Stock farmers’ lives centre on the basic necessity for efficient and effective reproduction.
The varied mating rituals observed in the fields probably broaden their knowledge and expertise still further. Not too far, most wives hope; but then, anything for a peaceful life. Well perhaps not anything.
Around the kitchen table, when friends call in for a drink, agricultural conversations frequently centre on the different sights and reproductive activities observed from the vantage point of a
tractor cab. You see, many visitors attracted to our quiet lane decide to take advantage of the privacy afforded to them by the imagined seclusion of the still-leafy local countryside.
Deer may feed unconcerned at the edge of a copse while John ploughs alongside them. Foxes will cross the furrows ahead of the tractor. Pheasants often pick at any stray corn whilst it is being drilled. But none of these can disturb the concentration required to create a straight furrow as much as the occasional rocking, misted-up passion wagon parked up under a nearby tree. The occupants may consider themselves blissfully invisible. In reality, they are adding a salacious note to what otherwise could be a pastoral idyll and a pleasant change to the usual autumnal conversations from depressed farmers moaning about the weather and peering miserably out at the rain bouncing off the yard.
November 5 is the night we traditionally put the tups in with the ewes. Any other time the Land Rover and trailer swing into the field the sheep totally ignore it. Bring on the tups and the entire flock surround the vehicle. You have a job to drop down the back gate as so many ewes are crowded round. They must have X-ray eyes.
But what the ewes also have by early November is a good thick fleece. If they have not needed it up to now with this mild autumn, they soon will. Love can be a many splendoured thing, but if it is combined with cold
driving rain, blustery winds and freezing temperatures, a warm woolly does help things along. I am told.
By the end of the month however we shall probably have some very thin tups. Exhausted from trotting around attending to the all-consuming needs and desires of their ewes. Little legs worn down with parading around their territory and monitoring the availability of the harem. Even their nostrils will have stopped flaring. Usually one of the tups’ signs of lust, by now they will be barely able to raise a slight wrinkle between them, never mind anything else.
Any ewes that have missed out on this cycle or not held to a particular tup will be raring to go in and at
the next. Oh the stress of being objects of desire. I keep telling the tups to lick up their minerals and pace themselves, but like most men, they don’t listen.
But perhaps it will not be love in a cold climate because – if you’ll pardon another literary reference – this autumn has truly been a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
If today’s precipitation continues, pools of water will soon merge across the yard and create a vast, shallow lake from house to buildings. Wellington boots will litter the porch and mud will be trailed into the house. Our little band of Aylesbury ducks, however, are delighted with the recent torrential downpours, dabbling
in every puddle and preening in the rain. I have warned them not to be such exhibitionists. This is the time of year for any poultry or game to start practising a low-profile campaign, especially as my
freezers are very low on ducks, chickens and pheasants.
Across the road, the herd has started practising dance moves for formation poaching. Yes, Strictly Come Dancing has four-legged devotees too. The grass has stopped growing, but the cattle are systematically trampling any remaining blades into a muddy morass.
They have reacquainted themselves with the taste for bagged silage from a ring feeder placed in the field and cannot wait to get inside to really indulge themselves at the silage clamp.
If they can really make a mess of their grazing we shall be forced to bring them inside sooner than necessary in order to conserve the grass for next year. John has already taken several of the older cows into market as we shall not be putting them to the bull this autumn.
Checking the herd record, we were amazed to see that two of the cows were born in the last century. Really old girls and such good mothers. Up to the time they went into market, they just stood and let any of the calves out in the field drink from them.
We have weaned a number of the calves and brought them home. These were mostly born at the back end of last year. After only a few nights, the heifers among them are upsetting the equilibrium of our bull, sequestered as he is away from temptation in his own yard.
“Are you sure that gate is secure” I asked John. “The bull isn’t half rattling it to try and get through to the heifers. He seems to spend most of his time peering through the small gap in the gate and plotting passionate encounters.
“Don’t worry,” John said, “He’ll have enough to worry about when the old cows come home. They’ll soon wear him down.”
Bobbi Mothersdale has a trailer trauma