Quick off the blocks? Soya and UK livestock.

It’s interesting watching people game the system to their advantage. I’ve observed various lobby groups looking remarkably smug as they produce their evidence. But in reality, they’re amateurs at gaming the system compared to our Sal.
Sal is no longer as young as she was. The days when she could keep up with a quad bike doing twenty miles an hour over several hundred yards have passed. But she’s still got good acceleration and she can still hit those top speeds.

Now on our way home from checking heifers, we travel together along one particular lane. There’s a short straight with a grass verge to the right, followed by two right angled bends, and then it’s into a comparatively long straight with a grass verge on both sides.

As I go along the first straight, Sal keeps up with me, running along the grass verge next to me. On the two bends it’s a bit more fraught because there’s no verge, but I slow down anyway, and she just trots behind the quad and trailer. Then as we go into the second bend the lane is wider. So she doesn’t just overtake me, she goes across the front of me so she can run up the left hand verge.

Of course because she cuts across me she ensures that I have to go more slowly, and by the time she gets onto the left hand verge she’s at full acceleration and away.
Me? I cheat as well, because I’ve been idling in fourth so that when we are on the straight, if there’s nothing about, I can accelerate as well. There’s a point when Sal stops looking over her shoulder to make sure I’m playing and just concentrates on running. I normally catch up with her about half way up the hill and we both slow down together so that we approach the junction at the end of the lane at a sedate walk. But she seems to enjoy it immensely. She gets home and flops down in the shade with the expression of a dog who has done her duty.

But there are others who game the system as well. All these farting British cows who are destroying the Amazon by eating soya.
The UK imports approximately 3.2 million tonnes of soya bean equivalents directly in the form of soya beans, meal and oil.

Chickens eat 345,000 tons

Pork takes 181,600 tons

Egg production takes 64,800 tons

Beef takes 60,800 tons

Fish takes 52,900 tons

Cows’ milk takes 29,000 tons

Turkey takes 23,600 tons

Cheese takes 23,200 tons

Other dairy 5,400 tons

All livestock feed uses of soya come to less than 800,000 tons. So livestock are eating 25% of our imported soya, and soya milk and human food takes the rest, yet farmers are the ones guilty of burning down the Amazon!

If you want to check the figures I recommend the come from the KPMG Soy reporting initiative 2017

But then we have to look to see exactly what sort of ‘soya’ is being used.

I have in front of me the ingredients list for a decent dairy cake. Not only do cows like it, Sal recommends it as well.

It starts with Barley, followed by Wheat Feed. To quote from one of the companies selling wheat feed, “Wheat feed is a by-product of flour milling. It comprises of wheat bran, endosperm and other starch screenings. Wheat feed is generally pelleted with the addition of a little water and for every tonne of wheat milled only 20kg of wheat feed is produced.” So it’s a waste product that farmers turn into high quality protein.

Then we have Maize distillers, this is another by-product which comes from the processing of Maize grain to produce industrial alcohol, normally in the form of ethanol which is used as a fossil fuel replacer.
This is followed in the list by Palm kernel expeller. Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE) is a by-product of the palm oil extraction process from the fruit of the palm. There are doubts about palm oil but apparently, and according to WWF, it’s in close to 50% of the packaged products we find in supermarkets, everything from pizza, doughnuts and chocolate, to deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and lipstick. It’s also used in animal feed and as a biofuel in many parts of the world. So when the consumers and supermarkets wean themselves off Palm Oil, farmers can step back from utilising their waste products.

Then we have what I assume is Sal’s favourite part, ‘products from the confectionery industry (maize sugar meal.)’ Described by one vendor as, “High energy from a balance of starch, sugar and oil and digestible fibre, Maize Sugar is a palatable blend of products from the bakery, pasta, confectionery, and breakfast cereal industries on a friable vegetable protein carrier.” If people weren’t so damned fussy it sounds like an excellent feed for them.

Then we have the first, and only, appearance of Soya. Soya (bean) hulls. Again, quoting one of the vendors, “Soybean hulls are a by-product of the extraction of oil from soybean seeds. After entering the oil mill, soybeans are screened to remove broken and damaged beans, and foreign material. The beans are then cracked, and their hulls, which mainly consist of the outer coats, are removed. Hulls are fibrous materials with no place in human food, but are very valuable for ruminants.”

Finally we’ve got Horse (Field) Beans. These are a variety of Vicia faba, they’re the ones with smaller, harder seeds that are fed to horses or other animals because they’re not suited to human consumption.
Finally for flavouring you have some cane molasses, calcium carbonate and sodium chloride.

So all those people who complain about UK cattle destroying the rain forest by eating soya are somewhat missing the point. Indeed I suggest they prove how well they can do without cattle by sitting down to a delicious bowl of barley and wheat feed porridge, fortified by maize distillers meal, flavoured with maize sugar meal and with a good sprinkling of ground soya hulls to provide them with the necessary roughage in their diet. After all, we’re being encouraged to cut out food waste. Personally I’d prefer to do it by feeding the waste to livestock and eating them.

It may well be that Brazilian or Argentinian livestock eat more soya than do ours. Fair enough, if you’re in the UK, buy British beef and dairy products. But frankly, if anybody has to hang their heads in shame for causing the destruction of the Amazon, it’s not UK cattle farmers.

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There again, what do I know? Discuss the matter with the expert. Available as a paperback or kindle ebook from

And as an ebook from everybody else from

https://books2read.com/u/mZeayy

As a reviewer commented, “

You know how a lot of books or movies follow up with a sequel and it’s often a disappointing effort that never quite manages to beat or match its original?

Yeah well this isn’t one of them.

