Thoughts while shearing

Thoughts while shearing

I have found that I have mixed feelings after the annual shearing. During the year any dagging (removing the soiled wool at the rear end) or crutching I do myself by hand, but for the annual shearing of the fleece I rely on a young lad on the next farm to do the work.

He has all the equipment; a shearing trailer (which acts as a holding pen while the work is going on), the electrical shears (which give a neat trim) and moccasins (so that he might hold the sheep with his feet without hurting them). But more importantly he has two other advantages. Firstly he has the strength and stamina; shearing is hard work, grappling 50kg of reluctant, wriggling ewe or ram and trying to operate heavy electric shears at the same time is a young man’s job. It is difficult for an old codger like me. Secondly, and most importantly, he has the skill. Knowing how to hold the animal, how to turn them as you shear, how to avoid cutting the animal and managing to take off an entire fleece intact is a hard earned skill. Watching someone who knows their craft is very impressive.

DSC_3212

I usually like to use the least technology possible, to try and find the most natural way to do a task. However, there is no way to shear a sheep without tools and modern tools make this easier. Primarily they make it easier for the sheep. The procedure is painless but it alarming to the animal, it has no conception of what is happening and is afraid. There is no way to share, with them,  the knowledge that they will feel better during the summer and be at less risk of fly-strike, lice, ticks and a variety of other plagues. It is always stressful and therefore anything that shortens the time it takes is good news. Hand shearing by an expert takes about 15 minutes, hand shearing by me takes about an hour, electrical shearing by our neighbour takes about 2 minutes. There is really little contest, electrical shearing wins hands down.

So why then do I have mixed feelings about it ? Well, this time it started when another neighbour, who was helping, recalled shearing when he was a boy. On the shearing days up to 20 men would sit in a line on benches at the edge of the field and shear the flocks by hand. During the season many hands were needed to do the work. Now one or two men, with good machinery, can do the same job with less effort and stress. It is the reason that agriculture, though it produces much more than it ever did, uses less labour. It is why there are few jobs in the countryside and why the population has shrunk. Though there are less jobs in farming this mechanisation has created its own jobs – there is now a need for factory workers to work the lathes and milling machines that make the equipment. There is less call for young men to learn how to shear in Wales but the demand for young men to work in factories, often abroad. With less people living and working in the countryside there is less call for shops, schools, churches, doctors and the like and this is why we see that now the majority of people live in urban areas.

This specialisation is at the core of capitalism and it is the great irony of the twentieth century  that it has been capitalism, not socialism,  which has pulled many people out of poverty. Through mechanisation and specialisation great increases in wealth have arisen. This increase is so great that, even when it is badly and unevenly distributed, the majority of us benefit. In the west, going back 100 years, no-one could have anticipated our current wealth. The idea of personal transport by automobile, central heating or air conditioning, personal computers and telephony would be unimaginable to people who thought that books and electric light to read them by were a luxury. So it seems I cavil , especially as I post this on the internet, when I cast doubt in these changes. However, I’d argue that not all of this progress has been without cost and, although agreeing that a market economy is the best way to ensure efficient production, I’d propose we have to be careful that we know where we’re heading as individuals and as a society.

It was often said that these mechanised and specialised changes would benefit us because they are “labour saving“. Each new gadget, from the washing machine to the smartphone, has promised to save us time and to leave us more leisure time for ourselves. This should lead to increased pleasure as we do things we enjoy rather than need to do.  However, our pleasures are relative. Once we become accustomed to something it changes from a luxury to a necessity (People will not venture outside now without their phones). Thus the prior luxuries become part of our life and, if missing, a source of our unhappiness. There is no evidence that individually we are any one jot happier than people 100 or 200 years ago. The Victorian got just as much pleasure from his night at the music hall as we do from an evening at the 3D IMAX cinema. The Victorian felt as euphoric when his lover agreed to become his partner as we do now (Well possibly they had greater pleasures in this area as society was more restrictive on the whole).

Our luxuries don’t seem to bring us pleasure but perhaps they at least give us time. It would seem unfortunately this is not the case. As we have more, we need more and want more and thus we work more.  In his book Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari notes that the time we spend as a species working for others has always increased and certainly if one were to look over the last two generations this trend is evident. 50 years ago a skilled manual worker, working well, could expect to provide for his family to the standards of his day. Now both parents will have to work outside the house to provide for their family with all the consequent changes that we have seen in child rearing and family life.

