Opinion: Gardening, calving and Valentine’s season

Spring comes early in this part of Cornwall. The Tamar Valley has its own micro climate that has made it popular as a market gardening area.

My talents, unfortunately, do not sway towards any sort of horticulture. I can kill just about any plant with alarming efficacy just by watering it (or not). However, it is at this time of year that my father-in-law starts to involve us all in getting the garden field ready for the growing season.

We always grow about an acre of various vegetables and potatoes, primarily for ourselves, but this year I am feeling somewhat inspired by the prospect of making a bit more pin money and growing some vegetables for sale. I’ve been spurred on by my veg box addiction. Every week I have a great big box of veg dropped on the doorstep by a cheery driver and my bank account gets drained of twenty quid.

Hopefully, said father-in-law is feeling patient and will impart some of his green-fingered secrets to me. If nothing else, Edward loves mucking about in the mud and he might enjoy growing a little patch of his own. Odds are that he will be more successful than me at growing lettuce but I’m going to give it a good go.

February also signals our calving season getting into full swing. What with late-night checks on the dry cows and a toddler who is embracing the “terrible twos”, sleep is a precious commodity in our house at the moment.

Edward recently moved from his cot into a big bed, giving him new scope for night-time shenanigans. He has taken to launching his tractors at our bedroom door when he wakes in the night to get our attention at ungodly hours of the morning. No-one needs to be woken at 3am, not even a farmer. His toy collection is starting to look distinctly battered along with our nerves.

This calving season we are expecting a large proportion of the cows to be delivering Limousins, a departure from our usual Hereford and Angus calves that are typically born with little more than a fart from the cows and are nigh on uncatchable after a couple of hours. As a result we are much more anxious about dystocia and have been watching the herd closely. No problems so far and the cows are in good condition so hopefully the season will continue in this fashion.

We bought our first Limousin bull last spring and this year we are going to sell our Angus in favour of another Limi, so Will has been scouring the for sale ads looking for a suitable specimen. Unfortunately all the bulls he likes come with a price tag that make my eyes water.

The debate in Farmers Weekly (30 January) on showing versus EBVs fuelled a long debate around our kitchen table. We have brought bulls from breeders we have met at shows and from breeders who don’t show but collect EBV data on their stock. I think both looks and EBVs are relevant when selecting a breeding bull but frame and length are best assessed by eye, as is soundness. The best EBVs in the world are useless if the bull can’t walk up and down our hills without going lame.

Our cows are purely commercial, mainly first cross from the dairy industry so it’s really important that the bulls we use bring excellent beef quality to the calves. We would always shy away from a bull that has been reared and fed to look good in the show ring. I would rather buy a bull in his work clothes than one in show condition because when they get to us they have to work hard and there is definitely no pampering.

Also on Will’s wishlist for this year is a cattle trailer and apparently the mower that we share with our neighbour needs replacing. I think I’d better find somewhere to stash the chequebook before he gets carried away. However, the prospect of our own trailer does increase my options for dragging the horses to lots more competitions. Talking of which, Panda won her first event recently. I was chuffed to bits, as was Will when he noticed a burger van at the show. Apparently waiting around at horsey events is made infinitely more bearable with unlimited access to fast food.

Like many farming couples, we rarely have time to “go out” of an evening so I am quite defensive when it comes to celebrating birthdays and anniversaries etcetera.

A recent glance at the calendar reminded me that Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and I asked Will what he had planned for us. He returned with a decidedly blank stare and a non-committal shrug of his shoulders while muttering “Dunno, go out for dinner I s’pose?” I know this means he has no plans for organising anything romantic beyond a card and bunch of flowers from the supermarket, although he is perfectly amenable to the idea of a pub dinner so long as booking a table and strong-arming a relative into babysitting is left to me. This is the regular drill when it comes to date nights; William will show up clean and dressed in something other than overalls (provided nothing is calving) and I will organise everything else.

I must admit, this year I am feeling a little mischievous and am very tempted to do something a little different… I wonder how he would react if I booked us a tango lesson?

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