Saturday, 31 March 2012

I'm Not an Educated Chap

I am not an educated chap, I have difficulty stringing words together to write down, let alone sepllign them correctly, so I find the spell checker on the computer an absolute must.

These blogs of mine on the FWI & Blogger were the first writing I have done, since the essays we did at school some sixty years ago. For me it's a one finger job typing, which is about the same speed as my thinking, and as for putting in the full stops and comers, I get short of breath these days, and I am told, every commer is for a pause for breath, hence, the, numerous, c,o,m,e,r,s, . Okay I am over doing it a bit, but you will know what I mean eventually some day, if you don't already.

This picture is from the corner of our house, we are looking across the front lawn, over the trimmed hedge is the road through the village and the other side of that is the village green. The building on the right is the village school where my mother went from the age of three (1910) taught by Miss Pye who and also taught me 35 years later in the same class. My son also went there from the age of four only having literally yards to walk to school.
I Remember Miss Pye

Miss Pye was our teacher, in the infant's class,
Taught all us to write, everyone en mass,
With big bold loops, and Capitals a Flourish,
We all did our best, so as not to be punished.

Mother she taught, To write same way,
Looks like my writing, as I write my essay,
Holding the pen, and biting my lip,
Concentrate on writing, without a slip.

Numbers and tables, we did recite,
Chanting each morning, without respite,
Letters and alphabet, practiced each day,
Till words we could write, then go out to play.

In winter when cold, big coal fire she had,
And pulled up our chairs, when learning to add,
Kind teacher she was, no cane in sight,
Cared for us all, no matter, how dim, the light.


In the "Big" school that we went to at the age of eleven in town, we had wood work and metal work lessons. A whole half day for the whole term, in fact the class was split into two, half the class went woodwork, and half to metalwork, then swapped over at the end of every term ( a school term is short of 3 months).

Everyone, that is the pupils, got on well with Harry Nutter in the metal work class, he was kind and patient with those who were not very practical, he guided and helped them and he aloud us who had finished our item, to help those who struggled.
We started by making a round washer, then a square washer, and on to make a brass toasting fork (Toasting forks went out of fashion years ago, I doubt if most of the younger generation now know what one even looks like let alone used one) .

 Then we made a round copper bowl with a brass bead round the edge and the same round brass rod soldered on to make the base. The copper had to be rubbed with soap then heated until the soap went black, to soften the metal, then it was beaten on a leather pouch filled with sand with a ball pane hammer, this process was repeated until it was deep enough, and the shape that was desired.

We even helped Harry Nutter to cut panels out of his Morris Thousand van, an ex post office van, and helped him fit the glass in the sides. This was done in his lunch hour, and he was glad of a bit of help. Eventually we were shown how to work the lathe, on which I made a tractor drawbar peg complete with a pointed end and a small hole in which to put a retaining clip, a thick washer was brazed round its neck then the handle was shaped and heated and bent across almost 45degrees to form the handle, it lasted for a good many years before it got lost.

The wood work teacher was another matter, he was almost the opposite to Harry Nutter, his name was "Bulldog" Lees, he had a permanent scowl on his face and all the fours years at that school I never saw him crack a smile. He did not seem to mix with the other teachers, at break time he would be tatting about his immaculate classroom checking on how sharp his chisels were and touching up the saw blades. (There were twenty of every tool and ten benches with two vices on each)

All the tools were arranged in two wide cupboards at the back of the room, so that when the doors were wide open, small tools were in racks on the doors, and larger one on the allotted shelf, any tool missing would be spotted before anyone left the classroom. There were no power tools back then, he showed us how to saw without putting pressure on the saw, "if the saw is sharp, its own weight is enough to do the cutting" we were told, and he could soon tell if we had not listened.

His response to any deviation from what you were told came in a loud booming deep voice that almost shook the glass in the windows, and anyone who dare to cross him more than once (in a lifetime), he had your card marked for good.
Bulldog even demonstrated his anger one day by throwing a chisel, from the front of the classroom into the back of an open store cupboard on the back wall dagger fashion. It was rumoured that he had been a sergeant in the army where he trained men hand to hand dagger fighting, and dagger throwing. I can tell you when that happened it frightened all the class ridged, and no one dare even ask a question.

We Had a Woodwork Teacher (1950 ish)

We had a woodwork teacher; we called him Bulldog Lees,
Had stern face and bad temper, no one dare to tease,
If he could not get class attention, throw a chisel hard,
Hit the back wall cupboard, like a dagger stuck and jarred.