It doesn’t do justice or even feel fair to say “follow up” because in effect it’s just the second half of the same brilliant story.

Jim and his dogs have a world in which I become totally engrossed, involved and invested. Even if you haven’t so much as seen a working farm it won’t matter because the beauty is in the story telling and Jim is one of the greatest story tellers.

The perfect escape from the current global pandemic and highly recommended reading for everyone and anyone.”

What sort of rubbish are we supposed to feed livestock now?

There is a lot of discussion about food waste. I came across an article with the snappy title, “The UK wastes millions of tonnes of food every year: here’s how we can change that.” If you’re interested it’s at https://theconversation.com/the-uk-wastes-millions-of-tonnes-of-food-every-year-heres-how-we-can-change-that-162783

The article makes some useful points, “In the case of pig farmers in the UK, this system is causing an industry-wide crisis. UK pig farms are governed by the highest regulatory standards in the world, to ensure the best health and welfare for the animals.

But if consumers keep demanding cheaper and cheaper meat, it could make UK pig production economically unsustainable, driving farmers out of business. If that happens, the UK would inevitably see an increase in imported pig meat which doesn’t comply with national standards – actively promoting poorer farming practices. For example, when reared in environments with a greater number of pigs per pen than UK standards, animals have lower access to food and water and lack stimulation, causing a much lower quality of life.”

The authors are absolutely right, we’ve watched the process happen when we introduced sow stalls and the EU didn’t. We merely exported our pig industry and consumers who could care less about pig welfare (but only by making an effort) just bought the stuff produced in the sow stalls they were supposed to be horrified about.

The answer to the problem is an old one. The authors recommend feeding food waste to pigs?
This is something that has been done for centuries but there is a major problem. Disease. In the UK and EU swill feeding Swill was banned in 2002 after the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) epidemic. There was a ‘strong suspicion’ that it was caused by illegally feeding untreated swill to pigs. The problem with swill is that the largest suppliers were the NHS and the armed forces. Both organisations were notorious at the time for the amount of cheap, poor quality food they bought from all round the world. If the swill had been cooked to a high enough temperature it would probably be safe. But by 2001 margins were so thin that it was impossible to economically survive if you were doing the job properly.

There again, countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand are promoting swill feeding, whilst the EU is moving back to feeding processed animal protein to pigs and poultry. We’ve walked that road before.

These ideas seem to move in cycles. The feeding of meat and bone meal to cattle started about the time of the American Civil war. During the First World War, it was actually compulsory for livestock feed companies to include it in livestock rations. During the Second World War it was again compulsory. I had nutritional advice leaflets issued by the Ministry of Agriculture which recommended it as an excellent feed for lactating dairy cows. Indeed I remember one feed rep coming onto the farm trying to interest my Father and me in a new calf milk powder. They were calling it chocolac. (Or something very similar.) Just out of interest I queried the ‘chocolate’ aspect.

“Oh no,” said the rep, “there’s no chocolate in it. It’s got added pigs blood. That’s what gives it the colour.”
Father and I just looked at each other and without a word spoken decided to give it a miss. Those who followed the science, used it.

Then not all that long after that, BSE and nvCJD exploded on the scene.

The problem is that Farming is fought over by so many different organisations, lobby groups and political factions, none of whom see anything like a big picture. So we’ll have environmental groups who want large chunks rewilding. I saw one bunch lobbying to have the Crown Estate rewilded. Some of the finest farmland in England but hey, obviously they’re not intending to eat. Or perhaps they don’t intend other people to eat.
Then we get the genuine pressure of people who want food to be cheap. We have people in the UK whose sole cooking facility is a kettle. I talked in a foodbank to a young man who had been ‘rehoused’. He’d been sleeping on the street because of circumstances and the council got him a flat. He went from sleeping on the pavement to sleeping on the floor of his flat. A couple of charities helped him furnish it, but there wasn’t the money for a cooker. Anyway he’d been in care and hadn’t a clue about cooking or food preparation. He couldn’t have used a cooker if he’d been given one. He was hoping for a microwave soon, but as his life savings amounted to about thirty seven pence, it wasn’t going to be a flash one.

Then we get those who are big into recycling and worry about getting to carbon zero. They have an agenda which doesn’t fit in too well with any of the others. So back in the 1970s our A level biology master got us all a cheap subscription to New Scientist and effectively taught us biology from that. But one short article has stuck with me. Researchers had noticed something the rest of us forget. Ruminants cannot digest cellulose. Ruminants aren’t really herbivores. In real terms they feed grass to bacteria and bacteria can digest cellulose. Ruminants then live on the bacteria.

So these researchers pointed out, in reality, it’s a waste of time giving ruminants too much decent quality protein. Yes, some of it gets past the rumen (there’s a lot of work done on ‘rumen bypass protein’) and the cow then digests it herself, rather than leaving it to be gobbled up by the bacteria. But feeding high quality protein to bacteria is just a waste. They can take urea and turn it into protein. They’re not fussy. They’re just amazingly efficient.
Obviously the researchers pointed out that ruminants are a good source of urea as well. But funnily enough they’re not keen on taking it direct. A lot of work was done. I remember reading an article in one of the farming magazines back then. A chap had mixed hen muck, (which is very rich in nitrogen and therefore a brilliant source of protein for bacteria) with (from memory) pressed sugar beet pulp. This is the stuff left when you get the sugar out of sugar beet, it’s pressed to squeeze out the extra water. He mixed equal parts of the two ingredients with a little rolled barley as a starter. He mixed it by shovelling it into a muckspreader which he emptied into an empty silage clamp. When the clamp was full, he covered it with a plastic sheet to keep the air out. It produced an excellent feed that fattened bullocks over winter.