It seems that once we have escaped scarcity, once the basics (hunger, thirst, safety, warmth, etc) are dealt with we do not know what is “enough“. We are good at acknowledging what is too little, we have built in warning systems in our biology when there is too little food, or water, or heat. However, we don’t seem to be able to determine what’s enough in term of what is “too much”.  Consequently in our post-scarcity world, in the west, our major problems are those of excess – obesity  or substance abuse as individual problems for example and global warning and the plastic pollution of our seas as global examples.

This is possibly the reason that all the major religions had as an important focus the advice to avoid excess. Gluttony, avarice, lust and covetousness are sins to be avoided and all the main religions advice that we should try and control our desires.  Going back to the stoics, they advice that we should try to have and want less, to not be controlled by our desires. It is possibly a perfect storm in the developed world, that as the productive powers of capitalism reaches its zenith the advisory power of religion  plumbs its nadir.

Thinking about the changes that have occurred in how we shear sheep has made me think that if we want to survive we need to change. As individuals we have to learn to rein in our desires which I think will require a rebalancing. We will need to rediscover localism so that our wants and needs play out on a smaller stage. We need to reduce the size of the states we live within so that they are no more than is necessary and allow individuals to create small communities on a more human scale. We have to learn when enough is enough and this going to be difficult. As individuals we are going to have to break out of the role of being primarily consumers and reclaim our private lives. This is no easy feat but as Tolstoy said “In order to land where you wish, you must direct your course much higher up.”

Mynd am dro

Mynd am dro

Yesterday, in a fit of madness, we decided to take the afternoon off. The continuing heat and flies have made work outside feel like purgatory. All the vital tasks had been done and were up to date, all the animals were fed and watered and we felt we needed a short break. We spoke with our neighbour, who farms the smallholding next to ours, and found he was of a similar opinion. A plan to go for a walk was hatched.

We decided to go to see the meadow flowers before it was too late. We are fortunate locally that a number of the local farmers are strongly opposed to industrial farming and employ much more traditional methods. This avoidance of overgrazing and monoculture seeding means that the hay meadows can look wonderful at this time of year. They remind me of the meadows of my youth with their wide varieties of flowers. This is a view of the countryside which is unfortunately being steadily lost.

We decided on a simple local circular walk through the old meadows. This took us along the bottom edge of Cader Idris which is a fine backdrop for any walk.

IMG_20180612_232750_900.jpg

The hay meadows are irregularly shaped. The shape is determined by the contours of the hills and mountains and the channels that the streams and rivers follow. Paths and roads also follow the natural courses, there are few straight lines here.

DSC07657

These fields are full of colour and smells. The early purple and butterfly orchids are perhaps the stars of the field, but it is the ox eye daisies, buttercups, cotton grass, clover and raggedy robin which supply most of the colour. Even the yellow rattle and eyebright play their part.wp-1528907987390..jpg

However, it is not only the flora which make this local walk so enjoyable it is the fauna as well. Unfortunately, I was not quick enough with my camera to catch the birds we saw. The Hawfinches were everywhere but on this occasion I also saw a Linnet, for the first time,  and two barn owls which was a pleasant surprise.  The Canadian geese were the only birds I managed to capture with the camera, but we did see squirrels, farm animals, slow worms, signs of badgers and foxes and myriads of dragon and damsel flies.

DSC07708

IMG_20180613_174650.jpg

Even when on the roads there is much to see in the hedgerows and very little traffic to break the peace. Indeed, during a two hour walk we passed nobody  on the route except when we stopped in at a neighbour’s house for tea and cake. I could walk these back roads naked if I wished, with little risk of startling anybody other than the sheep and cattle (But the horseflies would then become a bigger problem.)

DSC07755

On the return half of the walk again  we had mountains in our view. This time we were looking northward to Snowdonia. Looking at the many small valleys and plains between the mountains I was struck by how hospitable this area is. These valleys, like the one I live within, are natural boundaries to communities. They suit small farms and small group living. The large farms have not yet established much of a foothold in this area and hopefully they never will. We need to rediscover smaller more traditional farms and villages.

