Opinion: Rain affects new technology as TB test draws near

I am suffering from a series of debilitating breakdowns at the moment. Usually it is William whose day is ruined by a piece of equipment going bang, but it looks like it’s my turn now.

The iPad, which is my constant companion – my assistant, office manager and personal shopper – has succumbed to a watery grave. I guess that serves me right for leaving it on the wet kitchen counter. I have put it on the radiator in the hope of drying it out.

In the meantime, I am reduced to responding to emails and updating farm records from the clunking old laptop with a permanently green-tinged screen, the result of being dropped on the flagstones. As for my social media addiction and other general internet surfing, my old smartphone has been pressed into service and it is a poor substitute.

It’s amazing how reliant we have become on technology and the internet. Just about every task in the office and around the home is digitally enhanced. I use my iPad to keep in contact with friends, keep up with the news, read and respond to emails and organise my life and business. It even tells me how active I have been by syncing to my pedometer.

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Out and about on the farm, technology has been changing the way we operate for years. Nowadays, so much information can be captured and shared instantly. I can even track Will’s whereabouts on the farm by locating his phone via GPS.

I collected all the information for our new countryside stewardship application from my phone’s camera and was able to upload and download it wirelessly from the “cloud” to the laptop and send it off the same day.

Will uses his phone to record all the tagging data and any medical treatments by taking photos, rather than scribbling it down on a soggy piece of paper. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to run a modern farming business with substandard internet speed. We are very lucky here to have pretty decent speeds and it makes life so much easier.

Another piece of technology that we invested in recently is yet to start earning its keep. I found a bit of cash rattling around the business account and finally put my foot down and purchased a set of digital scales for under the crush. They arrived in December but the monsoon weather has prevented us from laying the concrete pad under the crush, so they are still in their box on the porch. Hopefully we can get them installed before we have to do our annual TB test at the end of the month.

After last year’s breakdown we are dreading it. As store producers, a shutdown has a massive effect on our cashflow and marketing options for our stock. We are hoping that the mild winter and an early spring will instil some much- needed confidence in the beef finishers. We held off selling suckled calves in the autumn as we saw prices tumbling and chose to pump them full of grub here instead. It seems to be paying off, but until I get those scales up and running, we are relying on Will’s “eye” – how very cutting edge!

On the home front, we all seem to have been dogged with winter colds and I’m currently nursing a humdinger of a sore throat that has rendered me almost mute, much to the delight of the rest of the family I’m sure.

Now that the festive season is out of the way I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of spring. If only we could jump straight from New Year’s Day into March, rather than having to slog through January and February.

The winter weather is hampering the kids’ fun and increasing the amount of laundry tenfold. I’m seriously considering spreading straw on the flagstones in the kitchen because so much mud is being dragged in by boots, overalls and dogs. Of course, it then dries and turns into dust that coats every surface.

This winter has been hard on so many farms and it’s horrible to see the devastation the flooding has caused in the North.

We have been lucky here in Cornwall – and, indeed, much of our farm is not susceptible to flooding – but the fields are so saturated that it is going to take a lot of dry weather to allow us even to think about any fieldwork, and outwintering the cows this year has been a messy business. Kale is a wonderful crop for keeping the cows well fed on the cheap, but add this year’s biblical rainfall and it certainly doesn’t create a scene of rural idyll.

At least the bullocks in the shed have had a fairly easy time of it. After a few bouts of pneumonia early in the housing period, we created a “skylight” in the back of the shed by stripping off a load of the Yorkshire boarding. Since then we haven’t had any cases, thanks to better ventilation, and it’s much lighter in there, too.

Hopefully we go clear in the TB test and we can start marketing some of the older stores. Here’s hoping for a boost in the cattle trade to brighten everyone’s day and put a bit of spring in the market.

Jess Jeans and her husband, Will, run 75 suckler cows on an 80ha National Trust farm on the Devon/Cornwall border. They have two children, Edward and Lydia. Jess has a degree in rural business management and enjoys horse riding in her spare time.