This is excellent news, environmentally. Actually using human waste is theoretically safer, less chance of listeria. Alas humans massively contaminate their wastes with all sorts of disgusting chemicals, so it’s barely fit to spread on farmland as fertiliser. Perhaps if they spent less time pontificating about how green they were and spent more time making sure the muck they produce was properly looked after, we’d all have a smaller environmental footprint.

♥♥♥♥

 

There again, what do I know?
Available from Amazon in paperback or on kindle

And available from everybody else at

https://books2read.com/u/3yearv

As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!”

Income Forgone

There is a reason for governments getting involved in controlling food prices. Hungry people riot and overthrow governments. The Arab ‘Spring’ is perhaps the most recent example of the chaos caused because the wheat price rose and various states no longer had the income to subsidise the price of food. Unfortunately food prices are regressive. There is a lot of discussion about regressive taxation, (“If the activity being taxed is more likely to be carried out by the poor and less likely to be carried out by the rich, the tax may be considered regressive.”) but in in reality food prices are regressive.

If food prices go up with a bang, the prosperous family might well have to cut back on the skinny vegan decaf cappuccino but needn’t think twice about having a holiday home in Cornwall as well as the Dordogne. The poor family will not be able to afford new shoes.

So I have no problem with government stepping in to subsidise food prices. Indeed, governments have been stepping in to control the market since the days of ancient Athens, if not earlier. Because hungry people riot and overthrow governments.

Now the UK government is coming up with a whole new system. It’s ELMS, the Environmental Land Management System. Now back in 2012, Andersons Farm Business Consultants did a piece of work for government. Back then we were still in the EU, but ELMS (or N (for new) ELMS) was on the stocks. It’s not a uniquely UK scheme, it’s just that our version has parted company with the EU parent.

The purpose of their work? To quote from the summary, “An essential precursor to setting payments is the calculation of income foregone. This contract forms and integral part of that process – the production of cost data for the items that are fundamental to the calculation of income foregone.”

http://sciencesearch.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=0&ProjectID=18542

And now, nine years later, they’re starting to trial the precursors of ELMS. But income forgone is still in there.

To quote the Oxford Dictionary of Agriculture and Land Management, income forgone is, “A frequently used term within the payment calculations of agri-environment and other land management schemes. Within this specific context it is usually the agricultural income that has been foregone in adapting to required management prescriptions to comply with the scheme conditions. Payments might also include costs of additional management operations and incentivization…. …”

The definition continues but behind a paywall. Between ourselves, it strikes me that we’ve taken a wrong turning if we need a specific dictionary of agriculture and land management! Especially a 464 page paperback!


Still, the principle of ‘income forgone’ is easier to show by example than explain in theory. Assume that you have a field that grows barley and leaves you an annual income of £1000. If you put it into an environmental scheme, if might cost you £2000 to do the capital works necessary. So on an income forgone payment system you’ll be given the £2000 and you’ll be paid a £1000 a year. That way, you’re no worse off at the end of it.

The treasury likes this system. It convinces them that they’re keeping costs down and private citizens are not growing rich on public money. As a tax payer I can sympathise with this.

There is unfortunately an underlying structural problem. As I pointed out earlier, government works to keep food prices down. This has been a long term policy, followed by the EU when we were part of it. If you want to read more on this topic I put together a few figures here.

So on one hand government is keeping prices down, thus keeping agricultural incomes down. On the other hand they are then paying farmers on an ‘income forgone’ basis having made damned sure the income the farmers are forgoing is as low as possible.

There are two ways to look at this. One is to point out that it is, at the very least, inequitable.

But the other is to regard it as the way forward. Why is government only using income forgone with agriculture? Why isn’t the principle being employed more widely?
After all, let us take the treasury. An employee there would be assessed and it would be pointed out that given the jobs available where they live, if she wasn’t a deputy undersecretary, she’s be on the minimum wage working in a call centre. So on the income forgone principle, they’ll pay her the minimum wage but also an allowance to cover second class travel to work. After all, the last thing we want is for private citizens to grow rich on public money!

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Speak to the expert.

In paperback and kindle from Amazon

And from everybody else from

https://books2read.com/u/mggzxz

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

So what exactly is your industry’s relationship with government?

The problem with being rural is that government and a major part of the population aren’t rural and in some cases haven’t got a clue what is going on. To put this in perspective somebody mentioned to me four issues those in authority hold against rural dwellers. They feel that these things are standing in the way of us reaching net zero. We are, ‘car dependent, have low density housing and are hooked on oil burning, and then there is intensive agriculture.’ To be fair it isn’t merely government, the entire political class and a lot of quangos and pressure groups are trapped in the same mindset.

Let us go through these.

Car dependent.

In a paper by the Rural Services Network we read, “Local authorities in rural areas have far less funding available to support bus services. In 2017/18 such expenditure in predominantly rural areas was £6.72 per resident, compared with £31.93 in predominantly urban areas. Expenditure to cover concessionary bus fares was £13.48 (rural) and £25.54 (urban).

And then they complain that we’re ‘car dependent.’

Low density housing

Just who is in charge of planning law and regulation? Without being nasty about it, if governments have planning laws and planning policies, they can hardly then complain about the results of them.

Oil Burning.

Well here we run smack bang into the problem with an entirely urban mindset. Back in August 1983 a paper was produced, “Winter rape oil fuel for diesel engines: Recovery and utilization.” In 2002 there were farmers in the UK growing oil seed rape for bio-diesel. By which I mean they were crushing the seed themselves and running their tractors on the result.