It is certainly true that these ways are less effective in generating profit but in a post-scarcity age we need to consider whether accumulation of even more wealth is our most pressing aim. Perhaps many of us would forgo some of this affluence if in return we had better lives. Perhaps we’d give up social media and on-line entertainments if we had stronger and more engaging local communities.  Perhaps we’d use less pre-prepared meals (with consequent obesity and diabetes),  if creating food and meals was an integral part of our lifestyle. Perhaps it is time we focussed more on making than consuming, being creative usually brings more joy and pleasure than simply feeding our appetites. Previously I used to travel the world with work and for holidays. I did enjoy seeing different places and experiencing different cultures but it is very surprising that a simple walk, at your back door, can supply just as much pleasure as the most luxurious tourist excess.

DSC07748

The benefits of topping.

Today has been a day spent topping. When we first started small holding we spent much of our time watching the experienced farmers in the area and then, a couple of days late, copying them. When they started cutting hay, a day late, so did we – when they sheared their flock so did we (although a lot less expertly). Every year I copied them until I understood why they did what they did and when. In the early years one of the greatest mysteries was “topping“; each year, each field was topped at least once. We did this faithfully but ignorantly. (Topping is cutting the grass short and leaving the remains where they fall rather than taking them for hay or silage)

I now know topping is a valuable part of pasture management. It helps keep down thistles, reeds and other weeds. The regular cutting also promotes a better sward of grass which the animals prefer and benefit from. It cuts down the large stems of grass which the animals are not eating and which have become “leggy” and these, and all the other items cut, lie as mulch so that their nutrients go back into the soil. However, topping has also taught me something much more important, it has taught me about belonging.

We have tried in the main to undertake most of the farming tasks we have to do,  either by hand or without heavy machinery. Some of this is through choice, but a great deal is through necessity as machinery is expensive. As farms have become bigger in Britain farm machinery has grown pari passu with this. Although prices are reasonable they are only reasonable if you want to work an area of over 500 hectares. Vaccines are reasonably priced when you buy enough to inject 500 sheep but can be difficult to get in reasonable volumes to do 25. We do not have a standard tractor on the farm. It would be too expensive and the few times we really have needed one it has been possible to call on the aid of a neighbour. There are people with back-hoe diggers, mobile sawmills and cherry pickers in our valley and they are seen as communal resources. As long as you contribute what you can, machinery or labour, you can call on these other resources.

Because our farm is very hilly, some of our pasture would be quite dangerous to drive on in a tractor for fear of overturning. For this additional reason I felt best to keep temptation out of my reach – if I don’t have a tractor I can’t try topping the steep field with it. Further, there was another problem –  the time I needed a tractor and topper was always the time everyone else needed it too. Topping, therefore,  faced us with a dilemma, as the prospect of mowing a 6 acre meadow, by hand, was pretty daunting.

Thankfully the Italians came to our rescue. DSC_3185In Italy, as many of the farms work olive groves and, also because inheritance law has lead to the growth of very small farms, there is a call for small, two-wheeled tractors. There is a steady demand for machinery which works on a smaller scale.  In Italy, and throughout Europe, there are a number of manufacturers of these small multi-talented tractors. Our first purchase was a Goldoni with a field topper. This makes light work of topping even large fields. Around this time of year I have a pleasant few days following the Goldoni at a brisk walking pace as we top each of our fields.

DSC07601.JPGIt is not too strenuous and there is plenty to keep you interested as you top the field. There is the wildlife to watch. Often this is wildlife trying to flee from the advancing topper but fortunately we are slow enough not to catch any. Today’s walk introduced me  to slow worms and toads as well as allowing me to watch the Red Kites circling overhead.

As we DSC07595.JPGare not taking hay these years (we have too many animals and not enough pasture) we let the meadow rest last year. In addition to the animal life we have also been fortunate to see  orchids growing wild near the damp edges.

