This month Roger Evans tells us about his mystery fire in the calf shed, and on the cattle front how we may be overlooking some of the traits our native breeds have to offer.
People tell me I have a good memory. Yes, I can remember particular incidents, but what I can’t do is put a date on them. But I’ve got passports to help me now. Many years ago I was short of bulling heifers. They were scarce, and therefore plenty dear enough, and I didn’t have the time to go to endless sales to find some.
But I have a friend, who is a retired dairy farmer, and he goes to lots of sales so he said he would keep an eye out for me. Soon after he phones to say he’s bought me six. The money is okay, but when they turn up there’s two Ayrshires, and it just wasn’t what I was expecting.
They were a sort of old-fashioned Ayrshire, with no blending in their breeding, and a bit short of stature by the standards of the time. Anyway, we kept them and what grand little cows they turned out to be.
Never any trouble, just milked and bred well, and got on with it. One of them died suddenly about five years ago and we were so disappointed we did a post-mortem on her. It’s not a thing we do very often as a post-mortem is quite expensive and in our experience it rarely brings an animal back to life.
This particular little cow had died courtesy of the wire in a sky lantern. I’ve just taken the other to Ludlow this morning to the cull cow sale. The passport tells me she is 15 years old going on well towards 16. You can’t argue with that.
Those of us who have gone down the cross-breeding route have probably missed a trick here. Apart from crossbreeding with Jerseys, a lot of us have used breeds like Norwegian and Swedish Reds.
It could well be that the qualities of robustness and longevity we were looking for were right there under our noses within native breeds like the Ayrshire and Dairy Shorthorn all the time! But onto the present. When your milk cheque turns up and you see how much it is and how much you had per litre, it’s quite easy to think to yourself that things can’t get much worse.
But they can and they often do. It’s morning when the milk statement turns up and the very same evening we have a fire in our calf shed. It’s a shed we constructed ourselves, and I thought we’d made a decent job of it. It’s a sort of pole barn mono pitch constriction light and airy.
It does its job well. Because it’s open-fronted we put a row of big bales of straw across the front of it to keep the wind off the calves. It was these that were alight.
If there were any pluses to be had, it occurred very late afternoon while people were still about and although the smoke and flames were spectacular, the building was largely undamaged and the main thing was we got the calves out okay. Mind you, it wasn’t that easy to get the calves out with all those blue lights flashing and headlights on.
The calves spent the night in an adjacent field, but were none the worse for that. We had a four fire engine turnout so it was a big event at the time. Of course, because they are all part-time fire fighters from the local area, we knew most of them but are more used to meeting them off duty. It’s very rare to see them working, thank goodness, and I can only say how professional and thorough they were.
It’s probably something we take for granted, that 999 phone call, but you make one like we did and in just a few minutes these well trained and well equipped members of the local community turn up to help you.
And fire is not something you wish on anybody but there is some merit in seeing a farm fire at first hand because when you see what a fire can do when it is out of control it serves as an important reminder of just how careful you should be. Years ago there was an arsonist about here and I was coming home one night and there were some barns well alight on the side of the road.
I stopped for a few minutes to watch and it’s all very scary. The asbestos was going off like a gun and shooting up yards into the air. The arsonist’s excuse, when they caught him, was that he liked to hide near the scene of his handy work and watch the blue lights coming.
We’ve not found what caused ours, which is a bit of a worry. There were 30 firemen there at one time, and fortunately things were very quickly under control.
They could hold up cameras that could see through the dense smoke to help locate the calves. David said: “Do you think we should give them all a cup of tea?”
I said it was a good idea but how many cups did he think I’d got. But we needn’t have worried, they had all the tea making paraphernalia you could wish for!