County escapes the rain chaos

I AM relieved that we made our grass silage before the rain started; since then it has not stopped for any length of time and last week it felt as if we were getting an inch a day.

Incredibly heavy rain with such large droplets, which could be seen bouncing on the tarmac road in my car’s headlights.

Most of it ran off the hard ground, and caused mayhem up and down the country as rivers flooded and burst their banks.

Wet as it was in Sussex, I think we escaped lightly compared to other parts of the country, but it meant that we yarded our milking cows, having decided that enough was enough; trudging up the muddy cow-track, the grass more like cold green soup than decent food.

The cows are very snug inside and are certainly not complaining. The young-stock are all out of course and they will remain outside until all the grass is eaten or it becomes too wet; they have more area of grass to eat now that the cows are in.

So its winter routine as far as the cows are concerned, with only maize silage as the missing ingredient; we hope to harvest this week. It’s quite an early winter for us, and following the dreadful summer 2012 is a year to forget; although in reality we will remember it as the worst summer in over a hundred years.

George our herdsman has taken this week off, and that completes the holiday season, and the complications of relief and juggling people about to provide cover.

We have re-organised the work routine in the last month and the milking is now much faster, leaving more time for the routine work such as foot-trimming and other jobs.

We were stuck in a bit of a rut, but some new thinking (prompted by Gwenan and Alaw when they were covering holidays) has meant a far more efficient routine and an easier workload through sharing the peak load.

Things can always be improved, and it is amazing how others question what seems quite normal to us.

I am very pleased to say that Defra have listened to the NFU and others over the NVZ (Nitrogen Vulnerable Zone) deadlines, and are now granting extra time to those farmers up and down the country who have had little chance to empty their slurry lagoons during the wet summer, which will mean that they can at least get the lagoons empty before winter begins.

This is sensible, and encourages sensible applications under the right conditions, otherwise farmers would feel pressurised to spread in order to get the lagoons empty before the deadline, regardless of the conditions which is counterproductive.

We had a well-attended ‘fringe meeting’ at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton last week. I think we were all impressed with David Heath the new Minister; clear, thoughtful, strong and wanting to do the right thing.

It was inevitable that badger culling was the first question in the room, and the Minister gave a very clear and precise answer on the subject, explaining the science, the problem with all the alternatives, leaving him with no option but to fully support the measure.

There were members of opposition groups in the room, and to their credit they did not shout or protest, but made it very clear that they were very angry about the decision by government to go ahead with the cull.

It has become very clear to me, that we have a fundamental problem as country people, in getting our message across.

We live in a very densely populated little island, which is largely urban and getting people to understand that we need to manage our environment in the countryside is very difficult when it is full of furry little animals which we need to control.

Starting with the biggest, we have always managed the deer population in this country, and deer are culled even in London’s parks with no protest.

We control foxes, and the debate has only raged about how that is done (fox-hunting); we manage rabbits, crows, grey squirrels, pigeons and so on.

We also manage the rat population in the countryside, as indeed they do in the towns and cities; the rat is a very sophisticated and interesting animal, more interesting and fascinating than many others, but everyone knows that we cannot be overrun by rats.

Too many rats is bad for us, our environment and the rat itself; overcrowding causes disease, and disease spreads. Mice are nice little things, but we manage their numbers in our homes and surrounding areas.

I would not for a second compare a cockroach to any wild animal, but failure to control them brings on prosecution and closure if you are running an eating establishment; a very different animal, but the principles are the same. We need to manage our environment, and it is no different in the countryside.

We are now going to see an intense battle between those who shut their ears to all this, and are on some sort of crusade to save the badger, which has exploded in numbers and is causing a serious problem.

The European Parliament is furious at the lack of action to stem a terrible disease; parliament has decided to act following scientific trials which indicated that it will make a significant difference.

Farmers have agreed to pay for the badger cull, and organise it with highly skilled and trained marksmen. A minority of the population and a few wealthy ‘celebrities’ have taken a decision to challenge all of this, which is their right in a democratic country, but a campaign against individuals on the internet and abusive phone-calls is not.

Neither is attempting to interfere with the cull, which puts people in danger and is rather silly. I do hope that any ring-leaders will be swiftly caught by the police, given that fire-arms are involved and the stringent way we are all policed (quite rightly) over the possession and use of firearms.

That is the other huge difference between farmers and country people, most of us have firearms, to us another tool and part of the way of life on the farm.

I must admit I do very little if any shooting these days, but I have others who come and manage our wildlife for me.

Not all that much to do this year as rabbits seem to be under control after such a wet season, but there are plenty of foxes and deer are on the increase (not that we have shot any in the last six or seven years). Pigeons are plentiful, and the rats come into the buildings at this time of year, and especially the silage clamps (not that we shoot rats).

I will miss not going to Manchester and Birmingham to the other Conferences this year, especially as the next general election is increasingly the main focus of the major parties, as they discuss what they need to do in order to win.

All three are divided amongst themselves, right and left openly at war in the Liberal Democrat Party, the right winning in the Conservative party, as Cameron moves to the right, abandoning the ‘Greenest Government’ and other things dear to the Coalition partners; a strange unity within the Labour ranks having moved to the left under Ed Milliband, as they (and the rest of the world) ponder whether they can imagine him at Number 10.

There is no certainty that any of the three leaders today are safe. Interesting times.

Gwyn Jones