Farm Life

  1. JP1
    Created by JP1 in category Farm Life
    Jul 27, 2018
    There’s only the one major topic of conversation amongst farming circles just now, and it’s the dry spell to which I alluded last week. Right across the South and East of the country it is now causing very real problems for many operations. You need to be a long way North and West before you find many unaffected.

    Reduced forage yields for sheep and cattle are the issues nearest my heart, as grassland turns to dust, and reduced crops leave barns worryingly empty. At every turn, I’m hearing of farmers already feeding next winters feed, with nothing in reserve for when it would’ve been needed. Really….at every turn. Reports are trickling in of fat cattle being pushed into abattoirs before time, and numbers of store cattle appearing at markets from unexpected quarters due to looming crisis. This is only going to do one thing for the trade. Look a bit deeper, and you can see the cracks. Some of the store stock is coming from dairy farmers who need to preserve scarce fodder for their milch cows. For once you’ve invested in the milking parlour, and signed the supply contract, you need to fill that milk tank every day, or things go wrong very fast. I suspect there are some heading for real trouble, and I can only offer sympathy.

    You’d think it wouldn’t be a problem for a man on soggy Dartmoor, would you? And indeed I’m far better off than many, as the peat is still growing green stuff. It is impacting us though. Obviously we buy in our straw, and that bill already sounds...
  2. JP1
    Created by JP1 in category Farm Life
    Jul 12, 2018
    I seldom welcome a change to cooler weather, but I’ve got to say it was nice to feel a cool breeze on my shoulders at last. It feels like I’ve been toiling in an oven for weeks - I don’t know how I would’ve coped with the heatwave if I had nothing to be doing in it. As it was, I haven’t had time to think about it, being as busy as a mad thing. As well as trying to push baling on as fast as possible before the remaining crops get less in the scorching sun, we’ve been carefully watching the young bullocks water away at grass. So far there hasn’t been any big issues, although in the heat, I suspect it’d become a crisis very quickly. The one lot whose supply failed were close at hand, and able to find a trickle of natural water oozing from a boggy patch in the furthest field – the old fellas who built those stone walls long ago generally put some thought into what they did. We have had several seasonal instances of gates being left open, including one which saw 15 young bullocks get out on the road. Luckily I must’ve been born under a favourable star, as they meandered straight into a sensible chum, who even had my number on his phone. He was in signal, and miracle of miracles, I not only had my phone and a signal too, but was only a couple of miles along the same road. That’s one of my nine lives then.



    At least the weather has left the cattle mostly looking lovely, with a sheen on the South Devons I seldom see.

    On balance, working in this weather has been less...
  3. JP1
    Created by JP1 in category Farm Life
    Jul 5, 2018
    So I’ve managed to get free of a sweltering harvest and taken my lovely little wife and youngest offspring on a little jolly, to see our eldest graduate. This auspicious event occurred at Queens University in Belfast, a place of further education Agnes picked- we’re assured- for academic prowess rather than distance from her immediate family. Setting off in the Discovery, we blasted up the M5/M6 in the fullest glare of the heatwave, jostling for position on crowded roads. Arriving at the docks in Birkenhead in plenty of time –it doesn’t do to miss your ferry- we then spent the cooling evening quayside. Passing my time as gregariously as ever, I fell into conversation with an amiable cop stood by with his sniffer dog. It hadn’t occurred to me this could soon become the front line against the EU customs zone.

    Travelling up, the radio news had been full of other EU border matters, with several countries admitting that they really don’t want to go on accepting unlimited migrants from countries….er…to the South. I notice a lot of media types struggle with the concept, desperate to label anyone voicing such opinions as right wing racists. I’d watched that Channel 4 news bird working pretty hard to goad a Polish Minister into accepting he was a reactionary monster…..and failing. He was unapologetic, having been elected to try and keep the door shut, and evidently couldn’t care less what she thought.

    It’s hardly surprising when de facto entry into the EU is now being dictated...
  4. JP1
    Created by JP1 in category Farm Life
    Jun 21, 2018
    In a fit of responsibility, I’ve admitted my guilt, conceding that it was I that chopped down the metaphoric cherry tree.

    The crime scene is not what you might have been suspecting, but rather 40’ of chewed up tarmac on her majesty’s highway. It’s our own plant and machinery traffic, and goods both inbound and outbound, that is the problem. The road is built floating across very soggy ground, and you can watch it flex as larger gear comes and goes.

