MORROWS WORLD - Farmers Weekly

Subscribe and save

Farmers Weekly from £133
Saving £46
In print AND tablet

SUBSCRIBE NOW

sub_ad_img

MORROWS WORLD

28 June 2002

MORROWS WORLD

THIS is my second attempt at this months column. My first offering was written in about 15 minutes flat and when I read over it I thought it could easily be cited as a reason for hundreds of farmers committing suicide. What a catalogue of moans.

Between the weather, Jennys A levels, the weather, Amys GCSEs, the weather, computer viruses, the weather, TB, the weather, the world cup but most of all the weather, I didnt realise I was so fed up. Well it was probably very therapeutic to get it all down on paper, but I really couldnt have inflicted it all on you, well not all in the one go. "Venting your spleen" has always been recognised as good for your mental health – I remember during the bad publicity over E-coli a friend suggested I write a letter to Professor Pennington to explain what his comments had done to my livelihood. I sat down and raged about the unfairness of it all and blamed all my troubles personally on him, then read it all back to myself and thought "catch yourself on girl" and tore it up. I felt a lot better afterwards.

Johnston was asked by a neighbouring farmer yesterday: "Is the weather getting to you yet?" and going by my original article it certainly was getting to me, but I am now feeling much less depressed and I recommend all farmers who are ploughing through wind and rain – get it all off your chest – if only to a blank computer screen.

We are having a lot of house visitors at the minute. Just gone are two American girls who were over as part of a course on "conflict". Northern Ireland has generated a lot of interest for people who study why people fight and what can be done to resolve it. We are cited as a near success story and this particular University has been sending students over since the ceasefire and weve usually put a couple up every year. Our house is a popular choice because we are in the country with nice views of the city and a chance to get some fresh air, but only a walk from the main bus route.

It is always interesting to see how their original opinion of Northern Ireland develops over the three short weeks they are here. What they learn is that they know nothing about conflict and no matter how academically gifted you are you will not understand what makes people want to fight with each other. These girls had a particular baptism in fire as we have had a lot of "interface rioting" recently (which in itself is interesting as they dont normally like to cause trouble on wet evenings – the fire and TV seem a much better option). To get into Belfast centre the students have to get through a lot of these areas and so they got a close hand view of the destruction of rioting. They also got to speak to some of the teenagers who are regularly out on the streets and began to understand that our problems in Northern Ireland are not really any different from inner cities anywhere. It all makes for interesting project work when they go home – I hope they both get As.

Next we have our Australian niece coming to stay. She is a graduate nurse working herself round the world. I have no idea how long she will be here, but the bed is needed at the beginning of July for an American girl who Jenny stayed with three years ago. She will be leaving just in time for Amys American friend to come in August and her departure dates just leave us a few days before the dreaded results arrive and so the summer has gone. Do you think the rain will have stopped by then? Keep smiling anyway.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

29 March 2002

MORROWS WORLD

CALVES, calves, calves everywhere and all are taught to drink!

Thank goodness that is not my particular task as it is so frustrating at times. Tims wife Hilary and her band of young helpers are the front line in this area, at least in the afternoons. The kids are all working very hard, I know its not easy to head out into the cold, never mind be faced with a calf who seems determined not to drink a drop but is perfectly happy to chew your fingers into pulp! Patience is a big help as is the fact that there are four of them to spread the burden and add a bit of fun to the chore. Tim and Johnston are not fussy how long it takes the youngsters to feed the calves – as long as they dont have to do it. Actually, they are very good at it and take their responsibilities seriously, always noticing if one is a bit slow or another too greedy and their help does make a difference. Last week we had 21 calves born on one day and are averaging out about 6-8/day normally. Its long hours and heavy work and not helped by the imminent opening of our visitor farm for when the whole yard has to be hosed, sheds cleared out and rebedded, signs replaced, fences repaired – the list is genuinely endless! Unfortunately so is the work on the dairy farm and so it is so hard to prioritise our tasks.

While we do feel rather swamped at the minute, life does go on outside the farm. As I write, Amy is walking past, wearing an enormous pair of cordless headphones and looking rather like an extra from The Fly. She is singing along to One More Angel in Heaven from the musical Joseph to prepare for her rehearsal later this afternoon. Our church is putting on a charity show at the end of the month the earphones are a great way to learn her words, as she can get on with other things while listening to the music. Amy loves performing, and is currently studying drama for her GCSEs this summer. All being well, she will start an AVC in Performing Arts in September, (vocational A-level for those of you without teenagers), so the earphones should be used plenty.

Johnston actually bought them for himself. For years he has been trying to get a good system of listening to music in the milking parlour. The noise of the machines makes an ordinary radio or CD player nearly impossible to hear and a portable one isnt great either as all the bending and reaching mean it often falls out of your pocket, or the earphones fall out of your ears and of course trying to put it all back together again with hands covered in – well you know what – is not good for the mechanism! So this cordless set of earphones seemed to the perfect solution. Our CD player in the house is literally next door to the dairy, so distance isnt an issue, but what he didnt reckon with was the density of the 300-year-old mud and stone wall! But not to be daunted with a minor set back in his quest for music to milk by, Johnston decided to put an old CD player in the engine room which has a relatively new adjoining wall with the dairy (30 years). But that required new wiring and setting up and in the priority job list, Johnstons music system comes pretty far down the line. It means Amy has unlimited access to the headphones – at least until the calving is over.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

26 October 2001

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

Living so close to the city has its good and bad points. The girls love it and I enjoy the convenience of shops and schools so close at hand, but it does have its drawbacks for farming. For us, one is getting the dairy cows across what used to be small country roads and now are main commuter routes into Belfast.

Extended grazing means an extended area to be covered and so we have no choice but to cross roads to get to the fields. Even though we wait until after nine oclock we still snarl up the traffic on its way to the main civil service buildings. Today I counted 40 cars banked up, even with us only letting the cows across in batches. The worry is always when the queue snakes around blind corners, because the cars fly down our wee road and accidents are quite common. So far we have not been the cause of any, but it is always a relief to close the gate on the cows when they are all safely across.

Now the Open Farm is closed for the season we have put up the table tennis table in our tearoom area. Johnston is always really keen to get it ready straight away, partly because he loves playing table tennis, but I also think there is an element of celebration that he has got rid of the visitors!

His brother Tim is also a keen player and the fraternal tournaments still have all the knife-edge tension as when they first got the table – over 30 years ago now. However, no one is keener than Tims ten-year-old son, Patrick.

