Monthly Archives: September 2013

Focusing on why…

The noise at the market was overwhelming, gates banging, stressed out cows mooing at their cubicle neighbours and trying to locate their relatives a few concrete stalls down, masculine farmers chatting away and the auctioneers rapid jabbering of numbers. As soon as we got there I wanted to leave. So did Rob. It was sensory overload, not just the noise but the smells too and the sights, looking for our cows amongst the stalls and spotting people we vaguely knew, trying to remember names.

Our cows are rather “precious”, having been pampered and groomed and out doors all year on lush grass. They aren’t used to concrete under foot or having people up in their faces. And they certainly aren’t used to be whacked and poked with a stick as the man in the ring was doing… He couldn’t hear my protests of “leave her alone” over the deafening auctioneer so I very nearly grabbed his stick to poke him back with it… I didn’t, instead I walked briskly away from the auctioneers stand and cried as he slammed the hammer down with a loud “SOLD” for our last and favourite cow.

Rob hugged me and reminded me to focus on why we were selling them.

I haven’t got a picture to go with this post – I haven’t taken it yet. Instead I am imagining all the pictures I will take when we are travelling: The Rocky Mountains, Monument Valley and Yellowstone in the USA; the forest and lakes of Canada; coral reefs in Australia, ancient cities of Europe; and a diversity of landscape in New Zealand that, as yet, I cannot even quite imagine.

Selling the cows was a horrid experience, but even the horrid experiences in our lives are usually pretty valuable ones and this one will certainly have been worth it when we take off.

Reality hitting!

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Well the cows passed their TB test and early tomorrow morning will be loaded in a lorry and taken to Exeter market to be sold. Suddenly it all feels a bit more real! Yesterday I read a blog by a woman, Kate Hand, who has recently relocated her family from Ireland to Spain and although on the whole it’s amazing, but the kids are struggling at times – naturally. Since reading her post, A Heavy Heart I’ve been pondering just how I will cope with all the “I hate travelling, I want to go home” ‘s I’m going to hear. And I’m sure I will hear a lot of them.

Alfie came in a few mornings ago from playing outside, kicking his feet about and looking sad. “What’s up Alf?” I asked with concern. “When we go travelling I won’t see Rosa for a whole year” and with that he burst into tears. Rosa is his best friend who lives with her mum in a caravan on our farm. Alfie adores her and she him.

And so a conversation was had about all the things we will miss when we are away and about the friends old and new that we will be seeing around the world. I’m going to miss Ethel our dog… BIG TIME! She’s old now and the reality is that there is a chance she may not be around when we get back. I’ll miss our house too as I love it here. Alfie wished we could take Ethel and Rosa with us and I explained over his sobs that we couldn’t. Missing things isn’t a good reason not to go. Over coming the fear of missing things is a great skill which can set them up for a lifetime of adventure.

And so with the sale of our cows, some of which we love like pets, the reality, both the good and bad is setting in. Their sale equals freedom to travel but I will miss them.

Bovine TB, badgers and me…

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If you are not a farmer but love wildlife it’s easy to be pro badgers and anti seeing the situation from any other perspective. But what if you are a wildlife loving farmer? Where do you stand on this controversial issue?

It’s going to be a stressful week for us here. We have our annual bovine tuberculosis (bTB) test and if they are all clear then almost our entire herd will be going to Exeter market on Friday to be sold so that we can go travelling next year. If we have a reactor – we can’t sell anything – we can’t go travelling! It is nerve wracking.

TB is rife down here in the South West and it’s a big problem for farmers as well as the tax payers. But what has it got to do with poor lovely badgers? Well unfortunately they spread it if they have it. Other animals carry it too, such as deer, but badgers come into close contact with cattle as they go into barns and eat the cows food, share water troughs and mark everywhere with their urine. That’s one of the ways it spreads though cattle to cattle is also a problem.

To understand the issues and why we need this stressful test we have to look at the history. Back in the 1930’s over 40% of the cattle population had bTB and bTB in humans was also a major problem with over 50,000 new cases every year. Luckily, thanks to milk pasteurisation bTB in humans is pretty rare these days and on the whole bTB doesn’t pose a significant risk to human health.

When people realised that badgers where spreading bTB they killed them… a lot! Lobbying from wildlife protection groups resulted in badgers receiving a protected status with legislation preventing the harming or killing of them. This was reinforced in 1992 with the Protection of Badgers Act. It’s been very successful and badger number are now thriving, as you can tell if you happen to drive along any road in the British countryside, there are dead ones everywhere! But of course farmers don’t like being told they can’t control the populations of wild animals on their farms which are spreading disease… indeed rats and mice absolutely must be controlled! Rabbits, pigeons and deer too!

I love badgers, they are beautiful, intriguing animals and I adore seeing them in the wild. I love the mythology that surrounds them and I love seeing their tracks and signs. However, I also love to see wild deer, foxes, hedgehogs, voles, moles, rabbits, birds and all the rest of our native British wildlife. I actively go out looking for it as a hobby, I read about it and watch programmes about it. I’ve also shot rabbits on our land and I’ve eaten plenty of rabbit, deer, pigeon and even squirrel, which has been shot – It’s a darn sight more natural and healthy then even the meat that we farm!

