Picking our way through a strange world.


Well it’s not raining at the moment. I mean it was, and doubtless will be soon, but just at the moment it’s fine and mild. True the ground hasn’t dried out yet but at least there isn’t as much standing water as there was. One neighbour has even managed to plough something. They always used to say a peck of March dust was worth a king’s ransom. It would be nice to have the ground dry enough to drive across without nervousness.

Still, it’s not bad out, Sal was mooching about whilst I was checking heifers. I thought I might get a photo of her starring at the swans but she never stops still long enough to even look cute.

It’s difficult trying to work out what’s going to happen next. I saw where somebody was getting a poorer price for quality beef because the restaurant market had suddenly dried up. Another issue is those people who depend upon labour who come in from outside this country. Ignore totally the aspect of what scheme they have available to come in on, that is barely relevant at the moment. Far more importantly will their own country let them leave and will our border authorities let them enter?

Indeed I was talking to somebody in hospitality who depends on a lot of staff who came in from Spain. They will struggle to get here and he is very doubtful as to whether he’ll need them if they do arrive. Will there be a tourist season this year? There again, I can quite seriously see there being a market for remote self-catering cottages. Stir crazy over-seventies could be desperate for somewhere they can go and still feel somewhat isolated. Might be a useful marketing angle for those on farms who have just a cottage or so.

I also read the latest modelling work which has accelerated the government’s shift of policy. It’s at




It looks as if the policy of slowing the spread of the virus so that we build up herd immunity (supported by the old data) has been abandoned because new data showed that it was going to be far too costly in lives. So we’re now in a policy of shut everything down to suppress it. The problem with this is that we can do it, but the minute we relax, the virus is still there and will just burst out again because the population is still relatively naive. The best option they can find is to relax the restrictions when the number of people we have in intensive care units drops to fifty a week, and slam the restrictions back on when numbers go up to one hundred a week. It produces this sort of graph.




The problem is that this has to be in place for about two years to get the level of herd immunity up to a level at which the population is largely safe. It is probably going to take about that length of time to produce a vaccine, check that it works and is safe, then get it manufactured and distributed throughout the community.

So personally, looking ahead for farmers I think that we have to assume that things are going to be pretty sticky for the next year or so.

On the positive side, a lot of the contractors we use can ‘self-isolate’ whilst working from a tractor cab. At the moment I think the big issues will be at either end of the chain. Here in dairy farming we’re very dependent on those working in the feed mills and those working in the dairies. But we’re also reliant on people in warehouses loading the teat dip into a van to send round.

So basically, stay well out there and look after yourselves.


There again, what do I know? You could always ask an expert

Now in paperback and ebook. Perfect if you’ve not managed to stockpile enough toilet paper


As a reviewer commented, “Once in a while a book really gets to you. Jim Webster’s book Sometimes I just Sits and Thinks has done just that to me. Jim is a farmer in the English county of Cumbria. His sense of humour shines throughout each episode. If you come from farming stock as I do, this is the book for you. In my mind’s eye I was out there with Jim and his faithful Border Collies Jess and Sal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book…”

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19 thoughts on “Picking our way through a strange world.

  1. xantilor March 17, 2020 at 3:02 pm Reply

    I tried to ‘like’ this and couldn’t – a popup flashed and was gone instead. Consider it liked.

    • jwebster2 March 17, 2020 at 3:17 pm Reply

      Yes I got that as well when I tried to like somebody else’s post
      But if I get an email I can still click ‘like’ on the email and it seems to work
      I’m not sure what’s happening

      • Widdershins March 18, 2020 at 4:32 am

        Been happening to me too, for a few days now, but not consistently, some blogs it does, and some blogs it doesn’t … looks like the WordPress ‘happiness engineers’ have been at it again.

      • jwebster2 March 18, 2020 at 6:19 am

        I now have to go into the stats part of the blog to be able to reply and sometimes it still won’t let me

  2. M T McGuire March 17, 2020 at 3:08 pm Reply

    Yeh … it looks pretty grim, although, I guess if they’re looking in the barrel of two years, they’ll be upping the intensive care beds to they can let it go up to 150 or 200 cases before they slam the breaks on and be letting it drop to 100 cases a week. I’m not too sure, but I’m assuming that would widen the herd and cut the time from now to immunity. I know at least two actors who are looking at a vast desert of cancelled stuff where there had been work. Not fun.

