Tag Archives: social-distancing

Dry grass and cats running in flip flops.

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People struggle to understand why I can get so interested in grass. After all it’s green and normally wet. But really, my life has been spent creating optimum conditions for grass. That way I had enough to feed to cattle or sheep, and somehow we made a living.

In a perfect world, when making silage, you’d move the grass at exactly the right stage at exactly the right time. (So ideally you mow the grass in the evening. This is because the grass produces sugars during the day, but during the night moves them down to the roots. So if you mow the same field in the morning, the leaves, the bit you harvest, will contain less sugar than if you mow it twelve hours later (or earlier.) As an aside that probably means to keep your lawn strong and healthy you should mow it first thing in the morning as soon as the dew is off it.

But back to silage. You must remember that the ‘D’ value of grass is also important. D value is the percentage of digestible organic matter in the dry matter. Obviously you measure it in the dry matter, because that which isn’t dry matter is water, and whilst necessary, there’s damn all feed value in it and it can fluctuate wildly anyway.

Older grass will be below 60%, young leafy grasses can be over 70%. So picking a time to silage is a case of balancing quality and quantity. Go too early and you’ll have excellent silage but not enough. Go too late you’ll have plenty of belly filler but they’ll not milk off it.

At the moment things have got even more complicated in that we had a long dry spell. Normally, the advantage of second cut silage is that as the grass was all mown on the same day in May, it starts again and is a very even crop for second cut. But because of the dry spell, in the same field you have patches where the soil contains more sand. The grass there suffered from the drought and some even went to seed (which from the D value point of view means it is low.) But with the rain those areas are greening up and putting out new shoots. Similarly other parts of the field with soils that held more water were hit less. So an appropriate date for mowing one part of the field is too late for some of the field and too early for other bits. But in agriculture, we’re used to trying to find the least worst option.

 

On an entirely different front, Sal and Billy are still working on their relationship. We had a cow calve and Sal discovered the afterbirth. Border Collies have simple tastes. Afterbirth is a welcome breakfast snack. So she was quietly helping herself to it. Billy appeared on the scene. He remains fascinated by Sal, and will regularly jog across to see what she’s up to. He watched her eat with interest but showed no sign of wanting to join it. Anyway he then walked under her, rubbing his back on her tummy. I get the feeling that this wasn’t something Sal had been expecting with her breakfast and she leapt to one side, but kept a good hold of breakfast.

It’s interesting watching the two animals run. If I shout Sal, when she runs it is the run of an animal that is determined to cover the ground. She’s got a fair turn of speed and when going flat out, she’s this sleek streamlined missile, hurtling along. If Billy runs after her the effect is entirely different. Somehow he runs as if he’s wearing flip flops and is trying not to lose them.

And talking about waiting for the right moment, it looks as if there might be a change in the guidelines over social distancing.

My suspicion is that we will be advised to go to the World Health Organisation recommendation of one meter rather than our current one of two meters. When you think about it, people will actually work happily at one meter, it’s about what we think of as our personal space.

Now towards the start of the outbreak, YouGov started a ‘chat’ which they email to people every couple of days. I suppose it’s a way of getting a feel for how people are feeling.

 

Yesterday two of the questions were:-

 

Do you think levels of frustration and anger in the population are higher or lower than usual?

Results so far…

Much higher – 50%

A little higher – 44%

None of these – 4%

A little lower – 2%

Much lower – 1%

 

Do you think over the next month feelings of frustration will…?

Latest results…

Increase – 70%

Decrease – 18%

Neither – 13%

 

I must admit I wouldn’t disagree with those findings. A lot of people are going quietly out of their minds, stuck at home with only the BBC and Social Media.

But then there were these questions as well.

 

 

For the time being, do you think we continue to need rules on social distancing?

Latest results…

Yes – 81%

No – 13%

Not sure – 7%

 

And should those rules require us to stay 1m apart or 2m?

Latest results…

 

2m apart – 63%

1m apart – 29%

No need at all – 6%

More – 2%

 

I’m now the one who does the shopping, and I’ve noticed that in our local Tesco people vary a lot. You’ll get those who will not go within six feet of somebody else under pretty much any circumstances. Some of them are even wearing masks (but still less than 5%).

Then you get those wave you past if they’re looking for something in particular and aren’t going to move. I fall firmly into that category.

But it’s the staff that I’ve watched most. Like me, they’ve been working throughout the entire pandemic. To be fair to Tesco, they’ve got the arrows on the floor, screens up for the check-out staff and everything is done properly. But when I go in about 8am, there are a lot of staff out restacking shelves and moving stuff about. Their behaviour has reverted to normal, they don’t get in each other’s ‘personal space’ but otherwise if you talk to them, they’ll stand about three or four feet away, just like normal people always did.

