View from the Hill 16th January 2022
Never ones to miss an opportunity to try out a bit of shiny new kit, on a dry day just before Christmas we were out in the field playing with this crimper from Heva. One day we will hopefully be growing cover crops so huge that they will need one of these to knock them down, so far though, what the slugs left is barely going to be enough to keep all of our out-wintering cattle happy.
The 10 month old bunch are eating only cover crop, and the 22 month ones are on cover crop with added silage. We are keeping them moving across the ground on large areas of land to keep poaching to a minimum. As for the crimper, it did a pretty useful job, and when we have more cover crop than we need to graze, it may have a place knocking down the crop, which, once shrivelled up, will give a single shot of glyphosate a better chance of hitting all the smaller plants hiding at ground level, when it is time to terminate the crop in time for spring sowing.
The frosty weather whilst writing this mid January is a welcome break from a very damp December and new year. There have been a handful of beautiful sunny days, and some calendar quality sunrises and sunsets. The Christmas period was a welcome break from politics of all kinds, farming, and in particular the national variety. Unfortunately the latter has come back with a vengeance, whereas the farming bit just carries on rumbling underneath, no less important than it was before. Issues such as continuing trade deals, lack of decision making on the future shape of agricultural and environmental policy, labour shortages, continuing deadlock over future trade relations with the EU, astronomical fertiliser prices and don’t forget the infamous Rules for water, are keeping farmers’ representatives very busy. Unfortunately expecting progress on much of this is a bit hopeful whilst the upper echelons of government are drowning in embarrassment, and worse. These issues are directly affected by decision making at the highest levels in government, and it is immensely frustrating to see the nation constantly distracted by frivolity and scandal when there are so many important issues to discuss and decide.
Labour shortages – Home Office
Trade deals – Dept for international trade
Fertiliser/gas prices – Enterprise, Trade and Investment
Rules for Water – DEFRA via Environment agency
Lump sum retirement and New Entrants schemes – Treasury (needs new taxation rules)
The Public accounts committee has again reported that it is not convinced that Defra understands how its environmental and productivity ambitions will affect the food and farming sector over the next ten years. It was even more robust in some places – accusing Defra of ‘blind optimism’ when it comes to rolling out the new schemes.
Our tame sheep flock have this year been treated to their own room service. A handsome Texel ram has been shipped in to do the honours. He arrived in the field one day at 6pm, and by 9am the following morning 5 rears had tell-tale red marks on them.
Over the next few days all but one of the remaining 6 ewes were marked in the same way. After the first 17 day cycle, the raddle crayon was changed for blue, none have been revisited, and the one untouched remains untouched. Mysterious seeing as she is a young ewe, and we know she had triplets last year. It is interesting to follow what happens when putting a raddle on the ram, we generally have not bothered for many years with the main flock, but knowing each of these ewes individually since they were hand reared means we will have an idea of which order to expect them to lamb in.
Even more of a mystery is how Rocky the 9 year old wether, still sporting his anti magpie patch, also collected a red mark……
In the last week we have loaded out Maris Otter barley for the Warminster maltings, to be turned into high quality malt for mainly micro breweries, also onto lorries destined for the Dingemans Mout maltings in Stabroek, Belgium. We also loaded wheat for the ADM feed mill at Westbury.
This week has also seen the dreaded event of a TB test for all our cattle. This has now (since July 2021) become compulsory every 6 months in the high risk area (HRA), although if you join the CHECS (Cattle Health Certification Standards) scheme, you can improve your animal health standards to a level that will allow you to qualify for annual testing instead. The whole of England is divided into HRA, Low risk area (LRA), and Edge area. The HRA of England encompasses all of the South West counties, plus Shropshire Worcestershire and Staffordshire. CHECS enables herds at lower risk of TB in the High Risk and Edge Areas to remain on annual testing if they satisfy certain criteria, as covered by CHECS TB Herd Accreditation.
Fortunately all of our animals tested clear this time, and we now hope we can pass the requirements of the CHECS scheme to ensure we don’t have to test again until next January. Many farmers are feeling bitter after the change to 6 monthly testing in the HRA, seeing it altered shortly before the government announced the premature ending of the TB cull in all areas, most areas now have just one year to go, instead of the extended 5 year period that was intended to follow the initial 4 year intensive cull. The cull has continued to operate since the first areas were licensed in 2015, with enormous success, new TB outbreaks in cattle herds have reduced by an average of 54% across all cull areas, the science cannot be denied, and yet the prime minister personally intervened to close down the cull areas before the job has been completed. We have been offered a cattle vaccine within 5 years (again), and badger vaccination has begun in tiny areas. It is hard to take badger vaccination seriously because the trapping of badgers is extremely difficult, and requires a high proportion of the badger population to be re-vaccinated each year. The cost will be astronomical, and one has to ask if this a wise use of public money. Stopping the culls early, before we have a cattle vaccine, and attempting to control bovine TB only by vaccinating badgers will, as well as allowing TB to escalate once again, also undo the other benefits that lower badger numbers have brought, such as an improvement in hedgehog numbers and ground nesting bird hatchings, also a reduction in destruction of anthills and bumble bee nests. An unrestricted badger population will on average increase by 21% annually. Rough calculations indicate that TB breakdowns will be back to pre-cull numbers within 10 years without any badger culling or cattle vaccine, and all of the hard work of running the culls will have been wasted. It is heart breaking for cattle farmers, released from the scourge of TB which in some cases saw their farms, now open, closed for 11 years or more before the cull began, to face a possible return to that fate.