Monthly Archives: October 2020

So what’s it worth?

Pony paddock for sale? Well somebody round here is asking £150,000 for slightly over four acres. Now to be fair, it’s good land. In spite of talk about fencing and stables, I suspect that with a bit of care and a loader tractor with a decent set of pallet forks, you could clear in for ploughing in a morning. And that assumes you try to move stuff away in a useable manner.

But the sale value as agricultural land is perhaps £30,000. But even that figure assumes you’re spreading the cost of this land over a lot more which cost you far less. If you actually had to farm it so it could pay for itself, the price would probably be less than a quarter of that.

But how did we end up here? A friend of mine works in the Shipyard. The chap at the next desk put down his phone and looked a bit pale and shaken. My mate asked if he’d had bad news. He replied that his wife had decided she was going to buy a field at auction to keep her horse on. She was sick of having to have it on other peoples’ plots. She’d talked to the building society and they were willing to add 50% to the mortgage on the house. Given she was also working he thought it was fair enough. But still it came as something of a shock.

Now a lot of farms have disappeared into ‘horsiculture.’ The trouble with them was, they weren’t economically viable as farms any more. Now I sometimes get into trouble when I look back too far, but even in the 1960s there were a lot of small farms along the flanks of the Pennines which had a few dairy cows and a milk round.

Now in the 1930s my father had helped on a milk round. He would milk a cow, by hand, in a field, and carry the milk in the pail to the yard where it would be tipped into a churn. Then with a horse and cart, they’d go round the small mining village. The lady of the house would come to the door with a jug and the boy on the cart would pour a dipper full of milk into the jug. Apparently smart lads could get nine pints to the gallon thanks to conveniently placed water butts. One old lady came to the door, looked at the chap driving the cart and said, “Tell him I’ll just have the milk. I can put my own water in.”

But by the 50s and 60s things were far more professional. It might not be pasteurised but it was at least bottled. So a lot of the small farms on the edges of the Northern Cities would have perhaps a dozen cows. They’d cool the milk as they were milking, pour the milk into their bottles and then deliver it. As the regulations tightened, a lot of them were faced with having to pasteurise their milk. The cost of installing their own machine was prohibitive. So they’d sell their milk to the dairy and then buy it back, pasteurised and bottled. One problem was that it wasn’t their farm’s milk. All that happened is that they’d put 100 gallons into the system, and the system had handed them a hundred gallons back. So their customers were no longer getting ridiculously fresh milk. And frankly pasteurised milk doesn’t taste anywhere near as nice as raw milk.

When I came across these farmers, they were normally elderly single men who’d never married. Had they married they’d have had to look for a bigger farm, or sell up. There was no way they could raise a family on the income the farm made.

I just missed meeting one old chap. He’d retired and from memory was aged about ninety. He had his state pension, and still hand milked three elderly cows and sold the milk to a handful of loyal customers who still came to his door for it. He, his cows and his customers all died off at about the same time.

Then you had some slightly bigger farms. There used to be a number around Kendal. They would perhaps have thirty or forty cows, but they would bull everything with a good dairy bull. This meant they had far more replacement dairy heifers than they needed. But this meant that they regularly had heifers to sell. Given that some of these farms had been doing this for at least a couple of generations, they had a good reputation. Everybody knew their business model, they weren’t just selling cattle that wasn’t good enough for them.

The problem with these small farms was that they weren’t family farms. A family farm has to support two generations, not just one. So the younger generation is reared on the farm, works on the farm, and takes over from Dad. Ideally Dad manages to draw his pension by the time his grandson is married and needs a proper wage. The problem comes if the farm won’t support grandson when he gets married. So he goes out and gets a proper job. Then when he should be taking over, he and his spouse sit down and work out that actually, they cannot cope with the drop of income that they’d face going into farming. So Dad sells the farm.

At this point, if it’s handy for town, the farm house and buildings get snapped up separately. You sell them separately, perhaps with a paddock attached, because that way the house and one field will fetch more than the entire farm if sold as one lot. (And even if you did sell it as one lot, the buyer won’t want the farmland so will just sell it off and get back the value of their new house.)

