I dream of gold; so much so, in fact, that it keeps me awake at night….a thing of infinite beauty & value. But I’m not greedy – I only desire a few tonnes of the stuff. Becaus the gold of which I dream, isn’t to be found in ingots or jewellery; nor is it mined from the recesses of the earth, nor washed up in aureate nuggets which have tumbled from a swarthy subterranean stream:
No, it is something far more fundamental than lumps of cold-carat metal – it is, simply, STRAW. Whether wheat, barley or oat……gimme gimme gimme! When you really think about it, what could be more genuinely valuable? A chunk of metal, or something which can supply you & yours with food (the grain, for staples such as bread, puddings, pancakes etc as well as drink – beer), a roof over your head (thatch), a mattress for your bed & insulation for your floor (matting), walls for your house (the ‘wattle’ in wattle-&-daub or for cob or straw bale building), baskets to carry your provisions, fish traps, ropes; & as fodder & bedding for your livestock?
Wonderful stuff, straw.
And right now, we’re literally down to the last one…..
…which is a nightmare. Fair enough, we don’t grind our own flour (there’s a wonderful local flour mill which does that) nor do we brew our own barley beer (Pen Lôn’s Cotage Brewery sees to that in far finer style, than we could ever manage) & whilst we may in the future build many of the Ffarm’s buildings from straw or cob, any thatch would be ruthlessly pilfered by the goats & I have enough willow to weave my own sufficiently stout baskets & fish traps. Baler twine is inevitably recycled into rope (it seems that no self-respecting farmer is ever lacking a pocketful of the stuff as an emergency standby) not to mention haynets, halters & many other useful items. Our mattresses are stuffed with less, err, ‘scratchy’ materials these days; & our flagstone floors are warm to the barefooted touch owing to the gently peristent warmth of the heart of our home; our faithful friend, the chunky old Rayburn.
But we simply cannot function efficiently, without straw: because the goats love it. It acts as both bedding & fodder: all we have to do, is throw in a bale or two & they do the rest! A few strategically-placed bales with uncut strings also act as sleeping platforms & play areas, fulfilling additional roles which keep the goats occupied for hours when they prefer to stay indoors if (more often these days it seems, when!) the weather is wet. And of course we couldn’t be without it in the caprine ‘maternity ward’….
This morning we brought the goats in for milking & then owing to the forecast, decided to leave them in for a while to ruminate; which was just as well, as by late morning the showers had started. At first the watery interludes weren’t particularly prolonged; however as time went on they became heavier; & a wet goat is an unhappy goat – certainly where most of our lot are concerned, anyway.
In order to keep myself occcupied I decided to tackle one of those “I’ve-put-it-off-for-long-enough” type chores – clearing the pallets on the floor of the haybarn of detritus before we bring in the new hay & straw (come the glorious day). With pitchfork & broom I scraped, swept & swung forkfuls of the loose material into neat piles, with a third pile of mustier stuff to be collected & consigned to the Snake Pit.
Incidentally the Snake Pit isn’t just a traditional name for an area of the farm, that’s actually what it literally is. Each year at haymaking a few odd bales don’t pass muster; they gather up clods of earth or whatever into their structure & so are unsuitable as fodder. Also some of the bales around the barn’s perimiter inevitably get damp & cannot be used; then there’s some of the loose detritus which gets stuck under pallets, such as I’ve been removing today. Rather than burn it we take to our designated area & carefully pile it in such a way that it makes an ideal habitat for creatures such as snakes & slow worms. These unfortunately much-maligned reptiles inevitably have their place in the great scheme of things: species such as slow worms should be positively welcomed in UK gardens as they prey upon slugs & snails. Although these are legless lizards & not in fact snakes (they have eyelids – snakes do not!) they enjoy similar habitats & can often be found basking on compost heaps. In fact our friend Dee has a remarkable number which have taken up residence in her garden. So if you come across any, please don’t harm them as they’re helping you – & in fact it’s illegal to do so, anyway.
Of our native breeds of snake/legless lizard (adder, grass snake, smooth snake & slow worm) it is only the grass snake which lays eggs – up to forty white, leathery ovoids – the rest give birth to live young. The eggs are incubated in conditions such as we provide in the Snake Pit & hatch during the golden days of Autumn. Meanwhile our slithery associates can bask in the warm sunshine in the optimum conditions we provide for them to do so.
So whilst the Ffarm’s snake population will enjoy ample accommodation this year, we still fear for our goats’ comfort; to the extent that we’re now having to consider using rubber matting with a thinner layer of bedding – not ideal but under the circumstances, do we really have any choice?
For this really is, the last straw…..