As the only male of his generation (eight older sisters and cousins) he finds it hard to find a willing partner and has resorted to phoning Johnston on his mobile in the middle of the afternoon to ask if hes free for an hour to play! His best bet is Jennys boyfriend Aaron and he seems to have a built-in radar to detect when Aaron is visiting. He really is a very polite young boy and doesnt like to be pushy, so has taken to wandering past our living room window carrying his table tennis bat and waving in at the courting couple. Jenny counted him walking past 10 times last Sunday before Aaron took the hint and asked him for a game.

The closing of the Open Farm also means the slaughter of the two pigs we rear over the summer. As one of them took a nip at me the week before they went to the abattoir, I was quite happy to see them go and I really have no sense of the meat that lands on my kitchen table two weeks later having any connection with the piglets I hand reared.

Normally its just a question of bagging it and freezing it, but this year the butcher and I must have got our wires crossed because I was faced with cuts of meat that I barely recognised. I did say I wanted more with the crackling left on, but I got everything complete with fat and skin. This was delivered on a Saturday afternoon when we were expecting dinner guests that evening. By the time Nancy, my mother in law, arrived to help I was almost in tears. It seemed like I was never going to get through chopping and slicing the vast mountains of pink flesh that were dripping blood all over the floor. Nancy chopped, I bagged, Johnston carried it to the freezer, Amy made a pudding, Jenny washed the floor and Helen hoovered and by eight oclock we were ready for our guests. They all agreed that the pork in cider was delicious and were very understanding when I fell fast asleep at 10.30.

Its now three oclock, so I just have time for a cup of coffee before I go to do battle with the traffic on the Ballyhanwood Road. Weapons required are wellie boots, a large stick and sympathetic smile for the road rage sufferers.

Courting road rage: Judiths herd has a main road to cross.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

28 September 2001

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

Over these past few days, my youngest daughter, Helen, has come up against a dilemma well known to all animal-loving farmers. She has always been a child who loves all Gods creatures, from the revolting slugs outside the back door to the cuddliest of our fluffy rabbits. The latest saga concerns a rat currently living behind our hen run. Weve suspected its presence all summer as there have been very few eggs to lift and then two young ducklings disappeared with no logical explanation. We were proved right last week when Helen spied it dashing out of what we call the "Ducks Bedroom" as she was locking ducks up for the night.

The next evening it was there again, but didnt dash off quite so quickly. Over the next few days she was able to wait quietly and watch it as it tucked into the food she put into the pens to encourage the ducks in. We wondered about sending Bob our Collie in after it, but decided that he wouldnt be brave enough, so we asked Johnston for his advice. "Easy, just put some rat poison in the ducks feeder – as long as you remember to change it before you let the ducks in, youll be sure to nail it in a day or two." It certainly seemed an easy answer and I told Helen I would buy some poison the next day. That night at bedtime, Helen mentioned that the rat had quite a nice wee face and I realised there would be problems ahead.

As suspected, the next morning, she asked me not to buy the poison as she had got to like the rat and thought it would be OK for him to live with the ducks. Can you imagine Johnstons reaction. He told her in no uncertain terms that rats were dirty thieving beasts that had to be exterminated in any manner possible. He reminded her of the new chicks in the next pen – did she want to see them killed by her new "friend"? Poor Helen, she had to agree that the rat would have to go, but I know where shes coming from – rats can have nice wee faces.

During my teens I wrote a diary every night, indeed I kept it up until we had our first baby and I simply no longer had the staying power to keep a daily record. I still enjoy looking back and reliving those long ago days – in fact its a danger to have a quick look if I come across them, as I can easily be there for an hour, laughing or crying over forgotten highs and lows of my adolescence. Even now, before I write this article each month, I look back and see what I wrote at the same time last year. I have always totally forgotten what happened and enjoy remembering, but somehow, I dont think any of us will ever forget September 2001 and the terrorist attack on America. As one who has lived most of her life with a background of terrorism I have a deep understanding that such events change everything. No-one is the same afterwards. With such an atrocity, I believe our world will change and that is the frightening stomach-turning feeling that I recognise from my own experience. As a teenager, would the murder of a local catholic put my life as a protestant in danger? As an adult, would the bomb in Omagh bring the peace process to a halt or make us more determined to succeed? I have so many of these moments in my own lifetime; this is a familiar place for me; now the whole world is in this predicament. My stomach is turning.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

31 August 2001

MORROWS WORLD

IT has actually worked. My new kitchen is now a fly-free zone, thanks to these strange plastic bags hanging from the garden trees. In truth, it is all thanks to

farmers weekly as it was here that I first aired my embarrassing fly problem and as a result was put in touch with these wonderful smelly bags of gunge which seem to be so attractive to flies.

I am absolutely delighted, to an extent that Johnston thinks is totally over the top, but the flies never bothered him quite as much as they did me. In fact he always said he found me flapping about with a newspaper and spraying deadly chemicals more annoying than any amount of flies. But I am over the moon – of all the wonders of my new kitchen, including the glass fronted cupboards and the swivel bin, the lack of flies makes me most pleased.

The girls are all home from their various holidays – Jenny from three weeks in southern France, Amy from five weeks in the USA and Helen from three days in Ballycastle. It definitely looks as if Helen got the short straw here, and to be fair it was supposed to be six days, but after a nasty fall from a climbing frame, which resulted in her being stretchered off in an ambulance (wearing a full body brace) to the nearest hospital, she decided to come home early. She was only bruised, Im glad to say, but it certainly brings home how easily accidents can happen.

I was taking no chances last Sunday of anything nasty happening to me when I went out to bring the cows in for the morning milking. Johnston is scraping the barrel for help when Im out there, but none the less, I like to pull my weight and even though I knew there were two bulls in the field I felt I had to face my fears and get the job done. Well, Im convinced one of the bulls spotted me instantly and watched me the whole time. I wasnt convinced that he wasnt after blood. Anyway, Im still alive and kicking and the cows were brought in, but I must confess I was on the other side of a double fenced hedge on at least two occasions when my nerve totally deserted me – oh yes and I did hide behind the wheel of the John Deere until he was safely past and I dashed out to close the door of the collecting pen. I wont volunteer for that job again.

