French connection: Farming’s a logistics game

When it comes to stress, there’s nothing like cutting it fine when something needs doing.

We are experts in this particular line of doing everything at the last minute – not out of choice, I hasten to add, but working with children and animals has a lot to do with it.

Our departure for our holiday, despite all our planning, was an hour later than expected, leading to a five-hour dash across France at top speed to get the only night ferry leaving from Le Havre. We were all ready on time for a 4 o’clock exit off the farm. The children were clean, dressed in “best” clothes (which was a feat in itself), the car was packed and my mother had been given her final briefing. That morning a ewe had lambed, so unexpected that an immaculate conception seemed the only possible explanation, and I went down to the field to check on them as Steve got the boys in the car.

The second ewe with a new lamb was another unexpected surprise. The third ewe with what look liked placenta evident round the back end was a very unwelcome surprise. Bearing in mind that we finished lambing over six weeks ago and out of 500 ewes had assisted only 20, it was hard to believe that I was lambing a sheep in June in my shorts.

While my mother tried to keep the boys clean, I had a difficult time lambing a large double, both with their heads back. The guilty culprit, our British Suffolk ram, who can leap fences like Red Rum, will soon be finding a new home and, needless to say, my holiday shorts were ruined.

Anyway it all turned out OK in the end. We caught the ferry, had a week of glorious weather, enjoyed Royal Cornwall (where only two people asked if our French doors were on yet) and managed to relax without thinking about the farm at all.

On our return, everything was fine. My mother and David, our neighbours’ son, had done a fantastic job and then, like most people returning to work after a holiday, we hit the round running again.

After returning to France on Monday via the overnight ferry, I flew back to England on the Tuesday morning to pick up an eBay-bought car in Nottingham. Believe it or not, carbon footprints aside, it was cheaper and easier to come back to France and fly straight into East Midlands Airport than find a route between Dorset and the midlands on a Sunday which didn’t take over eight hours and cost a fortune.

Having bought the car, picked up some kitchen units and got a towbar fitted while parked in a lay-by on the side of the A60, I was once again back on the same ferry on Tuesday night. This time it was full of classic and sports cars on their way to Le Mans for the 24-hour spectacular. Unlike Sunday night when we snuggled up in the comfort of our own cabin, the ferry was packed, which meant I had to sleep on the floor of the main lounge surrounded by men talking about camshafts and oil pressure.

Today we are preparing for a visit from a farmers’ discussion group from Cumbria. Having been away, the tidying up that would normally precede such a visit has not been done and we have exactly four hours left in which to finish off. But, being farmers, I am confident that they’ll understand – after all they must have a PhD in logistics, too.

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