I need to raise my game! In 2019 our local predators rose to new heights, snatching the bodies from our hanging birds. They left me the heads, but there’s not much meat there, so we had a menu change for us and the dogs. I didn’t tell the spaniels, they’d worked hard flushing and collecting up those pheasants. We’ve had a lot fun working our spaniels over the winter. It also helps to keep us fit.

The shooting season included the usual mixed bag. Wet cold days, and times when birds mysteriously disappear, countered by, mild weather and pride when your dog achieves a spectacular retrieve. Country pursuits provide fresh air, exercise, good company, wholesome food all washed down with a tipple that puts a spring in your step and some ridiculously funny conversations.

For us, this season was tinged with sadness. Bonnie our cocker spaniel departed from us as unexpectedly as she’d arrived. Pandemonium best describes Bonnie’s arrival in our household. She’d experienced a succession of previous homes and was aged three. In her excitement of landing with us Bonnie wet herself in our hallway. We immediately placed her in the garden telling her this was a more appropriate location for this behaviour. Whereupon she clocked Joseph our cockerel whom she promptly chased, attaching herself to his tail feathers. Luckily no harm was done. We enjoyed seven and a half years of her company, a loyal and highly entertaining bundle of energy. Bonnie dropped dead while doing what she enjoyed most, ‘working’.

It was a shock, but we took comfort knowing she didn’t suffer. We’re all going to die one day, which is why it’s important to make the best of life and Bonnie certainly did that. Farmers are often accused of being cruel and hard. While we may give the outward impression of being tough this often disguises the inner soul. When you spend a life working with animals it’s difficult not to become attached or interact with the diverse mix of characters within any herd or flock. Dogs that you work with become special.

A few days later, a Greengage tree was mysteriously delivered to us, we thought it must be in error. But we were very touched to discover it was a gift to be planted in honour of our faithful friend. What a lovely idea, I’m looking forward to eating greengages! Luckily Tilley’s daughter, Floss, a seven month old gangly springer pup rose to the challenge of becoming a working dog rather sooner than planned. It’s amazing how instinctive it is for them.

My instincts were sadly lacking on beaters day when I was persuaded to have a go with a 20 bore Lincoln gun. When the first bird flew over, I was receiving a torrent of advice from the owner of the gun, my head was buzzing with instructions. There is so much to think about, holding the gun to the shoulder, lining up the bird, taking off the safety switch, pulling the trigger. I shot, but I was way too slow, that bird was laughing. My admiration for the guns rose to dizzying heights, I resolved to be less critical when the ratio of shots to birds is high.

I comforted myself, thinking this is the end of the season so surely the birds that are left must be the clever ones. However when a second bird flew over I was determined to go for it. First shot was behind it, but swinging the barrel around I again squeezed the trigger. I’m not sure who was more surprised, the bird, me, my instructor or Tilley, who rushed off to get it. The bird fell like a stone, a head shot. It was a great feeling of achievement, very exciting. 3:1 ratio seemed respectable, so I handed the gun back. My husband and Floss had flushed the bird, I shot, and Tilley retrieved – family teamwork.

In February a plough service was celebrated in the Ashburnham village hall. A presentation was made to a local ploughman Colin Young to commemorate 50 years of successful match ploughing. I’d been asked if I could answer a few farming questions during the service to which I’d agreed. One of the questions was. ‘How do you feel when your sheep have to leave the farm, having seen them born/lambs/lambing etc.?’ I answered that I was delighted to achieve our aim of having a quality end product to sell, and knowing that they’d lived happy natural lives. Ultimately it’s always good to keep the bank manager on side! The business of farming needs to generate money to remain viable. This fact is often overlooked by many starry eyed consumers.

The Boohoo fashion retailer have shown themselves to be misinformed and out of touch with reality when they banned wool products. I’m glad they’ve reversed their decision, in my opinion they should be actively promoting wool as a sustainable biodegradable natural fibre. It’s more planet friendly than polyester or acrylic clothing. Plastics are killing our fish. Sheep farmer, Gareth Wyn Jones did a brilliant job of conveying the true wool production facts to the media.

On the farm we’re working our way through our stocks of straw, hay and silage. We’re hoping for an early turnout. The Autumn calves are now enjoying access to a creep feeding area. The starting date for spring calving is 10 March. We continue to sell finished lamb and are preparing the ewes for lambing in April. We’re enjoying our Grandparent duties. George joins us in supporting the England rugby team. Of course, we take every opportunity to indoctrinate George with all things farming.

Now about raising my game; ladder, hammer and large nail, that should fix it.