Then the land will be sold in separate lots. Neighbours will pick up bits and of course the pony paddock people will move in as well. They’ll take the small fields with road access. Round here, the farm can be auctioned twice. First it will be sold off in lots. Then before the sale is considered over, all the lots will be added back together and the farm will be offered as an entity. If somebody bids more for the farm as an entity than it would have made if you totted up the prices offered for all the lots, then the farm is sold as an entity. I’m not sure how often that happens.

One interesting thing is the way the pony paddock people bid as opposed to how farmers bid.

If I go to a sale, I will have a budget. But I also have a price per acre as well. So if I reckon that land should go to £7,000 an acre, I’m unlikely to go much past this. Why should I, a couple of months or a couple of years down the line some more land might come up and I can try for that? Also, I’ve got to make the land pay.

On the other hand a lot of people looking for a pony paddock have a budget. They can spend £30,000 (to pull a figure out of the air.) So in very simple terms, it doesn’t matter if the lot is two acres or twenty acres. They will only bid up to £30,000. The price per acre doesn’t figure so highly in the calculation. The earning value of the land isn’t really a consideration because they’re not entering into an economic transaction.
So in crude terms, the pony paddock person would out-bid me on a four acre field (because 4 acres at £7k an acre is £28K, but they’ll spend £30K) but I’ll outbid them on a five acre field, because I’ll bid £35k and they’re still only going to bid £30k.

Now that’s a very simplified version. It ignores individual circumstances, it ignores the fact that a lot of potential pony paddock owners are pretty shrewd people (which is how they’ve got that sort of money to splash about in the first place) and also ignores location. A field in the middle of my land is worth more to me than the basic £7k an acre.

Once you start getting pony paddocks things can go two ways. I remember driving out of one of the northern cities along one of the lesser A roads, and there were miles of ‘rural slum’. Paddocks with boundaries made of second hand corrugated iron sheets and rusty barbed wire. ‘Stables’ which were old wagon bodies. Grassland that was overgrazed and largely mud.

Alternatively you can get what we saw at Duntisbourne Abbots. My lady wife and I stayed there twice, about ten years apart. The first time, walking round the village in the evening, I chatted to a farmer and his son putting some stirks into a field. Ten years later everything was horse paddocks, white rail fencing and gentrification.

These are perhaps the two extremes. But some years ago I had to go to a meeting between Hatfield and Harlow, north of London. On a free morning I went for a walk. I wasn’t going anywhere, I just worked out a circular route. The problem is when I’m out, I see things through a farmer’s eyes. Every farm I passed had the house and buildings developed as desirable properties. There were some large fields left, they were arable. I even saw some farm equipment tucked away out of sight on a piece of hard standing in a bit of woodland. The land was probably contract farmed and there wasn’t a steading handy to leave machinery.

But there were a lot of rather elegant pony paddocks that had been carved out of the smaller fields. In one place there was a block of them, each with an almost identical stable and fencing. But I saw only one horse. One paddock had a particularly scruffy bullock scratching himself on a stable. The block of paddocks had had their fences unobtrusively gapped and the grass was being eaten down by sheep. It was after the last financial crash and I remember reading that a lot of people had been getting rid of horses they could no longer afford.

I wonder what’s coming? People moving out of London because they can work from home might want a pony paddock, or incomes might fall as well and how many can still afford to keep a horse?

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Don’t ask me, speak to the experts.

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, “

This is in the same league as Herrick, absorbing you into a different world, with its trials and tribulations making a background for the occasional moment of hilarity or joy. Hats off to Jim and his ilk, putting food on our tables despite our unwillingness to pay a decent price for it. I am frequently outraged that I live in a society which is prepared to pay more for bottled water than milk, and drowns the country in plastic in the process.

Jim manages to get this across without ranting and then uses his wry sense of humour to leave you howling with laughter at a series of events that a mere townie could never have imagined. Thanks for letting me into your world Jim – I am now committed to changing my behaviour and paying the extra for local, seasonal produce.”