But of course diesel went from our saviour under Gordon Brown to the fifth horseman of the apocalypse in about 2017 because of particulates. A major problem in a built up area, but not in the middle of the countryside.”

At the moment there are no full sized electric tractors, just big ‘garden tractors’ that are apparently suitable for vineyards. Apparently (but I’m not a tractor expert, I’m a cowman) they’re 30% more expensive than conventional. So from a farmer’s point of view it’s a case of us being expected to retool with more expensive equipment that doesn’t work as well, purely to solve a problem that isn’t a problem. Indeed the energy wasted trading in an awful lot of tractors that could have a generation or more life in them using rape oil doesn’t make sense.

Intensive agriculture.

Guilty as charged on that one. Indeed if we massively cut food production we’d very rapidly solve the problem of CO2 emissions as there would be a lot fewer people to emit the CO2.

Unless government are going to ration the number of calories are allowed, then people are going to eat the same. So cutting intensive agriculture in the UK will merely result in even more food being hauled, often as air freight, from all round the world. The amount of CO2 produced by food production won’t fall. Unless the countries we buy food off want their own people to go hungry, they will have to intensify their agriculture prior to flying the stuff to us.

Another problem we have when trying to cope with changing farming to meet a new world is the way various single issue pressure groups selectively fiddle the figures. To quote

“Peer reviewed research published in Agricultural Systems using the Life Cycle Assessment model to quantify the environmental impacts of Australian beef production found a 65 percent reduction in consumptive water use, from 1465 litres/kg of liveweight to 515 litres/kg of liveweight over the last 30 years, from 1981-2010.

Previous media articles have reported claims that it takes between 50,000 and 100,000 litres to produce a kilogram of red meat. But these reported measures count every single drop of water that falls on an area of land grazed by cattle over the space of a year. And they do not take into account the fact that most of the water ends up in waterways, is used by trees and plants and in pastures, not grazed by cattle. “These calculations therefore attribute all rain that falls on a property to beef production, whereby the water is clearly being used for other purposes, such as supporting ecosystems”.

So there you have it, depending on which piece of ‘data’ fits best with your preconceptions you can declaim with confidence that it takes up to 100,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of red meat. You can then declaim with equal confidence that it takes as little as 515 litres of water to produce a kilogram of red meat.

And then there’s the rumbling arguments about Brexit still going on. Apparently out of the 70 something trade deals we were part of with the EU, we’ve already rolled 66 of them over so we still get all the advantages (and disadvantages) which come with any trade deal.

But a lot has been made of the Australian deal and how much it will mean for UK farmers. Not only that, but the Australians (like most of the world) use hormone growth promoters.
Yet also on the horizon is the fact that the EU has decided that “there was no health risk from allowing PAP (processed animal protein) from pigs and insects to be fed to poultry, the feeding of pigs with chicken PAP, or the use of gelatine and collagen from sheep and cattle being fed to other farmed animals.”

So that’s what is going to happen and will start in August.

The question has to be asked, given the whole BSE thing, is the UK government going to ban the import of EU pig and poultry products on the grounds that they do not meet UK food and hygiene standards?

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Me, what do I know?

Speak to somebody who might have more idea. Available from Amazon as paperback and ebook

And from everybody else you can get it here

https://books2read.com/u/md7XEX

As a reviewer commented, “A collection of anecdotes and observations about farming in England in the 21st century. Written by an actual farmer, this book is based on real experience and touches on a variety of subjects in a witty and engaging style. Cats, cattle, bureaucrats, workers, and the working dog all make an appearance, as do reminiscences about the old days and speculation on a possible future. This book is both entertaining and informative, a perfect diversion for the busy reader.”


Lockdown diversification

Just looking around, quite a few people have done interesting things over lockdown. A lot of ‘old markets’ went by the wayside, but there are other ideas whose time might have come.

Whilst catering and accommodation took a kicking during the full lockdown, they could well have seen something of a boost in this twilight world of sub-normality.

For holiday accommodation in England you can stay overnight in a hotel / Bed & Breakfast, campsite, caravan, boat, second home and ‘other accommodation.’

There’s the usual gumph about bubbles, households and six people or not.

The problem with these is that for the farmer looking for a diversification option, they often need substantial investment and you can have all sorts of issues with planners.
But it did strike me that we have something that a lot of people don’t have, space. A seat overlooking a pleasant view, perhaps under the shade of a few trees, might just earn you a bob or two.

The first thing is to organise the parking. Then a gate with a lock (with a combination) and a fence so people know where they can and cannot go. They can book an hour online through a site like Eventbrite, pay by card online, and when they’ve paid they get the combination to the lock.

Yes I know in some areas people will use the combination to steal the lock, but I’ve noticed more and more people using this sort of booking system for events where previously the public just ‘turned up.’

In the era of covid a booking system has advantages. You can guarantee that the person who pays for that hour of peace and quiet will be the only person who can get in during that hour. For events where more people can attend simultaneously (a Maize Maze for example) you can restrict the numbers so everybody can feel safe and socially distanced.

The other advantage is that once people have booked and paid their money, they tend to build their day around it. Whereas previously they might have looked out of the window and thought, ‘let’s give it another hour, see what the weather’s going to do,’ they’re far more likely to turn up for their slot. Especially if they’ve paid for it.

It has struck me that the combination of more ways to book online, a pandemic, and the desire of people to avoid crowds, could well have created opportunities that weren’t there a couple of years ago.

Mind you, I confess that I wasn’t bright enough to spot this latest opportunity. What did I do during ‘lockdown’? Well farming never stopped, if anything some of us have been busier. Also the whole ‘working from home’ debate has rather passed me by. I always have.

