With grass growth non-existent at this time of the year, apart from on my lawn, all our cattle are in their cosy barn, known here as the Moo Motel. They are totally reliant on us to meet their needs, so it’s a daily chore of feeding, bedding up with straw and cleaning up what naturally comes from the back end of a cow.
The sheep flock has been thinned out and a few hundred have been dispersed around the South East for their winter holidays, while the ones that didn’t make the trip are fed silage and hay back at the farm. If someone could invent a grass plant that would grow all the year around then our job would be so much easier.
The arable enterprise on the other hand is shut down as there really is very little that needs doing at this time of the year. To be solely an arable farmer must be the perfect farming job, but I’m risking grief from my arable neighbours for pointing that one out. Not that they will be reading this, as they are probably on their holidays either to the Caribbean or skiing, depending if they are after fun or sun. Their busy times are during harvest and planting, when it really is a mad dash to keep up. It might be inconvenient to be held up on the roads by their expensive shiny machinery at that time of the year, but they are producing a massive amount of food that will ultimately end up on all of our tables.
The hardest working farmers appear to be the dairy brigade: milking cows twice a day, every day, at unsocial hours, takes some dedication. The supermarket price wars, with their competition to sell the cheapest milk to attract customers through the door, have completely destroyed the UK dairy industry. There are now fewer than 10,000 dairy farmers left in the UK, down from 35,000 20 years ago. To pay less than the cost of production is very short sighted by the supermarkets, but probably explains why there are no dairy farmers left around Rye.
Even though livestock farming is a seven-day-a-week job it does have its advantages. We don’t spend hours commuting, or getting stuck behind those blessed arable farmers’ tractors, because when we wake up we are already at work – and, when we have an invite to somewhere we don’t really want to attend, we always have an excuse not to go!
Simon Wright is a livestock farmer at East Guldeford, where he and his wife Anne also run holiday cottages. Visit their website here.