However, by far the best sight is looking over the field, past the big cherry tree, over the house and seeing the mountains. Whoever, planned our house back in 1796 knew what they were doing;  they chose a wonderfully sheltered spot which avoids the winds without losing the sun. Looking over the field and knowing that, again, you have walked every square foot of that field and checked it is very satisfying. It helps tether you to your place and fosters an affection for your patch of land. I guess this is what starts to develop those attachments to place which bind you to home. Welsh has a word for this –  “hiraeth” – it is similar to  the German “heimat” , but has more  a sense of yearning to be where you belong.DSC_3187

These connections are not truly innate, they arise from being in close proximity to a place over a period of time. They come from working with that area’s nature and getting to know it as it changes throughout the year. It is the sinking of roots into a patch of land so that you feel unsettled when you are not at home. This can occur in the town or the country, a village or the city but it depends on constancy of place and its people. As our lives are much more mobile now;  our working lives often takes us from place to place, and our families likewise can be moving and dispersed over wide areas, for many of us it is difficult to generate this feeling. This is unfortunate as I feel that this connection is also part of the emotion which binds us to our communities. This is the part of the jigsaw that was missing when I worked in the city, this was the bit of me that I felt was lost which drove me to leave.

I have never regretted that decision. Yes, I often feel like a fool and out of my depth when I try to grapple with new problems. But facing problems and dealing with them is what makes life enjoyable. Routine, while comforting, needs to be broken every now and then to keep us on our toes. Having to learn new ideas and skills keeps the challenge that we need to keep our spirits up. I stated at the start that when we started small holding we learnt by copying. However, to tell the truth there was one time when we were in the vanguard and leading from the front.  Once, when we thought we might have been trendsetters or to have possibly discovered a new farming technique.

One of our elderly ewes had to be helped when she delivered her lambs. This  was exciting as it was the first time that we had to actually pull a stuck lamb from its mother. Everything that we had read and watched worked as it should and we felt quite smug after having successfully delivered healthy lambs. However, our relief that we managed to do this was quickly tempered by the ewe developing a uterine infection. After a course of penicillin she recovered but lost her entire fleece and was completely bald. We did not know what to do, we feared she’d be cold and come to harm.DSC_0791.JPG

We found an old dog coat, in fetching blue, which we kept on her by bands of duct tape which gave a dashing belted effect. We thought we had done very well and she looked quite handsome. She recovered fully which she would have done anyway, apparently. Local farmers later told us that this was a recognised side-effect of antibiotics and will sort itself out. We watched as the farmers  drove past our field, we noticed as they shook their heads and wondered if they were nodding sagely and thinking “what a wise and fashionable idea, why didn’t we think of it ?” or whether they were convulsing with laughter thinking “what are those idiots up to now ?“. I tend to think that latter was more likely as I haven’t noticed a sudden profusion of colourfully dressed sheep in our local fields.

The Love Songs of the Elderly.

The Love Songs of the Elderly.

As the relentless march of time carries me ever onwards towards my demise I find, perhaps as a useful reminder, that I spend increasing times at funerals. It seems that each month I am on a pew listening to the service, recalling the life of a friend or acquaintance. Each time I am aware at how increasingly close to my age they were when they passed. I listen to the services and to the stories of the lives of my friends and find it very comforting that everyone gathers together to remember the departed and to show respect for their life.

This respect is real. It doesn’t depend on the person having done anything spectacular or unusual it is simply respect for a life well lived : a parent to brought up children, a spouse who supported their partner, a neighbour who played a part in the community. It is respect earned by living a good, normal life. However, it is not shallow respect or deference, this is respect that was earnt as it came by the passing of time. It came by being a good person day in and day out for years. It follows from raising children to their maturity. It is respect when a spouse helps through the thin times as well as the good. It is respect that is often earned in those times at the end of our lives when illness and infirmity make our lives harder. A partner who sees beyond these elderly problems and gives support and love despite them certainly deserves anyone’s respect.

We often talk of love in our teenage and early adult years when we are setting out on the road of our lives. The songs we hear are about our love being as deep as the oceans or as wide as the mountains. We will face and conquer all for the person that has conquered our heart. But how little we know. In many developed countries the average length of a marriage, until separation or divorce, is a little over 10 years. The romantic songs of our youth often profess undying love but for many a decade is the length of eternity.

