Just Life


Hi, how’re you? Yesterday I had a grotty night, and woke up feeling snotty. I hate colds, don’t you? I know in terms of illnesses, they are very minor, but they don’t feel minor, they feel rotten. I gave myself an easy day.

On Friday (before I was ill) it was my turn to cook. Several of the staff were away, and a few have retired, so I had to be very well-prepared, and it was all quite hard work. While I was peeling potatoes, one of the team members came to chat to me. Most of the team are older than me, so I love hearing their stories. He was talking about the war, and he said that one of his friends was in the marines and belonged to the ‘special forces’ (whatever that might mean). Apparently, before they went on a mission, they were given drugs, so they could stay awake for ages, and wouldn’t feel frightened, even though they were going into extremely dangerous situations. He thought they were given heroin, but when I told my son, later, he said it was probably cocaine. I have no idea myself—I didn’t know such things happened in real life. When the marines returned, they went straight into hospital, where they had to stay for the week, until the drugs were out of their system.

I don’t know if this is true, or exaggerated. But it’s kind of interesting, don’t you think? I wonder if things like that happen today. War is always terrible; the rules change.

Anyway, I survived the cooking (without the need of narcotics) and the seniors survived eating it. They also survived the ‘keep-fit’ session we have introduced at the beginning. An ex-PE teacher came, and showed them some exercises they could do. Apparently, if you have arthritis, it’s very important to use your joints, otherwise they seize up.

My other news in brief: The chicks are growing fast. Each day I look, and try to guess whether they’ll be cockerels or hens. Cockerels have a very red crown, and thicker legs, and even at this age they tend to be very dominant. I think 4 of the 6 chicks are cockerels, which is very bad. Last time, only 2 of the 6 were, and they lived peacefully together for ages (until the fox got one). I’m not sure how four will fare, plus their dad. I may have to separate them, which will be a right pain. Do you know anyone who would like a very noisy pet?

I have also nearly finished the first draft of my new book (due to be published in June 2019, because the next part takes ages!) This book has been fun to write, as it’s a lighter read than my last two, and has some funny parts. As it’s set on a farm, I thought I would take some photos of the cows in the field next to the house. They are young steers (boys) and when I arrived they were all lying under a tree, which was no good for a photo. I climbed over the stile, and called to them, but they ignored me. So very gradually, keeping an eye on how far I was from the gate, I walked towards them, my camera poised. One stood up, but they didn’t come any closer. I was talking to them, trying to look as if I might have food, making general cow-like noises. Eventually they all began to stand, and then, as a single mass, they lumbered towards me, their great fat sides swaying from side to side. I didn’t want to be pushed over, so I retreated to the stile, and stood on it. They came right up to me, the flies buzzing round their eyes, their wet noses dripping, their tongues reaching out to touch me.

I took several photos, while they took it in turns to lick me, and press their noses against my jeans. I returned home very soggy, and smelling of cows. I like cows though, there is something uncomplicated about them. Don’t you think so?

Hope you have a good week, and don’t feel the need to be drugged (and also hope you manage to avoid having a runny nose—there are a lot about!)

Take care.
Love,
Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
You can follow her blog at:
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Never Trust a Quiet Bull, or an Unloaded Shotgun…


There are two things a sensible farmer never trusts: a quiet bull and an unloaded shotgun.

I went back to the farm, for further research on the book that is in my head. I have lots of ideas, and snippets of stories, but I don’t yet know enough about my characters, or how they live, to begin writing. I should really visit a few different farms, but asking farmers (who I don’t know) is too scary, so for now I’m only visiting one – a beef farm in the next village.

I chatted to the couple who run the farm. They’d had a near disaster earlier in the week, when all the full-grown cows escaped and were heading off towards the road. The farmer called to them, as he ran away from them, into their pen. When they heard his voice they stopped running, and then turned to follow him. The farmer told me how important it is that he talks to them when they are calves, handles them, and becomes someone familiar and safe. Then, if something frightens them, they will look to him for security.

It seems that security is very important to cows. They are naturally very vulnerable to predators, and only their size and the herd can protect them. So they have big eyes that can see all around, and they shy away from anything unusual, any potential danger. Which means that everything has to be introduced slowly, and from an early age.

So when the farmer has new calves, he takes time teaching them how to go into the cattle truck. He tempts them in with food (always easier to lead than to drive from behind, apparently). They will practise going up the ramp, being shut in, even going for little drives. This means that later, when there is a humungous fat bull with opinions, he will be quite happy to be taken in the cattle truck. Which makes life easier for everyone.

