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Twas ever thus

oldfarmersIn Spring, when some minds turn lightly to thoughts of love, here at Manor Farm we have had to forebear the romantic, and adopt a more phlegmatic approach to Spring. The Spring barley needs planting; there is spraying to be done; fertiliser to spread. Other farmers have lambing and cows and cattle to turn out.
After a winter of fairly low rainfall, the ground was still very wet in early spring, and the planting of our Spring barley was relatively late, but it was finally achieved into a good seedbed which is important for barley. It is now coming up, but the great problem for germination and the young plants, as I write this on 1st May, is the lack of rain. The oilseed rape is looking well after winter as it puts down deep roots, but the lack of moisture is also putting the Autumn sown wheat under stress. My nephew Richard who runs the arable enterprise (with back-up from his Dad), is trying not to get as stressed as his crops.
On the arable staff, John and Nick have been busy with the tasks of spraying, ploughing, cultivating and drilling, but as if this was not enough, while John squeezes in being a gamekeeper, Nick keeps a small flock of sheep. Eighty years ago the shepherd was the most important man on this farm, but we have not kept sheep since I was a child (a long time ago). As a pigman, I view a sheep as a stupid animal but Nick has been telling me of the mysteries of keeping sheep. Someone told him years ago that sun grows lambs not grass, and he says he would rather a dry year without the lambs constantly getting wet than a rainy one, even if the grass is not so plentiful. This year so far has been a good one for his sheep. At tupping time the ewes were ‘fit not fat’, and came through the winter in good condition. He tries to lamb late March/ early April, so rams are put in with the ewes late October (conceived on Bonfire night, born on April Fools Day). Most of his ewes have now lambed with a good lambing percentage and strong lambs. He keeps a mix of breeds, everything from the common mules to Herdwicks (Beatrix Potter’s favourite breed from the Lake District).
So while Spring for some people is a season of light and warmth and colour, us farmers are hard at it, bearing all the challenges that are thrown our way. Before long, just perhaps, there may follow a less hectic time when our thoughts can lightly turn to …..

Mike Hartley

June – July 2017