My suspicion is that we’re very much in two worlds. Those who’re out there and who have been working through it have long adapted and are no longer worried about things. There are bigger risks. Then we have those who’re stuck at home. I still know people who haven’t been past the garden gate and don’t particularly want to. But then if you’re somebody on a guaranteed income (government paid salary and you’re at home shielding a vulnerable relative) why on earth would you push for change?

As it is, looking at the epidemic, https://unherd.com/2020/06/karl-friston-up-to-80-not-even-susceptible-to-covid-19/ is interesting and does hang together nicely.

 

He comments that the Ferguson/Imperial College model may be correct, it’s just he didn’t allow for a large proportion of the population being naturally resistant to the virus.
Indeed the current outbreak in China fits in with his model. It isn’t a ‘second peak’, it’s just that China is so large that the lockdown managed to prevent spread to distant areas. But eventually the virus gets there and you have another peak in what is effectively a new naïve population.

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There again, what do I know?

More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.

 

As a reviewer commented, “Like the other two books in this series, Jim Webster gives us a perspective of farm life we may not have appreciated. Some of the facts given will come as a shock to non-farming readers, but they do need to be read. Having said that, there are plenty of humorous anecdotes to make the book an enjoyable read.”

So who is still working?

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There has been a lot of talk about going back to work. But personally I think this is standing things on their head. Obviously in agriculture a lot of us work from home and self-isolate compulsively because we’re a miserable lot of beggars. Indeed the only people who cannot manage social distancing instinctively are Sal and Billy.

It’s not just us. Not only has agriculture been working pretty normally, but so have the ‘support industries.’ Whenever we’ve picked up a phone to order feed, parts or whatever, it’s been answered and the stuff has been delivered into our yard just as it normally would.
When it comes to selling, apart from a ‘hiccup’ when all the catering venues shut, things have rumbled along. Some dairies took a hit, especially those who had a lot of the catering market. But whilst things aren’t ‘right’, milk is being picked up and apart from the usual suspects, most milk buyers seem to be trying hard to keep the show on the road.
When I talk about ‘usual suspects’, there was a comment in the farming press that Starbucks had said they would no longer deal with one dairy company after things settle down. Apparently they were shocked at how the company had treated their farmer suppliers. The cynic might ask why they were dealing with them in the first place, but there again, you know what they also say. “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.”

Beef and lamb are back in price. Beef has been pretty poor for a year or so, and was just picking up when coronavirus came and sent it back down again. (Again, the closing of catering did most of the damage.) With lamb, to be honest, it had been doing well. Leaving the EU and the fall in the value of the pound was really good for sheep farmers. When the virus hit, the price has dropped a bit but it’s still at a level that two or three years ago people would have thought was pretty good. At the moment it’s being held up by Ramadan, so hopefully we can organise another festival to follow.

 

But as I said, agriculture has been working flat out. In a two day period we had in our yard the Postman, the Vet, a six man silage team, a chap who came to empty the slurry pit, a contractor with a fertiliser spreader, the chap who helps control vermin and somebody who was spraying the potatoes.

Now most of them were in their own tractors so were probably socially distanced enough for even the most fanatical, although nobody wears masks. But are we alone in this?

 

And at the ‘downstream’ end, abattoirs, packing plants, warehouses, delivery drivers and check-out staff have all kept working. So I might just say ‘Thanks’ at this point because we’d have been screwed without them.

 

In the UK, in crude terms our workforce is about 32 million.

According to figures I’ve found, on the 11 May there were 7.5million people furloughed

On the 14 May there were 1.1m people on the self-employed income support scheme. Mind you some of them will still be working, just not making enough to live on. (They’re self-employed, they should be used to it.)

Then there are those on Universal Credit. In April there were at least an extra million people claiming universal credit. Let’s call it an extra two million and that might allow for people who cannot work and cannot claim.
Lord alone knows how many people are home working. Some of us always do it. But I’ve seen figures saying ‘40% of the population’ which has to be nonsense, and somebody else said there were 8 million. Who knows but at least they’re working.

 

What brought this on was when I went to collect the newspaper. The chap behind the counter was obviously having a bad day. He commented, “I’m getting sick of them coming in here and complaining that they’re having to go back to work.”

I made a vague sympathetic comment and he said, “I told them, ‘I’d love to have had seven weeks off, soaking up the sun and getting drunk every night (the thing about corner shop owners is that they know who comes in just before closing time because they’ve already drunk the stuff they bought from Tesco that morning).

So when people moan about the dangers of having to start working again, all that is actually happening is that they’re coming out to join the half to two thirds of us who’ve been working all the time.

So I’d also like to thank those who’ve kept our electricity working, those who I saw out fixing the broadband. Those who deal with gas leaks and unblock sewers, those who make our society work. Remember, if it wasn’t for these and the people in the foodchain, we wouldn’t have an NHS, we’d have a lot of hungry and frightened people huddled round the transistor radio, desperately hoping to conserve the batteries as they try and find out what is going on.

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What do I know? Speak to the expert, now available in paperback or ebook

As a reviewer commented, “Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!”