At these funerals I hear the tales of marriages which have lasted decades. Stories of couples who, split by death, lived longer together than they ever did apart. Stories of children bereft of parents who have always been part of their lives. It is clear when you listen to these tales of normal life that there were good times and dark times, but the latter were faced down and defeated. It is clear that, it is the sharing of these difficulties that is important in the person’s love, probably more so than the simple sharing of enjoyment. During these years families and couples grow into each other and grow deeper in love. Like watching a vine growing over the years round a tree, in time the vine supports the weak and broken branches; were the vine not there neither would be the tree. Pleasures are important, and obviously enjoyable, but it is the facing difficulties together that tempers love and makes it stronger. The more problems you solve together the deeper is your attachment and affection.

“For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A love that cannot overcome difficulties is a weaker thing, these elderly couples demonstrate that their love was so strong that, ultimately, only death could break them apart and, even then, could not break their love. These eulogies of the bereft are the love songs of the elderly and they remind us that love can last for ever. They sing not of the possibilities of love but of the proof of enduring love over time. They also remind us that working to stay together can strengthen and deepen love. We should be wary of viewing love through the eyes of the young and foolish, looking only for pleasure and joy. No-one’s life can be unalloyed joy we will all need to face difficulties, dangers and disappointments. If we have a family these dangers will be multiplied (although so will the joys). Finding someone who cares about you enough to stand by you throughout is a remarkable feat and should demand that you are steadfast in return. If both of you can do this, you will have found something the young can only sing about.

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,

the last of life, for which the first was made.

 

Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half;

Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”


Robert Browning

Busy Days & Lazy Nights

The last few days have been quite pleasant. During the day I have been busy reclaiming the lower meadow so that we can keep the billy goats here (away from any female temptresses). It is now fenced, more or less, cleared and only awaits gates and a shelter. The goats had cleared much of the bramble that bedevilled this field before when, during last autumn, they were tethered here. When speaking to a neighbour, who has lived in the valley for over 80 years, she recalled this meadow, and the adjoining one, being quite productive in terms of hay and grazing. If I am to reclaim the other one we will need to remove a fair few trees but this could be the winter’s project while the sap is low. Waiting until the end of autumn will also be best for the bird life.

This work has been quite laborious and made all the more tiring by the sun and heat. It has been in the 80’s all week. As this meadow is bounded by a stream it is also heavy with gnats and horseflies so in the early evening you start to be eaten alive. This labour, in conjunction with the need for early starts for milking, mean my evenings have been very quiet and lazy. Little time to look at the blog and sometimes not even enough to consider cooking. This has meant that a few times we have just jumped in the car with one or other of the dogs and made the short trip to the seaside. Here a café will provide tea (with more than enough calories to replace the deficit) and the dogs get to run on the beach and play in the sea. All I need to do is sit, ache and watch.

DSC07644

 

En Garde !

I have taken up fencing today, I had little alternative. It was only a matter of time following the birth of the billy goat kids. This is not some form of self-defence, there is no cut and parry nor clever swordsmanship, this simply the need to fence the old lower meadow as somewhere for them to stay.  Goats mature sexually very young, as we know from experience, and I don’t want this to happen while the boys are living with their mother, aunty or sister. I need some good fences and distance between them.

One of the important things about fencing, as with many agricultural tasks, is having the right tools for the job. My wife believes the right tools for fencing are the business card of a professional fencer and telephone. It is true that the professionals with tractors and post drivers will do a better job and that you will end up with taut, plumb straight fences but you will have to pay them. Fencing, basic stock fencing at least, is not that difficult and it is quite enjoyable to do. There is quite a sense of achievement to look at the end of day’s work and to see that you have actually altered the geography of a place.

The correct tools you need are :-

  • DSC_3140.JPGCrowbar
  • Post Rammer
  • Fence tensioner
  • Fencing Tool

as well as stock fencing, post and staples.  The posts you will need for basic stock fencing are 5′ 6″ long, 3 1/2″ diameter, rough hewn posts. These are reasonably priced in most farmers’ marts. The staples are bought by the kilogram and 30mm (by 3.3mm) galvanised staples are your best bet.

Once you have decided where your fence is going to go then get all your tools, and enough of your materials to the start point. Then clear the line of your proposed fence with a brush cutter.  Try to keep to straight lines as far as practicable. I could not today as the edge of the meadow is a meandering river, so I needed to follow its curves.

