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April 2011 - Posts - Owd Fred's Blog

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April 2011 - Posts

Digging Marl
  Looking across the farms and fields around our parish, on the banks they have large marl holes dug back into them. The marl having been dug and spread across other fields to help improve fertility of the land, it would have been left in spade full lumps and left the winter for the frost to slake it down and would then be harrowed down level the following spring.

These first two pictures are of the same marl pit, on a quick measure up, it seems that over five thousand tons of marl was removed from this dig alone, there must be around thirty such hole in our imidiate area some larger ans some smaller.

  I cannot recall anyone in my and my fathers lifetime (the last hundred years) digging marl, nearly all are grass through the bottom and up the sides some are dry having been dug deep enough to have reached a layer of sand or gravel. Others have held water and have been stocked with fish, and others again hold water in winter and dry out during the summer.

This work went on during the winter, using horse and carts, and dug out and loaded with spades or broad tined forks, it was said to reduce acidity and provide fertility before the advent of fertilizers. Some would often be spread on the peat ground, peat being naturally acidic, helping to form a crust on top of the peat to carry the grazing stock during the summer months.


At the top of this picture is the back of our farm and the village, the village church is on the right

Dug the Marl by Hand 

In years gone by in days of old, men dug the marl by hand,

A broad tined fork and horse and cart, loaded all by hand,

Drawn out the hole, and to the field, put in ruck’s by hand,

Then spread around to weather down, again all done by hand.


Countryman (Owd Fred)

   Some marl/clay broke up in square pieces called dice marl, this type of marl can be found at the highest point on the estate, there are other types of clay around the area, the brick works was built near the sauce of clay and made bricks for the building work on the estate. You can only imagine the heavy work involve, the huge quantities dug, loaded and spread, going on for over two hundred years, finishing in the early 1900’s,The work all done by the village farm men, all the work they did was with spades and shovels, horse and cart..   





From the same vantage point by the marl pit (quarter mile back up the fields) a view of our farm from behind (south side) chimneys on the left is the village Pub (recently turn Indian). 


Again panning round to the right from the previous photo is the village school in the foreground and St Chads church which fetures in most of my village pictures. More marl pits are in the fields up behind the church and way over the bank as well. 


   A bit lazy, I turned to the left to take this picture, its just over half a mile away, of where we were brought up as lads, the Beeches Farm, so named after a dozen beech trees that lined the road junction at that end of the village. There came a violent storm come whirlwind and they caught the eye of the storm and were all up rooted or badly damaged, some new ones were replanted.To the centre and to the left in the picture are some of the old farm tied cottages, that went with the eight village  farms.     


It is very difficult to know people and I don’t think one can ever really know any but ones own countrymen.  For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they are born, city apartment or farm in which they learnt to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives’ tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the god they believed in. It is all these things that have made them what they are, and these are the things that you can’t come to know by hearsay, you can only know them if you have lived themW. Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965) 


Lost a Cow

A sad end to a good old cow who had produced a calf every year of her productive life.

Every now and then you loose a cow, and in my life time in farming three such cases will stick in my mind forever, one of which died a few days ago.

The very earliest one was when I was at home, and when the cows were brought in for milking we found a cow had just calved and also she had got milk fever. The vet was called and calcium was administered, some under the skin and a bottle into the vein. As she was really flat out, the vet advised propping her up with a good wedge of straw, then when she picks her head up offer her a buckets of water.
This all done the vet gone, but the cow still not up, we left her with the calf across the field where she had calved, to get on with the milking and other regular morning jobs.
It could not have been much more than an hour when we went to see how she was, only to find she had got up and walked (or wobbled) off some where. On further searching she had gone to a pool (or pit) to have a drink of water, gone down again and had drowned in about eighteen inches of water, obviously still very disoriented and unsteady and unable to keep her balance.

This was one of the few occasions when I saw my mother shead a tear over a cow, it is always very upsetting when you loose a cow, but to loose one under your nose so to speak, and in full recovery mode, and in such shallow water with the calf still running about looking for it's mother.

The next one was only about five years ago, it was April time when all the cows are calving, almost all the cows usually calve in the field without any assistance or help, it's the first calf heifer that need to be looked and looked after more closely.

On looking the cows at first light, right near the gate was a cow laying down and laying very still, she had just calved and the calf was up and sucking from its mother whilst mother was lying flat down, this looked very strange, never seen that happen before in my life. On going round the cow I realized that the reason she was so still was that she was dead, and she was lying on her own head which was folded round underneath her and suffocated.

There was no evidence of a struggle, and no evidence of interference from other cows, and could see no obvious reason that she would lay down of her own accord in that position. The calf had been licked and almost dry and just sharp enough to be looking for a drink of milk. A most freak and unusual incident I had ever come across. I did take a few pictures but cannot just bring them up for some reason, so you will just have to form a picture in your own minds.   