I am a great one for signs. Everything around the yard of our open farm has a story attached, every animal has to have a name and every door must have a notice – even if it is "Farmers only please". The one place that is sadly lacking any information is our house. The farmhouse is right in the middle of the yard and even though we have recently built a wee garden complete with wall, we cant keep visitors out. Literally, as I have been

typing this article a lady has walked in my front door looking for the toilets! Does my newly painted and

renovated house look like a toilet. Yesterday, I was in the front office when I heard footsteps in the hall (new beech floor) to find another woman with a basket of raspberries wandering around. "You keep the place lovely," she kindly told me and then asked if I made much money. "Not enough money to put up with folk dandering in through our kitchen," was Johnstons response – but not in front of the customer, of course. Actually, I was quite pleased at her comments about my housekeeping – she could never had said that last year with all those flies about.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

23 February 2001

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

DESPITE the panic, we did manage to get all the work done in time for opening up to the public this month. I dont think it would matter how soon after Christmas the tidying would start, we would still be rushing up to the last minute. And I really do mean last minute – I was cutting up new birthday tablecloths as I was welcoming the party through the door! Still, all has calmed down now and my children say they can speak to me now without getting the head chewed off them. So we are back to meeting and greeting the public, taking the compliments along with the complaints, hosing and hosing the yard until any normal farmer wouldnt recognise it as a farmyard! Actually, Johnston decided he had overdosed on the hosing when he found himself in a friends house transfixed by the stripes on the wallpaper and imagining himself hosing them all away!

Reopening the farm to the public is always a bitter-sweet experience – all the worries and headaches, but also all the pleasure of seeing the children enjoy the animals and the whole outdoor experience so much. Today was a perfect example of the positive side of "open farming". I had a group of "travellers children" – not one with a coat on, despite it being February, and not one with the ability to listen to any instructions, never mind obey them, but every single one bubbling over with excitement at the bus trip, the wide open spaces, the smells and the animals – everything was an adventure. Now, Im sure if it had been a cold, wet, miserable day I would have been tearing my hair out, but in the crisp fresh sunshine they seemed like little angels and my job was a delight.

I am actually learning quite a bit about my job as I am half way through an NVQ in tour guiding at our local higher education college.

Its not easy, but now, five months into the year-long course, I think it is worthwhile, if only because it has allowed me to recognise skills that I didnt know I had. So often we read in womens magazines that as housewives and mothers we have management skills, personnel skills, time and motion skills, budgeting skills – now I am beginning to believe that I have. Mind you getting it all down on paper isnt as easy as it was 25 years ago. Our tutor tells us that we "returners to education" try too hard to get the perfect answer, but I honestly think its nothing more than rust in the brain cells. I am doing the course with my friend and fellow tour guide Eleanor and if any of you are thinking of doing any further education I would recommend bringing a friend along. Not only do you feel less conspicuous walking through a mass of teenagers when there are two of you, but also its great to be able to copy each others homework. I have discovered there are courses for everything – driving a forklift, operating a chain saw, opening a bottle of weedkiller – you name it, you should have your qualification, but I certainly dont know any self-employed farmer who has either the time or money to get them all. Perhaps we should invent a new saying to describe ourselves – "Jack of all trades, certificates in none".

The kids are back on the farm and everyone is enjoying it.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

22 December 2000

MORROWS WORLD

DECEMBER 2000. Someone must have pressed the "fast forward" button on my life. How can it possibly be Christmas already? One early indication that the season has started is when we get the annual phone calls from people wanting to "borrow" a deer for their Christmas display! They find it hard to believe that our native red deer wont walk happily round the local shopping centre with a red blob on their nose. What they would like less is to know that this is our cull time and all those potential Rudolfs are actually on their way to being venison steaks.

I blame the fairy lights for the high rate of marriage breakdown over the Christmas period. In our case it is my feeling that a house cannot have too many twinkling lights to give that special seasonal atmosphere. Johnston wouldnt quite feel the same and views the annual wrestling with the stepladder and the Blu-tak as entirely my responsibility and is quite happy to sit and watch TV while I swing from the pelmet in danger of imminent death from a fall or electrocution.

The strain gets to my parents-in-law in a slightly different way. Nancy has had the same two sets of Christmas lights for 15 years and every year they sparkle into life with the first flick of the switch, much to her disappointment and Addies delight. Addie, who is by nature a generous man, has had a real block about splashing out on a new set of lights when there is absolutely nothing wrong with the old ones, despite the fact that everyone knows that the big crystal types are terribly out of fashion.

Now a golden rule is never to get involved in a dispute between partners, but I couldnt help myself coming in on Nancys side that it was indeed time for an update and with my encouragement she bought a new set. Her mistake was to ask Addie to help her put them on the tree! An hour later she rang our house to ask for a rescue team as the new loop system had completely defeated them both and she could no longer stick Addies constant rhyme of "I told you there was nothing wrong with the old ones".

Amy fancies herself as a bit of an interior designer so she went up to save the day and her grandparents 47-year-old marriage. Amid much hilarity, the three of them managed to "deck the tree" quite magnificently.

I heard a woman who was waiting on a miserable morning to see President Clinton remark that "Sure, were not worried about getting wet, were Irish, we thrive on rain." But not if you have converted to a New Zealand method of dairy farming. However, despite the daily deluge, the cows still seem to be reasonably content to be outside in December, certainly as happy as they ever were to be in the house.

The constant monitoring of the grass levels and moving the stock means that there is more work than you might imagine. However this is the third Christmas with no milking and there is no doubt it makes for a more relaxed atmosphere – even down to being able to choose what time we eat our Christmas dinner.

Twenty-one round the table this year – friends, in-laws, family of three generations, all organising each other as to where to sit, what to pass, who will say the annual Christmas prayer of thanks, who to pull a cracker with. It is a good day for our family, and those who are missing this year – most notably my mum – are in our stories and in our hearts as we have such fun together.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Lightening the situation: Amy helped grandparents, Nancy and

Addie Morrow sort out the troublesome Christmas illuminations.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

30 June 2000

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

I APPEAR to have changed jobs. Monday to Friday I am now a full-time cook – cakes, soups breads, chutneys, you name it – I am making it and whats more, Im talking to customers all about recipes, the true flavour of home-cured bacon, the advantages of one type of sugar over another in jam-making…

When did I become an expert? I just put on my apron and stood behind the counter of our "new improved farm shop and tea-room" and everyone presumed I am one. What is worse I am behaving as if I am, giving advice right, left and centre. If only they knew the times Ive had to scrape the cake mixture back out of the tins because I forgot to add the baking powder, or how the "creamy vegetable soup" would have been broth if Id remembered to put barley in.

