Hello and how was your week? Mine was a mix of disasters and interesting things.
It began nicely, with a walk to our local pub. Husband was working from home, but decided he could take a few hours off, so we walked for 45 minutes through the woods to our nearest pub, for lunch. It was warm, the trees had laid a path of autumn leaves, the dog was happy. All was going well until we arrived and realised we hadn’t actually brought any money with us. Embarrassing.
The sweetcorn crop next to the house was harvested. We saw them cutting it, and trailer loads of cut green stuff being carted away. But we never actually saw any of the corn cobs. We watched the tractor for ages, and decided it must be somehow removing the cobs before chipping the stalks. It was bit of a mystery.
Monday was also the day of the red sun – did you see it? If you live in England, you’ll have had a weird yellowy sky that was dusk at about 3pm, and the sun was red and hazy. Apparently it was due to sand being blown by Hurricane Oscar (which scientist son explained to me, but to be honest, I have no idea how it happened). We did wonder if it was the Apocalypse – Husband remarked that it was lucky I had never wasted time repairing his sweater, as the world was about to end anyway. A touch sarcastic, I felt.
I didn’t have time for sewing this week. Clara Oakes is ready for editing, so I sent that off, which is very exciting. The editing will take a few weeks, and then I can prepare the file for the typesetter. It’s a lot of work, but nice work. Then comes all the proofreading, which I hate doing, because it’s slow and boring, but it has to be done.
I have another book beginning to form in my mind. It’s based on a farm, and I know nothing about farming, so need to do some research. When I was at the flower arranging course a few weeks ago (remember? – I told you about it) I met someone who lives on a farm, so I asked her if I could visit. I went this week.
The farm house is exactly what you imagine a farmhouse should look like: big and double fronted and old. There were two dogs wandering around outside and lots of mud, and big barns full of machinery. I sat in the dining room, drinking tea, learning about what it’s like to live on a farm. (Are you jealous of my job? It’s brilliant!) I also went to see the new calves being fed. (I didn’t like to take photos, because I was trying to appear professional rather than touristy, so you’ll have to just imagine them.)
They have about 100 cows, all for beef. Each cow arrives with its own passport, which is a legal requirement, and goes with the cow and has to be updated whenever it’s sold or if it dies. It’s a bit like a car’s logbook. Each cow is identified by a number clipped to its ear (and if the number falls off, the farmer has to find the cow who’s missing one and replace it). They buy the cows through a sort of broker, who sources suitable calves. They told me lots about different breeds, but I couldn’t listen and make notes fast enough, so I’ve forgotten lots of it. But they tend to buy calves from Fresian cows (which are good for milk) and Aberdeen Angus bulls (which are big black cows, who have narrow shoulders, so they make the birthing process easier).
The calves arrive when they’re about a week old. They like to buy 33 from the same farm, as they will then all have the same immunity (due to the colostrum in the mother’s milk). Calves from different herds can infect each other, as they will have been exposed to different bacteria. The calves I saw were a couple of weeks old. They were in hay filled pens, and were jostling each other to get to the milk. I touched their hard black heads, and they put out long grey tongues to lick me. Cows have surprisingly long tongues.
The farmer mixes milk powder (special calf milk powder – I don’t suppose you could put it on your cereal) with hot water. Then he adds cold water, and tests the temperature. Hot milk will burn them, cold milk is harder to digest. They are just babies really, even though they are bigger than dogs and would break your toes if they stepped on them. The milk was poured into a bucket thing which the farmer had made, and it had holes with rubber teats. He hooked it onto the pen fence, and the calves sucked out the milk. Some farmers give milk in a bucket, and the calves learn to lap it up. But apparently it’s better for their digestion if their heads are at the angle they would be if feeding from their mothers, hence the device the farmer has made. They were very earnest while they ate. They’re fed twice a day.
Beef cattle might be male or female (I didn’t know that, I thought only males were used for beef). The females, or heifers, have never had calves, so their udders are tiny. The males, (called steers or bullocks) are all sterile, so they can share a field with the heifers. They are also ‘polled’ which means they don’t have horns. Some breeds just don’t grow horns, I didn’t know that either. The heifers get fatter faster, but the steers grow to a bigger size when full grown.
The cattle stays on the farm for two years, then when big enough they are sent to the abattoir. Again, there is a man who comes, assesses the size of the animals, and decides when they are big enough to go. I said I’d quite like to visit an abattoir, so I can write about the process properly. The farmer said the animals are killed quickly, so they don’t really know what’s coming, but the after death bit is grim and smelly. Whilst the animals aren’t pets, I got the impression they were cared about, the farmer did his best to ensure they didn’t suffer and were kept comfortable. They didn’t seem to want to talk about the killing part, even though it’s the point of the business. I guess you grow fond of any animal you raise, even if it’s a business.
They were really kind, explaining so much and showing me around the buildings. I saw all the feed stacked up for the winter. Cows are good at keeping warm, but the wet of our clay soil is bad for them, and they get pneumonia if left in the fields over the winter. They’ll be moved inside during November, and the farmer said I can visit again to see how the farm is different in a different season.
The farm also grows some crops – some to sell and some for animal feed. One crop is maize (sweetcorn). This is a strain for animals to eat. When it’s harvested, the whole lot – stalks, cobs, leaves – is shredded and then stored for the cows to eat during the winter, when the grass is too wet. Which explains why we didn’t see the sweetcorn cobs being separated when they cut the corn next to our house. Mystery solved!
Hope you have a good week.
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Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and one non-fiction book. Her books can be found in bookshops and on Amazon.