But I’ve always enjoyed science fiction. And back in 2013 I talked to a small publisher who wanted me to write some. So the first book came out in 2014. I went down to Loncon, the world’s biggest SF convention that year, and three of us shared a table selling our books. Did OK as well. The second book came out and then the publisher, as small publishers often do, sort of faded. Basically life got too busy and family commitments meant that they had to do the decent thing and gracefully pull the plug.

Anyway I had the manuscripts, I’d got halfway through writing the third book and so I just put everything on hold. I went off and wrote other stuff. Lots of it. But still in the back of my mind there was this story I was telling. Anyway with lockdown, whilst livestock still needs looking after, all sorts of organisations who find ways to inveigle me into doing stuff for them all went to ground.

So not only did I finish the third book but I went on and wrote the fourth as well, so the whole series was done. I know a lot of people are getting wary of buying into a series. The author could get bored, the publisher could pull the plug, and a dozen different things could mean the series never gets completed. Given that it’s seven years since the first book was published, I suppose this series has taken its time, but finally and at least, all four books are out there, published and available

When somebody shoots down a documentary maker, what are they covering up? Haldar Drom of the Governor’s Investigation Office on Tsarina finds himself dealing with illegal population control drugs, genetic engineers, starmancers, and the risk of brushfire wars. Who knows how far up the chain of command the corruption reaches?
You use what you can get, allies in unusual places, reconnaissance by journalist, or a passing system defence boat.

The rest of the books can be seen at

Funny Old World

There are times you have to ask where all the grown-ups have gone to. I won’t say that the lunatics are running the asylum but there are a lot of people setting out the rules who obviously haven’t a clue how the world works.

I know a chap who is going into hospital for an operation. He has to self-isolate first. For a fortnight. Apparently they expect him to sit at home for two weeks, with no income because he’s self-employed.

He was chuntering about this and somebody he does do some work for came up with a solution. He has a lot of slurry that needs carting. So this chap is going to self-isolate, carting and spreading slurry. As he said, he’ll be working on his own, in his own tractor, with his own slurry tanker. Nobody will stop to chat with him and he’ll spend much of his time in the middle of fields with nobody within several hundred yards of him. On the positive side, he is still earning money.

The interesting thing is that it’s pretty much his normal life anyway. Obviously if anybody asks, he is ‘self-isolating’. But given the utter lack of understanding he met from the pen-pushers, he’s decided to be vague as to details if it ever occurs to them to ask.

The other day I was talking to a chap who works for a ‘fallen stock’ company. In the good old days we just called them knackers. (English definition. “A person whose business is the disposal of dead or unwanted animals, especially those whose flesh is not fit for human consumption.”) Anyway, as he was filling in the form that accompanies the animal, he was quietly reading out the questions as he answered them. Now the form he was tackling isn’t a form I’d ever be called to fill out. The farmer doesn’t normally see this one. So he put in the date of death, which was the previous day. Then he came to ‘time of death’ and just put down 5:45pm.

You may have to be in the industry to understand how facile that question is. Unlike hospitals, we don’t have anybody sitting at the bedside of the animal. Indeed in many cases an animal that was a bit dodgy and the vet had seen, will just be found dead next morning. Not only that, but even if the farmer knows the time, there is no reason why he will see the chap from the knackers. The knacker will know where any carcass will be waiting, and will just collect it.
So the form is usually filled in by somebody who has absolutely no information as to what happened. So animals normally die the day before they were collected and apparently, 5:45pm is a common time to die. I’d love to see a statistical analysis of the figures.

You can see the seriousness with which the lads driving the wagons accord these figures, I’ve been dealing with knackers for I forget how many years. I only just discovered that recording time of death was actually a thing! None of them have ever thought to ask me. Their attitude seems to be ‘somebody asked a damn silly question, so just give them an answer to shut them up.’

But on the positive side, I have finally done a job that I hold qualifications for. I was helping to move some cattle. The easy way to do this was to walk the cattle to a loading pen which is on the side of the main road. Any cattle wagon can back into the pen access and we can load them. However since they built the pen, wagons have got bigger. The wagon can still fit in, they’ve grown longer, not wider. Some of them are a bit longer than others. So they stick out onto the main road a touch. It doesn’t quite block a lane but it would mean that the people travelling in one direction would have to go into the opposite lane.

So my job was standing across the road from the wagon where everybody could see me, waving traffic past and occasionally stopping traffic coming one way to let the others through.  

It has to be said that the motorists were great. There was only one muppet who seemed to think that I’d just escaped from an aerobics class. Indeed the biggest issue was, counter-intuitively, the motorists who slowed down to be careful. When you’re directing traffic you factor in the speed of the two converging streams to try and work out whether south bound will be through before north bound get to you. So when people slow down, you have to hastily recalculate.

But somebody asked me afterwards about what I’d been doing. So I pointed out that, actually, the police had trained me, they’d shown me how to do it.
The person seemed quite impressed until I added that it was back in 1968 when I did my Cycling Proficiency.

♥♥♥♥

It struck me that you might want something a little different to read.

As a reviewer commented, “I know, without any doubt, I’ll thoroughly enjoy any book written by this author – especially if it features Tallis Steelyard and Maljie collaborating to right any wrongs.
The blurb gives some hints but if that’s not enough to tempt, add three capering Prophets, a ‘demonic’ attack, a hair raising egress from a rapidly descending balloon, creative bureaucratic archiving practices and … more … MUCH more.”