    It all feels a bit apocalyptic.



    • jwebster2 March 17, 2020 at 3:16 pm Reply

      The good news is that 50% of cases never notice

      • M T McGuire March 17, 2020 at 3:34 pm

        Yep. Definitely. Which points to a normal flu-like risk level once it, and herd immunity, are established.

      • jwebster2 March 17, 2020 at 3:36 pm

        Yes, I don’t think this one would be such a killer if it struck a century ago. A lot of the people who are at risk now wouldn’t even be alive without modern medicine we take for granted. I suspect a lot of people who now have long and fulfilled lives would have died young as sickly children. We tend to forget our successes

      • M T McGuire March 17, 2020 at 4:07 pm


      • jwebster2 March 17, 2020 at 4:31 pm

        Let’s keep hoping 🙂

  3. Stevie Turner March 17, 2020 at 3:40 pm Reply

    My cousin is in the catering business in Saudi Arabia and says the hospitality industry out there is all going to the wall. When we said ‘Happy New Year’ on December 31st we had no idea what was going to happen! So far I’m still typing my clinic letters but have no idea for how long. Sam has suggested that we de-bunk to the IOW. It sounds a good idea to me…

    • jwebster2 March 17, 2020 at 4:32 pm Reply

      Certainly I can see the sense behind it. If you’ve got to self-isolate it might as well be somewhere you love

      • Stevie Turner March 17, 2020 at 4:42 pm

        We don’t have any germs at the moment, but we’re going there anyway on Friday. Seriously considering spending April and May there.

      • jwebster2 March 17, 2020 at 4:58 pm

        makes a lot of sense and its an area you know well

  4. Doug Jacquier March 17, 2020 at 6:13 pm Reply

    Your usual thoughtful and well-informed take on things, Jim. One of the flaws I see in the remote cottage/location suggestion (apart from who has the money to spare) is the phenomenon we’re seeing in Australia now of city folk driving around the countryside denuding local shelves. Then the local stores can’t re-stock because they have literally become the end of the food chain. Less of an issue in the UK I suppose where it seems everyone’s your neighbour. 😉 The question I keep asking myself (one of the downsides of isolation) is what happens when it becomes too dangerous for supermarket staff and delivery drivers to turn up for work. I’ll leave you with that happy thought.

    • jwebster2 March 18, 2020 at 6:26 am Reply

      It isn’t really a problem is the UK, rural people have to drive into town to shop anyway, and the distances are much smaller.
      With regard to drivers.for wagon drivers delivering to supermarkets, I was talking to a wagon driver delivering dairy feed to us. As he pointed out, drivers can ‘self-isolate’ in the cab. Unloading is trickier but you push it out and they collect it and you keep separate
      Home deliveries will be trickier 🙂

  5. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt March 18, 2020 at 1:57 am Reply

    “the policy of slowing the spread of the virus so that we build up herd immunity (supported by the old data) has been abandoned because new data showed that it was going to be far too costly in lives.” We knew this from the beginning – you have far too few intensive care beds. And the delay has probably cost a lot of people their lives, if not already, then soon.

    That’s on your leaders, as many of ours are on ours (hard to call them leaders – more like obstructionist face-saving prevaricators).

    Biggest challenge the world has faced in a long time – and we are utterly unprepared.

    • jwebster2 March 18, 2020 at 6:26 am Reply

      In this country our leaders have been guided all along by the science, What has happened is that the data coming out of Italy totally changed the picture. Based on what we knew from China and the first cases we saw elsewhere the data was right, but tentative
      It’s the Italian situation that changed everything and the scientists have picked up on it sharpish and the government has acted immediately
      As for having too few intensive care beds we are probably a little low, but then even the US would be overwhelmed and it has nearly six times as many per 100,000 inhabitants. We couldn’t afford to have enough for this occasion

      Click to access economics-of-critical-care.pdf

      Has an interesting discussion (looks like a presentation)

  6. Widdershins March 18, 2020 at 4:36 am Reply

    When I heard the ‘herd immunity’ drivel, I, (apart from condemning the ijits who thought it up to the furthest reaches of the cold, cold universe) thought that’s not how it works … also that the concept would last two days at the most, before a grown-up smacked them in the back of the head.

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