an excessive use of this product. Could there be a marketing opportunity here for us shepherds? Before the invention of toilet paper, wealthy Romans used wool and rose water for this task! Other suggestions used include leaves, grass, ferns, corn cobs, maize, fruit skins, sea shells, stone, sand, moss and hemp. Wool sounds like the softer option!

On a cold wet windy day, we shifted our sheep off the Pevensey Levels. These ewes are due to lamb mid April and are in good order considering the wet winter. It’s a dangerous job because drivers on the A259 have not a moment to spare. While we’re backing our livestock trailer into a gateway, people take hair raising risks – not least us, because the only way to make people stop is to walk into the road. A couple of minutes is all we need; I’m amazed by people’s lack of patience.

Now that the ewes are back on home ground, we’ll be able to supplement their grazing by giving them access to feed blocks and silage/hay. Even on this land they will be hard pressed to find a dry patch to lay on. I sympathise with anyone who’s lambing outside in these conditions; it must be grim, although it’s surprising how hardy lambs can be, especially if they have full bellies. They soon learn napping on their mum’s fleece is a cosy place to be. Although the sward length is less than optimal, the mild conditions have enabled the grass to continue growing.

Happily, my hoggets have benefitted, with some finishing off grass and others requiring less feed than usual to finish. I needed to reduce grazing numbers, so I braved breaking with tradition and sold some hoggets as stores in market. I was delighted with the result. I’m going to miss DSC Supplies in Hailsham. Terry and his team have given good advice and valued assistance over the years. Good luck with your new ventures and happy retirement Terry.

In market I was amused to witness the selling of ‘Mark Spitz’. It shows that everyone loves a good story. Initially there was little interest in the rather smart looking store wether, but intrigue was sparked when Robbie got into the pen and proclaimed: “This lamb is special”.

Robbie explained: “He’s a triplet; his mother was running around with his head out. I had to rush about to catch her in order to deliver him. I left the family together, but when I returned to check on them the mother only had two lambs with her, so I looked around and found this one in the river swimming for his life. I rescued him and his mother refused to take him back. We reared him, naming him after the famous swimmer. He’s very friendly and I wish he was a ewe lamb as we’re all very fond of him”.

Fierce bidding followed, and those present cheered and applauded the spectacle. Mark Spitz made a very respectable £104. Bravo.

All farmers are eagerly anticipating better weather and are keen to get on the land to deal with the damage caused by the wet winter. Livestock farmers have struggled with where to store manure when cleaning out the sheds. Excess water has over filled slurry lagoons. The lack of winter corn sown has left fields vulnerable to soil erosion, with farmers powerless to prevent it. Consequently river beds are silting up, exacerbating flooding.

There’s predicted to be a shortage of straw next winter and there’s already talk of tight supplies and high prices for livestock feed. Thank goodness the chancellor decided to keep the lower tax rate on red diesel used for agriculture, giving us one less worry.
Is the government right to phase out badger culling in favour of vaccination and surveillance? We’re on yearly cattle testing. I’m alarmed to hear the planned change to six-monthly testing for edge and high-risk areas. Managing these when cattle are confined in a shed is difficult enough, but testing when they are out on summer grazing will be a headache.

Accelerating the development and deployment of a cattle vaccine which is yet to be recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health has worrying trade implications. Vaccination prevents, but it does not cure disease. It is also not 100% protective. Dealing with TB is stressful and financially impacts rural businesses, so it would be good to get it sorted.

It’s astounding to read that a top advisor to the chancellor has said: “The food sector isn’t critically important to the UK, and agriculture and fish production certainly isn’t”. I hope the public’s reaction to coronavirus raises the profile of food security. I suggest such advisors get a pay cut and that the overloaded intensive care and frontline NHS staff get a massive pay rise. They truly deserve it for the amazing job they are doing in very difficult circumstances.

I empathise with the farming families and rural community opposing the extension of the Rother Valley Railway from Bodiam to Robertsbridge. We’re supposed to be cutting emissions, so it doesn’t seem right to extend usage of steam and diesel trains for what appears to be a vanity project by wealthy train enthusiasts.

There’s a well-documented rise in traffic accidents caused by level crossings, and three extra crossings are planned by this hobby railway, including one across the A21. Road users will be dismayed at the prospect of delays, adding to the chaos on this busy south coast to London route. Flooding will be increased by the embankment required to facilitate the line, affecting Bodiam and Robertsbridge. Ecological damage will be caused in an AONB area and mature woodland will be lost, affecting protected species.

When you’ve grown up on a farm and seen your parents and grandparents tend the land, there’s a bond formed, an affinity, over time creating memories. You appreciate nature and take pride in nurturing the land, deriving pleasure from doing so. It’s emotionally demoralising to have part of this snatched away by a compulsory purchase order, especially if afterwards you have to look at it every day and bear the consequences. I hope the public enquiry scheduled to take place in May rules in favour of preserving the land.

In the wake of coronavirus, keep calm and carry on farming. At least we won’t get bored tending to our animals in isolation!