All the class it stood and quivered dare not cross his path,
The respect was thrust upon you; dare not stir his wrath,
No one liked his lessons, even those who could push a plane,
Perfection in this man and all his tools, but he was a bloody pain.


Natural ability without education has more often attained to glory and virtue than education without natural abilityCicero (106 BC - 43 BC)

Friday, 23 March 2012

Dairy Cows of Old 27

Milked by hand some cows had teats almost as thick as your wrist , with front teats sticking out "east west".

Dairy cows of old, bore little resemblance to the diary cows of today. Back in the 40's every herd had its own bull often reared out of one of your own cows, served by a neighbor's bull, which was boasted to be the best in the neighbourhood. Blood lines and pedigrees' meant nothing when you had a fine looking bull running with the cows, however what came out of the "pot" was very often a different picture. This you would not find out until you had used the bull for three years when the first heifers calved down and came into the milking herd.

Up until that period in time; most herds were milked by hand and cows with teats almost as thick as your wrist were common place, and front teats sticking out "east west". Pendulous udders in the older cows, with udders only inches from the ground, these were kept on because perhaps they were easy milkers and perhaps the highest yielders.

Some of these cows were almost impossible to milk with a machine; the thick teats were not too bad as long as all four teats pointed "south". Some cows had low back quarters and empty looking front quarters, which did not suit the machine milking, I remember a big "duck stone" would be place on the claw of the milking machine, and then a cord would be over the cows back to hold the units up onto the front teats. Often the udder would be so low it was almost impossible to reach down to even get the units on.

Father started his herd by exchanging a sow for a cow around 1930 progressing on to a few more cows in small buildings with a cow shed and fifteen acres next to his father's farm. Then he married mother and they took on a farm near the edge of town where he was able to expand his herd. These would be a bit of a mixture of breeds including shorthorn and a few black and whites and everything in between.

Most of the milk went in Churns on the train into Birmingham and some mother made butter and cheese which was sold locally to shops or at the door. Then at some point the dairy started sending a lorry to pick up the churns from each farm, probably when the Milk Marketing Board was first set up.

This is what I remember of Butter churning

We Had an Old Butter Churn

We had an old butter churn, it was on a wooden stand,
A big handle on the side of it, to turn it all by hand.
The lid it had a sight glass, a valve to vent the air outright.
The lid clamped on with three screw clamps it up real tight

Mother turned the handle, till butter grains appear,
Drain the butter milk, rinse n' wash grains to till clear,
Add some salt and knead them, butter pats for this,
Packed into grease proof paper, on hot toast its bliss.


It was mid 30's that father broke his arm and that meant he could not milk cows by hand, and it was around this time that the local machinery dealer had got the first milking machines in. They were keen to get a machine installed on farms in their patch, and father decided to go for one, he bought an Alfa Laval four unit outfit. Of course it took a bit of getting used to the new way of milking, and did not help that a lot of the cows had "rough" udders not particularly suited to the new teat cups.

Father got impressed by the herd of cows that the neighbour ran, these were pure bred pedigree Ayrshire's, most of his cows had nice small uniform well placed teats and compact udders that stretched forward under the cows belly. On looking at them from hand milking point of view, it would be finger and thumb milking, but this was the era of the milking machine and these cows looked as if they were designed for it.

When we moved farms up into the village the herd could be expanded, and along with his old neighbour they went up to Carlisle to the pedigree Ayrshire sale and between then bought a lorry load of incalf heifers, this would total I think about twelve, the cattle wagons were not as big as they are today.
 This they did for the following few years, one of the last loads that came down were polled, they had no horns, these were the first we had ever seen and they were bullied by the cows with horns.You may have seen old pictures of Ayrshire cattle, their horns curled up pitch fork style, and they knew how to use them.

To remedy this father spoke to his vet and he had all the cows horn cut off. As the cows were all tied by the neck in stalls it made it easy to restrain them, first the vet tied string tight round the base of the horn to act as a tourniquet and I cannot recall whether they were injected with pain killer. The instrument for cutting was a huge pair of shears with five foot handles, and the grip of three men to close them. A barnacle was put on the cows nose and a cord held by another man while the operation took place.