Money and Muck

A fair few years back now, late one evening a couple of lads who helped us with silaging decided to drop into the pub for a drink after they’d finished. They were just in time to catch ‘last orders’ at a local pub. One lad, Brian, went to the bar to buy two pints. Now picture the scene, he’s scruffy, his jeans will be stained with grass and oil, and when you’re buckraking grass on a tractor with no cab you can end up covered with dust and pollen. He puts his hand into his pocket and pulls out a handful of coins to pay for the drinks. You can tell how long ago it was because you could buy two pints with loose change. He puts the money on the bar to sort through it and then looks with horror at the pile of coin, grass seeds and miscellaneous muck he’s unthinkingly deposited.

As he stammers his apology, the landlady methodically sorts through the pile, takes the money she’s owed and smiled at him. “Nothing to apologise for, lad, you’ve worked for your money, not like some of the idle beggars here.” With that she apparently glared around the bar at some of the others.


There again most of us in farming are used to muck. We have spent our lives recycling all sorts of waste, in fact it’s no longer waste, it’s a vital input. Take something as simple as straw. In human terms it’s the stick that keeps the bit of the cereal plant we eat out of the muck. But in farming terms it can be so useful. When used to bed livestock, it not only keeps them clean and comfortable, but when it’s suitably soiled it can be spread on farmland as fertiliser.

But even straw has had its trials and tribulations. A lot of things are price sensitive. Yes the straw has value as bedding, but there’s a limit to what the livestock farmer can afford, and some of that has to go to the haulier to cover the cost of moving it. So the price the arable farmer sees is lower. Some of them did their calculations and worked out that they were better off burning it on the field.

Now stop and think about this from an environmental point of view. The burning cleared away a lot of plant diseases and weeds. Some claimed that following crops needed fewer sprays and similar. Yes it did release CO2 into the atmosphere, but it’s the CO2 that it absorbed this year, and it’s the CO2 it will absorb again next year. Also you saved a lot of tractor work, baling, carting and hauling the stuff. So some environmentalists were quite positive about straw burning in the field. It was banned largely because the smoke could drift across roads.
This is important, people hurtling along roads, burning fossil carbon and destroying the environment, obviously needed prioritising at the expense of farming techniques that were helping the environment.

Since then straw has been ‘discovered’ as a biofuel. Admittedly before this some farms had ‘biomass boilers’ which could be fed, one round bale at a time, by a tractor. But with subsidies and brownie points, companies started building power stations to burn straw. In point of fact, from the power station point of view, it’s not an ideal fuel. Firstly the size of the crop can vary depending on whether it’s a wet year or not. Not only that it’s not ‘consistent.’ The straw from this field will be damper than the straw from that field, and those three bales taken from around the dike back are distinctly iffy. Then somebody had the bright idea of burning straw when it had been turned into pellets. It’s so much easier to handle and so much more consistent. But other bright sparks have pointed out that by the time you’ve hauled your straw, dried it and pelleted it and then hauled it again, how damned green is it?
Also people have come up with other uses, you can get ‘straw board’ and people use it as a building material.

https://winkos.wordpress.com/before-the-blog/

But this year a lot of things came together and the price of straw got ridiculous. A big square bale of straw was costing around £100. At that price it’s damned near cheaper to bed calves on silk sheets and pay for the laundry!
In this area, because we’d had not a bad summer people were bedding young cattle on hay! People had a fair amount of it and calves have always nibbled their bedding so it did two jobs at once. I confess it wasn’t something I ever expected to see done.
Not only that but I know people who are now building a few acres of hay into their plans for this year, mainly to save the cost of straw for bedding next winter.

But I would wonder about the value of burning straw for ‘green energy.’ Building with straw, making straw board, they’re fine. When you think about it, you’re sequestrating carbon. With burning it, you’re putting the carbon back into the atmosphere for it to be reabsorbed next year. So it’s almost as good as burning it in the field but without the advantages of killing weeds and similar. But if the straw was used as livestock bedding and spread on the land, then you’d be adding carbon to the soil and you’re looking once more at long term sequestration. Especially under grassland.
So perhaps we ought to rethink our priorities for straw. Building materials, they’re fine, you’re locking the carbon up for a long time. Livestock bedding, again, it helps lock carbon in the land. Burning the damned stuff? Fine on the field where you get the advantage of controlling diseases and weeds, but in power stations? Perhaps if there’s some left that we don’t have any other jobs for?

But thinking environmentally, I was reminded of somebody whose sheep, some years ago, were prone to grazing the broad grass verges of our main road. They were such a common sight that when my daughter came home and I collected her from the station, she merely commented, “It’s nice to know some things don’t change. I see he’s still got his ewes hefted to the road verge.”

Indeed ewes will heft, even if they’re not fell sheep. It’s just that fell sheep are bred for it. I remember being told of one chap whose ewes had hefted themselves to one particular Lake District village. Apparently one particular ewe lambed every year in the corner of one particular garden.

But still, it strikes me that this is an idea with potential. In Cumbria we’re used to road signs extoling us to drive carefully because there could be sheep (legitimately) on the road as it crosses a fell.

Look at the huge motorway verges we have in this country and the amount of money spent keeping them tidy. The obvious solution is to heft sheep to the verges. Not only would they keep the grass down and save a lot of cost and wasted energy, but by giving the sheep right of way on the motorway, you’d slow traffic speeds, and would make sure that people took seriously the question, ‘Is your journey really necessary.’  Surely a win-win for the environment?

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Talk to a real expert.

Available from Amazon in paperback or ebook

Or to buy it from everybody else

https://books2read.com/u/3yearv

As a reviewer commented, “Dipping in and out of this book, as ever with Jim Webster’s farming anecdotes, is a great way to relax – although thought provoking at times, despairing at others, the humour is ever present, and how welcome is that in these times?”