The world of oily mill boards and cattle housing.

A timber rail finally gave way. I’d nailed it elegantly in place in 1981. I know this because we were erecting the building during the wedding of Charles and Di. The rail acts as a barrier between some cubicles and some calving boxes. Actually there’s a steel pipe acting as a rail as well. The pipe stops anybody in the calving box getting into the cubicles. But because the cubicles are higher up, the timber was put in to discourage the occupants of the cubicles trying to jump down.
Anyway one of the occupants did. I looked at the timber when I came to do a running repair and decided she’d sneezed violently and it had broken. But look on the bright side, it’s been there nearly forty years. During that time it’s been chewed by generations of bored heifers and they’ve scratched their heads on it on a regular basis. In some places it’s worn smooth. Not only that but this piece of wood wasn’t new when I acquired it.

Back then the Farmers’ Guardian newspaper had a classified ads section that was sometimes thicker than the rest of the paper. One section was firms, mainly in Lancashire, selling reclaimed and second hand timber. At lot of the old industrial buildings were coming down and these firms went in to salvage the good stuff. This is before that sort of thing was fashionable or especially ‘green.’ People just did it because you could turn a pound. I know farmers who did out farm buildings with ‘oily mill boards’ at the time. This is long before they became the ‘must have’ floor covering for your fashionable loft conversion.

There was one company I dealt with quite a lot. They were good to deal with and as well as second hand and new timber, he carried a fair stock of chipboard and plywood as well. Also because they sold a lot of stuff into this area, provided you didn’t need something on a particular day, they didn’t charge haulage. They just shoved what you wanted on the next wagon coming our way.

Mind you, sometimes we managed to find things much closer to hand. I don’t know how we found out that the timbers were about to be available, but Father and I went down to where the old railway engine sheds were. A small demolition/salvage business was taking them down. We had a building job in mind at home. So we had a look at the roof timbers that were coming out of those old railway buildings. They were beautiful pieces of timber. Properly seasoned and everything. You cannot get new timber that good.

Anyway we asked how much, and the boss came up with a somewhat complicated scheme which meant that the good ones were going to be a bit expensive. But they were just what we were looking for.

Anyway we said that I’d be back after the weekend with a tractor, trailer and chequebook and he’d have the timbers down by then. So it was the following Monday when I turned up with the requisite equipment. In the meanwhile, the boss had apparently fallen through the roof and broken his leg. His foreman was expecting me. He had an envelope with prices written on in pencil.

The problem was that I don’t think he was a great reader, and his boss hadn’t been entirely clear what he wanted paying for what. The foreman stared at the envelope trying to make sense of it. The only figure that made sense was £2. So he gestured to the stack of 8 inch by 4 inch roof timbers and said, “How about two pound apiece.”

I just nodded. So he asked, “How many do you want?”

“All of them.”

So the pair of us loaded these sixteen feet long timbers onto the trailer, by hand. Back then you just did that sort of thing. Now I’d be looking round for the fork lift.

I then did the calculation for him and produced the chequebook. He looked a bit disappointed at that and asked, “What about cash?”

I just looked at him and asked, “Am I dressed like the sort of person who carries that sort of money about with him?”

So I gave him the cheque. As he turned to take it to the caravan he tripped over a long length of timber lying there. He stood up, picked it up, and put it on my trailer on top of the other wood I’d just bought. “Take the damned thing away, I’m fed up of falling over it.”
And thirty nine years later, that piece of timber has finally broken and will have to be fixed up again.

As it is the 8”x4” roof timbers are still going strong, doing a great job. My guess is that when somebody comes to take these buildings down, they’ll put those timbers quietly to one side, because good wood is hard to come by.

Thinking about it, if anybody asks, tell them that just growing trees doesn’t sequestrate carbon. Or at least not for long. Because trees are living organisms, they are born, grow, die and decay. Carbon is locked up and then carbon is released.

