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bluetongue’s winter warmer

Now here’s a thing. I had a fit of the giggles. Actually it was probably a touch of mini-hysteria; the uncontrolled, raucous, thigh-slapping, tears-pouring-down-face kind, coloured by total disbelief. Wishful thinking there – what I would hope to be total disbelief.

In this week’s New Scientist under the heading ‘Bluetongue’s Winter Warmer we were told about the distinct possibility of bluetongue virus overwintering in the unborn calf cosseted and protected by the cosy bubble of bovine uterine warmth.

And as those hungry veracious biting midges reappear (the end of the non-vector period was the 15th March) these bonny babies would become a delicious fresh source of the bluetounge virus. Hey-presto! Yup, you have it in one.

Pirbright suggest there should be additional controls targeted at newborn animals. Now, me-wonders, what on earth have they in mind? No vaccine around yet. Could only be one other thing.

And if that’s not sinister enough – listen to this…the only bluetongue virus ever seen to cross the placenta of infected mothers to infect their foetuses was a laboratory-adapted strain used in experiments with sheep in the 70s.

Ring any bells? Shades of last summer’s FMD fiasco? Afterall the great and the good have been wondering how the BTV8 strain gained such an unshakable foothold in northern Europe.

Maybe they now have their answer.


On Monday I visited my mum. During lambing it’s difficult to leave the farm so I try and see her as much as I can before it starts. I make a quick dash down to Peter Tavy after lunch, have tea with her, and I’m back in time to do the animals. The extra hour or so of daylight now makes all the difference.

As the crow flies it’s no great distance. The road though follows a scenic route, narrow, windy, hilly; peppered with hamlets and speed restrictions. Reasonably quick if you’re the only vehicle but frustratingly slow if you catch a lorry, bus, tractor or tourist. Monday was a frustrating day and I was clock watching by the time I arrived. I noticed the light on in her room, ran up the stairs to the back door, calling to her as I pushed open the door to her room. I stopped dead, something was very wrong. A foul smell hit me. Taken aback, unsure, I called out.

It’s me, it’s Paula. It’s me. Are you here? What’s happened? Are you okay?

A small rasping croak replied. Yes, darling, just lying down.

I walked up to the bed. There she was. Curled, tiny; papery grey-white translucent skin stretched taught, she looked, for all the world, like a foetus. Large pillows surrounded her, engulfing her frail jumble of bones in a blowsy puff of nest. Her head, still, unmoving, looked unnaturally large, cheek-bones and jaw line sharply etched against the white sheets. Her eyes, sunken and bruised, slowly turned towards me, a filmy gauzy blue, no longer looking outwards but inward at some better world.

Darling, just lying down. Is daddy there?

No, no, he’s not. Not at the moment. What’s happened? I stroke her hand and head so as not to alarm her, trying to still my fear and anxiety.

Just having a small sleep. Is daddy there?

Not yet mummy. You have a little rest. I’ll go and get you a drink, shall I? I stroke her gently, letting her know I’m going.

I fly down the corridor to find someone, one of the carers, anyone. No one’s around. No residents either. No one. What’s happened? The doors are sealed, notices on them. I’m not concentrating. I see Lynn, Faith, Julie around a table. I gesticulate. They let me in.

We’ve got Norwalk virus. I left a message on your phone. We’ve shut ourselves to all visitors. Paula you’ve got to go. Now!

But Morna. I can’t leave her. I can’t leave her like this.

It’ll be okay. She’ll be okay. Honestly, it lasts around twenty-four hours. Now go.
No, you mustn’t go into her room. There’s hand wash. Leave.

This is the hardest thing I’ve done. I leave. Don’t let her be taken like this. Please.


the first wind flower or wood anemone 

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.



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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