1 January 1999

More to selling eggs than just selling em

THERES someone at the door, Judith, I think its one of your egg people".

Thats a cue for the rest of the family to sit put – no one answers the door to my egg people. It might mean putting on a coat and going to the shop – or worse – putting on your boots as well and heading into the hen house.

Even that wouldnt be too bad if the door shut properly, but it always swings open and the hens get out or the dog gets in – either is a problem. And if you do find enough eggs, where are the boxes? And you can be sure the egg people wont have change and neither will we.

I know all the excuses. I get fed up with only finding 11 eggs when a dozen has been requested, just as much as anyone else but, still, someone has to go to the door, for "egg people" never presume you are out.

There on the doorstep – our "point of sale" – will be the Monday man or the Thursday lady or the Granny and Granda. Perhaps it will be the lady with the young dog, or the lady with the old dog – not to mention the man from the male voice choir who always brings a tape of their latest recording or a couple of tickets for their next big performance.

Who are these people? The pensioners who come throughout the winter to my front door for their supply of free range eggs. During the summer they call to the little farm shop attached to our childrens farm, but when we close at the end of the holidays, they come direct to the farmhouse.

I suppose they have more time than my contemporaries who like me, dash round the supermarkets and despair if they cant get everything under the one roof. Taking the time to drive out of their way to get the flavour they remember from their youth is a pleasure rather than a chore.

My flock is a motley selection of ex-battery and home grown hens. All shapes sizes and colours – with eggs to match. The lady with the young dog, now she likes pale eggs, whereas the Monday man likes his dark and not too big. The lady with the old dog has never quite forgiven me for the time I slipped a duck egg in to make up the dozen. She checks her box every week in case I try.

They love to know all about the hens. Frequently they will bring odd bits of left over bread and always like to see how the young birds are faring. Best of all is when I am able to take them to see a hideaway nest under a hedge and then we are all on tenterhooks to ensure the chicks arrive safely and in due time take their place with the rest of the "57" varieties around the yard.

"Point of Sale" or "place of meeting", my front doorstep is both. For my customers its the second thats most important – for me too. I so often grumble when I hear the bell ring when Im at my lunch or just sitting down with a cuppa and then I see the bright smile and the hand held out with the recycled egg boxes and what can I do but get my boots on – and by the way, the young birds have just gone outside today, do you want to come and see?

Judith Morrow

Check-out thoughts on what farmer gets

AS I sit at my supermarket till on my two day-a-week escape from the farm into the town and yet another 3lb bag of flour goes through at 19p I cannot help but say aloud to the customer: "I wonder how much of that goes to the farmer."

Privately I think of the excitement in the village when the new £136,000 combine harvester arrived on the farm just a few years ago now; the big lorries having to avoid the narrow bridge delivering fertiliser and spray; the wages and overtime paid out in the farm office. All the power used to keep the grain drier manned 24-hours-a-day before it is collected to go on to the next process.

"Oh well, I am not complaining," says the customer as she goes on her way.

Another day a young mother and her child came through with a white sliced loaf of bread and pay just 23p.

"All the work that goes into that," I am urged to comment.

"We are taking it to the park to feed the ducks" she replies.

Is it all worth it, I wonder.

Lucy Barber

Shopping, sales andbattle of the sexes

VICTORY for the male of the species was inevitable. The girls were going shopping for a forthcoming wedding. Chris and I had wriggled out of the trip by claiming it essential we attend a farm sale. The bet was placed, whoever spends the most buys dinner tonight. What an incentive to stop the girls spending!

My girlfriend, Katherine, armed with cheque book, store and credit cards, arrived at Chriss house, swapped me for Chriss wife, Libby, and continued to Eastbourne. The intention to buy presents from a list in Argos and more smart clothes.

Chris is a mechanic so various parts had to be cleared from the passenger seat before the journey could commence. We took the back roads allowing us to snoop at a few farms en route, the unheeded journey only marred by one tractor.

"Should they be allowed on the road?" we joked. The driver was a Battle Young Farmer so while overtaking, a wave and verbal abuse.

At this point the girls were probably in congested traffic around the multi-storey car parks with all the hassles of traffic lights and agitated, aggressive drivers. We, however, parked 200 yards from the sale, the verge in front packed with 4x4s, cars, vans, lorries and even a tractor.

We decided on wellies and, glancing skywards, waxed jackets. We trudged down the road, chatting to other salegoers, commenting on the popularity of Saturday sales. Buyers dream of being the only bidder and getting loads of bargains – not today.

We went to a stable in the main yard marked "Sales Office" and collected a number. The secretary knows me so my credit was considered good and armed with number 126, the auctioneer would accept our bids.

Meanwhile after three shops, the girls were at the point of purchase and the store was telephoning to check the credit worthiness of its customers cards, thats after scrutinising their signatures.

We studied the various lots. Being organised Chris had marked his catalogue for possible purchases. We had a quick glance at the machinery because with only cash, a cheque book and no available credit, a serious look was time wasted. Out of our price range!