DSC_3155.JPGFirstly use the crowbar to make a hole. This need not be too wide. It is best about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide – as the post goes down it will create its path and we want a tight fit. We don’t want to disturb more earth than necessary. While the width of the hole doesn’t matter the depth does. The hole should be at least 2 1/2 feet deep. This is where the strength comes from and it is wise to work get at least this depth.  Once you have the hole, roughly insert the fence post into place.

Now use the post rammer. This is one place where the right tool helps. You could use a sledgehammer for this task. That is, you could use a sledgehammer if your spouse has fingers to spare, an undoubting loyalty to you and no sense of fear whatsoever.  If you use a sledgehammer you need somebodyDSC_3153.JPG to hold the pole while you hammer it in. Or if you are really brave you can hole the pole while someone tries to hit it with a large metal hammer. If you use the post rammer you can work alone. Check after the first couple of strikes that you have the post vertical as if you try and correct later on it can ber very difficult. It you do manage to dislodge and re-align the fence post you will often leave that post wobbly which you do not want.

Next you need the fence tensioner. This is a long bar that can grip one of the horizontal wires on the fencing. You can then use it as a lever to pull the fence taught before hitting in the staples. It is important to get the fence as tight as you can or else it will sag and start to become a liability. A loose fence is poor at DSC_3157.JPGkeeping animals  in (or out, depending on what you want). You can put all your body weight against the long arm of the tensioner to get a good tension going and then, stand leaning against it, while you use  both hands to get the staples knocked. Or you can ask your spouse to keep the tension while you hammer. They should be happy to do this after you have told them you abandoned your plans with the sledgehammer !

When knocking in the staples don’t be too stingy with them. At least 4 for each post. Always one on the uppermost and one on the lowermost wires, and two (and preferably three) in between them. It is useful to hammer the staples in on the oblique, slightly slanted. DSC_3159.JPGIf you insert them vertically with the pins going in one directly above the other there is a tendency to create a fissure, or crack, in the fence post between them. Over time this widens and your staples will risk falling out.

This is another time when the correct tool will help you. A fencing tool is your best bet for this part of the job. Certainly you can use a hammer but you will also need pliers to bend wires and a bendy thingimmy to extract old or misplaced staples. You can also be sure that when you are standing holding the pole and fence in position  and holding the hammer you will actually need the bendy DSC_3160.JPGthingimmy, or if you have the pliers you will need the hammer. Having all of them in one tool is invaluable. I would also suggest getting a pair in bright colours. I regret buying my blue handled pair. You will spend an annoyingly long time looking in the grass for this tool. You have a better chance of seeing it if it is bright red or yellow – avoid black and green like the plague.

Once you have done all of this work you will be able to look back and admire your handiwork. There is now only one last thing you need to do. You can now tear up your gym membership card; if you manage this you never need to see the inside of a gym, or look at an exercise machine, let alone consider wearing lycra.

DSC_3154.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

Milking again.

Milking again.

After a long hiatus we have started milking again this week. Last year we gave our two nannies a break from milking as we felt they deserved a rest. This meant, for the first time for us, we had to arrange to get the them in kid so we could restart the milking process. Thankfully this did not require a lot of skills natural impulses and the billy goat managed all of the basics without any real intervention on our part. This week we have started to wean the kids away from their mother and to restart the daily milking cycle. I had forgotten how important this was to me.

I always feel that milking is like the heartbeat of the farm. Every day, come hell or high water, at the same times we go milking. Every other part of our day is organised around these times. As we only have a few animals we cannot justify the cost  of a milking machine. Therefore all our milking is down by hand and thus it is very rarely that we can go away  for more than 10 hours.  When I worked we were world travellers, crisscrossing the globe for business and pleasure, this is but a dim memory now.  Very infrequently, when we have friend who have been trained how to milk, we venture away for our annual holiday.  For our most recent holiday we went to hotel 8 miles away (just in case we had to get back in an emergency) for “dinner, bed and breakfast” having come across vouchers on the web. I have to say that the holiday was as enjoyable as any we have had and a great deal less stressful.

My favourite is the morning milking. This occurs between 5 and 6 am in the spring and summer, and thankfully a bit later in winter and autumn. At this time of day the world truly is a peace. The only noises are the birds wakening  and the animals calling for their feed. The rest of the world doesn’t seem to have roused and it feels like there is only me and the goats. Very rarely I might catch sight of our neighbour who has cattle on the other side of the valley as he goes on his early morning run to attend to them. It is too peaceful to do anything more than wave and nod.