I don’t know who Haley is but I’ve got two of her chuffing balloons.

I’ve just been checking a batch of dry cows. They’re enjoying a well-earned rest in late pregnancy, slouching about in the sun, eating the grass and generally not doing a lot. But as I walked to see them, I caught a glimpse of something black out of the corner of my eye. Think ‘Bin bag’ black if you would. So after checking them I walked across to see what it was. After all the last thing we want is the cows eating it out of curiosity.

It wasn’t a bin bag, it was a balloon with the name Haley written on it. Walking across the field I found another, also obviously designed for a small girl’s party. I’ve just looked on google, you get 5 balloons for £15 or £45 if you have them prefilled.

There’s a shortage of Helium, and yet we use 10% of output on party balloons

https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.2.20200605a/full/

I confess I have trouble with this. What parent asks their child, “Should we celebrate your birthday by littering the place with plastic and releasing inert gasses into the atmosphere?”

“Oh yes please Mummy.”

There again, I was in the paper shop the other morning getting a paper. The lass behind the counter, harassed as ever, was frantically trying to get the magazines sorted out. Her problem was with the magazines aimed at children. A thin magazine as made several times thicker by the plastic tat, ponies, and stuff, fastened to the front using a plastic wrapper. One comment made was that, as it’s a promotion and the majority won’t sell, they’ll just be returned to be pulped. If we’re bringing up people inured to assume life is decorated with large quantities of expendable cheap plastic tat, no wonder they don’t have a problem with sending off helium balloons at random.

Look, I realise that a lot of people live in pretty grim areas, robbed of hope and aspiration by generations of planners who have obviously plotted to ensure that the areas are as dire as possible. But just because they want to destroy the environment, it doesn’t mean you have to sell them the stuff to do it with.

Then there are sky lanterns. Yes I know they’re ancient and cultural, they may have been invented about 2000 years ago by a Chinese general for battlefield signalling. But just because the Chinese invented it doesn’t make it a good idea. They invented female foot-binding as well.

Stop and think about the conversation.

“How are you going to celebrate your wedding?”
“Well I thought we’d spew burning lanterns over the countryside.”

“Cool, well I suppose that nowadays dragon fire is completely out of budget. I’m glad you’ve decided to start your married life as you mean to go on.”

But the problem is that we seem to have an urban population who contain a considerable number who largely don’t seem to care. I remember this time last year, the Nation Park commented that in 2020 they’d been swamped with people. The Park staff normally collect 10 bin bags of litter per week. (Obviously this does not include the litter people have very correctly deposited in bins.)

Yet after the late May bank holiday weekend in 2020 they collected 138 bags of litter, picked up off the ground.

Similarly Park staff normally dispose of around 3 pieces of human waste from their car parks in the average month. In this one weekend they disposed over 100 pieces of human waste. Many of these in car parks where there was a toilet that was open.

But then the great British Public have a bad attitude to sewage. The Environment Agency will allow the various water firms to discharge raw sewage into rivers during storms. They do this because it cuts down on the pressure on the sewers. This means that there is a lesser risk of waste backing up, possibly flooding homes and communities. The trouble is, nobody is quite sure what the level of rainfall is before they’re allowed to do this. Volunteers monitoring the River Wharfe recorded 136 spills from one of Ilkley’s sewage-treatment works on 77 days last year.

Let’s put this in proportion, if this had been a family dairy farm with a slurry pit leaking, they’d have been sued into bankruptcy long ago, but nobody is quite sure when things will improve with water companies and sewage discharges.

Now let us be blunt here. Whose sewage is it? I thought we were supposed to be working towards a ‘polluter pays’ situation. Surely if the inhabitants of an area are polluting that area with their sewage, they ought to pay to have a proper system put in?

Oh and does Haley want her balloons back?

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Go to the experts.

Available from Amazon in paperback and kindle

And from everybody else at

https://books2read.com/u/mggzxz

As a reviewer commented, “Brilliant. Short, easy, amusing read, but with so much depth and heart. I read it all in one sitting, and learnt a lot with great pleasure.”

Four weeks late

I escaped and went for a walk on Saturday. I just made my way along the various back paths to a village about eight miles away. It was a glorious day, the sun shone, and everything looked green and well cared for. The village has a coffee morning come jumble sale so I dropped in. After eight miles I felt I deserved a coffee. Indeed whilst I was there, I picked up a boxed set of eight Tom Sharpe novels for £3, which has to be good. For those who don’t know his work he is exceptionally funny, and can be remarkably cutting about the fads and fashions of the time he wrote. He was also remarkably rude. For those who are too young to remember the Apartheid regime in South Africa, his two books set there, Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure, are perhaps required reading.

But as I was walking, I noticed a couple of times that there was white ‘thistle down’ blowing past me. Which was remarkable because there were no thistles. It was next morning I worked out what had been going on. It was willow. I’ve never seen so much of it. Whether this has been the perfect season for it or what, but I saw one ploughed field where parts of it looked as if they’ve been ‘airbrushed’ with willow down.

By any usual way of measuring things, this spring has been four weeks late. Normally we’d silage in the first week of May, weather permitting. Even if the weather had permitted, at the start of May there was so little grass that we’d have had to go round with a dustpan and brush rather than the usual chopper and trailer. As it was we silaged at the end of last week and all around us everybody else is now working furiously to get the grass in.

Whilst spring does drift about, this year we’re back to what would be usual back in the 1960s and 70s. Back then we tended to find ourselves silaging during Whit week. Whitsuntide is one of those moveable feasts (Easter plus 49 days) but it tends to be the end of May, start of June.