The hammer fell in our direction at 126, three times. Chris bought a large socket set and various drill bits for a total of £45 and I acquired a grinder for £30, a bargain if it works for a while.

Rain began to fall so burgers and tea beckoned from the barn. More gossip with friends but with time passing, we paid, got receipts, collected our lots and meandered home. Having only spent £75, the girls buying dinner was a surefire bet.

The girls ate lunch in the hustle, bustle, plastic, all warm and dry McDonalds. With an array of plastic bags they struggled back through the crowded, rainswept streets to the car. Bonus, they returned home first so tea was brewed when we arrived.

Speculation, questioning and proofs of purchase shown. The girls total was £103. Glory and victory to men.

"Not so fast," they chorused. "You owe us half the cost of the wedding presents."

Even though we added the price of parking, the figures swung the wrong way. "Chris," I said. "I must get back and feed the cows to earn the money to pay for tonight. Think of a cheap pub, weve been defeated!"

Michael Major

Female in a mans world at the stock sale

ONE of the earliest memories I have of buying and selling is as a small child accompanying my father to the livestock market in Banbury. Its closure this summer was a terrible shock and has greatly affected many farmers like myself and members of the local community.

I can remember standing around the ring next to my sister hardly daring to breathe, convinced that a cough or even the slightest movement on my behalf would mean that we would be going home with 10 Hereford steers or 50 Suffolk ewes. I was horrified if the auctioneer seemed to be looking straight at me and intensely relived when he went on to the next bid.

I would watch my father with fascination as he stood perfectly still, his hand resting on the lapel of his jacket only the tiniest twitch of a thumb indicating his bid. When it was our turn to sell my eyes would dart backwards and forwards looking for potential buyers amid the sea of faces.

Sadly my father passed away 12 years ago and so the task of buying and selling fell onto my shoulders. I have sold many hundreds of lambs since then but I still get a buzz when the small entourage of auctioneers and buyers get to my pens.

I dont think that being a female in such a predominantly male world has either been against me or in my favour when it comes to selling my animals but who would have thought that the prices we were getting 12 years ago would be better than the prices we are getting for our stock today? In what other profession could that happen?

Unfortunately the pleasure I get in selling my animals is not felt when it comes to buying replacements. Trying to buy at a sale is hopeless as I find myself rooted to the spot with both arms refusing to budge. Buying off the farm is not much better as I find myself useless at bartering and usually agree to the first price suggested to me, unlike my husband Julian who will argue to the very last penny.

Im well aware who has the best business sense out of the two of us. The tales of Julians exploits at farm sales are legendary in his family as he never tends to come home with the item he went with the intention of buying. Recently he went to buy some folding chain harrows but came back to say he had bought a 5000gal tank. On another occasion he went hoping to buy a bull and came back with some ducklings. But most famously of all was when he went to buy a ram and came back with his future wife, namely me!

We are into a different kind of buying at the moment as our first child is due on Mar 21.

I know, a crazy time for a sheep farmer to have a baby. As a neighbour said, "Surely the tup should have been taken out before then?"

So our house is filled with brochures of prams, cots and all the paraphernalia that goes along with having children. Wading through Mothercare makes

buying a few ewes look easy.

I only hope that when our child grows up he or she will be able to go along with their dad to the weekly livestock auctions as I did. It has been such an important part of my life I would hate for it all to disappear.

Sally Foote

Suckled calf sale day – once a pleasure but now time of dread

EARLY on a November morning, if we had time, we could watch a few lorries making their way over the moor towards our village. Glancing up from the cattle yard I try to spot our hauliers transport coming over the hill but the bedlam beside me as the cows go in one gate and their calves through another, precludes any detailed observations without the risk of serious injury to my feet.

This is the day of the suckled calf sale in Newton Abbot; the culmination of a years work sold in a few minutes. We used to look forward to it, now we dread it as the prices drop steadily on an annual basis.

In between an extraordinary loud bellow from Briar and a trumpet call from her steer, I heard a quiet "Morning, William," and Ian, our haulier, appeared beside the gate. He smiled tiredly and so did we, but none of us were happy. Locked into a thought chain of doom and gloom about the prices, the future of beef herds on our family farms, of British agriculture.

All around our village on neighbouring holdings the farmers were loading their sale calves, mothers bellowing across the hills. How many of us will be here next year and will the village remain silent on this early November morning in future years. Will the "incomers" even notice?

We drove the steers down the lane towards the lorry while Ian filled us in on recent market prices and the latest financial failures. The steers thundered on down, braked when they saw the large dark cavern and then trotted up the ramp as if theyd been practising. If only all farming was that easy.

By the time I got to the sale the judging had been done, there wasnt a parking space in town, and I was very hot, sweaty and tired having had to remove Mule No 115 plus admirers, yet again, from the wrong side of the electric fence, without the dog.

William was deep in conversation with a farmer from the valley below us – we still see him only at the sale – but he grinned at me and pointed towards our pens. I peered at the barrier and saw we had won the South Devon first prize for four steers and our near neighbours had won overall champion with their Belgian Blue crosses.