    Matters aren’t helped by a blocked gutter nearby, which we can no longer keep open for logistical reasons. This allows water to run across the chewed up road surface for much of the winter, with the inevitable results. I knew that what is needed is a fresh culvert, bypassing the drain which we can’t get to. I can deal with this, or at least delegate to the right team, and was minded to just get it done. So we checked with the very sensible chief road chap, and got authorisation, subject to various matters. OK, a quote was obtained from a suitably qualified crew we know, and all was set for next month.

    At the same time, Alison reported in a few potholes further along the road, reminding the powers that be at every stage that these are due to a –different- collapsed culvert that I’ve given up trying to keep clear. I’m game to do my bit, but I can see the stone slabs under the road have fallen in, which is why it blocks.

    This is causing water to run down 50 meters of road, which in turn trashes that surface. It needs doing,...
  5. JP1
    Created by JP1 in category Farm Life
    Jun 14, 2018

    Carrying on from last week’s bucolic floral observations…and they were a necessary antidote to some stuff that was winding me up to the point that I had to put my head in a happy place before I reached the precipice. With continued warmth and dampness, grass is motoring almost everywhere, and I’ve got some more cattle sold while they were still in test. Due to domestic pressure, I am trying to get the number below 300, but fresh little blighters keep appearing out of the gorse bushes.

    Reporting how my sales had gone to a chum, who is relatively new to cattle farming locally, he looked disappointed at the price of some yearling stores I mentioned…embarrassed for me. I had to lead him gently through why this might be the case by asking what colour the molehills were on his land…they’re brown, whereas almost all of mine are black. His cows live on podzolic loam, mine are almost exclusively on unimproved peat. And the difference this makes is stark. It gets even more extreme when I’m looking across to another neighbour, whose cattle spend 6-7 months a year on a lowland ‘redland’ farm –red sandstone over limestone. Given that he’s also twice the farmer I’ll ever be, the difference between his South Devons- when they make their annual pilgrimage up onto his hill ground- and mine is, um…evident.

    I’m pretty relaxed about this. I understand the limitations of the land I farm, and more pointedly, that trying to overcome it by additional inputs wouldn’t leave me better...
  6. JP1
    Created by JP1 in category Farm Life
    Jun 7, 2018


    I try to take pleasure out of enjoying the seasons. The fullness and rich feeling of late summer, when the gathering in is done, and everything is living on the smell of an oily rag, is hard not to love. Then comes autumn’s pagan earthiness, all darkening evenings and warding off the inevitable coming of winter with high jinks and some malted barley distillate. And even as we hit the depths of the winter I take a perverse enjoyment. Is last summer’s hay any good? Is the straw going to be dusty, or a fragrant golden delight? Are these waterproofs as good as their name? Will I get rained on again tomorrow? I’m up close and personal with my cattle for months in the winter, and if that doesn’t fill a man’s heart with contentment, there’s something wrong. As winter draws on, the dead dull flora and lack of colour bely the fact that the sap is building, waiting for daylight to lengthen. And the subtle signs of springs beginnings- never more welcome than this year- perk everything up in ways beyond measure.

    As we finally came out of winter this year, I was more glad to see leaves opening on the trees than I can say. We hadn’t had a catastrophic time of it, as I generally play a very conservative hand, but even than it had dragged us pretty hard come the end. The first hungry swallows had nought to eat, and cows were still looking for grub after we’d run out. We’d fed a lot of hard feed…more than ever before. I don’t want to tally up the cost.

    But now, suddenly we’re...
  7. JP1
    Created by JP1 in category Farm Life
    May 31, 2018
    My goodness, but since he was put in post I’m struggling to get my head around Michael Gove’s endless flow of policy/consultation announcements. They seem to be daily at the minute.

    I’ve already mentioned his complex and slightly…er…contradictory plans to reform agriculture post Brexit, improving our environmental credentials and animal welfare standards, while simultaneously producing ever more, and notably cheaper food.



    And you might well have heard something about ‘banning woodburners’ a couple of weeks ago, and the creation of new National Parks over the weekend. What might’ve passed you by, hidden in other stuff, was a consultation on ammonia- which implies he’s going to massively clamp down on how farmers spread slurry. I’m beginning to fear I might be missing others, with their coming so thick and fast.