My niece Katie and I are job-sharing this new role, she shows a school round while I am in the tea-room, shes in the tea-room while Im at the cash-and-carry or market and so on. It works quite well really as I have been known to panic a bit while she tends to be much calmer and can serve a family with two toasties and a ham sandwich without needing a Valium afterwards. I am getting better though and managed by myself all day today while Katie was over at Leeds for an interview at the speech therapy department there. She is hoping to secure a place for entry in 2001, as she is off to see the world for a year first. But how am I going to cope in the tea-rooms?

As an offshoot of this new job I am now feeding my family entirely on left-overs and the standard at meal times varies greatly. On Friday night we had delicious fried sirloin steak and mushrooms, tonight we had bananas and bacon. The girls never seem to tire of the "gone slightly soggy" carrot cake and Johnston manfully ploughs his way through pots of coleslaw which are only just over the sell-by date.

I am nearly scared to say this, but it looks like we are going to have a decent strawberry crop this year. After a number of seasons battling against a nasty little root disease called red core, we seem to have got the problem under control and the rows of plants are looking really healthy between the straw that Johnston is putting out tonight. We have a rule in our house – no strawberries until our own are ready and then they taste extra-delicious when you pop the first one in your mouth straight from the field.

Sadly there are a large number of crows that also like to sample the strawberries. It wouldnt be so bad if they would eat a whole one but no, they just have a little peck at every ripe one they see. And sadly they are a very clever and no scarer that we have tried keeps them away for more than the length of time it takes them to work out that the strange noise, or the flashing light, or the funny looking balloon is not going to hurt them.

Well, their luck is about to change as we have just got a shotgun and have every intention of making sure it hurts them a lot. So far we have had no fatalities, as they seem to recognise Johnston from about 200 yards and immediately fly off, so to date it is a slightly more humane method than we meant it to be. Anyway the pick-your-own customers will be arriving any day and they are the best scarecrows of all – and they pay us for the privilege.

The strawberries are looking good this year and Judith is exploring new methods of keeping the rooks at bay until the pick-your-own customers arrive.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

28 April 2000

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

I GOT a bit of a shock last week when I walked in to the kitchen to see Johnston sporting a long dark wig, a pair of pink sunglasses and a "ban the bomb" medallion. Whats more, his sister Susan was transformed into a Marianne Faithful look-alike with a waist-length blonde wig and a peace headband.

As I have maybe mentioned before, our kitchen has been the setting for many strange events, but this was certainly one of the funniest to look at. Mind you, the time he was practising his dance steps wearing the back half of a pantomime cow was pretty funny too! As you can probably guess, the Morrow family is keen on taking to the stage at regular intervals, purely to raise money for worthy causes of course, not for the personal glamour (or so they tell me). This latest production was in aid of our local churchs millennium project, which plans to sponsor 10 people to build houses in Botswana this September. It has captured the congregations imagination and we are working hard to raise the £15,000 we have pledged to the scheme, which is organised by the international charity, Habitat for Humanity.

I, on the other hand, am more "artistically challenged" than "artistic" and I dont like acting, singing, dancing or any strange dressing-up behaviour in which the rest of them seem to revel. Nonetheless, they also serve, those who only serve the tea, and as is the tradition in most church fund raising events, "the supper" is a big part of the evening. There must be few other venues that can bring out the organiser in women more than putting on a church supper. I find I really have to control myself not to behave like an absolute dictator. My other escape is to laugh about how petty we can all get, because in truth I am the worst. I actually do believe that it would be more efficient to have the tables down the side rather than in the middle, or that the sandwiches cut lengthways are more attractive than triangles, and, as for anyone who thinks they can get away with only six bags in those big pots, well, they obviously havent a clue how to make a decent cup of tea at all.

Has spring sprung with you yet? It actually feels as if the weather is on a spring here as it bounces between sun and rain, freezing winds and blue skies. Weve had the calves out for a few weeks now, but the shed was bedded yesterday, as we were sure we would bring them back in today – but instead it brightened up and they were racing up and down the field with the sun on their backs. Most of the calving is over now and we are starting to get the swing of the new milking parlour – as are the cows. The first time we brought them in (in darkness as the electricians hadnt got the lighting wired up) they all stood with their noses facing into the pit.

The calves have quickly learnt that the rumble of the tractor means the "suck-mobile" has arrived and jostle to get a hold of a teat. The days of bending over, cajoling reluctant calves to latch on to the unfamiliar teat with the inevitable bitten and bruised fingers are over for this year. Well, over for Hilary, Timothy, Johnston and James, because I have to confess, I didnt feed any calves this year – sure I was much too busy making tea.

Peace work…Johnston (left) has been dressing up as hippie for his Churchs charity work for Botswana, much the amusement of his family.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

31 March 2000

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

Judith Morrow

I was heading out the kitchen door this morning on my way to the tearooms when I was faced by a herd of cows in the garden. Not a rare sight in a dairy farm, but always a nerve-racking one. If there are 20 in here, where are the rest of them?

This was particularly worrying this morning, as our next door neighbours are hosting their daughters wedding today – in a marquee in their garden. So after blocking the exit with my father-in-laws car and a few old branches, I went running about looking for telltale dung trails to see if the worst had happened and there were indeed 180 milk cows dandering in and out through the floral displays and banqueting tables. Thankfully no, my washing seems to have been more of an attraction, so tonight we can join in the celebrations and laugh about what might have happened and no doubt the story will get better with the telling.

We have been doing a lot of story-telling over the past weeks as sadly my mum did not recover from her fall last month and died peacefully as we sat round her bed chatting and laughing, very aware that the doctors say hearing is the last sense to go. Funerals take place very quickly this side of the Irish Sea and so we had two days of friends and family, reminiscing and remembering a woman who was liked by all who met her. The Ballyhandwood Catering Squad (in other words my neighbours) went into action immediately and sandwiches, tea, wee buns and, when appropriate, strong drink, were prepared, served out and cleared up, without my ever having to lift a finger.

My remaining elderly relatives have a bittersweet experience with funerals; they just love seeing everyone together and all the old stories get told; theres always a great spread and plenty of photographs to argue over. At the same time, "its another one gone" and the reality of life and death comes very close. I suppose I feel it, too, now that my mum has gone. As I said to Johnston on the night she died, "Im the mummy now" and although Ive been a mother for over 16 years, the significance of what I have to live up to is only hitting me now.

