The Lull Before the (farming) Storm?

The agricultural year has it’s busy times and it’s very busy times. In February our little corner of Suckley has a short quiet period before calving. Calving varies, some years most of the cows are kind to John and have their babies in the daytime out in the fields in the sunshine. You can be sure that if there is a difficult one it will be in the pouring rain and at night.

Have you tried chasing a cow round in the dark with two feet sticking out from her nether regions? Even worse, a little bottom and a tail showing under the cow’s tail. That really is 3am panic stations! Do you call the vet and hope you have got her into a shed with lights before they arrive, or do you hunt around for the ratchet and try to pull it out before the cow is exhausted? Sometimes, if it is a young first time calver they are understandably frightened and prefer to run away or get aggressive. If a live calf comes out, both cow and ancient farmer are happily tired out. One gets to work licking the baby and the other falls back into bed!

Once the cows are out days and in nights we have lots of small volunteers to move them around. Three little girls with their ‘farming sticks’ can be quite a deterrent to an ambling cow. They talk sternly to Patch, Ruby, Panda Creamy, Blackie and even Curly the bull if they dare to go the wrong way.

The spring tractor work, spinning fertiliser, harrowing silage fields and spraying the cereals all have to wait for some warm dry weather as it’s not good to make wheel marks on the ground. Otherwise, the main tasks now are daily chores of feeding the cattle in the yards and putting them clean straw. I must admit the cattle have clean bedding seven times a week, which is a very great deal more often than we do!

It is the time for maintenance jobs such as machinery repairs, chain-sawing trees which have fallen on fences through the winter storms, and some farm building jobs. Most farmers are ‘jack of all trades’ and will tackle practically any task. It is apparently painful to ask for specialist help and even more painful to pay for it, when a bit of bindertwine and a six inch nail will probably do. We often have ‘meaningful discussions’ about when to call the Aga man, boiler man or tractor mechanic.

There is one vital thing that farmers have to do, far, far worse than any physical work. It’s wading through the government web sites to register online cattle passports and field information for the European farming schemes. Every minute detail such as awkward corners, tracks and tiny pools in every field has to be measured and accounted for. If a small mistake is made by the farmer there are very hefty financial penalties. Needless to say the websites don’t work properly, the ‘help’ from their helplines tell you to be patient and keep trying. Words which shouldn’t be said are often said, the least amongst them are ‘chocolate and teapots.’

Jill Hammonds
Suckley ‘Sphere’
Pewcroft Farm, Knightwick

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