What I don’t understand is the ongoing need for badgers to be set above the rest of the wildlife in terms of legislation when their numbers are so strong now. Times have changed and reversing the extra protection isn’t going to result in farmers going out and gassing setts. Give them some credit… most farmers enjoy the wildlife on their farms. They do a fine job of controlling the populations of rabbits, deer and pigeons without making them extinct and there isn’t a farmer I’ve met yet who would go and kill a healthy population of badgers on their land – it would just open the set up for unhealthy ones to move in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pro the cull either. I don’t think the science adds up and I think it’s a rather drastic and dramatic attempt at sorting a problem, which the Rethink Bovine TB campaign argues isn’t in fact a problem at all. It’s an interesting campaign which challenges both sides of the current arguments.

Vaccination isn’t as entirely straight forward as the anti-cull people would have you believe. If only the solution was that simple! Progress with vaccine is being made though and offers hope for the future. The issues around vaccination are easily explained with a quick google search and basic understanding of the current testing system but are far too tedious to explain here.

Like all farms we have badgers on ours, but the fact that our cattle are outdoors year round significantly reduces the chances of them coming into significant contact with badgers. If we housed our cattle in winter there would be far greater opportunity for infection if badgers came into the cattle house for food, water and shelter. We are small scale enough to avoid winter housing and we stock a hardy breed but most farms have to house their cattle over winter… That’s the reality.

So another option for the government would be to make grants available for better bio-security on farms. The reason badgers come into contact with cattle is due to badly designed yards and barns and with a relatively small grant farmers could put flaps on the bottom of gates, rollers at drinking troughs and a few other minor measures which prevent badgers from coming into contact with cattle. This excellent YouTube video about an experiment on three farms in Wales is pretty impressive viewing and shows yet another alternative to the current arguments of culling or vaccination.

I’d love to know how much the various wildlife protection organisations spend each year on campaigns to prevent the cull and attempts to back up bad science. Instead of denying that there is a problem with badgers and bTB why not embrace a relationship with farmers – help them with the bio-security on farms, make grants available, send volunteers to help farmers implement the anti badger measures – stop this “them and us” attitude which isn’t getting the badgers anywhere!

So… my view on bTB? None of the current options are ideal but farmers need to be empowered to manage bTB for themselves. Grants to increase bio-security and the ability to manage their own farms TB policy, the choice of vaccination or testing and the ability to manage the wildlife on their own farms. I would like to see a public display of confidence in farmers by the government on this matter. I would like wildlife protection groups to recognise that it’s on farmers land the badgers are living and befriend the farmers that can make the difference, work with us and help us instead of seeing farmers as the enemies.

But to be honest, right now, I just want my cattle to pass their test…

Fitting in the Appalachians

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The USA is vast. Just getting across it will take so much of our time. We only get 3 months on a standard visa.

I’ve been listening to an audio book by Bill Bryson in which he describes the Appalachian Mountain range and an email this morning from a fellow blogger who lives in those parts has left me thinking perhaps we should cut out the south and explore the central mountain region between Virginia and Kentucky more. The history of the region is fascinating, shrouded in mystery and intrigue and has played a key role in American history as a barrier to East to West travel. In 1999 a BBC correspondent Richard Lister talks about his journey to Sneedsville and the history of the Melungeon people of the region… I wonder if much has changed in the last 14 years – if the town is any easier to reach and if the knowledge of the first settlers to America is any further forward, perhaps having empowered the people as he suggests? I’m intrigued! The idea of such independent people living self sufficiently in the mountains commands huge respect. Yet their reasons for developing such self reliance is down to persecution and prejudice.

During our journey I am hoping to learn far more about the history of racial clashes from both long ago to present day and it’s something we hope to teach our children about. Knowledge and understanding of conflict from both sides are the tools we need to arm our children with so as to prevent perpetuating the ignorance which is the ultimate cause of most prejudice. But this can’t be done through education alone… diversity must be experienced.

Living in ethnically diverse England, albeit in one of the least ethnically diverse and more racially prejudice regions (possibly the only thing I don’t like about Cornwall), I am somewhat sheltered from the racism in the rest of the world and our children are thoroughly under exposed to alternative live styles and cultures (except perhaps of the hippy variety). Yet to move forward as a united race of people we must teach our children to respect and indeed welcome diversity and allow them to experience as many races and cultures as possible in a positive and enjoyable way.

The geology of the mountain range is fascinating too, having been born 480 million years ago, they were then almost entirely eroded to flat plains before being up lifted again. The second uplift rejuvenated the springs which had caused the erosion and are now, again, following ancient folds and faults or carving out new canyons through layers of hard ancient rock, exposing the layers and features.

In addition to a rich human history and stunning geological features it is also an area rich in diverse wildlife. The southern stretch of the Appalachian Mountains was never touched by glaciers and therefore is home to a range of “slow growing” species such as salamanders and interesting snails. The Ice Age induced extinctions in the north of the mountain range didn’t occur in the south and therefore the rivers in the region are rich with crayfish and mussels. There is also incredible bird life there from bald eagles to the scarlet tanager. And as for mammals… well, as the boys keep reminding me… “mummy, you’re scared of bears!”

So the question is… do we cut out Memphis and the Mississippi in lieu of the mountain trails, wildlife and people of the Appalachian Mountains – Or do we wizz through them to reach to south, to the culture, music and cuisine, to join poor boys and pilgrims with families, down the highway, through the cradle of the civil war, to bounce on in to Graceland?