Elizabeth Elder weathers a tough start to 2013

 The year did not get off to an especially good start. Top of the list of problems is that we are currently shut down as far as cattle movements go, due to having a reactor in our four-yearly TB test just before Christmas.

This came as rather a shock because a) we operate a closed herd apart from the bull and he tested clear; and b) this area has been free of TB in recent years. So we are puzzled about what caused the reaction. TB or not TB? That is the question.

On inspection of the cow after slaughter, the Ministry vet found no signs of the disease. This gives us reason to think that we do not have and never had TB in the herd at all. Samples have been sent to the lab for further testing, but whether the final results from the cultures are clear or not, we cannot move anything unless and until the entire herd has passed the 60-day retest in February. In the meantime, we are housing and feeding 23 more animals here than originally planned.

The tups all survived the breeding season, but the constant rain seemed to cool their ardour and they returned home from duty ten days earlier than scheduled. They turned up on the lawn one morning and it was clear that they had had enough. Whether they have done enough remains to be seen. We look forward to scanning with interest, edged with trepidation.

Now we have snow again. It has not quite justified the panic headlines in the Daily Express, (“Snow Chaos to Cripple Britain”), but then very few events do. Nevertheless, the weather seems to have been on a permanent rinse cycle for most of the past year, alternating between rain and snow. We have now had serious snow for three winters on the trot. It is getting beyond a joke and I would like to formally request a return to normal – some periods of sunshine and even warmth.

I only remember being slightly snowed in once when I was a child, admittedly living at a lower altitude near the Northumberland coast. However, even on that occasion we were still subjected to the dulcet tones of Greensleeves drifting across the fields from an ice-cream van on the local estate, so normal life didn’t exactly grind to a halt.

Jake has just about recovered from a bout of flu. He spent the best part of a week lying shivering and sweating on the sofa demanding medication – a bit like an addict suffering withdrawal symptoms, except for still having to go out to do work and without having been on drugs in the first place. We think he got it at a flu-sharing party, or, to give it its official description, a fundraising oysters and drinks event at Alnwick RFC.

The following Sunday morning he turned up for coaching to find that he was one of many who had been afflicted. Where he went wrong was in turning down the president’s (probably patented) Bloody Mary concoction, having observed the ingredients used in its preparation. I suspect this would have killed all known germs.

In other rugby news, Archie’s team featured on Sky Sports News recently when the channel did a series of items on mini-rugby at Alnwick, on the basis that a current England star – Toby Flood – began his mini-rugby career there. The U12s and U13s had to turn up and pretend they were training as a backdrop to some interviews. Some very interesting tableaux were created. My own favourite was the one where the boys had been told to tie their shoelaces for five solid minutes – which wasn’t entirely convincing.

Interview highlights included the presenter turning from the head of minis and juniors (a farmer) to the president (a farmer), as a load of farmers’ kids played in the background and asking him whether Alnwick was still a “farmers’ club”. We also heard from one of the county RFU coaches, a mild-mannered man known as Crusher, saying that this sort of training was really important for producing the England front row of the future. The camera then panned to Jake encouraging two small, spindly boys who were trying to move a tractor tyre and not succeeding.

Back on the home front, we have been rather disturbed about the recent reports of horse- and pigmeat being sold as beefburgers in various supermarkets. OK. There have been some good jokes – “My Lidl Pony” probably being the best. However, it makes a complete mockery of the enormous regulations we have to observe in getting our beef into the food chain, if imported meat can be sold as beef just on the basis of trust. Maybe the answer is to label any food which contains imported meat with a sticker that says “could be anything”.

But, enough of the Outraged of Otterburn stuff. I am relieved to have got through my annual lastminute accounts and tax return crisis, Jake is feeling better and we hope for better things next month.

Elizabeth Elder and husband Jake – who have two children, Julia and Archie – farm 235ha of hill ground on the Otterburn Firing Range in Northumberland. They have 520 breeding ewes and 30 suckler cows and went organic in 2001. Brought up on a dairy farm, Elizabeth is an accountant by training, with a background in corporate finance and business appraisal.

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