Thursday, 28 May 2009

From whinge to wonder

It's hunt the orchid time again. Sadly, I can't yet boast of fields full of the beauties, but with that wonderful example just an inch away on the map, I hope that each year my patches will slowly start to increase. This is just the beginning of their growing season, and I will keep going back to check on progress and to count them up. No cows or sheep will go on these fields until the seed has set.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Standing up for the farmer

The other day Arthur Clewley remarked on this here blog that single farm payment for farmers was pretty much the same as MP's expenses. My head spun a bit at that but I gave it due consideration, not wanting to stand up for farmers (an unhomogenous crew) just because we all have mud under our fingernails. After some head scratching I couldn't see that the one could be equated with the other, whatever one's position on public subsidy.
And then I read my copy of The Ark, and noted that Defra is considering new proposals for an independent animal health unit that might be better suited to making decisions about dealing with animal disease outbreaks, and that the cost should be borne not entirely but significantly by livestock farmers. The head spinning returned. After I'd gone through the scratching bit again, I continued bemused.
Firstly, if I recall correctly, the last foot and mouth outbreak was caused by government laboratories, not by farmers. I suppose that if the labs become independent then the government could start pointing their finger outwards for a change. But there is a bigger issue at stake here.
Farmers produce food for everyone, and they receive an ever reducing cut for this. The supermarkets then take a whopping profit, and the consumer gets to fill their trolley with goods. It's in everyone's interest that food is safe, and it's not a responsibility that just sits at the beginning of the food chain. Farmers are not the main beneficiaries of disease control in livestock - everyone who sells or buys meat (or milk, cheese, butter, yoghourt, eggs, wool, leather etc) is implicated. In fact, if you put farmers under any more financial strain the consumer will lose out; reduced availability of food of local providence, corners cut, welfare interests skirted round, more disease. And supermarkets will just buy their goods from overseas. A vicious and unvirtuous circle.
An equivalent approach in another sector would be expecting individuals with swine flu to pay for the production of Tamiflu for all.
I'm not against an independent body being in charge of animal disease outbreaks; the costs of foot and mouth in 2001 were huge and it's entirely possible that if an independent body had been in charge the costs may have been far smaller, the carnage far more limited, and the tourism industry less affected, based on simple affordability and less melodramatic scaremongering.
But Defra's proposals show a painfully blinkered view of the food sector. It isn't possible to survive as a food producer without making enough money to live on and to invest back into one's business; the farmer struggles whilst the supermarket booms. If the government is no longer interested in whether the UK can produce its own food and is happy with an increasing reliance on imports, it should say so. If it wants to break the back of British farming, its proposals if implemented will certainly provide further straws.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Not long for this world

I don't know if it's just this pair or whether all jackdaws are stupid. But I suspect it is just the parents of this young bird.
Every year they build a nest in the metal rafters of the modern barn, thirty feet up. Every year the nest is either attacked by buzzards or falls from its precarious perch and the nestlings die.
This morning I find one dead bird lying on the dirt, but this one has come down with the nest and sits in the cup of straw, just as it did thirty feet up. It won't last long, and I'm not saving it...there are far too many jackdaws around as it is, mobbing my duck eggs, goslings and ducklings.
But the parents will build a fresh nest in exactly the same place, and hatch more eggs, with the same consequences.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Women's Room

Hearing that Marilyn French had died I picked up my furled and yellowed paperback of The Women's Room for a re-visitation.
I'd devoured it, age sixteen, as an angry emerging feminist. I can't remember how many times I reread the book, stunned and drowning in the future horrors that might lie in wait for me; drudgery, mopping, unwanted children, denied potential and extreme chauvinism. I looked about me, at the households I knew and saw some great female role models, but mostly I saw housewives, pretty happy it appeared to me on the surface, but, I asked myself, was Marilyn French revealing the murkier truths that would never be shared across the generations or across the garden fence, with a teenager?
Now, it somehow lacks the punch it did then. Once I was enthralled, engaged, furious. Now it has the feel of melodrama and soap. The pages don't turn as rapidly, the impact is cushioned. Is it because the tantrum teenager with fresh ideals is a matured cynical creature? Is it that I look back in almost disbelief at the tiny limiting box described and prescribed for women? I don't think so. I suspect instead that we all know more, have become worldly in what is probably an uncivilising manner, and are therefore increasingly unshockable by the smallness of most lives. And I don't like that. I preferred feeling the raw emotion that cascaded over the sixteen year old and the utter determination that I would never be that trapped in any mesh but that which I created for myself. Whether I avoided the sticky cobweb, who knows?

Monday, 18 May 2009

What animal am I?

One fledgling spadger sits precariously on Hard Hattie. Considering the incredible monsoon weather, Hattie is about the only warm, dryish spot for miles. I'm sure she can feel the wee bird, but what can she do? Her arms aren't long enough to swipe at it. She can't run fast enough to dislodge it. It must be like having a hugely irritating boss to whom you just can't speak your mind, no matter how much your nerves are screaming "I've got to DO something about that squirt!".
But I suppose to be a tortoise is to be calm, accepting and philosophical. Taking life slow. Munching thoughtfully on greenery, nothing too rich to stir up the blood or humours.
I am nothing like a tortoise, notwithstanding my increasingly wrinkly hands, tortured by farm stuff and gardening. If I had to choose, a Bernese Mountain dog would, obviously, not be far from the top of the list, but in truth? My inner self is one of these. My outer self is one of these. And my aspirational self, definitely one of these.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Revenge is sweet