It was the Continentals that got the fastest bidding that day and they outnumbered the native breeds easily. Are we in danger of losing all the diverse blood lines of our English breeds; all our orchards and hop fields; our local abattoirs, livestock hauliers and markets, not to mention the endangered family butcher.

Shall we absorb Europe so completely that our countryside will be run by large ranch-style landowners, equestrian enthusiasts, rich urbanites and holiday homes?

It seems to me we are currently standing at a T-Junction. Behind us are the old methods and subsidies for cheap food, to the left is the American style – feed lots, 1000-head herds, 82ha (200-acre) fields, and to the right is the notion of the farmer as a park keeper, maintaining and enhancing the rural environment for the pleasure of our urban citizens. Do we have a choice?

Another sale finished, more upset cows to face – the bellowing echoing across Trendel-Beare as we drove home.

We love cows and enjoy looking after them. We know each ones history, their individuality, but we dont do it for just pleasure. We do it for our living too and we will keep on farming as long as we can pay the bills.

Virginia Kidner

How I passed fathers thrift test and was worthy to run the farm

FROM the age of three I was going to be a farmer. "Save up," said father and encouraged the use of my silver Martins Bank home safe which could only be emptied at the bank: "Never spend all of your money, always have some in reserve. Never rush out and buy a new product, wait and see how it turns out. Try never to pay full price for anything and always look for best value."

When buying work trousers in the market, father was shown two pairs of different length costing the same but both too long. He chose the longest explaining to the surprised stall holder, "She will have to shorten them anyway – with these there will be more material for patching."

He was of the generation that dared to ask for a

discount for quantity which was acceptable in

agricultural merchants, when dealing with itinerant

gatemen or in the market, but mortifying in city centre department stores.

Towards the end of his life he sent me to buy a woollen vest. A wool producer, he wore wool winter and

summer. My instructions were detailed: Go to a

certain gentlemens

outfitters (the sort of place where they call you madam and open the door for you when you leave the shop). Ask for a pure wool vest, which will be expensive, and then inquire what discount they will allow for the

purchase of two.

Objections were to no avail. I had my orders, although I am not sure if it came under the description of general farm work!

I entered the shop

apprehensively.

"Good afternoon madam, can I help you?" asked the

handsome, immaculately dressed young salesman.

I said that I had been sent to buy a pure wool vest for an elderly man and I was shown a suitable one priced at £17. I took a deep breath and continued: "My

instructions were to ask if you would give a discount if I bought two."

The young man smiled,

obviously amused by my extreme embarrassment. Then he said, "Yes, madam, I think that we may be able to, there might just be one in that size left from our recent sale," and he went to get one from the storeroom.

My purchase completed I thanked him and was shown out.

Fathers face lit up.

He was delighted.

"You did well, lass."

Later I realised that this was not about saving a pound or two. No, there was much more to it than that. This was a test to ascertain my capability to run the farm when he was no longer there to offer help and

guidance. A test which

I had passed.

He wore one vest once for a hospital appointment, the other, still in its packet, lies in a drawer, a memento of a man of character.

Kathleen M Peart

ACROSS

1 Canons physique (12)

9 Former pupil with boots on the ball (9)

10 Firms feeding vessel having run out (5)

11 Saw feminine principle in backing idle talk (6)

12 Vessel whose contents may be conveyed to schooner (8)

13 Upsetting us to be blunt (6)

15 Strangely lace rice with root crop (8)

17 Miss farm worker during wartime? (8)

19 Chant the French one (6)

21 Jewellery item touching cheek with needlework (8)

22 Precious stone in one constellation (6)

25 Set it back with the tax (5)

26 Pit I meant to rearrange being hasty (9)

27 Passionate yet strangely chaste in suit (12)

DOWN

1 Core soils plant mixture to fertilise different species (5-9)

2 Unpleasant to turn up an animal enclosure (5)

3 Crowds run in leather strips (7)

4 Light carriage sprung in ambush (4)

5 Make hay around number tied up (8)

6 Scandal of rogue at representation (7)

7 Making slight noise during stock-taking (8)

8 Typical – critic hates car moving (14)

14 Yet I cant move around stubbornness (8)

16 Salty and saucy containing Carbon, Potassium and Iodine (8)

18 Boat having nothing in measure of liquid (7)

20 Tire in a peculiar sluggishness (7)

23 Bungling in record time (5)

24 Musical composition in part is no pushover (4)

SOLUTION TO 734

ACROSS: 1 Forestry, 5 Sparse, 10 Lugworm, 11 Eanling, 12 Open-hearth, 13

Whig, 14 Trough, 17 Innate, 19 Homely, 20 Grange, 23 Lick, 24 Paraphrase, 28 Closure, 29 Markets, 30 Ersatz, 31 One-sided.

DOWN: 1 Fallow, 2 Rogue, 3 Show house, 4 Rumba, 6 Pony, 7 Reichstag, 8 Engage, 9 Left wing, 15 Root crops, 16 Haymaker, 18 Neatherds, 21 Cloche, 22 Leased, 25 Amman, 26 Amend, 27 Must.