The issue with a late spring is feeding cattle. Firstly have you got enough silage left to carry them through the extra month? The problem is that even if there is grass out there, it’s not for them, yet. It’s being grown for silage to get everybody through next winter. Indeed we are already gearing up for next winter before this winter has finished.

It’s one of those instances  where if you get it wrong, the problem comes back to bite you next winter, and can even ricochet into future winters. If you haven’t the silage to get through this winter and turn out early, you eat off some of the grass which should be silage for next winter, which means that next winter, you run out even earlier.

Some years you can ‘catch up’ in that you can make more silage in the next cut. But again that costs money. Either you try putting on more fertiliser to encourage it along (which is cost) or you let the grass grow for longer. This means you get more bulk, but the quality isn’t as good meaning you’ll have to supplement it with more purchased feeds. Again this is extra cost.

This spring we have one bunch of heifers who’re on a field that would normally carry them, but we’ve been feeding them silage as well to make sure they’ve got enough. In another field a small batch of young stirks have been grazing behind an electric fence. Between ourselves I’ve been proud of them. They’ve behaved beautifully. They’ve not had tantrums and run into it, breaking it down or anything silly like that. They’ve just grazed as sensibly as a bunch of elderly dairy cows.

Twice a day I’d go in with a bit of feed just to make sure they were getting enough of everything. Whilst they ate that, Sal and I would quietly move the posts of the electric fence another foot forward. Before I finished the heifers would have joined me, tucking into the fresh grass.

We silaged the majority of the field they hadn’t grazed. We continued to strip graze up to where the mower had been, and then I quietly took the fence down. I rather expected them to kick their heels up and run a bit, but no, they just walked sedately to the hedge and ate the grass the mower hadn’t been able to get. Indeed yesterday when I went in to see how they were, rather than running to me to be the first to get to the feed, they just lay there, soaking up the sun. Finally as Sal arrived to see what was going on they slowly stood up, stretched and quietly ambled across to see me. After the wet misery of earlier this month, they seem to be really appreciating the sun.

♥♥♥♥

There again, there are some out there who know more about grass than I do.
Available in paperback or ebook from Amazon

 

And to buy it from anybody else

https://books2read.com/u/3yearv

As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!”

Decolonise your diet!

Every so often you realise you’ve missed a trick! I was chatting to another church warden and she commented that she cannot wait for somebody to demand her church be decolonised. She’d point out that the parish isn’t worthy and gift the church building to those protesting. Then the church itself could meet in the local community centre where it’s warm, the chairs are comfortable, and she doesn’t have to worry about the maintenance. Let somebody else go slowly bankrupt trying to look after the building and at the same time face the opprobrium of the community who neither attend nor contribute, but are furious that you’ve not maintained it to the high standards their grandfather thinks he remembers.

Well it’s not just church wardens who can leap on this bandwagon. What about farmers! First let’s hear it for sheep farmers and their carbon sequestrating wool. Surely cotton ought to be no platformed! Not only has it a horrendous environmental record, but it’s integrally linked with slavery. Wearing a cotton t shirt? Check your privilege!

Then there are the other foodstuffs redolent with the stench of colonialism, imperialism and slavery. Tea for example, sugar, bananas, and coffee. All of them should be banned immediately. Admittedly I’ll miss coffee, but there again, a refreshing mug of honest beer with your breakfast has to surely be the morally superior option. So if somebody comes into work not smelling of drink, send them for compulsory unconscious bias training.

If you stop to think about it, it would make sense (and be administratively easier) just to ban the produce of entire countries on ethical grounds. Given the treatment of Native Americans, just ban all US imports. There are worries about the rainforest, just ban everything from Brazil. Clearly there are going to be no imports from Australia because of their historic treatment of the aboriginal inhabitants.  

Then there is France and their refusal to admit there are more than two genders. Given that (according to one website) there are many different gender identities, “including male, female, transgender, gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none or a combination of these” it has to be pointed out that just using ‘le’ and ‘la’ is obviously some sort of phobic. Evidently, as a gesture of disapproval, we’ll have to ban food imports from countries with languages that presume the gender of things.

Again we cannot keep importing cheap labour from countries poorer than us. If that isn’t colonial exploitation and the visible sign of a rampant patriarchy I don’t know what is. One alternative is to pay visiting workers decent wages, perhaps linking farm workers’ remuneration to the pay of Civil Service Executive Officers. But that would put up food prices. Another alternative would be to conscript university academics from all universities where the intake of working class white males is lower than the proportion of this group in the general population. Admittedly as a workforce they’re likely to be neither use nor ornament but still. I personally would chuckle watching them harvesting winter cabbage in the sleet in December whilst asking whether the universe is real, or whether you can experience anything objectively.

Now it might be argued that we’re playing with fire here. Surely, like Caesar’s wife, we have to be above suspicion. This is where we have to be careful and do things in the right order. After all, once we’ve managed to ban most imported food and stopped them flying vegetables and fruit into the country, people are going to be so damned hungry they’re not going to ask too many questions about the food they can get.

Amazing how, when you have something real to worry about, a lot of other ‘problems’ suddenly disappear.” Ah well, in the future we might even look back nostalgically at all those entitled people with their first world problems.

♥♥♥♥

There again, what do I know? Speak to the experts.
In Paperback or ebook from Amazon

And from everybody else at

https://books2read.com/u/md7XEX

As a reviewer commented, “Another gentle and entertaining read about the pros and cons of Farming, ably assisted by Sal the collie dog and Billy the feral farm cat.
As always, I’m amazed Farmers make enough money to keep their farms and families going, given the ‘guidance’ given by the ‘experts’ in government and the Civil Service…”