You might be able to tell, but just in case not, this is a rat's head. Just the head. No body. No tail. No claws. Just the head. Result!
This may or may not be the bastard that ate all my ducklings (opinions have been expressed, and rat, mink and polecat have all been fingered for the crime); all I know is that there is most definitely one less rat on the farm, and that it suffered a wonderfully gruesome, hopefully extraordinarily painful, demise.
I skip, I dance, I rain blessings on the head of whatever cat, dog, fox, beast, had this toothy monster for breakfast.
Oh, and the day just gets better and better (yup, I know, pride comes before a fall). The Last Ewe finally lambed today, exactly one month after the rest, and one week beyond the possible due date (extended pregnancies notwithstanding). The day after tomorrow I will have the MOST HUMONGOUS LIE-IN!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

I'm claiming it on expenses

Like most people, I've been watching the unravelling of the MP's expenses scandal open-mouthed. I'm so jealous I can hardly splutter forth venom. As an M.P there'd be no need to pay for my Tampax anymore; I could have my poshest rugs repaired and paid for by other tax payers; I'd enjoy a variety of houses and flats pretending I'm living in whichever one took my accountant's fancy that week; I'd get my mole problems sorted at no cost to myself, and I wouldn't have to show receipts for slap up meals or treats that cost less than £250. Best of all, none of this would put a dent in my £65,000 salary. Show me the money!
There'd be one downside though, come to think of it.
No-one would trust me ever again. I would be despised at least as much as Fred the Shred. None of my good intentions or pleas for a refocussing on the important things would have any credence. My name, my judgement and my honour would be mud and filth. I'd have to spend all my time making feeble excuses rather than bellowing "Hear, hear" in the House, and have to satisfy myself instead with cries of "I didn't break any rules" in the comfort of one of my other houses.
But at least I'd have the satisfaction of knowing incontrovertibly that I'd been one of the gang responsible for ending parliament as we know it. My name will be forever secure in the history books.
And that is my 400th blog post. What a sad way to mark this mini milestone.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Empty nest

I'm seriously down today. I've spent the last couple of months tending to my incubators, had a first decent hatch of ducklings, a second lousy one, tweaked my technique and humidity and had a good third hatch. Last night eighteen glorious ducklings from one to four days old were scuttling about under the heat lamp. I covered their run with weldmesh as always and went to bed.
After six weeks of early lamb-checking rises I have my first lie- in; not because The Last Ewe has lambed, but because she's been told to get on with it as best she might as sleep deprivation can drive you crazy.
There's a polite cough by the bedside. "Are you awake?" Grunt. "We've had a bit of a disaster". I'm wide awake now. "How many ducklings were in the stable?". Eighteen. "Oh. They've all gone".
There in the corner of the stable is a huge heap of fresh earth, the discarded material from a new rat run. The rats have had every single duckling. I want to curl into a sobbing heap. All that effort, mine and the duckling's. I feel sick.
I head to the office, turn on the computer and buy a metal cage brooder that will take 50 birds.
I take Fenn for a walk and there in the grass is an empty egg, clearly predated, not hatched. Sometimes I really hate nature.

Friday, 8 May 2009

2009's king of the castle

This is a makeshift creep feeder, a dry place to put a small trough of lamb food, with bars across the front (well, back if you are looking at this photo - the bars are out of sight) so that the ewes can't get in but the wee ones can.
Not that they are wee any more...
The creep feed allows the few smaller lambs to supplement their diet if they aren't getting enough milk. We don't supplement the lamb's diet unless a ewe or two is struggling to keep up with the demands of her young, preferring a slow grown grass fed lamb, so the creep feed won't be made available for much longer.
It's crucial to remember (and that doesn't always happen) NOT to put the ark too close to the fence, or with a couple of hops, skips and jumps the lambs bound over the fence and into the blue yonder, hysterical with freedom until they are utterly unable to get back to mother and bleat piteously for some human sap to come and sort it all out.
Once the first lamb is up on the ark, rattling the tin with their sharp percussive hooves, their mates join in until there is no more room at the inn.
Oh, and The Last Ewe (uppercase, up the duff and unpopular) still hasn't lambed.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

A spring day

The skies may have been threatening but what a gorgeous day. Everywhere I turn there is something shouting "Look at me! This way!", another flower, an orange tip butterfly, goldfinches and swallows.
With the dogs I'm never allowed to stay still for more than a minute, so catching a snap of butterflies and whooshing birds is not likely. But as long as it's not outrageously windy, I can do a flower or two. And the moth was most generous and hardly fluttered an antenna.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Five finger-piglets!

Hoorah, the poet who wrote the phrase I'm most likely to use at the drop of a picnic, has been named Poet Laureate. Congratulations to the marvellous Carol Ann Duffy.
And the phrase? "Five finger-piglets" of course, the best description I've ever heard of a hand greedily hunting through a box of chocs.
As it was printed in the Guardian a year or three ago, I don't think I'm breaking any rules by repeating it here.

by Carol Ann Duffy

Into the half-pound box of
my small hand crept,
There was an electrifying rustle.
There was a dark and glamorous scent.
Into my open, religious mouth
the first Marzipan Moment went.

Down in the crinkly second layer
five finger-piglets snuffled
among the Hazelnut Whirl,
the Caramel Swirl,
the Black Cherry and Almond Truffle.


I chomped, I gorged,
I stuffed my face,
till only the Coffee Cream
was left for the owner of the box -
tough luck, Ann Pope -
oh, and half an Orange Supreme.