The local name for this gadget for holding a cow by the nose is Barnacle, the rough drawing above gives you an idea of how its opened, by drawing a spring up the shank to open the jaws, then place it in the nose and let the spring go, it been such a long time since I used ours that I cannot find it to photograph it. The ring at the top is for a rope, then you can hold an animal the same as you would hold a bull by its ring, I can tell you they don't appreciate it at all, and it has the benefit of taking their minds what you are actualy going to do at them.

They made rapid progress down the shed doing about twenty five cows on some cows the string had rubbed off letting the blood flow readily, squirting high into the rafters of the cowshed, it took a couple of hours for the vet to stem the flow from first one cow and then another.

When the calves were born, each calf's horns were cleaned with a fluid to remove any hint of grease and a type of glue applied called "colodian" this ceiled the horn bud and in effect dehorned the calf. It was a bit hit and miss some calves having one horn of in some cases both horns, it all depended on how clean the bud was when the colodian was applied, and how old the calves were, they had to be done in the first few days after birth. This went on for two or three years when a pair of dehorning irons were bought and the horn buds were burnt out ensuring that no horns were missed. These were heated on a blow lamp one being heated while one was in use, and the forerunner of the modern gas dehorning iron.

It was predominantly Ayrshire cows that made up the herd for the next twenty years, when the British Friesian cows with modern udders and higher yields and father started using a Friesian bull through artificial insemination on the Ayrshire cows. In the 1950's the Milk Marketing Board start the improvement of cow confirmation, by the use of Artificial Insemination, and monitoring the progeny born this way to provide proven bulls.

Over the following twenty years or more the udder and teat confirmation improved and where everyone had more than a cow or two with curled up toes and deformed feet, these were improved as well. Then in the following twenty years again saw the tremendous improvement in yields, and this coincided with new improved management techniques such as cubicles self feed silage and parlour milking, and a change over to Friesian cows.

Father ran a dairy herd

Father ran a dairy herd, of mainly Ayrshire cows,
These were housed traditionally, tied in stalls in rows,
Brought down for milking, had to be tied with a chain,
Each knew there own stall, a left and a right contain.

Cows were used to standing, to their own side of the stall,
They would part to let you in between when you call,
A bowl full of corn, and in with the bucket and stool,
Milked by hand while they're eating, was good job when it's cool.

He was one of the first to try, a new fangled milking machine,
A vacuum pipe was installed, new motor and pump had to be,
Four unit buckets and a spare, four cows milked nice and clean,
This was quicker by far, once the cows got used to routine.

Milk was cooled in the dairy, with water from the well,
The dairy collected it every day, had to be cool to sell,
The fridge was a copper heat exchanger hanging on the wall,
On top a Dee shaped receiving pan, fresh milk we poured it all.

Well water runs on the inside the fridge, milk run down outside,
Churns were filled for the dairy, to a measured mark inside,
Labelled with where it's to go, at one time went by train,
Now a lorry picks up the churns, from a churn stand on the lane.

Thirty more years he milked this way, in churns milk was poured,
Restricted now by the number of stalls, yields he did record,
Bulk tank came and a pipeline too, milk tanker every day,
This took Father to retirement, very modern to do it this way.

Owd Fred

Ayrshire cows always had a noticeably better butterfat level that could be seen in the milk bottles that it was sold in, Friesian cow on the other hand were often down to 3% fat, with the "blue water" up the bottom 97% of the bottle. Because father had just the odd Friesian cow in his herd, when asked "why keep a Friesian cow in a herd of Ayrshire" he always replied "we wash the shed down with her milk if the well runs dry".
Cheese - milk's leap towards immortality.Clifton Fadiman (1904 - 1999)

Monday, 19 March 2012

War Time Horses

I watched a program about War Horses the other night, only to realise how many were taken from this country and North America to work abroad during the First World War.

What an important role they played in the transportation of supplies out to the front line in the most horrific conditions.

During the Second World War horses was still in short supply but possibly for a very different reason, food shortage.

My own memories of the horses we had in the early 1940’s was that we had two mares and a gelding, the mares stayed with us into old age when tractors started to take all the hard work away from them, the gelding went to a young farmer just starting up who needed the horse and his harness, and all this as father had just bought his first Standard Fordson tractor.

The picture shows my father with Flower and Dolly mowing a meadow by the brook at Brook House Farm Doxey.

It was quite a few years before the tractor took over the job of mowing, because it would make it into a two man job. One to drive the tractor the other to ride the mowing machine operating the lift and lowering the blade.
Ploughing and cultivating were the first heavy jobs taken off the shire horses, with specifically designed two furrow ploughs and cultivators the “trip” lifted and lowered into and out of work.

