Farmer Focus : Wilbert Girvan 12/11/04

AS HEAVY clay soil on our lower land has now become “bottomless”, we have been forced to wean all our calves and put them into their winter accommodation.

Luckily, our farmhouse is some distance from the farmyard and the noise they are making does not disturb our dreams – dreams that cattle may be profitable after decoupling.

We have spent the past month installing two feed passages and laying concrete floors in our wintering shed. The new layout, in conjunction with a new feeder wagon, will make one of our daily chores a more pleasant experience.

I met my next-door farmer recently and when I enquired what he was doing, he said: “Putting out the rams.”

“Oh,” I said, “that reminds me. I should maybe do the same some time soon.”

The annual ovine orgy is now under way and lambing should commence on the April 1. Who is the April Fool, yet again?

As Remembrance Sunday draws near, I am reminded of one of the most memorable and respected men I ever knew. Will Guthrie was his name and he spent most of his life working with horses and traction engines on Borders farms.

He was highly intelligent, with a memory that could recall events going back to the Boer War. He fought at the Battles of the Somme and Ypres. When he rolled up his sleeves to work – which he often did – he revealed the scars inflicted on him by a German bayonet and dismissed them as mere scratches.

One day this hard, gruff, 80-year-old man told me that when he was only 19 and had graduated to his first pair of Clydesdale horses, two Army officers rode up to the large farm on which he worked and picked – requisitioned – the best horses in the stable. This, of course, included his two horses.

I still remember vividly how this old man wept like a child when telling me this story. Only he could comprehend what would have happened to the horses that were his pride and joy.