Felling the tree, cutting it up into timber, and then seasoning it, that’s proper sequestration of carbon. The timber I purchased had most likely been water seasoned, and then left to dry naturally. Given the age of the buildings that the wood had come out of, it was from trees that had been planted before the Napoleonic wars. It had probably been felled in the 1870s, and for the next century had been holding the roof up. Since then it’s had another forty years working for me and I have no doubt it could see out a second century.

When you think about it, ‘planned obsolescence’ isn’t an agricultural term.

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And if you’re looking for something new to read, I’ve got a new collection of stuff out.

For this collection of stories, Sal is joined by Terry Wogan, Janis Joplin and numerous dairy cows. Meet pheasants, Herdwicks, Border Collies, and the occasional pink teddy bear. Welcome to the world of administrative overload and political incomprehension. All human life, (or at least all that hasn’t already fled screaming for sanctuary) is here.

Food prices and bumps in the road

From talking to farmers and others over the last few months, there has been ‘considerable dislocation’ in the market. The nearer you are to ‘commodity’ food production the more stable things have been. Whereas if you’ve specialised to produce for niche markets or even sell direct to the catering trade or at farmers markets, everything went very messy very quickly.

We had the same number of consumers, who largely wanted to eat pretty much the same things, but some of the routes from farm to plate were blocked by lockdown. But there have been some good things to come from it. At least for certain sections of the industry.

As somebody who is instinctively a dairy farmer, it cheers me immensely to discover that one of the big successes has been cheese. Apparently average cheese consumption increased by 44% during the lockdown. I don’t find this too difficult to believe. Cheese is easy, flexible, and is an integral part of so many comfort foods. I mean, I know people so adventurous that they even grate cheese over beans on toast and give it a quick twirl in the microwave to melt the cheese.

But there’s other openings as well. Cathedral City cheddar (which is, by sales volume, probably the UK’s favourite cheddar) has potentially made a breakthrough. It will be available across 2,000 plus retail outlets in the USA during November. This happened a month after Saputo, the company that produces this cheese, announced that 500 Canadian stores would be selling the cheese. To be fair, Saputo is a Canadian company so it’s probably easier for them to get a toe in that door. But still, to put all this in perspective, Tesco has under 2,700 stores in the UK. This means that the combined Canadian and US outlets stocking the UK’s favourite cheddar will be about the same as the number of UK Tesco Stores. But of course the average US store will be bigger!”

This is nothing to do with Brexit or trade deals. It’s just good companies looking for markets for good products. Still we’ve got the usual hullaballoo going on about trade deals at the moment. I saw somebody comment (when ‘discussing’ chlorine washed chicken) that the UK government imports this rubbish. This is nonsense. The UK government imports very little food. (I suppose it might bring in some for the armed forces.) Food imports are largely by private companies who know what their consumers demand.

So what do consumers demand? Well as a rule of thumb, in times of prosperity, 20% will look at artisan or quality foods. In times of recession this can drop to 10%. And we’re heading into a recession. The private companies who import food know what their customers want, they are going to want ‘Cheap.’

There’s also a move to ban imports of food from countries that do not meet UK standards. The problem is that this includes the EU. For example the UK banned sow stalls in 1999. But the EU kept using them and because of EU single market regulations we had to keep importing meat from pigs that had been kept in sow stalls. The EU eventually banned them in 2013 but still, Compassion in World Farming regard it as a partial ban, saying, “The partial sow stall ban makes it illegal to confine sows for their entire pregnancy, and requires sows to be group housed from 4 weeks after mating or earlier.”

Admittedly once we’ve fully left the EU we can ban EU pork products on the grounds of animal welfare if people want. Just as we can ban US chlorine washed chicken and, one assumes, EU chlorine washed salad vegetables.

But seriously, given we have a lot of people who are going to struggle to be able to afford food to put on the table, how much will they care? The 80:20 is going to move more to 90:10.
So what do we do? Passing laws banning imports from countries that do not meet UK food standards could lead to food rationing, and a winter vegetarian diet consisting of a lot of turnip and sprouts. Can we use some sort of guidance to nudge our consumers?