Around this time, and as it was years before, there came a travelling Stallion came

round through the villages, with its handler both on foot. He had a pack slung on the stallions back as he had farms were he was put up for the night and his charge stabled.

As had happened in the First World War, horses were taken for the war effort and mainly mares left to work on the farms where they could be used to breed the next generation of work horses.  A travelling stallion or a couple of stallions in an area would be used to service the mares needed to be put in foal. The in foal mares would work right up to foaling, and then often worked with the foals following if the work allowed. That way they would be used to being handled and the work environment they were brought up in.

So as the 1940’s progressed and tractors came in, there was less and less need to breed more shire horses, and the travelling stallion had further to travel between mares, and the practice stopped by the end of that decade.

It was often pointed out by the old “wagoners” that horses did not consume fuel while working, unlike the new tractors that were becoming so popular. That was always countered by the tractor drivers by saying, ahaa but the tractors don’t consume fuel while they are in the shed standing idle.

It was the young up and coming farm workers who took to the tractors, and I can not recall any old wagoners ever changing over to using a tractor. The change over came gradually, as the old men retired, so the old shires were not replaced, and no more were bred on farms.

It was always a sad sight to see the shires being transported to a knackers yard in the next village, they were brought in from a wide area, their heads were above the top of the sides of the lorry and head foreword over the cab with the wind blowing through their manes. Not all were slaughtered, the fit and useful ones were grazed in an adjacent field where anyone who still wanted a work horse could go and buy it off the field, and this was often done.

In the Black Country there was still a community who ate horse meat, and a butcher’s shop that sold nothing else but horse meat, but as time went by that shop ceased to trade and horse meat no longer available. That sort of trade then transferred to France, and horse meat is now exported. 


This was the blacksmiths shop in the 1940's.

The big cast iron circle out on the front was where the blacksmiths fastened down the wooden cart wheels while hooping. The tall narrow door and lean too on the right was the hoop oven where they heated the steel hoops, it has wooden shutters on the widow holes but no glass, the double doors was where the horses were taken in for shoeing, and the pile on the left hand side of the doors was the pile of scrap horse shoes

I Remember Blacksmiths Shop

I remember blacksmiths shop, all dingy dark and dusty,
Great big pile of horse shoes outside, all a going rusty,
Tom Giles was smithies name, all jolly strong and hot,
With shoeing father’s horses, he did the blooming lot.

When setting off to school one morn, the horses we would take,
To blacksmiths shop for shoeing, would make us very late,
On going home for dinner, these horses we would ride,
Pitched up high on Flower, the others led with pride.

Welding cutting bending shaping, everything was there,
To make it new, or fettle up, to make a good repair,
His stock of metal had a rack, but most of it had missed,
It lay about in piles around his forge, which was in its midst.

All day you’d hear the hammer, a ringing out aloud,
Hitting out the red hot metal, made him very proud,
The different shapes and sizes, needed for a gate,
Lay around the workshop floor, no need for him a mate.

Alone he worked all day until; we kids came out of school,
Then he would be invaded, his metal then would cool,
On his forge he put his kettle, there to make some tea,
We kids tried out his drilling tool, great flywheel turned by me,

With tongs we tried to heat the metal, in the furnace hot,
To make and shape we would try, to bend on anvil, but,
Not hot enough to work it, so pump the bellows up,
It made the spark fly every where, our school cloths covered us.

The water in the blacksmiths shop, was warm to wash our hand,
With dowsing all the things he’d made, red hot metal into bands,
With our cloths soiled and singed, and not a hole in site,
Mother knew where we had been, she said it’s late it’s nearly night.


Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.
John Adams   (1735 – 1826)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Our First Attempt at Silage Making

The grass came out near black and toasted, but smelt sweet with the molasses, the cows liked it, but not much feed value left in it.

The first silage that we saw demonstrated was at our local Farming College in the 1950's, they had a concrete tower silo that was loaded with a tractor driven cutter blower. This was hand fed by a man with a pitch fork, and was blown up to the top of the tower and let to settle with its own weight. It was of coarse dangerous to enter a silo after it had stood for a few hours as the gasses would build up.
A notice on the side of the tower pointed this out and only after the blower had been run for a while was it safe to enter. It had an external ladder shrouded in to get access to the hatches that are sealed as it was filled or opened as it was unloaded.

