It is now Whitsun. Whit’ weekend and half-term, so we are flat out and fully booked, and guess what ……. it’s raining ‘cats and dogs’ ! It has possibly been the driest May ever so us growers are desperate for rain. The grass is beginning to die back already, a bit like last year, so we could be in for another fabulous Summer, but what is good for some is a nightmare for others. Our pigs, Peek and Boo, are already showing signs of sun-burn. We have been filling up their wallow on a daily basis for weeks. Hopefully, being a hardier outdoor breed they will fare better than last years pair. Curly and Wurly had a big problem last year with sunburn and had to go off to market earlier than necessary. Although Peek and Boo are also white – and therefore more susceptible to the sun – they are a hardier cross, and hairier, so hopefully they will fare better.
When I wrote last months blog, at the end of April, I was getting a bit twitchy about the absence of swallows. Every year of my life so far the swallows have returned from their Winter migration to Southern Africa on or before my birthday – April 21st. Natures ability to prejudge the seasonal changes in the weather is phenomenal. Our climate is changing and migratory patterns are adapting to compensate, accordingly. However, when no swallows had arrived by the last week of April, my alarm bell was ringing. We have had sixteen pairs breeding at North Bradbury for the last twenty years. They generally have three chicks in a clutch and in a good season will hatch out two clutches. By late Summer we normally have well over one hundred home reared swallows, all out every day frantically catching flies, building up their energy levels and stamina in order to cope with their long flight South in October. Flies are a huge problem everywhere, and particularly on farms. Especially horse flies which are biting, bloodsucking beasts that persecute animals and humans alike. They are swallows favourites and watching our own birds aerial acrobatics as they hoover up bucketfuls of pests is one of my favourite pastimes. Sadly, that may be a thing of the past ! By early May we had one pair in residence. Fortunately it was the pair that always nest in our front porch. We can watch them flying in and out all day long from every window in the house and virtually every part of the garden and farm, as they collect mud from the duck pond to reinforce their nest before the female starts laying. Now, all across Southern England reports are coming in of virtually no migratory birds and in many places, none at all. Swallows, House martins, Swifts and Willow warblers are the most noticeable for their absence. The reasons for their disappearance are fairly obvious. Along most of the coast of North Africa, and especially Egypt and the Nile valley, people are using huge Chinese Mist nets to ‘harvest’ millions of migratory birds as they fly South in the Autumn and return back Northwards in the Spring. Industrial quantities of captured birds have one or both wings broken to prevent them flying away before being transported to markets for ‘Halal’ slaughter prior to human consumption. Who is at fault for yet another environmental disaster. These aren’t ‘our’ swallows. Hungry Africans can’t be blamed for seeing them as a food source and industrially harvesting them. If Chinese manufacturers can earn an income from manufacturing Mist nets they are creating employment for their workforce. Farmers, growers and domestic householders in this country are all using insecticides to reduce problematic insect populations which migratory birds need to survive and thrive. Some buildings in this country have protective netting erected to prevent birds from nesting and messing in public areas. We can only hope that the evolutionary instincts of species like Swallows will eventually teach them to avoid most potential hazards and hungry humans will evolve more sustainable food production systems. In the short term fewer Swallows probably means more nasty, biting insects.
Back on the farm…….the orphan lambs are still causing problems. They seem to have teamed up with Balti and Snowy, our gormless goats, and are vying for the ‘best escapologists’ nominations list. I have never had such perpetual offenders. Misty the sheep dog has never been so busy. I thought the Beagle puppies were top of the troublemakers league, but not any more. And guess what………we are ‘eagerly awaiting’ the arrival of them in a few weeks !
Time to go. I’ve got to do some more lamb/goat fencing…….
Cheers for now, Farmer Chris.