Well that brings us to the photo at the top of our page. At the side of our drive is a piece of lawn. My late father, twenty or more years ago, laid down an old limestone gate stoop. As he said at the time, “It’ll stop people just driving on the lawn.”
Now the drive is wide enough to get a twenty ton tipper lorry down. In the yard itself you can turn one with ease. We know this. We’ve done it. So there is no need whatsoever to drive on the lawn. But at regular intervals some muppet hits the gate stoop. By this I’m not meaning a glancing blow with the wheel, I’m talking about hitting it with wheels on both sides, which produces an interesting grating noise from the underside of your vehicle.

I once had to tow a taxi off it. He was a bit stroppy until I asked why he wanted to drive on the lawn in the first place, wasn’t the drive wide enough?
Today a delivery van, rather than putting in an extra tack, would save a tenth of a second by cutting across the lawn. Well that produced three minutes backing off and anxiously examining the underside of his vehicle that he’s never going to get back.

So we could put things in place which made some things harder to import, not by banning them but by making sure they’re properly labelled. But then, if the people read the label, shrug and buy it anyway, what then?

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There again, what do I know? There’s times when it’s better to just sit with a good book and give the world time to come to its senses.

 

Instead of his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with a gripping adventure. Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.

As a reviewer commented, “

Tallis Steelyard is a poet with champagne tastes on a beer budget. Chased out of town, and into the bay, by irate creditors, he’s rescued by a passing boat and given the opportunity to become a part of the crew. Thereafter follow a series of adventures, many funny, before Tallis can finally return home again.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story and recommend it highly!”

Further adventures in broadband

I think I’ve discovered the person who did the Openreach quote for our broadband. A chap I know is the manager of a local coffee shop. To help them survive they’re working with one of the delivery companies. Some of the orders are quite big, they had one that totted up to £50, which helps. But he had one person who just ordered a cup of tea, which with delivery, cost £5. All my life I’ve been selling to the wrong customers.

Anyway, people may remember I explored getting better broadband. This involved me applying to Openreach under the Universal Service Obligation. Given we are barely three miles from the exchange I didn’t expect anything outrageous, and there’s a £3,500 grant to help pay for any work. (We’re a business, it’s £1,500 for a private household.)

Thus the quote of £104,311.20 rather took me by surprise. But am I daunted? No, I decided I would approach Openreach, but this time under the auspices of the Openreach Community Fibre Partnership. There are seven households in this ‘community.’ So I talked to them all, and they all felt that they were happy to have their names go forward on the grounds that each extra household would allow the scheme to pull down an extra grant. I did ask about putting in extra money. Here I met ‘consumer resistance.’ After all we have neighbours even further from the exchange than us who’ve been given 50mbps fibre broadband at no capital cost. They just have to pay a bit more to use it. As it was, people generally felt that they’d put in, a grudging ‘couple of hundred quid just to make the scheme a goer if need be.’

And now I’ve got a quote back from Openreach. Well actually I’ve got two.

The first quote is for twenty-six premises which included some they felt I’d obviously overlooked. Actually these premises aren’t part of ‘my community.’ They’re just houses or buildings alongside the main road between two BT Openreach cabinets. Basically they’re the ones BT never bothered connecting when it had the chance.

I had overlooked them for two reasons. One was I hadn’t a clue what their broadband was like and whether they could even be served from our scheme. The second reason is that a global pandemic is not a good time to knock on the doors of total strangers asking about their broadband and wondering if they were interested in joining a scheme put together by somebody they didn’t know from Adam.

But still I looked at the suggested twenty-six. Four of the addresses are of houses that are empty because they’re in the blast radius of a gas terminal. Two of the addresses are the North and South gas terminals. The south terminal is currently being demolished so is unlikely to be interested in broadband. The North terminal will long ago have got itself sorted. One of the addresses, ‘The site office’ may be the demolition contractor who’s taking apart the South Terminal. I suppose his lads might fancy watching Netflix on a wet afternoon but I suspect I’d struggle to interest him. Still this scheme for the twenty-six will cost £128,755.