Unloading was a heavy job as it had all got to be dug out by hand, one good thing was that the grass had been chopped short much like the double chop forager produce today. It was then pitched out of the nearest hatch, to fall down the covered in ladder acting like a chute, it also needed a reliable man at the bottom to load the silage onto a cart or barrow, if it built up in the ladder chute the un-loader was trapped.

It made excellent silage as the height provided the weight to compress the forage, but was very labour intensive.

At home our first attempts at silage making were very crude to say the least, the silo was a welded mesh wire formed into a circle with sisal paper (tarred paper) pegged to the insides, when the first six foot had been filled another six foot ring was mounted on top and continued filling.

Mown grass was picked up from the field from windrows with a green crop loader, stacked on a trailer and unloaded by pitch fork into the wire mesh silo.

This shows the back end of a green crop loader, to read about our near disaster with a loader like this when it became blocked, click  on this 

When the two tier were filled and well trampled down, it was capped off with ground limestone.Needless to say it over heated; it was long ‘as cut grass', with added molasses, and was impossible get solid enough and exclude all the air. ( The grass came out near black and toasted, but smelt sweet with the molasas, the cows liked it, but not much feed value left in it.)

The next spring we had an earth scoop for the back of the tractor ( Fordson E27N) and dug a silage pit up in the middle of the grass field that were shut up for mowing. The grass was picked up with the buck rake from the windrows, in fact we had two, and taken directly onto the clamp, it was a lot more successful as we could compress it with the tractors as we went on.

A couple of men were on the clamp with forks levelling the grass and adding the molasses. Again it was capped off with lime which when it got wet formed a good seal. The silage was dug out by hand, cutting six foot squares with a hay knife, and loaded by hand onto a trailer.

This is a hay knife, used to cut blocks of loose hay from a bay or a stack, it was more difficult to use in silage.

We had a couple of years doing it as described above, then we had a David Brown Hurrican Harvester , see video clip

These two machine in the video clip are only topping short grass and following each other, but in long mowing grass where one set of wheels are running in the crop, the next run had to be in the opposite direction to pick up the wheel mark. We had two three ton hydraulic tip trailers, and the local wheelwright made high sides and a swing from the top opening tailboard.

The trailers had screw jacks and a block of wood to go under the foot and hitched and unhitched with a drawbar peg to the forage harvester and then to the towing tractor, the hydraulic was a screw connecter in those days.

A larger silage pit was dug back at home the trailers ferried up and down the road, by this time the additive was in the form of a powder to help neutralize the fermentation of the grass. The consolidation of the clamp was with the buck rake tractor and with the grass being short, flailed, and direct cut; it was heavy and green consolidated easily.

 Plastic sheeting was just coming in to cover the top and a layer of soil was spread to weigh it down, other things were tried for holding the sheet down, then eventually settle with car tyres then eventually plastic sheeting was put up the sides completed a better seal. At this stage it was still being loaded from the pit by hand.

It was not until we had cow cubicles that the silage clamp moved inside a purpose made shed that it became self feed, where by a barrier with a long spiked foot at the feed face was buffeted into the face each day for the cows to brows adlib. By this time, 10 years on, we had progressed to a Class Jaguar off set double chop forager and six ton trailers.

When I started farming on my own for a while I had a self fill continental type silage trailer which cut the crop as it went through the pickup reel, but it was pitifully slow at unloading and with only one trailer running up and down the lanes with each load it only lasted two years before I got rid and went back to flail harvesting.

Field Names of Seighford

Out in Britons countryside, looks like a patchwork quilt,
Of roads and lanes and field tracks, evolved and some were built,
They lead from towns and villages, and farms, map nailed on beam,
Each field a hedge and ditch and gate, watered by pond or stream.

The fields both large and small have names, you wouldn't dream exist,
Some relate to owner past, and others the type of land persists,
Red Rheine's is one of these mean fields, when ploughed reveals red clay,
Unless the frost into it gets, no seed bed though you work all day.

Best known one I've no doubt, behind Yews farm is Cumbers,
Ten houses built along the village, take that name and numbers,
Down by the ford is Mill Bank, four acre few trees by the brook,
The Hazel Graze another great name, nut bushes to make a crook.

Fosters by the railway line, named after a soul long gone,
And Pingles also down the Moor Lane, that defiantly is a mystery one,
Noons Birch is the most beautiful name, one that congers' you mind,
Public Field it was part of the land , run to the pub up back and behind.