My New Year resolution of trying to see the governments Health and Safety requirements as a challenge, rather than a threat, has been very severely tested this month. The recent publicity about children under five visiting farms has hit us really badly on the open farm and we are not quite sure if we will be able to weather the storm. A very large part of me wants to fight back and ask parents what sort of life do they want for their children – one wrapped in cling film in front of the computer screen pressing buttons or one where you can experience the fun of being with a real live animal. Instead we have decided just to get on with the work with the children whose parents and teachers know that life is about weighing up the risks and making balanced decisions rather than reacting to yet another scare story.

Home again: Cows have been wandering amongst the washing.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

25 February 2000

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

ALL systems go" at Streamvale Open Farm now: Weve started calving, the new parlour is on line, the school children are arriving and were back to bottle feeding lambs and goats before bedtime. A new addition this year is the tour guides new uniform. After a long time debating possible styles we have gone for the old fashioned "bib and brace" which we can adjust to fit our various figures. In our search for comfortable and practical clothes, we realised that mens work wear is sized so that the bigger the bottom, the longer the leg – this does not necessarily follow for women. So we went for a system that allowed us to buy the hip size and just pull up the straps to adjust everything else. One good thing is, by the time we have all struggled in to the dungarees we are certainly warm enough to be outside even on the coldest morning!

As I predicted last month, the tour guides have indeed had to add the tales of Builder Bob to our school visits because there are still about 30 "Builder Bobs" around the yard. We have the parlour boys and the extra crew they brought to help get finished in time, the plumber boys (second team, as the first got the sack for not turning up on time), Timothys builders and Johnstons builders and last but not least the electricians. Each team has about three vans and vast quantities of equipment not to mention tea-making facilities. When I was a child, my mother used to threaten to take to the hills when things got too stressful, I think it would take a months holiday in the Himalayas to calm me down!

Speaking of my mum, the dreaded has eventually caught up with us and we can no longer look after her properly in her "Granny house" next door. She has had senile dementia for going on 6 years and we were very determined to keep her with us as long as possible, but the reality has caught up with us and her recent assessments made it impossible for me to fool myself any longer that I can cope. Shes currently in the local hospital after a fall and this time she will be moving into a nursing home when she is discharged. There is no easy way to grow old but surely dementia must be one of the worst. Having said that we have had some great times with mum next door as she still has a keen sense of humour and loves to make us laugh even if she hasnt a clue who we are, never mind what were laughing at!

Do those telephones "please press the star button now" drive you insane? I was trying to get some new ink for my computer last week and spent three quarters of an hour battling with such systems – I would need shorthand to keep up with the options. Inevitably when I get to my final destination I am greeted with the words "your call is in a queue and will be answered in order, please do not hang up". Next time I am buying something which may need after sales care I will choose the company with a real person answering the telephone.

All dressed up and raring to go: Judith

and the tour guides in their

new uniform.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

28 January 2000

MORROWS WORLD

DIARY FROM A FAMILY FARM IN ULSTER

THERE is no roof on the Swallows Barn and we open to the public on the first of February. Im sure we say it every year, but I am really really sure that we have never been so far behind with our preparations.

Some things are coming along, we have the souvenirs ordered and the shop ready, we have the new leaflets prepared and on their way to the printer, the Pets Corner has been cleared out, disinfected and ready for the baby animals. We have all the confirmation letters off to the schools and we are even on the internet, but we dont have a roof on the Swallows Barn and its going to be hard to explain that to the birthday parties who have it booked for next month.

The milking parlour is making headway and we can now see the shape of what its going to be like. There is not so much panic involved with it as we dont start calving until mid February and Johnstons brother Timothy thinks it should all be up and running by then. Of course, it too was a much bigger job than we had hoped; adapting old buildings is never straightforward. The walls werent plumb, the beams all had woodworm, "You need to take that wall down to fit the pit in" versus, "if you take that wall down the building will collapse!" And so the debates continue and the builders seem so well established in the yard I think theyll be here till the summer. We are seriously thinking of adding "tales of Builder Bob" to our rainy days stories for the school children when they arrive next month.

What a wonderful new toy my computer has been. I am spending much too much time "browsing" my clip art files, "downloading" my old documents, playing with my digital camera and convincing Johnston that it is definitely worth the money I spent. He was quite happy to believe me until I switched it on on the 1st of the month to see it proudly displaying the date 01.01.1990. Worse still, when I switched on my old one, it displayed the exact same date! They were both easily changed but its a bit hard to justify the £1500 spent on the super-duper de luxe millennium proof model. Nonetheless, computers are the way of the world and so we have all signed up for a course run by the Department of Agriculture. So far so good. The first lesson was cancelled and Johnston and I cant go to the second as we are in the middle of a course for parents of teenagers. It is an intermediate course rather than beginners and Timothy wasnt sure if he had chosen the right level, but he knew if his brother Johnston was going for the higher one, there was no way he was opting for anything else. So is the pattern of their relationship since childhood, I believe.

As for the "parenting", it has proved to be a very interesting series of evenings and has certainly made us stop and think about our relationship with our teenage daughters. For us the family unit is the basis of our lives together and setting aside two hours a week to concentrate on its importance has been very worthwhile, even if we end up with no answers.

So I must leave you and the computer to get back to my real work, the ladies toilets need repainting, I have to sort out the stock in the tea rooms and revarnish the tables and chairs. We need new bottles for the pet lambs and all the cleaning equipment needs replacing. I demand an extension to January!

Will the roof be on in time for the birthday party celebrations?

    Read more on:
  • News

morrows world

24 December 1999

morrows world

The big family news is that our Australian nephew Jim has returned home after 10 months with us. It was very sad to see him go although the girls like having control of the TV channel changer again. If the amount of

"partying" needed to see him properly off, is proportional to how much he enjoyed his time here, he certainly had a wonderful experience.

Last week when I had an hour to put in when Jenny was in swimming lessons, I took myself off to a computer shop and told a very nicely dressed young man that I wanted to buy a new PC. Most of my computer minded friends had advised me against this – "buy it through the internet" they all chorused. But I found it great to have a human to talk to. He explained how RAM is like the mixing bowl (the bigger the bowl, the more things I can do at once) and HARD DRIVE is like the larder (the bigger the larder the more things I can store). I understood him perfectly! Sadly for him I took away all his information and bought the computer over the internet. It isnt installed yet, so if there is no "Morrows World" next month you will know that I havent learnt how to use it in time!