But assuming that of the twenty-six there are eighteen left to be interested, the grant we’ll get from the Government’s gigabit voucher scheme will be £31,000 on top of which we may get £7000 from the Borderlands Inclusive growth deal.  (This assumes two businesses, and also that the Borderlands deal is capped at £7,000 a scheme.) Which means I’ve got to convince these people to stump up £5000 each for something their neighbours got given free.

The second quote is just for the seven households that actually make up the ‘community’. The quote for this was £81,352.00. Now these seven people I have talked to. We should get £19.500 in grant funding (assuming 1 business and the Borderlands Inclusive growth deal.) This leaves each household having to find £8,836. Again, when I talked to them, they were happy enough to put their names down so I could create a ‘scheme’ and they could pull down the £1,500 grant. But remember it’s going to be a cold day in hell before they cough up that sort of money. These are not the sort of people who will cheerfully pay £5 for a cup of takeaway tea delivered to their door.

What did intrigue me was that to connect us here (we’re perhaps the central point in the group of seven households) would cost £104,311,20 under the Universal Service Obligation. But you could connect us and six extra households for a mere £81,352.00.

I have said to Openreach I would like to talk to somebody about the way they do their estimates. I may have intimated that licking a finger, sticking it in the air, and pulling down a figure at random is not entirely consistent with best business practice.

But I’ve talked to all sorts of interesting people. I discussed the possibility of 4G mobile with one of them. Their comment was that this is very much an interim solution until gigabit capable connectivity can be provided. The person went on to say that BT, under their USO obligations should be able to offer a solution that uses an external antenna (the receiver) that connects to an internal router. If the antenna is located in the right place outside of the property (accepting not everyone will want an antenna on their house) then that can significantly improve the 4G signal. BT seem a bit reluctant to provide (and pay for) this solution, but it should be the first thing that they check if the price of full fibre is more than the £3,400 per premise cap. Now obviously I want to check this out further, but it look as if BT Openreach and I could be having a frank and open exchange of views!

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Who knows, is this the real life, is it just fantasy?
Fantasy I can do

Hired to do a comparatively simple piece of mapping work Benor should perhaps have been suspicious when the pay seemed generous.
Will he ever get to the bottom of what is going on?
How rough is the rough justice of rural Partann?
How to clean out a privy with a crossbow. Welcome to the pastoral idyll.

Benor the cartographer is offered a job away from home with unusually generous pay. It all has to be done on the quiet, too. Something’s up. Benor has a murder to solve. I thought he had, but there’s more to come. This story is a murder mystery and a comedy of manners, set in a world of fantasy. If you like a genre mashup, this is brilliant. The characters and their relationships and banter would make it worth reading even if it didn’t have a plot – but it does. Another winner for me.

Somebody has to hold the cow’s tail

I saw an interesting comment somewhere in the farming press. Apparently in agriculture we’re going to have to get with the programme and adopt more cutting edge technology. The ‘smart home’ is here, we’re now going to have the ‘smart farm’.

Certainly moving to robot milking is now an option for dairy farmers. Economics and other factors might mean it’s not for your farm, but it’s an option on the table. There again, the modern tractor comes with more electronics than you’d need to oversee a moon launch. And of course, HMRC now want us to do our income tax on line because ‘everybody is on line anyway.’

I suspect we have problems with the limited life experience of our ruling class. They’re hooked into a connected world and see progress as happening via that world. At the moment, in the UK, people are slagging off the covid tracking app. It only works on some phones, it apparently drains your battery and also it may have glitches that the developer forgot to label as features. By definition I haven’t got a phone modern enough to download the app, and even if I did, the phone lives switched off.

But let’s have a comparison. The German app has been launched for more than 100 days. Because they’re efficient and in control, right? Apparently it’s been downloaded 18 million times, for a population of 83 million. In Australia apparently they too are at the cutting edge, with a government that is in control of the virus. Their app, COVIDSafe has been available for months. Ask people and 70% said they’d use it, 40% really downloaded it, and nobody is quite sure how many of them are in point of fact using it.

