Today – as it was another calm, pleasant, dry day,
I took the opportunity to catch up on some chores outside: for example, yesterday I really should have mucked out the recently-vacated lambing shed in preparation for the next potential occupants (whoever & whenever they might be).
So I furnished myself with wheelbarrow, fork, spade & broom; making sure all straw – whether apparently clean or obviously dirty – was removed; then the floors, walls & hurdles were thoroughly scrubbed clean & sluiced with disinfectant. Once the floor had dried I put down a further sprinkling of disinfectant powder followed by a thin layer of woodshavings for their absorbency & antiseptic properties, finally refurbishing each pen with a bed of soft, deep clean straw.
Then I scrubbed & sterilised all the dedicated feed pails & water buckets which had been used by the previous occupants – & the shed was ready for action again.
During the afternoon I was contacted by a colleague who works in farming consultancy in Derby, regarding the possibility of some TV work next week – ‘Countryfile’ want to film a piece concentrating on homesteaders & downshifters following controversial criticism by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) that smallholders are the weak link in the animal disease chain & should be subject to more stringent regulations than mainstream commercial farmers as we ‘pose a threat’ to commercial agriculture.
I really do take umbrage to such unfounded & frankly irresponsible, inflammatory comments. Smallholders are already subject to exactly the same regulations as large-scale farmers: we all follow the same rules whether we have one sheep, or one thousand; plus it seems that smallholders tend to be inspected – whether for record-keeping, stock or premises, far more regularly than larger enterprises (after all, it’s far easier to count a herd of three or four cows than three or four hundred head of dairy cattle). Therefore why we should be subject to even more, is beyond me. Having smaller numbers of livestock to care for means that problems are more likely to be identified more swiftly too; & the level & care of individual birds or animals (including more frequent veterinary consultancy) is usually far greater & more concentrated than those of comercial-scale flocks or herds.
As for smallholders being the ‘weakest link’ in the disease chain, I recall the Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak last year. Despite having a County/Parish/Holding (CPH) number we initially received no information whatsoever regarding the outbreak; it was about three weeks before we heard defra’s first recorded message.
Regardless, we immediately took it upon ourselves to take responsible measures; even though we are in West Wales & the outbreak originated in Surrey. Our farm had one of the highest levels of biosecurity in the area. For a start we kept the gate at the top of our half-mile-long drive, permanently locked; we used disinfectant mats, vehicle sprays & foot baths; we had sets of ‘on farm & ‘off farm’ clothes which were stored & washed seperately; we allowed no visitors on the farm for the duration of the outbreak; & we kept our movements on & off farm, to an absolute minimum & did not visit any other agricultural holdings throughout. Our biosecurity procedures were strictly regimented – but as former military officers with perhaps a greater awareness than many, it would have been unforgivable of us to be any less stringent & risk bringing the disease to our friends & neighbours’ farms. However we were dismayed at the essentially apathetic attitiude of many larger-scale farmers across the UK regarding disease control even though they’d been farming at the time of previous outbreaks, which we hadn’t. This apathy was worryingly highlighted in the farming press at the time of the most recent FMD outbreak.
I appreciate that not everyone has our biosecurity background & training; but do I believe that the majority of smallholders care a great deal for their livestock & provide them with a very high level of personal care. So to say that we should be penalised by being subject to yet another layer of bureaucracy & regulation seems utter madness; & what would the guidelines for said regulation be? Size of holding, or number/variety of species kept? Smalholders are in danger of being mucked around yet again & I’m amazed they appear to be being indirectly blamed for the latest FMD outbreak when it was clear the problem was down to Government underfunding of the Pirbright infrastucture which caused the virus leak in the first place. And what about the 2001 outbreak…..? Was that down to the irresponsibility of smallholders, or the pressures upon commercial farmers….?? Hmph.
Unfortunately whilst serious smallholders continue to be dismissed as only ‘hobby farmers’ this casual prejudice against them is likely to continue; but it is disappointing – nay, insulting – that a supposedly responsible body such as the NFU should so unjustly point the finger.
Incidentally rather than the NFU we chose to join the Farmers’ Union of Wales – & they’ve been great.
Anyway (as ever), I digress; as I mentioned ‘Countryfile’ expressed an interest in filming here next week although after a lot of time-consuming ‘phone calls & general shilly-shallying it transpired we’re ‘too far away’ to fit into the schedule – what a shame that Wales is currently off the radar as we have so much to offer here – especially if the weather’s nice. And my colleagues who’d hoped filming would take place here at the Ffarm were especially disappointed as they were very much looking forward to seeing our progress with the Dairy Complex; last time they visited the groundworks hadn’t even been started!
So there we go – a day of mucking out; & being mucked around, in our turn. Lots of muck but no brass for the forseeable future…..