The farmer said that you should never trust a bull. Even when they appear to be quiet and friendly, they can turn in a second. He also said you never assume a shotgun is unloaded, even when you know it is.

I went to watch the cows being fed. I would like to say ‘helped’, but I really just got in the way. All the cows are in, because the weather’s too wet for them to be out on clay soil. There were some new calves, just a couple of weeks old. They were still mainly drinking milk, so we (he) mixed the powder with warm water, and poured it into containers so they could suck. If too many calves crowded to the same place, we had to move them along, ensuring they all had a good feed. Moving them along sounds easier than it was – a sucking calf is very reluctant to move, and it took a lot of force for me to shove their heads to a space so each of them could reach a teat. While we fed them, the two farm dogs kept trying to lap the milk out the buckets. Any that was spilt (that was from my buckets) they licked up instantly.

The calves I saw in the autumn have grown loads. They still look young, but are nearly full-grown. They were in a large straw pen, and were fed dry food. They had to stick their heads through bars to reach it. They’re fed a mixture of rolled barley and protein pellets. The barley is grown on the farm, and if it’s not milled first, it passes straight through them, without them absorbing any nutrients.

 

There were some full grown cattle too. They went outside into the yard to be fed. They’ll soon be ready to leave, which I don’t think I would cope with if I was a farmer. I’m not sure how you don’t bond with the animals, and then find it impossible to send them off to the abattoir.

I saw where cows have their hair cut (because their winter coats would be too hot when they’re in the barn), and heaps of feed for the winter. I can tell you that cows have cold wet noses, and very rough tongues, and they are bemused when you take their photograph.

I also saw stacks of hay from other farms, which are going into a hay-growing competition and were waiting to be judged. Apparently very green hay, with very little leaf content, makes a winner. Who knew?

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Thank you for reading. Don’t forget that CLARA – A Good Psychopath? is available at a 33% discount, from me  (£7.95 with free UK postage), until 31st March. Send me a message via the contact form below. (The form is sent to me, it does not appear on this blog.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crops and Cows


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.

Take care,
Anne x

xxx

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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.

 

Christmas and Cows


I am finding Christmas rather difficult this year. One of the things that’s hard for me, since they chopped through the right side of my brain, is time. This is both short time – so I will do something for a couple of minutes in the morning, and then find it’s 3 pm and I’ve missed lunch,  and long time – where we are in the year. It’s difficult to keep track of where we are. I was doing quite well, reminding myself that we have had Easter and the Summer, and then we went to India. Of course, the days were hot and sunny, I completely forgot where we were in the year! When we got home I washed and ironed our clothes, then left them folded ready to pack in the suitcase for our holiday. Husband pointed out that we have Christmas before the Summer. Bit of a blow. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas. The hens haven’t helped either by producing chicks in November. (They are all doing well, by the way, and are about half sized now!)

So, I have been trying to have lots of long walks in the winter sun, to get my brain back in the right season. This was more exciting than expected yesterday. The farmer has been moving the animals around, and I noticed the sheep had gone from the field next to the house. What I didn’t notice, until I was half-way across, was that the yearlings have been moved to the field we walk through. There I was, stomping across the mud, when I look up to see this year’s beef cattle staring back at me. I grabbed the dog’s lead and stopped. Now, I am not particularly worried by cows, not even young males. I would never walk through a field with mothers and young, not even sheep, but there were no parents here. I figured they would move back when we advanced. I was wrong.

As we continued across the field, the cattle came nearer. Very near. Like, less than a foot away. I could feel their breath down my neck. They were terribly interested by us, and gradually more and more came, until we were walking across the field with a whole herd of cattle following right behind us. I mean, right behind us. My heart was beating so fast! I wasn’t really frightened, they seemed curious more than anything, but they were huge. If one had kicked out, or decided to butt us, we’d have been like toys. But they didn’t. We made it safely to the other side of the field and climbed over the stile. Kia kept looking at me, with her, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” face, but she didn’t bark at them and walked beside me calmly.

Once we were safely on the other side of the fence, I stopped and took some photos. They really are beautiful animals, and they seemed to enjoy their walk with us. I’m thinking of adding them to my Christmas list…..

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img_1985 Kia touching noses!

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img_1997 This is how they were – a pushing heap of nosey males

following us as closely as they could!

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank you for reading.

There is still time to order Hidden Faces before Christmas.

Available from waterstones.com, bookshops and Amazon.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hidden-Faces-Anne-E-Thompson/dp/0995463204/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480505876&sr=8-1&keywords=hidden+faces

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