Looking round yesterday everybody was busy. Combining, baling and carting straw, baling and carting round bale silage, each one was working flat out. I suspect the average age of drivers was a lot lower than what it’ll be next week when so many of them go back to school.
It’s been an ‘interesting’ harvest round here. We tend to be later than further south, and as August gets blown into September the whole thing can be pretty much catch as catch can. I noticed one field where the combine was leaving muddy wheel marks behind it. This isn’t a good sign.
I saw another field being scaled out for silage. The chap does try and make a bit of hay, because we’ve a decent trade locally selling it for horses. But whilst he’s managed to make some beautiful stuff this year on other fields, the weather was never right long enough to mow this one. Now he’s got a field of elderly grass that he’s mown. I felt some of it by the gate. Late August sunshine is never going to kill it, and indeed he rowed it up not long afterwards and it’s baled and wrapped. It’s just one of the gambles of farming. If he’d had a fine week in the last month and a half, he’d have produced something which would have been sought after, as a lot of horse people don’t want ‘seeds hay’ but prefer something older because they worry about the horse having digestion problems. Now he’s got some moderate round bale silage. A lot of horse people turn their noses up at it because of the danger of mould. So he’s probably hoping for a long winter then somebody will buy it off him for feeding big rough store cattle who will eat anything and thrive. The problem with agriculture is that the Bank will ask us to do a business plan, but to produce one that has even the most tenuous connection to reality, you really have to sit down with God and have him feed in his side of the job.
This set me off thinking about a lot of the tractor drivers working at the moment. I know lads who’ve not been at school since March and have been working seven days a week since then. One lad has effectively been half of a contracting business. Dad would drop him off at the farm with tractor and slurry tanker and leave him to it. My guess is that the tractor had ten horsepower for every year of the driver’s age. But having watched him at work, he’s perfectly competent. What intrigues me is how he’ll cope when he has to go back to being a schoolboy having been treated as a proper adult for the last five or so months. Looking at the forecast, I can see a lot of Dads asking their lady wife to phone the school to express doubts about the safety of their son going to school, what with the virus and everything. Or perhaps they might suggest she explain to the head that they’ve just come back from a heifer sale in France and have to quarantine for a fortnight? Otherwise they won’t get the straw cleared before the weather breaks.
Mind you, schools appear to be suffering from epidemiologists at the moment. We’ve seen them when they inflict farming. In the middle of a disease outbreak they’ll appear and put in place systems which they assure everybody will halt the disease in its tracks.
If you try to explain that the suggestions are impractical, impossible to implement, or just counterproductive the normal response you get is that ‘farming ought to become a modern industry’ and ‘if you cannot keep up, perhaps it’s time you left the industry.’
And now teachers have got them. I extend my genuine sympathy to every teacher and head who is trying to work out how on earth you follow the advice. (To be fair, you’re lucky it’s only advice, in agriculture, we just get regulation. But then they know we just ignore advice that is so bad that it’s just silly.)
I was talking to a friend. He has had to work all the way through the whole mess. Ships don’t build themselves and you can hardly take home a section of hull to work on in the back garden. So on the first day of school his lady wife has been instructed by the school that their two sons, aged four and six, have to be at school at exactly 9:30am. But because of bubbles etc., one of them has to be presented at the door at one end of the school and one has to be presented at the door at the other end of the school. (And don’t fetch the wrong child to the wrong door, perhaps because the bubble will pop.)
Alas for the epidemiologists, these two small boys share the same bedroom, use the same bathroom, and eat their breakfast at the same table.
There again somebody was telling me about her daughter’s dancing class. The hall has tape on the floor and each child (from what she said I doubt any of them are much over 12) has to dance in the socially distanced box created by the tape. The exceptions being when they’re taught those dances which you dance in pairs. When learning those dances two girls dance together in one box. Let’s not beat about the bush here, I’m not sure you can dance a socially distances waltz or tango.
Mind you, there’s one positive thing I’ve noticed. If you watched the responses to YouGov surveys, all through this summer, when asked about lockdown, the largest number of people asked always wanted the lockdown increased in severity. But last week when asked about opening schools I noticed that over 70% wanted all children to go back to school. Whether people are beginning to get over their fears, or are just desperate to get their children out from under their feet I don’t know.
Yesterday as Sal and I arrived back from feeding heifers, Sal noticed that some milk had been poured down a drain. (A cow had just calved and the first few milkings don’t get put into the tank.) Billy had found prime position for reaching into the drain to lap it up.
Sal walked behind him, put her nose between his back legs, and lifted him out of the way. Billy, somewhat indignant picked himself up and watched her. Sal then went to take his position so she could lap up some milk. But even as she took up position she stopped. I think she realised that she would leave herself open to Billy getting his own back. So she went round to the other side of the drain which wasn’t quite such a good place. But at least she could lap the milk and keep an eye on Billy at the same time.
Sal has learned that you cannot take the micky and not expect people to get their own back.
A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.
As a reviewer commented, “A collection of blog posts that give a real insight into the harsh world of a small farmer. But this book is much more than that, imbued as it is with Jim’s trademark sly humour and his evident love of his countryside and his livestock. Excellent holiday reading.”