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.


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.”

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44 thoughts on “Somebody has to hold the cow’s tail

  1. rootsandroutes2012 October 2, 2020 at 5:06 am Reply

    The horrendous cost of dealing monthly with HMRC? If it would help, shove a memory stick through my door with note of where the details need to go, and I’ll gladly oblige.

    • jwebster2 October 2, 2020 at 5:30 am Reply

      trouble is, it has to be done on HMRC approved software that is compatible with their systems
      So of course that sends the price up as well 😦

      • rootsandroutes2012 October 2, 2020 at 5:41 am

        Of course – how could I have dreamed it would be otherwise. You might be interested to know that the same HMRC (who have particular requirements of ministers) don’t make the ‘ministers of religion’ pages available on their website either. Commercial products are available 😦

      • jwebster2 October 2, 2020 at 8:12 am

        The cynical might assume somebody was getting a cut of this 😦

  2. M T McGuire October 2, 2020 at 8:02 am Reply

    Oh that sounds so familiar. And I totally agree about people seeing the world through the prism of their own comfortable, well-appointed existence.



  3. jenanita01 October 2, 2020 at 8:42 am Reply

    There are probably a lot of people who will never be au fait with technology, and I’m definitely one! It might be better, but not when it counts.
    (I see you have fallen foul of WP not allowing the kindle preview to be shown. Apparently, you must switch to the classic block for that!)

    • jwebster2 October 2, 2020 at 9:51 am Reply

      I can see the Kindle Preview!

      • jenanita01 October 2, 2020 at 5:52 pm

        It didn’t show when I visited!

      • jwebster2 October 2, 2020 at 6:17 pm

        I’ve left it the same but I’ve changed the link in ‘blowing away the cobwebs’ putting that link in a classic block
        If you’ve a minute could you have a quick look, see if it shows up

      • jenanita01 October 3, 2020 at 7:32 am

        Everything else looks fine, Jim but the Amazon preview link is still not showing. All we can see is an apology from WP

      • jwebster2 October 3, 2020 at 8:24 am

        I’ve now changed it so the Amazon preview is in a classic block, I’ll see if that makes a difference 😦

      • jenanita01 October 3, 2020 at 5:47 pm

        It should do!

      • jenanita01 October 3, 2020 at 7:33 am

        Maybe ask someone else if they can see it?

      • jwebster2 October 3, 2020 at 8:25 am

        Yes I’ll get somebody to look

  4. Cathy Cade October 2, 2020 at 8:48 am Reply

    I think your wife should rig up a holding noose for the cow’s tail, attached to a wall or bit of hanging tackle somewhere ( I know a couple of crochet knots that might help). That muck, blood, and miscellany plays havoc with the nail vanish.

    • jwebster2 October 2, 2020 at 9:51 am Reply

      Trouble is it won’t solve the other three issues 🙂

  5. Jane Sturgeon October 2, 2020 at 10:59 am Reply

    I laughed out loud at you dropping off during one memorable meeting, Jim…thank you for the chuckle. I am not chuckling at the HMRC software and the comment from your minister. Yes, I am cynical that someone is racking it in and it’s not us. On the subject of cow’s tails, I have fond memories of moving swiftly when a cow lifted her own tail in the milking shed. I hope we don’t see robot milking. I treasure the memories of my time with the lowing beasts in a milking shed. Hugs to you all in Cumbria. Xx

    • jwebster2 October 2, 2020 at 11:44 am Reply

      At the moment they’re still not telling us what the detail of the schemes will be

      • Jane Sturgeon October 2, 2020 at 11:48 am

        That smacks of control, Jim and surely, the powers that be must have realised that we won’t toe the manipulation line without question anymore?

