A damp, drear, wintry sunrise cast gloom over the darkly skeletal trees in the valley.
I was up & about for the third time between midnight & dawn, having given Bechan her feeds throughout the night whilst Tony snored onwards – blissfuly unaware of the thumps, thuds & thunderings coming from the window-end of the bedroom after she’d finished her milk & insisted on play; before herself drifting off to sleep in the safe warmth of my arms, to be gently laid on her vet bed – also snoring – whilst I quietly crept back to bed.
But I’m kept awake by the sounds from the Baby Monitor: not the hoped-for labour pains from last-to-kid Anthemis; but tby the outpourings from a heavy cloudburst, hissing softly but precipitantly-persistently on the roof of the stables, on the roof of the Kidding Shed, on the roof of each barn……& when I pad restlessly downstairs to check emails & update documents – unable to sleep – I pause on the landing, my ear to the steep slope of the ancient, bisque tongue-&-groove boarding of the cottage’s roof, the whisper of the relentless rain omnipresent in my somnambulent state.
I need a restorative cup of steaming, smoky, Lapsang Souchong to rouse me from my reverie.
So whilst I’m up & about almost impossibly early, Tony doesn’t surface until nearly 9am; despite my pleas that today we really MUST have a very prompt start as the groundworks site team are scheduled to arrive between 08:00 & 09:00 for a meeting – & Tony’s the Man with the Plan. Not to mention that as he’s also off to Damascus tomorrow & wants to get the new Milkforce starting work, we should have been on the yard by 5am to separate Mums & kids prior to reopening the Milking Parlour after its’ two-month shutdown.
In spite of my exhaustion I always keep an ear open for the Baby Monitor throughout the night & feed Her Little Ladyship during the silent hours; never expecting Tony to help with the ‘night shift’ work. Unfortunately this morning he wasn’t happy that I’d forced him to get out of bed, even with only minutes to spare before the workmen arrived let alone to start ‘removals’ four hours earlier. Hence by the time the team arrived, our mutual patience was almost at breaking point & the useful discussion I’d hoped we would have came to nought – not what I’d intended as we really need to be ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ right now.
Basically, the groundworks team for the Dairy Complex build was divided into two consecutive parts: site levelling, & drainage. As you may recall, whilst we were away studying as Gelatières Artigianales in Italy it transpired there was a major problem regarding the site levels, with an alleged discrepancy of several feet between the upper & lower ends of the building. This basically meant that almost half of the footings would have to be ‘shored up’ radically, at one end; requiringg blockwork pillars filled with Yet More Expensive Concrete (not to mention an additional Several-Hundred-Quids’-Worth of wooden boards). None of which – naturally – we’d budgeted for; as not necessary according to Tony’s painstakingly accurate calulations. But that was until the Site Team apparently made the mistake with the levels…..& what’s frustrating is it looks like we’ll be footing a bill for a problem not of our making. Plus, until it’s all sorted, we can’t move any further forward with the rest of the Dairy Complex.
Hence I’m not happy.
Ultimately it was agreed that Paul – who although had been largely responsible for drainage had actually by agreement with Wynn & Peter, also calculated the site’s levels – would return to work here as soon as possible, having collected the additional boards required; then fit them & shore up the remaining insufficiently-supported pillars with additional blockwork & concrete. And although he wasn’t exactly happy with the situation we insited he’d have to pay that particular bill: as apart from having already paid him what we owe him to date plus unexpectedly having to foot a last-minute ‘extras’ bill of £640; when Tony went back through the initial quotes he discovered, I’d already paid Paul for work he hadn’t yet completed – plus there was also work on site for which we’d provided materiels, for which we’d originally been charged. So of course I’ve now put my foot down; & he’s promised to finish the work on Wednesday so that Peter can finish the levelling on Thursday; so hopefully we can progress with more positivity, from there. Meanwhile I have thus far only paid Peter & Wynn, half of their bill; & do not feel we should settle the difference until all the groundworks are completed to our satisfaction as agreed; although I do feel that Wynn has been entirely fair with us & to his credit did not attempt to lay the blame for an inaccurate site on any other shoulders, other than his own – as that was what he’d quoted to provide.
But whilst I may be a Buddhist I feel uncomfortable, in a way; recalling Religious Education lessons at school, & especially Bible Study….I suppose you could say, it literally feels that we’ve ended up robbing Peter, to pay Paul. Although ultimately whilst Paul may have worked on the site levels; that was not work which we hired him, to carry out for us.
Ultimately I really feel the two teams need to settle this between themselves – albeit it will still, in the end, cost us dear: money for the boards, & money for their delivery (not to mention the further astronomical cost in terms of production time these delays are causing us – about £9,000 per month – preventing us from starting the business whilst all that lovely, creamy milk literally goes down the drain. What a criminal waste).
