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Mary asked how I now managed to tweet. After all, she commented, you’re running a farm, a business, and holding a blog together. This week, Mary, believe me, it’s been challenging!

I returned from Marseille with a French cold – very different, my body maintained, from an English one – more refined, targeted, kind of specific.

And as I arrived home on Monday evening one of the cows, Wildcat, began to calve. It was a straight forward calving, with no problems, but it meant we didn’t get to bed until well after midnight.

I’ve also had a hot line to New Zealand. Joe, my son, and his partner Jess were waiting for their baby to be born – she was two weeks late. Jess, as you can imagine, was almost at her wits end. Every minute over one’s due date seems an eternity, so two weeks must seem interminable.

A small problem had arisen with Jemima’s calf (born whilst I was away) who developed an infected navel and needed daily treatment with antibiotics.

My last parcel of fat lambs had been procured by an organic co-operative and were due to go on either Tuesday or Wednesday. At present there’s a shortage of organic lamb, and prices are excellent, but selling this way when it is not my norm involves a fair amount of organisation – entailing paperwork, transport arrangements and bellying-out. This last involves shearing the tummy and crutch area – a doddle for an experienced shearer but a little more testing for a novice like me.

A group of friends – the erstwhile ‘Pie-nighters’ were convening here for a meal on Wednesday evening. It also happened to be the evening Jess at long last went into labour. Between absorbing and challenging debate and calls to the other side of the world I eventually got to bed in the small hours with the wonderful news that Jess had produced a beautiful baby girl !

Joe and Jess's baby daughter, my granddaughter, Islay, just minutes after her birth

Joe and Jess's beautiful baby daughter, my granddaughter, Islay, just minutes after her birth

The next day I had to be away early to complete the last legal rigmarole on my mother’s estate so probate could be granted.

This brought us to Friday and a household full of family for the Easter weekend. Our new puppy was due to arrive on Monday – but amid cries of ‘Oh, no. We won’t have time to get to know her. We’ve got to go back on Monday!’ I arranged to pick her up on Friday afternoon…little did I know that in true bank holiday style our kitchen tap would decide to give up the ghost and regurgitate a fountain of hot water and my trusted washing machine gasped its last breath…so Mary, you hit the nail on the head, this week’s been a bit of a struggle!

Puppy post tomorrow!

beautifully butchered lamb

beautifully butchered lamb

A month or so ago I was talking on the phone to Julian, a butcher, who was vaguely interested in buying my organic beef and lamb. Having got the business bit out of the way we went on to chew the fat, discussing what effect credit-crunchie-rescessional times were having on the food buying public and in particular on top quality organic produce.

“Do you ever sell privately?” Julian asked

“Yes, yes I do. But not like I used to.” I went on to explain that I’d sold my business a couple of years ago, though I still supplied some of my loyal and special customers. “And it seems to be building up again!”

“Do you ever need a cutter…a butcher?” he asked

“Not really as I still use my original butchers. They know my system as we worked together for years. But saying that, I also know they find it time consuming and a bit of a pain now. Why?”

“Well, I launched the Bike…” I interrupted him in mid-flow

“The Biker Butcher! The organic licensed motor biking butcher.  I know, I know! I saw a flyer. It came with some of the Soil Association bumph, I think. I remember thinking at the time what a great idea. Lots of possibilities and potential. It certainly grabbed my imagination. How’s it going?”

Apparently after an initial favourable reaction and lots of enthusiasm everything went rather quiet. Julian’s been doing the odd bit of butchery for a few farmers, but not what he’d hoped.

We nattered on contemplating all kinds of interesting scenarios. “I know” I said “why don’t you come up when I next have lambs going off. I need a couple for myself. You could cut those and we could chat.”

Julian skilfully trims a Guard of Honour

Julian skilfully trims a Guard of Honour

And that’s what happened today. This glorious afternoon Julian, and his partner Maria, whisked down the drive on their motorbike complete with all the tools of the trade. I’d put up a trestle table in the kitchen and in no time Julian was skilfully and carefully cutting and butchering my lambs. Shanks, tender rump joints, racks, Guard of Honour, neck fillets, shoulders, legs, chops – with a bit of French butchery thrown in as a practise run for my French lamb export exploits!

cutting and trimming completed

cutting and trimming completed

We talked about all manner of possibilities and opportunities from communal cutting rooms to training and educational courses. The problems  to be faced and the many benefits gained. It was interesting and I’m sure good things will come of it. BBC Countryfile are filming him this coming week too

In the meantime we have some mouth-watering lamb to enjoy – if supper was anything to go by!

result!

result!

and my favourite all weather shelter is...

and my favourite all wether shelter is...ewe!

…what’s yaws?

Oops – deary me! Sorry ’bout that.

