There’s No End-Date to Parenting…


Sometimes, it can feel like you spend ten years teaching your child to be independent, and then twenty years wishing that you hadn’t! When your children are young, you long for them to be strong-minded, independent people who don’t need you anymore. But then when they are adults, and start to make their own decisions about how they will live, that can bring a whole different set of problems.

Meet Susan and Tom. They are farmers raising beef cattle, and their four sons are independent adults. But then they start to make life-choices that their parents find challenging, and Susan and Tom begin to wonder what their own role should be. One son announces he is a vegetarian, one son gets into debt, one is unfaithful and then one son tells them that he is gay.

Before writing the book, I spent a lot of time listening. I listened to farmers, and learnt what it means to raise cattle.

I also listened to parents who had learnt their children were gay, and to gay men and women who are discovering what that means in today’s society. One of the groups that finds this most challenging is the church, and so I also spent time listening to what people in the church think and feel. One aspect that came out (excuse the pun) very strongly, is that sometimes, neither side of the traditional Christian viewpoint seem to actually understand how the other side feels. It seemed to me that there was a lot of talking, of proclaiming of views, and very little listening—because of all other issues, this seems to be the most emotive.

 I wanted to write a ‘nice’ book—something happy that my readers would enjoy (after a few years of learning about, and writing novels about, psychopaths, I still find that my easy-read fun novel about an infant school is the one that people want to buy a second copy of, for their friends). Writing a funny book set on a farm seemed like a good idea. Introducing potentially inflammatory issues was a little trickier. I hope I have achieved a good balance and produced a book which will make you smile whilst also giving food for thought. I worked very hard to represent differing views fairly, and my hope is that by the end you will have heard each viewpoint very clearly whilst not being sure what my, the author’s, view is. Personally, I fell in love with some of the characters, to the extent that when the book was finished, I immediately started to write the sequel!

I hope you think it is a jolly good story and you will recommend it to a friend.

Please buy a copy, and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

anneethompson.com

Ploughing Through Rainbows by Anne E. Thompson

Available from Amazon as a Kindle book and a paperback. UK link below:

paperback link

Kindle link

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.