The big farm news is we are putting a new milking parlour in and builders are swarming all over the yard. My father-in-law has a theory that while it is very hard to get hold of a builder, once they are here, its very hard to get rid of them, as you keep seeing more and more jobs for them to do. Hes right, because now we are going to extend the collecting pen, fix the roof of the old barn, sort out the drains along the lane, not to mention rewiring the entire farm including the house. Once someone points out to you that you are living in an unexploded bomb, its hard to ignore.

The big news for our province is of course – devolution! We have now regained our local parliament at Stormont – which actually sits in full view of our front window – complete with a brand new minister of agriculture, Brid Rodgers. It was a very telling moment for all involved in farming to realise that it was the last ministerial department of the 10 to be chosen by our politicians.

Agriculture, which was always seen to be the mainstay of our economy, was passed over time and again as the parties had their pick of the posts. So, we have a woman in charge. Great. If I am right in believing that we need the consumers more than they need us, who better to be championing us than a female.

And on top of all this is Christmas. I am glad that we put effort into making it a family time with little traditions that have grown over the years.

One is an advent chain which consists of 25 paper hoops with a little message inside each one. The idea is the children take it in turns to open one each day. I did think that perhaps they were all a bit beyond such things this year, but Helen begged me to make one. So I was rather surprised to hear Jenny (now 16) get really cross with her for opening it two nights in a row.

I do love Christmas, despite all the magazines telling you how to decorate your tree, designer wrap your gifts set your table with flair, cook the turkey with six different stuffings and look sexy all at the same time. I think I am able to manage two of these things – which two, Ill leave up to your imagination.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

26 November 1999

MORROWS WORLD

LAST week Johnston and I paid a visit to the first Farmers Market to be held in Belfast. I have read about them and their seeming success over in England so it was great to see that the idea has spread to this part of the world.

The whole event was very well supported and I dont know if it is generally felt, but to me there feels a

softening of opinion towards farmers more recently. Perhaps the whole French argument has in a strange way brought the British people behind their own farmers and their produce. I am not particularly political in either farming or general matters but it is clear even to me that farmers have not been "flavour of the decade" and while we like to view ourselves as the backbone of the economy, no one else considers us to be significant at all! Perhaps this upswing in public support is going to continue into the next century – no harm in hoping.

It is embarrassing to admit in farming circles, but at the height of the beef dispute our whole family were on holiday in Paris. We have not the reputation of being very adventurous at travelling, so this was a big deal for us to go abroad. Indeed as a family, it was our very first venture outside these islands. It is difficult to fit a big holiday into the summer season, even more so since our own children are working on the Open Farm. The autumn half term break suits us well.

Well, we "did" Paris in three days flat, including Disneyland! We were up the Eiffel Tower, round the Arc de Triumph, through the Champs Elysees, past the Mona Lisa, in and out of Churches and Cathedrals and as for Metro stations. I am sure we stopped in every one! We drank hot chocolate on pavement cafes, saw the city by night, watched the fantastic street performers and had the girls portraits sketched in the Place de Tetre.

Mind you, that wasnt part of the plan. We literally walked round a corner and within five minutes flat we were being asked for £45! Totally conned and too polite not to pay – but we did learn a lesson.

Our other traumatic

experience was losing Jenny and Amy in Disneyland. They abandoned one of the massive queues for a ride announcing they were going shopping and when asked where, said "the Disney Store". Well there must be 50 different Disney stores in the Park and Im sure I was in every one of them before we gave up and thought wed just see them at the end of the day.

As indeed we did – waving a little multi-coloured light tube in the hope of attracting our attention at the exit gates. As is typical of teenagers they seemed not to be at least fazed by the two-hour separation.

But it was interesting to hear that when Amy had come across two toddlers whinging at their parents she said to her sister, "I dont know what they are crying for, at least they have a family!" All in all it was great fun to have a break together and Johnston, who would not be a city slicker, even got himself and Jim back to the hotel to watch the Rugby World Cup, although they did say that it wasnt necessarily a direct route!

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

29 October 1999

MORROWS WORLD

WE are down to once a day milking in preparation for the cows being dried off at the end of November. It is hard to believe that when I started my diary for farmers weekly this was my first big news – no milking at Streamvale dairy farm. That, of course, was only the start of the changes in our milk producing routine – next we had the new ways of raising calves, the new ways of managing grassland, the new laneways through every field and all the sceptical farmers who came to have a look at what on earth those Morrows were doing next – not least my father-in-law.

Well, we are still keeping on with the more extensive New Zealand system, despite the inevitable setbacks (not least the fall in milk price) and the prospect of less work through the winter months does help a lot.

Theres no doubt in my mind that the main problem with farming is the sundries column in the accounts book. We have just had a meeting to talk about MONEY. The income figures look fine but how on earth do we spend so much? My sister-in-law Hilary is our accountant and is able to print out every detail of what we have spent in the past month – it is so accurate it is depressing. In the pre-computer days everything not obviously allocated was bundled into sundries and everyone complained about it and secretly blamed each other. The computer has stopped all that so theres no point arguing with it but even so I still cant believe that I used so much petrol in 30 days – someone must be forging my signature.

Speaking about computers, it would appear that my trusty old PC could well blow up on Jan 1. I put a CD into it which apparently can tell if the computer is millennium-friendly and it seems that mine isnt. However, that might just mean that it wont know what day it is, or it might mean that it will give up the ghost completely. I use it a lot and Jenny is totally dependent on it for her American e-mails so there is no doubt it would be greatly missed: I know I should be looking at getting a new one but where on earth do you start? There has been an explosion in the market since we bought this one five years ago and to be honest, if I didnt understand much then, now I havent a clue. I dont even have the ability to converse with people who should be able to help me.

I really dont understand the language – all I know is I want to be able to type, store stuff and make nice signs and leaflets – and it has to sit on a cupboard door which is wedged on top of a kitchen worktop otherwise Ill have to totally redesign the whole kitchen – but hey, that does sound like a good idea.

My brother Tom is home on holiday from Australia. Thankfully, he is a regular visitor and usually stays for a few weeks when he comes. Another male in the house is always a pleasure for Johnston who claims he is seriously bullied by his three daughters especially in the matter of television choice. So now he has the backing of not only Jim (our nephew who has been here since February) but also Tom and now we have major stand-offs over who has control of the digital channel changer. The girls only want teenage soaps or music videos, Tom and Johnston have always a car programme or World Cup rugby match to watch while Jim can lend his weight to either side.