Yet talk to an MP, a senior civil servant, somebody in the upper echelons of the charity world or the quangocracy, they control their life through their phones. Most MPs are on several WhatsApp groups, some official, some private, some downright conspiratorial.  I’ve talked to people who have been in Zoom meetings where there were at least two WhatsApp meetings happening in parallel. In these meetings the participants on the various WhatsApp groups critiqued the Zoom meeting as they participated in it and tried to arrange who said what, next.

Fortunately, thanks to our rubbish broadband speed, I appear at Zoom meetings without video (but can see everybody else.) This means that in the boring bits I can do my emails, tidy the office, or during one not especially memorable meeting, fall asleep.

The problem is that a digitally connected ruling class has lost track of the real world. When some big churches were organising Zoom church services, here we made sure that we phoned (on the landline phone) members of our congregation on a reasonably regular basis. This is because 90% of them are not on line. One or two have smart phones, normally at their daughter’s insistence, but they only ever use them to make phone calls.

It’s the same with our farm accounts. My lady wife prefers to do them on paper so she can see everything at once, without having to scroll backwards and forwards and flick between screens. But even if we did do it on the computer, she’d still have to print them out to send to our accountant because there’s no way we can email them. Then when the accountants have ‘done them’ they have to print them out to send back to us for her to check. Then when we’re happy, they can send them electronically to the HMRC. The cost of doing this monthly rather than annually is going to be horrendous.

But anyway, back to the smart farm and robotic milking. I always remember my father commenting that when he went into farming, you joined a community. There could be ten or a dozen people living and/or working on a farm. And at various times of year you’d work alongside people from half a dozen neighbouring farms. Me? I’ve spent most of my life ‘lone working.’ My work colleagues tend to be Border Collies. Look on the bright side, I’ve never had to be nice to people and if I’d wanted a proper job I would have worked harder at school.

Now with arable farming, increase the tractor size, improve the electronics, and you can have one man farming an even larger acreage. But with livestock, you really need more people. With robots you can reduce the number of cowmen, but you’ll still need 24/7 coverage in case of breakdown or a cow taking a dislike to the machine. (Which is a pretty reliable way of getting a breakdown.)

The problem with a robot is that I have no doubt it will milk cows perfectly well. They’ll have the ability to produce a lot of data (oh whoopee-doo, even more data to analyse) and they’ll help make you more efficient in a lot of ways. But it’s all they’ll do. They’ll not help you get a heifer in for AI. They’ll not give you a hand by holding a cow whilst you check to see if she’s got a twisted calf-bed.

Indeed I’ve lost track of the number of times my lady wife has been asked to give me a hand calving the cow. If she stands just there and holds the cow’s tail, it has four advantages. The first is that the cow feels a bit outnumbered and is more likely to behave. The second is that because she’s standing just there, the cow isn’t going to move in that direction. So everything becomes so much less exciting. The third is that she can pass me calving ropes and similar without me having to move and take my hand out because I’ve finally found the calf’s front feet. And the fourth advantage? Have you ever been slapped across the face with a cow’s tail that’s loaded with muck, blood and miscellaneous other substances?
Try and find a robot who can do that job.

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Or you could relax with a good book

In this volume we stand shoulder to shoulder with Maljie as she explores the intricacies of philosophy, marvel at her mastery of pre-paid indemnification plans, and assist her in the design of foundation garments. When you read this, not only will you discover just who wears the trousers, but you can indulge in a spot of fishing and enjoy the quaint fertility rites of our great city. This book contains fashion, honey, orphans and the importance of dipping your money in vinegar to ensure it is safe. Indeed you may even learn how to teach a cat to dance.

As a reviewer commented, “I must confess that I love Port Naain and it’s characters, especially Maljie, Laxey and the Mendicants.
Their latest (mis)adventures have not disappointed me.
Each and every short story is a gem of plot, description and full of entertainment value.”