    To deal with some of the latest plethora then. Most of it comes from the ‘Clean Air Strategy 2018’, and to get beneath the skin of it you need to backtrack. For some time we’ve been sailing toward a litigious mire, with urban authorities becoming increasingly aware of how many lives are foreshortened by what might be taken as failures to control air pollution…and it won’t just be town halls that are aware of this. London mayor Sadiq Khan has been making noises about it, and pressing for ways to improve the capitals air quality, for some time. Included are his blank assertions that all diesel engines should be banned. And now Mr Gove is giving him the...
  8. JP1
    Created by JP1 in category Farm Life
    May 24, 2018
    Hmm…the value of shares can go down as well as up, various adverts for financial scams reluctantly reminded us. Well the fortunes –and values- of South Devon cows can go down as well as up.

    My ‘Caesar’ cow has yo-yoed from a promising in-calf 7 year old, worth several hundred quid, to an open sided surgery patient, onto a freshly stitched up out patient, with strapping calf at foot – dipping to a hesitant zero, then quickly looking like she’d be growing onto a grands worth of outfit worthy of the vets bill.

    But as I was crowing how clever we all were, she was developing an abscess in the outer muscle wall, and what seemed a pretty innocuous oedema soon started to dribble some very noxious gloop, pulling on the skin sutures for good measure.

    Currently, we’re so far into this particular hand of agri-poker, with the vets bill and anti-biotics already likely to exceed her value if she survives, that I’m on the wrong side of it however it goes now. If I tallied our own time….well, probably better if I don’t. Of course I don’t get up mornings and think of my stock in that way, but equally, if I never weighed it up, I’d be making even dafter decisions. The only cock-eyed silver lining to this sorry story was about 5 days in, when I found a very useful cow stood over a still born calf. It was a pretty full on morning, and it was after lunch before I sent the sorcerer’s apprentice up with a sharp knife, to fetch this cow down to the yard, bringing the skin of her stillborn...
  9. JP1
    Created by JP1 in category Farm Life
    May 17, 2018


    How has the yawning chasm of disconnect between Joe Public and the farming industry opened so wide? As kids, we used to joke about city kids who didn’t know what a cow looked like, or that crops grew in the ground. Oh how we chortled when a mischievous farmer would assure holidaying city tykes, as amused parents looked on, that milk grew in bottles, on plants, and that the empties had to be returned as seed for next year’s crop- although even as I type, I realise how it dates me talking about daily doorstep pinta deliveries.

    But now, the disconnect is nearly total. There’s no grasp that the very foundation of human civilisation is farming, and that without it, there simply would not be- could not be- 7.6 billion of us. Without farming there would be practically no separate career paths, no technology, factories or cities. A reliable source of food, produced en masse, at the expense of whatever else might want to exist on that land, is the very fabric of how civilisation works. Yet huge slices of population and culture are blind to it.

    ‘Special interest groups’ loudly decry whatever it is that exercises them about food production/diet/land use, ignorant of the intricate supply systems that give them the opportunity to whinge. Whole populations occupy themselves with whatever concerns them, unaware of what enables them to do so.

    I had an epiphany moment backalong, if long term readers will indulge me for a moment. In 2011, a series of riots erupted across UK...
  10. JP1
    Created by JP1 in category Farm Life
    May 14, 2018

    Is it just me? (I find myself saying that quite a lot in my doddering dotage). I don’t recall asking my machinery suppliers to fit computers, whizz bang flashing lights, swoopy bonnets, and all the other junk to the various lumps of plant and machinery I utilise from day to day. And do bear in mind that what I mostly get up to is harvesting fodder for my bovines, then throwing it at them, later removing the subsequent by-product. Perchance I might be shunting oaken logs toward the sawmill, or towing various trailers. Most of the tractors, handlers and 4x4s we’re using are already overly complex by a significant factor, and getting worse.


    The cut-off date seems to have been sometime in the early noughties. Prior to that, a spanner and a lump hammer fixed most things, while subsequently, a laptop is increasingly needed.

    Ditto the swoopy plastic bodywork. Sadly, I hadn’t realised before trading in one or two bits of gear which I now wish I’d held onto.

    To put it in perspective, after a certain amount of management discussion, we’ve agreed that with the boy home we needed another frontline loader tractor. I haven’t brought anything with wheels and an engine onto the place for about 7 years –other than a couple of secondhand hatchbacks for teenaged offspring learning to drive. So I was granted executive authority to progress the matter, but soon established that a new tractor was (a) twice the price I was expecting, and (b) half as complex again as…well, last week....