The third incident just this month, it was our oldest cow we were watching, again just at calving time, and she was way  away from the others and just starting the calving sequence of finding a quite place to calve. She must had felt the need for water and had gone to a shallow ditch on the meadows, stumbled with her front leg and gone down with her hip in the hollow and her head in only six inches of water. But this had happened during the night and she had struggled to get up, and could not get her legs under herself enough to start and rear up, got exhausted and drowned in the shallow water that she had been reaching to drink.

A sad end to a good old cow who had produced a calf every year of her productive life, and to have to hook a chain on her legs and drag her out of the ditch and up to the gate for collection was heart rendering. She was one that had been born on the place and very aware of ditches on her meadows some of which are on peat.  


Thankfully there are plenty of better stories of calving times, like a few years ago we had three sets of twins in one season, when we had not had twins for almost twenty years, it certainly brought our calving percentage up that year.


   I  Remember Father's Cattle

In the mid 1950's vets were recommending worming young stock with a new product called phenothiazine. This was a green powder and had to be mixed with water and a pint or so was pour down their throats.(drenched)

I remember father counting, cattle each and every day,
He counts and looks at every one, to see they're all OK,
Cow one day he sees's one cough, and then it was another.
If we don't do something quickly, we'll be in a bit of bother.

So off down he goes to get, some wormer in a rush,
And back he comes and reads the label, says get them in a crush,
No crush have we, but four strong lads, we'll get them in a stable,
Mix water and green powder in a bucket, put it on the table.

Four long neck bottles we did find, for dosing all the cattle,
Phenothiozine, it's called, and keep it stirred or it will settle,
The pop had gone as we made sure; we loved the fizzy taste,
One pint and half was dose that's needed, over dose was waste.

Pint ladle and a funnel now, into the bottled it was measured,
Us lads went in among the stock, as tight a they could be,
The bottles we did pass to one, who had ones chin held high,
Uptip the med-sin to back of throat, do not look down or ni.

The cow that coughs, coughs both ends, and chuck it back they try,
Its just a waste as we were told, but hits you in the eye,
Soon learn to leave it quickly, as soon as we could shift,
As dosing cattle get there own back, now who's being thrift.

We often wondered why we lads, had grown so big and strong,
When other lads around us, were only lean and long,
Put it down to fresh air, and read farmers weekly magazine,
But all the time it wasn't, twas Phenothiazine.

Countryman (Owd Fred)


I have not yet met with a sorrow that could not be borne, nor with one who's passing did not leave me stronger'
Kathryn L. Nelson. (Pemberley Manor, 2006)

Something about Nothing

You can't even shout about nothing or even whisper nothing, but you are said to be able to whisper "sweet" nothings

This is a bit of a desperate attempt to write something about nothing, nothing to do with the weather, nothing to do with farming, nothing to do with the village, the parish, the town, the city, the country, or anywhere else in the world, it's about nothing. Although educated folk may laugh at my ignorance of my own language I could challenge them to add their slant on "nothing".



Nothing is not a word to write a story about, it has no real message, no character, and no emphasis.  It can be expressed as zilch, nowt, nought, and zero, but it all comes to nothing

Often it's used with other words, such as, "nothing to do", this infers that you would do something if you could find something to do, or "to do nothing", this sounds as though you are willing just to let the world go by, or a bit lazy.

 " Hear nothing" is a very negative word that will turn you away from what you are looking or listening for. Not like "nothing here", this sounds that you are looking but haven't found your glasses yet. 

Even spelt in alphabetical order it still means nothing (ghinnot) and reverse that (ton nigh) it almost spells another word but it's still nothing.

You can't even shout about nothing or even whisper nothing, but you are said to be able to whisper "sweet" nothings, but I still think this is really something in between something and nothing

Even what you've just read is something about nothing, and it only contains information about nothing, if you've read nothing sixteen times you've read something.

I did warn you

Art is making something out of nothing and selling it
Frank Zappa (1940 - 1993)


My recent attempt at making something out of nothing and selling it was as follows. In our scrap ruck that no doubt most farms have, was some bent and damaged scaffold poles, they were aluminium and some could be cut down for shorter lengths to be of any use.  When these poles are chucked or dropped they ring quite melodiously, so I found five pieces from three foot long to five foot long and hung them on an old horse shoe and welded a loop of steel so it could be hung up.

This formed a wind chime, and this wind chime hung in the front of an open shed for months gently ringing its chimes day and night as long as there was a gently breeze blowing they rung.

I read up on how to hang them  and apparently the hanging point is very critical, a hole was drilled through at this point and a short bit of single strand fence wire pushed through and a length of string (blaer twine) threaded on in a loop for hanging.

To test there value, as a garden ornament they were sold by auction at a neighbours farm dispersal sale, they made £48 plus vat 20% a total of £57.60. They had a job to get a bid at first, I think they thought they were gong to get a very cheap garden wind chime, but as it started at a pound then others joined in, four bidders took the auctioneer by surprise and it went on to its final bid approaching sixty quid.

This was the outcome of an hour of measuring drilling and a bit of weld turned a bit of scrap into a very  long lasting garden wind chime.