Hoble End is another nice name, where two cottages stood in the fields,
No track did they only footpath, lonely place only a well and concealed,
Moss Common a field where the ditch, springs in the middle to pick up,
It is important that they are there, to water the ewes and the tup.

Ash Pits are three fields in a row, the Big the Middle and Little,
Ash trees are the obvious reason, and only one pit in the lot,
Hanging Bank is most sinister name, it's a cold north facing bank,
More research into this is what's needed, but all we've drawn is a blank

Lanes to the fields also have names, Moor Lane runs way from the ford,
Connecting with that is Love Lane, a grassy rut track half way Bridgeford,
The Oldfords Lane goes up to the farm, to Coton not a short cut by car,
And Smithy Lane runs way through houses, the shortest of all by far.

Moss Lane is one that runs eastwards, cow lane that it is can be seen,
Grass up the middle and is long, see cattle grazing fields so keen,
It has path that runs up it, and gates shut on each end,
The path is quite long; it comes out near Doxey on bend.


Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.Unknown

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Our Single Farm Payment form is a stickler

 Our Government seems to "Gold Plate" every last rule no matter how petty and small, where as the same rules in France are far more relaxed. For example, all cattle have to have two ear tags, if you’re unlucky enough to have been chosen for an inspection, and if they find a beast with one tag missing you stand to have your entire SFP stopped or percentage deduction.

I can tell you now you do not go very long with every cow calf and bullock having two tags; we buy at least ten replacement tags every year.

Then there’s the satellite mapping saga, with the measurement of Field Margins, cropping areas, wildlife strips, barbed wire boundary fences (which the satellites cannot see)

A few years ago we had an official came with an assistant to physically measure all our fields with a measuring wheel, they were here two days and brought camping gear, stove and kettle and food in a rucksack (I was surprised they did not demand a mobile toilet)

We have 36 fields from 0.2 Hectare to 9 H. and on conclusion of his epic job said he would send me the results in two weeks time. So after two more weeks of pouring over the maps of my farm, the results arrived, and I was amazed that I had gained an extra field, I had now got 37 fields, it took me a whole day to work out where the field map number belonged (I have heard of map numbers, given out by the RPA refereeing to an area of “land” in the middle of the North Sea)

It was in fact the house and garden of a neighbour, whose plot of land juts down into our farm land from the road side, the measuring man had measured round the outside of the garden while measuring the adjacent fields, and when back in the office forgot that that bit of land was in fact a garden and house and included it as my land.

Upon ringing him up to tell him of his error, of which he totally denied he could ever make an error.

The fact he had an extra field and an extra 0.22Hectares he was very pleased that he had proved me wrong in my mapping and was trying hard to justify his and his assistant’s existence and his “hard work” for two weeks.

He must have been very embarrassed when I pointed out to him that he had included my neighbours land and house, and that my mapping and areas of fields were in fact right. (that was until they started satellite mapping) then they wanted a field adjusted up by 0.002H and the next field less .002H with my total area still being correct.

If you can’t beat the join them, I think I will apply for a soft government job like that, I always be his assistant and brew his tea.      

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Forms to Fill to Farm

There's numbers for every thing, for this that and tuther,
Field numbers map numbers, farm references to cover.

On the first day of March 2012 my Single Farm Payment (SFP) application arrived along with yet another 30 page supliment on glossy pages of updates and changes, to be filled in and sent back by mid May. That is if there are no changes to the mapping of the fields and farm.

Forms get ever longer and more complicated and more and thicker booklets to explain how to proceed, all in thicker almost glossy paper. The offices are massive and palatial, with no cost spared, the computers are up to date but not up to the mark, and staff seems demoralised and not motivated.

Who am I talking about, the RPA.

We are told to conserve energy save costs, told to cut back on inputs, told to cut back on labour, told to modernise and get computer literate, and were told it will save on paper if its all done on line but even more explanation booklets drop through the door in ever bigger piles to tell us how to do that.
Where will it end, even the BCMS computers not up to scratch right at the moment, perhaps teething trouble on the change over from the old site, but then it sounds as I am making excuses for them.

Another session of re-mapping and re- numbering of fields, all done from satellite observations, often mistaking boundaries, with mistakes again to be corrected. Some have been allocated a fields way out in the North Sea, and others a field located two counties away, such is the chaos that's called RPA and DEFRA.