      • jwebster2 October 2, 2020 at 11:54 am

        This is HMRC
        They can decide you owe so much, take you to court to make you pay it and you have to prove in court, at your own expense in the face of their lawyers that you don’t owe it 😦

      • Jane Sturgeon October 2, 2020 at 12:02 pm

        I have a word for this type of control through power that is unprintable on your blog, Jim. Hugs Xx

      • rootsandroutes2012 October 2, 2020 at 1:06 pm

        Surely you don’t use words like that on the Wirral 🙂

      • jwebster2 October 2, 2020 at 1:11 pm

        On the Wirral they’re so posh they take the ashes to the midden in a brief case 😉

      • Jane Sturgeon October 2, 2020 at 1:18 pm

        Oh, rootsandroutes, of course not, I was brought up with grace. 😉 Waving to you from The Wirral. 🙂

      • rootsandroutes2012 October 2, 2020 at 1:31 pm

        Sorry Jane – I’m no kind of a blogger. It’s just an account I happen to have from years gone by, and which points Jim’s writing my way. The name is Martin.

      • Jane Sturgeon October 2, 2020 at 1:37 pm

        Martin, I always enjoy your comments on Jim’s blog. Please don’t apologise as I chuckled when I read your comment. Hugs to you, Jane. x

      • rootsandroutes2012 October 2, 2020 at 1:45 pm

        …and also to you – what would life be without a liturgical response?

      • Jane Sturgeon October 2, 2020 at 2:09 pm

        Roots of faith, Martin. x

      • jwebster2 October 2, 2020 at 1:10 pm

        Ah but the joy of being self employed and having to deal with the HMRC rather than having your boss stand between you and them 🙂

      • Jane Sturgeon October 2, 2020 at 1:18 pm

        Absolutely and the joy of being in the milking shed. Many blessings. ❤

      • jwebster2 October 2, 2020 at 1:38 pm

        Cheers 🙂

  6. Doug Jacquier October 2, 2020 at 8:08 pm Reply

    In the previous century, I worked for the Post Master General’s department in Australia, installing telephones when they were still a publicly owned utility. As exchanges became more and more automated, less technicians were needed. Our grim joke became ‘Pretty soon they’ll only need a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog and the dog will be there to stop the man touching the equipment.’ I think that might be the future for you and Sal, Jim, especially after some clever people invent a way to make milk out of plastic 😉

    • jwebster2 October 3, 2020 at 4:27 am Reply

      Yes, the problem comes when you suddenly need people. The National Rivers Authority used to have responsibility for keeping rivers clear and stopping flooding.
      They had some of their own staff, some of their own diggers, but also used a lot of contractors, some of them on a pretty regular basis.
      They were asked why they didn’t just go over to contractors.The response was that when we have a threatened flood, it’s our people who know where everything is and will go out in the middle of the night to raise barriers to stop the tide coming in or put up the panels on top of the wall to stop the river coming over into the village.

  7. Doug Jacquier October 6, 2020 at 11:58 pm Reply

    Don’t know if the link will work, Jim, but I thought you might appreciate this old Larson cartoon in the context.

  8. Chel Owens October 9, 2020 at 5:30 am Reply

    You’re right! Who designed these robots, anyway?

    • jwebster2 October 9, 2020 at 5:50 am Reply

      Admittedly they are works of genius. At the very least they don’t creak when they stand up after putting the teat cups on the cow 🙂

      • Chel Owens October 9, 2020 at 3:44 pm

        😀 I’m with you on the calving, though.

      • jwebster2 October 9, 2020 at 4:16 pm

        I glad of that, just hold the tail could you 🙂

  9. Cynthia Reyes October 24, 2020 at 8:43 pm Reply

    Nope. No robot can do that job. Maybe one of them, but not all four!
    As always, I love the way you analyze these things, Jim.

    • jwebster2 October 25, 2020 at 5:29 am Reply

      People are remarkably flexible 🙂

  10. Mike Van Horn October 2, 2021 at 4:03 pm Reply

    I remember as a wee lad watching Grampa milk the cows. Quite labor intensive, even with the milking machine. Many tasks that I can’t imagine a robot doing, such as getting the milkers positioned on the teats. And of course grabbing a teat and squirting milk into the mouth of the barn cat.

    • jwebster2 October 2, 2021 at 4:44 pm Reply

      Positioning is something they can now do 🙂

      Skirting the cat comes later

      But here’s another longer video from Australia

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