This month Roger Evans tells us about how his big moment eventually came on the silage rake, and his delicate balancing trick with the dead cow in the bucket.
There’s not a lot of good news out there at the moment. Milk, beef, lamb, corn are all down. If you produce a million litres of milk, you are probably £40,000 down on your milk cheque, and who is to say we’ve reached the bottom yet?
So where do you find that sort of money? With great difficulty. Various milk buyers cite volatility in the market place and look to compare themselves with other buyers. If you produce milk, anybody’s price drop is bad news for all of us, and there’s no comfort to be had in any of it.
At second cut silage time, I finally get to go on the rake. The gang is one driver short, so it is not actually the accolade it first appears. They really wanted to get me carting grass with a trailer, but I wasn’t keen on spending all day thrashing up and down narrow lanes, meeting car drivers who have no idea where reverse gear is and, even if they did, they didn’t know how to steer backwards. Therefore, it was me for the rake.
I must admit I did approach the job with some trepidation. Would I remember which levers to pull and in what sequence when I had to fold it all up and move to the next field? Then there were the electric poles. The poles were first on my list of possible tribulations but having come through the trial unscathed, I became more confident and even moved her up a gear. Folding up was not a problem either. In fact the only place I struggled was lifting the rake clear of the headland swathes I had already made, although I confess I had to do a bit of tidying up when I’d finished a field.
When you are working as a gang, you all come together at stoppages, breakdowns and meal times. The main topic always seemed to be the quality or otherwise of my raking and any bits I might have missed. However, I did notice the man who had done the mowing wasn’t criticised for any bits he had missed. It’s long been the tradition here that any bits missed by the mower were actually sites of curlew nests. I noticed there were 10 curlews nesting in one 2.8-hectare (seven-acre) field. Today I’m topping a field I’ve never driven a tractor on before as it’s a field we are renting as grass keep for a year. It’s quite a steep field but I’m not too worried about the gradient. In fact, I do the steepest part first so I don’t have to worry about it.
What I am worried about, however, is avoiding any humps and bumps or old rabbit burrows with the topper. You see I’ve got my shorts on and the last thing I want to be doing is clambering about on the topper changing a shear pin and getting thistles in my socks.
My shorts are light green and the working shirt is light green as well, so I am nicely colour co-ordinated. On my wrist is one of those loom band bracelets made from rubber bands which are all the craze at the moment – my granddaughter made it for me. I think I look quite cool. If only I had sunglasses.
I spend most of the day topping, I don’t break a shear pin and it looks nice and tidy. So when we are having our evening meal, ‘she’ asks: “What has Stephen been doing all day?” And I say he has been mowing, and she replies: “He’s a good worker isn’t he, he works hard. What have you been doing?” When I say I’ve been topping most of the day, she says: “So you’ve been sitting down then.” Can’t win can you? Think I’ll go and mope in the pub.
There’s a dead cow out on the grass keep. She’s an old cow, out with the dry cows and heifers. So I go to fetch her with the loader. She’s lying on a steep bank with her feet ‘downhill’.
I clearly can’t execute the pick-up with the bucket I need which would send the bulk of her body into the bucket, so I go down to the bottom side and push her up to the top of the field where it is a bit flatter. Her legs are in the bucket and her body is sliding on the grass.
When I get up on to the flatter ground at the top, I give the bucket a flip to turn her over so I can pick her body up first. But it doesn’t work quite like that. Her legs must have been well into the bucket because I actually end up with a dead cow standing upright in the bucket.
I’m quite taken with this as it appeals to my warped sense of humour, so I set off across the fields. I’ve got a mile of road to do before I get home and wonder what motorists will think of a dead cow coming to meet them down the road. Then I pause and wonder what will happen if I go over a pothole and the cow ends up on the road.
Then I wonder how long it might take to pick her up again on the road among the traffic. Then I bottle it, tip her out against the hedge and pick her up the other way around. So all the motorists see is four legs up in the air and a head lolling over the side. But it sure slows them down!