One of the things I love about farming is that the vast majority of days tend to be different. They will have elements that are similar. We milk cows for over 300 days a year, in spring the calves are fed morning and evening, in winter all animals need to be foddered but other work tends to vary such as tasks like fencing, spreading fertiliser, spreading dung, grass measuring, dosing cattle, mowing grass, paperwork. If the sun is shining, it makes work all the nicer.
I like variety. When I was teaching in a secondary school, I rarely taught the same texts for more than two years. I’ve had lots of different careers – receptionist, dental nurse, teaching tourists how to do brass rubbings (student job), supermarket cashier, secondary school teacher, university lecturer, interior designer, social media trainer, and now I’m a writer and a farmer.
Writing and farming dovetail nicely. With previous books, I’ve written the books during the quieter time of the farming year (during the summer). Doing repetitive jobs that don’t require much thinking means that my brain has time to relax and mull over things like structure, or rethink something I’ve written, or plan the next section. Jobs like scraping cubicles are ideal but sometimes I can get too much of a good thing. With the heavy rainfall from September 2017 to now, livestock had to be housed earlier than normal and on most farms, they are still housed at night. We let half of our cows out to grass on Monday and it was their first time out all year. That has meant that we’re sick and tired of yardwork- of foddering cattle, of trying to empty slurry tanks, of scraping and liming cubicles.
Lou comes along with me and keeps me company. As Brian is milking, I feed the calves and do the cubicles. Lou walks along the raised cubicles as I’m pushing the scraper, she stops at the end to wait for me and then turns to walk back the other way with me. When I’m filling buckets with lime in the haybarn, she searches for cats amongst the straw bales. As I’m feeding calves, she either walks alongside me or lies down to watch – depending on how tired she is. Her favourite jobs are helping me to get the cows out of the cubicles, and of bringing fifty cows from the collecting yard post-milking back to the new cubicle shed.
But even with all that, the weather and tediousness of doing the same jobs day in, day out, got to me on Saturday.
As I said in my previous post on the highs and lows of farming, we’re some of the lucky ones, we still have fodder to last another two weeks, we haven’t had sick livestock, we’re okay for housing, we’re not experiencing depression. Yes, the meal lorry is coming frequently but such is life. Some farmers are having to buy fodder, some farmers weren’t able to source fodder until the importation started or are finding it hard to finance it. Yet, on Saturday afternoon, I had to get away from the farm. Getting into the garden wasn’t going to cut it. I couldn’t face cleaning the house. But where to go? I didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm for shopping, or going for a walk. So Kate and I went to the cinema (and yes, I had a short nap midway during the film) and then out for coffee and cake.
When we got home to do the evening jobs, I did feel refreshed. Will and Brian had been happy enough (sensible men, happy as long as the women in their lives are happy) and Lou was delighted to see us again. It’s impossible to stay glum when you’re accompanied by an exuberant collie with flowers behind her ears.
Fingers crossed the weather will become sunny and dry, and this will all become a memory, albeit of one of the worst springs in living memory.