Meanwhile, Lil (Toms girlfriend) and I are reduced to watching Eastenders on the 12in portable. I thought the Irish mother was supposed to dominate the family!

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

25 June 1999

MORROWS WORLD

All 15,000 little strawberry plants are in the field at last.

We have been struggling to keep our pick-your-own strawberry business going during the past few years because of a number of problems. One is a nasty little disease called red core which severely reduces the root growth in the plant and so the fruit is too small to be worthwhile. It has been hanging around our fields for a number of years and we have had no luck in keeping it away.

The other problem is cheap strawberries from everywhere else, grown with economies of scale which dont apply to our couple of acres.

Then, just to confound us all, we have our little "civil unrest" crisis in July when you would expect the families to come and pick the fruit. What used to be our main holiday period has now totally reversed into the quietest week of the summer, with families either leaving the province for safer shores or staying put in their own areas for fear of burnt out cars and makeshift barricades stopping them getting home. Sounds fun doesnt it.

So, Johnston had a cunning plan to beat all these problems in one fell swoop. What it entailed was 15 teenagers potting up 15,000 cold store strawberry plants, watering them every four hours for 10 days, then taking them out of their pots and planting them with the help of another six teenagers. The weather was kind to us with lots of the soft rain that Ireland is famous for and the plants are looking remarkably healthy – if small.

Hopefully we have now foiled the spread of red core, put off our fruiting season until the cheap strawberries are over and the tempers of the Orangemen and Residents have cooled off. Ill keep you posted with how it all progresses.

Two years ago myself and some of the other tour guides on the farm took a first aid course to help us both in our work with the public and our own families. However, labour was not on the curriculum and, despite having helped with many animal births and delivering three of my own, I was rather anxious when one of our young staff announced yesterday that a customer "seemed to be having a baby and could she ring for a taxi".

After a short conversation with the young women I decided that an ambulance was required – and quickly at that. This was her fifth baby and it was most definitely ready to arrive.

So myself, the father-to-be, her other four children and a variety of passers-by, stood in the middle of the farmyard (she couldnt walk by this stage) and with the help of an old gate post to lean on we managed to massage her back and keep her from getting completely hysterical – which under the circumstances was a hard job. The ambulance pulled into the yard, sirens wailing, whisked her off immediately and the baby was born 10 minutes after leaving Streamvale Farm.

During the whole event I was remarkably calm, even making tasteless jokes about not letting the farmer and his calving aid near her. But when I rang up to check she had arrived safely at the hospital only to hear the baby boy was already delivered, my legs turned to jelly and I was fit for nothing but a few glasses of wine for the rest of the evening. It was a good excuse anyway.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

28 May 1999

MORROWS WORLD

I LIKE all animals, pretty much without exception. Even foxes, which I would have to put at the bottom of the list, have a roguish quality on an early morning that even I can find attractive. Wee "pipecleaner" lambs with their wobbly legs, new multi-coloured chicks, old ponies and Jersey cows come much further up the league of favourite animals – but nothing comes close to a dog. Much to my delight we now have four pups on the farm. Sadly they are only here on a temporary basis while we try to get new homes for them but I am already infatuated with their pink spotty tummies and adoring eyes.

The visitors love them, too, and the pups have no limit to their tolerance of wee hands lifting and stroking them – they cry like babies when the children leave. Its the same when I walk into the shed – they yelp and cry until I pay them attention, whereas they never bother with Johnston at all. How do they learn whos who so quickly?

Speaking of Johnston, hes somewhat disabled at the minute having torn a muscle in his calf 10 days ago. In his usual manner he was sure he would be back to normal in a couple of days, but has been sadly proved wrong as even after three physio sessions he is still sliding along the yard with a very strange sideways gait which is actually very tiring. His other leg begins to give up after an hour or so with the strain, so the Royal Ulster Agricultural Show has come at a pretty bad time. Streamvale Open Farm helps organise a childrens display at the show and we along with other local farm attractions provide the livestock and the manpower. As you can imagine it is long hours standing and talking – great for catching up with rarely seen acquaintances, but not if you can only lean on one leg the whole time. In case you are wondering, he wasnt hurt in some dramatic farm incident, but in his regular Thursday night football game.

What is it about an agricultural show which makes it so attractive? Every year my father and brother-in-law say they probably wont go. Sure its been the same for 40 years – there will be nothing different – is always the cry – but they never ever miss it! Is it the people you might bump into, the bargain that might just catch your eye, the dancing diggers or the flying motor cycles or the acrobatic sheep or whatever is this years particular strange happening? For me it is the "Londonderry Hall" where the dairy cattle are housed. I love to walk down that long red brick building flanked by gleaming Jerseys, Guernseys, Friesians and my favourite, the red and white Ayrshires. The bustle of the owners sweeping up, making tea, catching 40 winks, talking, talking, talking. The name plates above the herds, the rosettes proudly displayed and the cattle always so groomed and contented looking. It all comes together as a lovely place for me to be and I definitely feel cheated if I dont get at least one walk down the length of the Londonderry Hall each year. I always ask Johnston to buy me a pet cow, he always says no and I am always secretly relieved. After all, even a wee jersey could never be the friend a dog would – and now were on the subject, there is one pup that still doesnt have a home and sure, plenty of folk have three dogs and I promise I wouldnt let it into the house – not when it gets bigger anyway.

Ach, Im only dreaming.

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

30 April 1999

MORROWS WORLD

WE are a camping family – it started 10 years ago as a necessary escape route from the open farm and now we cant imagine summer without canvas. Our original big trailer tent is now up for sale as we have moved into the luxury camping category and bought ourselves a two-year-old folding camper.

With two teenagers in the family we have to move with the times and realise that weekends in the forest parks are not what the girls are looking for – unless there are a few Scouts about. This new camper allows us to be more flexible and maybe even get away just ourselves on our weekends off. We are quite disciplined about time off and work a "one on/one off" weekend system with Jennifer our right-hand woman. However, living in the middle of a farm which doubles as a tourist attraction means that if you are at home you are available, and it is great to get away, put the canvas up and feel really free.

There seems to be an Australian invasion just about to happen in this part of the world, with at least five visitors due to arrive in the next month or two. The first is my brothers son, Jim, who in true Aussie fashion will be with us until he feels like moving on. I cant wait to see him, he was eight when he was last here and now he is 17 and 6ft 1in. Like most people with family on the other side of the world I always feel not quite complete and Jims arrival will fill a big hole. However a teenage boy is quite a scary responsibility so we plan to work him so hard that he will just want food and bed at the end of the day.