A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)


Garry the bull (1996-2008)

 Garry splaying his front feet way out as if in an earth quake, and he still would not go down, so after ten minuets he was jabbed again.


 We had a bull a few years ago, we called him Garry, I had seen Garry advertised on the notice board at our local vet's surgery as a quiet Simmental bull good stock getter and easy to handle and seven years old.
After taking down the phone number off the bottom of the card, I rang his owner and duly went to see him "at home" and bought him. It turned out that part of his pedigree name was Linaka, so of coarse it was an obvious choice to shorten it to Garry after the retired footballer of that name.

Garry was a huge size and had to reverse himself out of the trailer when he was delivered to me, and within a few days was turned in with our suckler cows. He seemed a lazy and laid back sort of chap who when the cow he was following had been served once, he cleared off grazing. In fact I thought he was not working half the time but in the first three weeks he had successfully stopped all the cows.


This is Garry in his last year with us

Although he had been grazing on soft meadows with the cows for two years he gradually became lame, it was a growth or a corn that had developed between his cloven hooves in all four feet, one corn on his front foot became very sore and we called the vet for advice.

The only thing to do was to drop him with a needle, get him down and do the corns on all four feet, and give a good pedicure at the same time. So an appointment was made and we drove him into the coral ready for the vet, the vet being a young inexperienced girl who had been briefed on how to go about the job. A fair estimate was made of his weight, the dose was calculated and loaded into the syringe, Garry was trapped  behind a gate, (behind a gate because if he went down in the race he would be trapped) and his dose administered.

It gradually took effect and he should have gone down within ten minuets, after half an hour he was still standing swaying around with his front feet well splayed out making it impossible to push him down, even with some rope tied round his legs he still thwarted our effort to fell him, a further small dose was given but to no effect.

The job was abandoned; Gary was left in the coral to recover for a couple of hours, and a vigorous discussion was held with the vets. A further appointment was made and a senior vet came to resume the job that was started four days before. The same estimations were made as to his weight, and the medication was upped to a sure fire level of knocking him out. Just the same thing went on again with Garry splaying his front feet way out as if in an earth quake, and he still would not go down . So after ten minuets he was jabbed again, almost a kill or fell dose, we were told it was dangerously close to a lethal dose, and another ten minutes with his legs well bound, he finally went down.

Garry's head was pulled round and up to him shoulder, and held there while all his operations took place, we file and trimmed his hoof soles, and the vet got his knife out and cut the worst corn off, sprayed with purple spray and bound it to keep it clean and to stem the flow of blood. The other three feet the corns were frozen, with an aerosol the like that plumbers use to freeze a pipe to stop water flow when repairing a pipe.

The worrying bit now was the reverse injection, and how soon he would get up, in fact it was the best part of an hour before he did stagger to his feet, stayed in the coral for another three hours, then he was loosed back onto the meadows, with his bandaged foot, being swung wide as he could not make out what had happened to him. After five or six days his bandage gradually unfurled and dropped off and he started to walk freely once again.

Garry's time came to an end when those same corns grew again, and the replacement heifers of his were needing another bull, so regrettably he was despatched off to meet his maker.

During the last foot and mouth outbreak in the 1990's we were forced to retain a bull calf out of one of our own cows, an Aberdeen Angus bull, we used him and kept a few  replacements from him, as we had done with the charolia  bull before him. Then more recently we had a Hereford bull off a neighbour who is a breeder, so you can see from any photo's we have of our cows they are all beef bred, a total mixture of breeds, I like to think we have, hybrid vigour.  

 There's always one in every herd

There's always one in every herd, who won't respect the fence,
The one that's bold and watches out, not much common sense,
Test the boundary, test the posts, test rotten barbed wire,
That bit of grass just out of reach, the best she must acquire.

Gather the herd all round a gate, she's the one looking at you,
Ready to bolt and dodge and run, a test you think she knew,
She gets away the others follow, guess who's in the lead,
To the furthest corner of the field, just another stampede.

The electric fence its no use, the shock she can withstand,
Pushing the wire two yards beyond, break the single strand,
The other cows they follow her, they know she's got the knack,
Of how to beat the system, and always first to the rack.

Countyman  (Owd Fred)


Suckler Cows

The suckler cows they graze all summer, until we wean the calf,
When the calves we take away, cows they bellow not by half,
The calves the same in shed we keep, until they settle in,
Gates are high and fences too, all to stop them from escapin.

Three days it lasts, until they feel, the pain of hunger's stronger,
The cows they clear off down the field, and hang about no longer,
Calves have no choice but stay, feed them corn and feed them hay,
One month they need get used to living, in the yard all in a bay.

They all get wormed and gain no weight, till frettin they've forgotten,
Put them out on clean grass, feed supplements, no silage rotten,
There they will grow and gain the weight, they lost plus plenty more,
When at last they do get fat, read the scales its there we can't ignore.

Countryman (Owd Fred) 


Don't take the bull by the horns, take him by the tail, then you can let go when you want to.
Josh Billings (1818-1885)