Fields increasing in size by 0.005 Ha or decreasing by some similar ridiculously small areas, all balancing out to around the same total farm hectareage as before they started. Cost of the exercise, tremendous, benefit to the farm and country minimal, all done to make those in the ivory towers feel that they are in charge.

Forms to Fill to Farm

Could do without all these forms, that we're filling in,
One a mistake and it goes, bottom of the bin,
Ring to find out information, five options listen to,
Then they ask for ya SBI, nine digits read back to you,

Could do without printouts, that are misleading and all wrong,
Whole lines that are missing, a field it does belong,
Bar codes to stick on every paper, that you have to send,
Sketch maps for part fields, got to sign and amend.

There's numbers for every thing, for this that and tuther,
Field numbers map numbers, farm references to cover,
SBI and there's IACS, vendor as well,
PI and a Trader, and Stewardship numbers to tell.
( thats nine numbers up to here)

A blend of every complication, regularly emits,
Consistency is very rare, though updating, it exists,
So come on RPA, get your office sorted out,
Try to give us confidence, n' see what your about.

Clear your desk of backlogs, pay us up to date,
Let us get on with work, which is inside our own gate,
Food and fuel getting short, let us fill the empty plate,
Be proud of what were doing, before more of us vacate.


First I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. We do not write in order to be understood, we write in order to understand.Robert Cecil Day Lewis

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Cow Stall (1940’s)

Each stall holds a pair of cows, left and right they learn,
Once they know their own side, one word n' they discern,

The Cow Stall gave way gradually to the cow cubicle starting around 1960, when the milking parlour changed milking for ever.

In the village each of the nine farms had a dairy herd, ranging from eleven cows on the small holding up to just over fifty cows one the larger farms. All the cows were tied up by the neck in stalls, and every cow knew its own place in the byre. The stalls were arranged in pairs with a left and a right hand tie up, the cows got used to which side to stand, it was almost impossible to persuade a cow to stand on a different side once trained to its particular side.
 If a cow was bought in from another herd, we always had a few single stalls at the end of the different sheds where we could tie up on either side, to accommodate and match the left or right hand cows.
In the early days, in winter cows were let out for exercise after morning milking, often to brows the kale that was cut and put out on an old turf near to the buildings. While out the stalls could be cleaned and bedded and the muck wheel barrowed out to the midden.

Hay which was loose (no bales) was put into every stall for them to come back in to, and later in the 1960's sugar beet pulp first became popular that was put into every trough from a feed barrow a bucket full per cow.
We still have a small shed that has three double cow stalls, the stalls are oak planks nailed to oak upright and two staves the same thickness forward to the front of the stall. The floor of each stall is bricks, back to a concrete kerb at the back edge of the stall, and a blue brick manger at the front. The treadle water bowl for each pair was clearly added to this set up, in more recent years.

Originally cattle were looses out for water to a large trough in the middle of the yard fed by gravity from a spring in the wood up the back fields.
There is a loft above with holes in the floor where hay was stored and stuffed down into the feed passage in front of the stalls (Fodder bing as we called it locally). Another addition to the shed was the vacuum pipe along above the cows for the milking machine when they first came in.

The Cow Chain

At one time cows were all tied up, in stalls to milk and feed,
Each one knew its own place, not much room indeed,
When young they didn't like it, but soon learned where to go,
Twice every day it was for them, walking too and fro.

Out to daytime pastures, to distant fields to graze,
Back again for milking on long fine summer days,
Walk into their own shed, and finding their own stall,
Standing there to be chained, got to chain them all.

Each stall holds a pair of cows, left and right they learn,
Once they know their own side, one word n' they discern,
"Come over" spoken to them, they know your coming through,
The pair will part, n' chain them up, n' stand their cud to chew.

A scoop of corn while milking, then wait till milked the lot,
Loosed off the chains they wander, out to pasture we allot,
Clean the sheds and clean the stalls, till milking comes again,
To tie them up you always need, good strong shiny chain.


Right now there is only two herds of cows in the village, and just about the same number of cows as what there was when there was nine herds. And where there would be around fifteen people involved in milking; it is only one man per herd (two herds) who do the milking now.

It is not necessarily those lands which are most fertile or most favoured in climate that seem to me the happiest, but those in which a long struggle of adaption between man and his environment has brought out the best quality in both.T S Elliot (1888 - 1965)