After the Site Teams had left Tony was ravenous & wanted some breakfast before starting work on the Ffarmyard. However I was distinctly unhappy about just how behind schedule we already had fallen; we were supposed to have concluded the first run through the milking parlour with the new Milkforce by now as it was gone 10am, & milking is supposed to start around 6am! However Tony was hungry, & decidedly grumpy; so I duly cooked him a hefty brunch of bacon, eggs, sausage & tomato, washed down with several cups of strong, milky tea. I did get distincly dischuffed when on concluding the meal, he picked up his laptop; & pointed out we really needed to crack on with practical work outside. So out we trudged….
I set about deep-cleaning the parlour & equipment whilst Tony carried out a the miscellaneny of DIY jobs which were required before we could move any goats across into their new home. But inevitably, this all took time…..& by 3pm, we were both still hard at work having grossly underestimated the length of the list of jobs we had to do. Odd really, when you consider we’d only closed the milking parlour a few weeks before to ‘dry off’ the Senior Milkforce, giving them a well-earned rest prior to their kids being born.
The work in the parlour meanwhile was punctuated with caring for Bechan; doing my usual ‘extra’ Sunday chores such as cleaning out the poultry, tackling the ever-mountainous pile of washing, cleaning the house etc; & hand-milking all the newly-kidded goats, which is a time-consuming & actually tiring occupation in itself – especially when the ladies are in fidgity mood & continually try to barge you over whilst you crawl around on hand & knees with a bucketful of milk bearing repeated assaults from their energetically, furious furballs of hurtling little kids.
Subsequently, when by 3.30pm it was looking distinctly unlikely we’d even manage to limp through one milking let alone two, I advised Tony I felt we’d be better to leave starting the new girls in the parlour until after he got back from his next trip; which wouldn’t be for another four days; as the following morning he was off to Damascus, at Obscenely Early O’clock. But after today’s frantic rush, he really wasn’t happy with Plan B….
However, once he’d calmed down he thankfully saw sense; appreciating that as much as anything, my safety would be at risk if we tried to push things too quickly – & being here on my own for a few days with potentially no visitors & no ability to call for help if things went really ‘pear-shaped’, that wouldn’t be wise.
For a start, the dams would be stressed at having just being separated from their kids; so to then try & introduce a whole, nervous new group into learning how to climb up onto a milkstand; putting their heads in a yolk & then accepting the strangeness of clusters & teat dip, it really takes several concerted attempts before they’re even vaguely comfortable with the unfamiliar sensations & the entirely new routine.
Then we go through the ‘honeymoon’ period; which ironically is just as (if not more) challenging: when the girls realise that every time they jump up on the stand, they get a hearty, yummy meal without having to squabble in the communal bowl. Subsequently each time they hear the clang of the feed bin’s metal lid, they clamour at the parlour gate; & it’s a fight to keep them in their pen rather than trying to persuade them to come out. After a couple of weeks they learn the order in which they take their turn on the two milkstands: which we make sure is exactly the same, each & every time – & then peace & order are restored, albeit not without a fair few bruises in between, along with some significant stress & much tearing & premature greying of hair, along the way.
And as you can imagine it is all very time-consuming; as apart from the slow, patient learning process (both for the goats & for us: as we get to know more intimately, each & every lovely, complex caprine personality; plus any quirks or sensitivities of their highly-individual udders of which we’ve already developed a working rudimentary wisdom, whilst hand-milking during the early days).
Then there’s all the pre-feeding of the herd to do; plus washing down the parlour & deep-cleaning all the equipment – three separate washes, all done by hand – after each & every milking.
Meanwhile all those hungry kids demand feeding, four times each day; I keep a detailed record of exactly which kid drinks what amount of milk & if there appear to be problems, how they’ve been overcome: increasing or decreasing the temperature of the milk (goats are notoriously picky); & if that doesn’t work, adjusting the teat aperture/suction for an individual kid as the milk can either flow too fast or too slow for their liking – you swiftly get a feel for each little capricious caprine’s personal preference. But of course there are always those ultra ‘highly individual’ characters……!
Thus as you can imagine being devoted to only one of these activities would prove stressful enough, in itself; without marrying up the twain. However that (alas!) is the nature of dairy farming & especially if you’re dealing with such highly intelligent animals as goats; therefore as relative novices, we’re learning oh-so-very fast.
And I still wouldn’t swap you an office job, for a moment – well not just yet, anyway…..
So after what has proved to be a far longer & more angst-ridden day that we’d bargained for, I exhaustedly sorted out our much-needed but modest supper before Tony headed upstairs to snatch a few hours’ sleep. Meanwhile I did my utmost to keep Bechan from disturbing him by cuddling her with lots of extra milky feeds on the sofa, before tucking the sleepily-exhausted little goat snugly on her vetbed with the warmth of the fire to send her into deeper slumber, before checking the rest of our Little Ffarm was at peace; curling up for a few brief moments of fitful repose prior to jolting into semicomatose action when Tony heads for Heathrow & thereafter to the exotic souks of Damascus…..ohhh for a spicy shopping trip – I wonder if they’d notice, if we swapped jobs for a few days….?
Ah well; maybe not, then.
The uniform wouldn’t fit, anyway.