As I passed a tube into the hogget’s stomach and administered soda bicarbonate, I also tried persuasive negotiating tactics. I told the hogget that if she lived, I’d potentially let her join the flock. That is despite my resolve not to keep any replacements this year. As an extra incentive I added, ‘you could be called Apple’.

I’ve learnt that good intentions aren’t enough, if a job needs doing it is best to do it. Collecting up apples and making juice was on my ‘to do list’. Apple juice makes a refreshing drink. On a hot day when I’m doing sheep work I usually take a bottle straight from the freezer this helps to keep me revived. I hadn’t made time to juice the apples and consoled myself that the birds and wildlife were appreciating having something to scavenge on. I’d also neglected to add string to secure the hurdles in the gateway, this turned out to be a costly mistake.

We’re now strip grazing our hoggets on turnips, but they come up to the farm-yard for trough feeding every afternoon, which enables me to move the electric fence. We were away working the Springers and the naughty sheep came up early. They forced the hurdles open and on discovering empty troughs decided to make themselves useful and trim up the lawn, prune the shrubs, and gobble up the apples from under the trees. They then decided to go for a constitutional stroll along the lane, which is when we started to receive phone calls!

On the shoot, no-one had correctly guessed the number of legs so the roll-over money was being put behind the bar. We reluctantly declined the pub visit knowing that farm work was waiting for us, so were already on route when the phone started ringing. Arriving home as the hoggets were being ushered back into our yard by a pianist and Kizzy. In an emergency setting, Kizzy (kelpie x collie) must have figured her assistance was needed, she is generally afraid of sheep! It’s unusual for no one to be around the farm, but Nigel is away house building. It’s annoying the hoggets chose that time to get up to mischief.

Early the next morning, all was not well. An apple a day might be good, but lots and lots of apples, we found out, can be fatal. Our postman was the first to spot that we had problems, and kindly drew our attention to it. I was on my way to a dentist appointment and the other half was busy feeding cattle. By the time we initiated treatment the hoggets were in a poor way. We consulted the vet and did our best to try and save them. Sadly three of our best hoggets died, clearly the name ‘Apple’ didn’t appeal.

The dentist, asked if I had a good day planned. Knowing that I was heading home to deal with poorly sheep, in my head I debated my answer. I decided to play safe and simply stated ‘I’m a farmer’. Whereupon she stated she’d put on weight over Christmas and decided to do Veganuary. My heart sank. It’s not surprising considering the amount of social media pressure and programmes on TV pushing the anti meat message. Where is that positive coverage to restore the balance? I suggested the dentist could try to buy locally produced food. She admitted that if she ate out, she didn’t think she’d be able to resist having ‘steak’. It’s sad that the negative reporting and misinformation is distorting the public’s perception of farming and food.

I don’t blame farmers for refusing to watch the propaganda, but I take the view that I need to see exactly what is being said. George Monbiot appears to advocate all food be manufactured in a handful of factories. A risky strategy for mankind! He claims there’s no need for agriculture, the land can be re-wilded. I’m not impressed that Channel 4 also seems to be condoning stealing piglets in order to gain media followers. The TV show ‘Meat the family’ is quite shocking the way it is playing on children’s emotions. The world has gone mad. Meanwhile farmers get on with the job. I’m told I missed hearing some inspiring speakers at The Oxford, and Real Oxford conferences. One year I’ll get there, right now I think farmers could do with some good news to counteract the rubbish.

Boris Johnson when interviewed on the BBC dismisses the suggestion of doing Veganuary, because it required too much concentration. He was clearly perturbed by the thought of not eating cheese, saying ‘It’s a crime against cheese lovers’. Daughter Hazel and husband Martin, will be pleased to hear this, as they’re working towards launching their first commercial cheese in the spring. The latest tastings get the thumbs up from me. More details next month.

2020 is going to be an exciting year. We’ll formally be welcoming Hannah into the Akehurst family in May when she and Nigel get married. Hannah is an Essex girl, a horticulturalist, who has embraced the highs and lows of livestock farming along with us. She’s been a huge hit with the dogs, who’ve been enthusiastic about showing their affection and keen to help/hinder her whenever possible.

As well as wedding planning and house building Nigel and Hannah have continued with selling beef and lamb direct. They also decided to make use of some of the coloured fleeces and had them made into luxury sheep skins. Although the process takes several months, I can confirm that the result is well worth waiting for. Farming wise we’ve missed having Nigel’s energy, although he has managed to help us at busy times. Juggling building and farming is challenging. I’m sure the end result will be worth the effort.

Spring is coming, snow drops are out, daffodils and primroses are sprouting. Better times are ahead, we just need to stay positive.