Its quite a good time for him to arrive because the fruit season is just around the corner. We grow strawberries purely for the pick- your-own market, which works well with our open farm as we are already set up for visitors. Every year we debate if it is worth it; we fall into a trap of being too small to afford the modern systems but it is certainly big enough to give us plenty of hard work. Also we are getting less money for strawberries now than when we opened 12 years ago. So well give it another go this year when we have Jim to crawl up and down the rows pulling all the weeds out!

I am going to use the rest of my space as a soap box to demand better working clothes for female farm workers. We want boiler suits that fit our bottoms. I am not fat but I am certainly not the shape of a teenage boy on which Im sure the manufacturers must be basing their measurements. I can get a suit which is wide enough but the crotch hangs down to my knees and I have an extra 18" of leg to tuck down my boot. The alternative is the right length but then it will not zip up over my chest (which is not ample) and is so tight over my rear end (which I confess is more generous) that I cant bend down. There are at least three women who work here who have this problem – so come on suppliers can we have a "ladies cut" boiler suit?

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

26 March 1999

MORROWS WORLD

SO far neither the calves or the children visiting Streamvale farm have suffered from exposure, despite the really cold and damp weather weve been having. In our "new system" the calves are being fed a cold milk culture and seem to be doing well on it, but it is a bit pathetic to see their wee bodies literally shiver as they suck. It used to be there was a big heat lamp in the small, draught-free house to keep them cosy – but we now know that it caused disease problems. One thing is for sure, the calves wont be suffering from any bacteria that thrives in warm conditions this year!

This is our really busy time for calving and we made a "viewing gallery" (hole in the silo wall) for our visitors to watch the big event. It has worked pretty well with major interest from the mums. Children are delighted to see the feet coming out and then run off to other things, but mums watch on determined to experience every inch of delivery! They ask questions constantly – "Why is she standing up, why is she lying down, does it hurt, will you help her," and always "how long will it take?" They are genuinely disappointed if they have to leave before the calf is born and we have even had phone calls to check if everything went OK and if it was a boy or a girl. As for dads – a quick look does most of them!

Our oldest daughter Jenny has just heard that she is going to Milwaukee this summer. She was the lucky one to have her name drawn out of a hat to go on the "Ulster Project" – a cross-community scheme which our church has been involved with for 10 years now. The idea is to link up young Catholic and Protestant teenagers who are involved already with their community and after a three-month "getting to know you" period, they go as a group to the States, where they experience life led by teenagers there. They also have the task of telling their host churches what life is like in Northern Ireland. Its a responsibility and a fantastic opportunity for her – all she has to do now is work hard to raise some money for it all!

Once again, thank goodness for our open farm where she will be working every weekend from now on. Its not that big a chore, as most of her friends have jobs with us – sometimes I wonder if we are running the only youth club where the members are paid to come! It can get out of hand at times, but mostly the young people do their job well and at least look as if they are enjoying it, which, when you are running a visitor attraction for children, is very important.

Now that Streamvale is up and running again, Johnston has been catching up with house repairs before the work on the soft fruit gets very busy. This time its Helens bedroom which is being gutted. Im sure many of you who live in old farmhouses have the same problem as we do; is it worth checking out why the wall is damp or should we just put on a good thick paper and worry about it the next time? Johnston decided to investigate and discovered that Helens bedroom, which we knew was an extension, was just sort of stuck to the rest of the house with a good dollop of cement – most of which is now falling out. Oh dear, what was a wallpaper and paint job turned into minor building repairs and between one thing and another we eventually got the room finished at 10pm on the night before her birthday when her friends were coming for a sleepover!

His next job is the roof – or should he bother? After all, the drip in the landing isnt too bad – until it rains that is!

    Read more on:
  • News

MORROWS WORLD

26 February 1999

MORROWS WORLD

ONCE again weve done it. We have actually cleaned up this mountainous mess that our farmyard has been gradually turning into after three months of being closed to the public. My husband Johnston loves this transformation and has spent the whole week power-hosing every square inch of concrete about the place. The piles of autumn leaves, the accumulations of mud, the caked on tractor tyre marks are all gone. Johnston is happy.

I have been making new signs, literally hundreds of them, to explain to our visitors where to go, what to see, when to wash their hands – even how to wash their hands! We have had to look long and hard at how to alert the public to the risk of picking up the various bugs without scaring them away in terror of E coli etc. We decided to front it out – everyone gets a leaflet when they arrive explaining the risks and how to avoid them. I think our visitors appreciate our honesty and care for their well being.

There are babies everywhere! The sheep are lambing, the heifers are calving, weve even got a broody hen sitting on 10 eggs in the corner of the workshop. The best of all was 15 piglets arriving right in the middle of Ulster v Colmiers European cup final. Johnston and Timothy were in Dublin with 35,000 other Ulster rugby fans, while I had to rig up heat lamps and find bolts to fix the door of our home-designed piggery. Like most of the inventions around here, they are perfectly adapted for easy use if you are 6ft and 14st – I am not. I was pretty pleased with my handiwork at the end of it all and was even back in the house to see the final score, 21-6 to Ulster.

The last of our three children will be receiving her 11+ results on Saturday. We still have the system whereby children are graded A-D on the basis of two exams sat when they are 10 years old and this then dictates their choice of school for the next seven years.

Helen is making big plans for the day to take her mind off the results. Luckily she is at the age where her friends still love to visit the open farm. Part of the "Big Day Plans" involve them all coming here for the afternoon where Helen will feel very important whatever her grade. She knows every animal about the place – even names for every rabbit – "Dont be daft, Mum, Thats Greybeard, he is much darker round the mouth than Smokey." is the sort of comment that puts me firmly in my place.

It is always a dread of mine that when we reopen after the winter break everyone will have forgotten about us and we will be sitting with all our new signs and scrubbed yards and not a visitor in sight. There were sighs of relief all round when the first cars came in and spilled out their excited toddlers. It was lovely to hear their mums say that they have been waiting all winter to tell the kids "Yes, we can go back to Streamvale today". The excitement of feeding the new lambs doesnt seem to have diminished at all and brand new bunnies were greeted with squeals of delight – and that was from the mums. Maybe this open farm lark is worthwhile after all.

    Read more on:
  • News
blog comments powered by Disqus