I woke up to ten inches of snow this morning – it was a total surprise to me and even more so to the baby lambs.  I couldn’t resist showing you these.

nose dipping in the white stuff!

nose dipping in the white stuff!

What on earth…?

ummm, differnt from mummy's milk!

ummm, different from mummy's milk!

Strange things happen overnight.

excitement over, time for a nap

excitement over, time for a nap

Yesterday I started lambing – at 5.15am precisely!

new born ram lamb

new born ram lamb

The weather couldn’t have been better, gentle, mild and, most importantly, dry. Three ewes got on with the business almost simultaneously.

Last autumn I made the decision to sell a large proportion of my flock. My sheep were finding it harder and harder to manage on our land as a result of two unprecedented wet years.  If  summer was a problem, winter was going to be worse.

I kept back a nucleus of flock-aged ewes and a dozen ewe lambs just in case. You see my sheep, being a hill breed, are hefted, or leared, onto my land and are familiar with my system; if I go back into sheep farming it’s vital that years of flock knowledge isn’t lost.

Tail 2 lambing

Tail 1 lambing

One of the ewes I kept back was Dot, the wise old matriarch and also a pair of her two-tooth twins, known as the Tails – 1 and 2. I would like to say I kept their tails long so they could be easily identified, though in truth it was one of those lambing-exhaustion oversights. Still it’s been useful, as they weren’t sold and didn’t go for meat. I was hoping they had  inherited some of their mother’s exceptional genetic traits.

cleaning her newborn

cleaning her newborn

Tail 1 lambed today. She handled her labour skilfully and calmly, giving birth to the first of her twins standing up. Without hesitation she set about cleaning her baby, nickering and mumbling to her with total concertration and  tenderness; she manoeuvred herself  into an easy-udder-access position as soon as her lamb began to nuzzle search for the teat. Once her first newborn had sucked and was belly-full warm, she got on with giving birth to the second twin, taking just as much care  as well as maintaining contact and giving reassurance to the first. What a first lamber! The beginning of  ‘Dot’s Dynasty’ (yes, Tail 1’s twins are ewe lambs)!

finding the udder

finding the udder

Yesterday evening I watched as clouds of midges danced in the golden rays of the setting sun outside the kitchen window. I tried to take a photo of them. This is the result.  Fireflies?  Perhaps.  Fairies?  Possibly.  Dancing debris from a fire?  Could be.  But midges?  No!

dancing cloud

dancing cloud

Midges bring with them a sinister reputation. The more so since I’ve heard this disquieting news through the Farmers Weekly.   Many farmers, with animals already stressed by the dire weather, believe rumours that if vaccinated against bluetongue disease they might fail to breed.  FWi reports “The doubts over vaccinating were reflected at Penrith livestock market which reported that of 6000 mules through only two batches of ewes were vaccinated”.

The uptake of the vaccine has been so low in the North of England that only one in five livestock farms is protected.

A Cumbria suckled calf producer is quoted as saying “I’ve decided to leave my vaccine in the fridge until the spring. I want my cows safely in calf and a crop of calves on the ground before I start to jab.”

Chief veterinary officer Christianne Glossop reports that the uptake of vaccine in Wales has been disappointingly low. FWi quotes Alun Edwards, a Welsh farmer and Farmers Union of Wales office holder, as saying producers who resist vaccination to be “bloody idiots”.

I can only speak from my own experience.

I vaccinated in late May as soon as the vaccine was available in Devon. My bull had only been running with the cows for a couple of weeks before I vaccinated and as far as I know, to date, all cows and heifers I would expect to be are in calf. I had the most vulnerable animals PD (pregnancy diagnosed) when I was bTB testing the other week and they are 2½ -3 months in calf.

Despite the weather, and vaccination, my lambs have grown well and have killed out at a good average weight of 15-16kgs – Whiteface Dartmoor lambs give a small to medium size carcass. The tups go in with the ewes at the end of next week, so I will soon see how that goes.

I urge farmers to think really carefully about the consequences of not vaccinating. If your animals contract Bluetongue, even if they don’t die (with up to 70% mortality in sheep) they will suffer horrendous consequences. Abortion, stillbirth and neonatal mortality are increased with survivors suffering from infertility, depleted lactation and chronic weight loss. These things are a certainty. I know vaccination’s an added cost in a year that’s bleak, but the consequences, emotionally and financially, will be a hundred times worse with the disease.

For immediate up-to-date information on bluetongue and the various forms of available vaccination in the UK, and on the continent, follow this link to Warmwell.

Mr Edwards also questioned the sanity of importing livestock from infected areas following the first cases of bluetongue found in imported cattle on a Denbighshire farm.

So do I. So do I!

death dance?

death dance?

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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