The morning milking is quite quick. Sitting with your head against the flank of a goat listening to the rhythmic “whoosh whoosh” of the milk as it is pumped into the bucket is very relaxing. Once the milk is safely gathered I need to filter and bottle it. For this part of the procedure I have a daily podcast to keep my attention and I listen to the Bwletin Amaeth which is the short morning farmers’ program that keeps me up to date with agricultural issues and the weather. This is just long enough to keep my attention while I prepare the milk.

The evening milking is done as late as I can so as to try and keep the nanny from feeling overfull the following morning. It is the last task on the farm and I see it as the closing up aspect for the day. After collecting and preparing the milk I do a round of all the animal houses and make a quick head-count of the sheep. It is a reassuring and pleasant feeling to know that everyone is well and  where they are meant to be.

Perhaps the best thing about milking is that it means we are again much more self-reliant. As we always have eggs and milk in the house there is never a pressing reason to go shopping. You can always prepare something to eat no matter  how badly organised you have been. It used to annoy me when, in my previous life, I’d find we had no milk and would then ‘pop out’ to the supermarket which was open 24 hours. I’d go for milk but always come back with a bag of groceries as I’d be tempted by the 2 for 1 offers  or I’d buy the end of date items which always seemed to be a bargain I could not forego. Latterly our supermarket became more of a department store so going out for milk could mean returning with  trousers or a short as well. I should have been able to go and spend £1 but invariably I was gullible and came back spending over £10.

Goat’s milk is very versatile and can be used in many recipes but I feel the best thing to use if for (other than as milk) is to make yoghurt. There are few recipes as healthy as that for  natural yoghurt. The ingredients are :-

  • milk

and that’s it. I don’t understand why more people don’t make their own. All that is required is to bring the milk up to 195F (the temperature that it starts to boil) and stir it for a few moments. Then let it cool down to 110F, when it feels hot rather than tepid, and stir in a tablespoon of your last batch of yoghurt. Leave it somewhere warm overnight and voila  you have yoghurt. I leave it in the bottom of the oven after it has been used and is still warm but switched off. Once it is ready transfer it to the fridge. It is possible to add sugars and flavours but natural goats milk yoghurt really doesn’t benefit from this.

The only downside of milking that I can currently see is that I now have two young billy goats I don’t need. We’ll see if anyone else has a desire for them,  but if not I have plans that mean will need to start working in earnest next week.

 

 

DSC_3112
Far too many Y chromosomes in this picture

 

 

More burqa madness.

More burqa madness.

This week Denmark’s parliament voted to pass a law which effectively bans Muslim  women wearing either the Burqa or Niqab in public places. In this they have joined a number of other European countries in introducing such a ban ; France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland have similar bans, or partial bans, in some areas. The reasons given for these bans, including the most recent one, is always the apparently sensible need to have an uncovered face during some interactions for security or clarity of communication. However, despite the protestations that these bans are not aimed at the Muslim populations particularly it is clear that this is not the case.

The Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen was quite clear that he though these aspects of religious observance by Muslims were not welcome in Denmark when, in 2010, he said

“the burqa and the niqab do not have their place in the Danish society. They symbolize a conception of the woman and of the humanity to which we are fundamentally opposed and that we want to fight in the Danish society,”

I also think it is unlikely that any undecided voters could have mistaken the intention behind the poster used by the Danish Peoples’ Party who supported a stronger version of the law, including prison sentences, which quite clearly has Muslim women in its sights :-

DegrUbdW0AAHbR1It is clear that, despite all the protestations that these laws and bans are in place to improve communication and safety and that they have no particular religion in mind, these laws all stem from a desire to make life difficult for Muslim women in these countries. It is disingenuous to say otherwise and to try and present them acts of a liberal society.

Across Europe there have been many changes to societies and these have included the effects of mass migration. Cultures which were previously Christian now find themselves largely secular and populations which were previously homogenous are now much more mixed. While there are aspects of these changes which are welcomed and beneficial there are also many aspects which people find disadvantageous and worrisome. This is particularly so to the elderly and the working class.

The elderly see the erosion of faith and religion in their culture and the growth of new, and strange, faiths. Often these religions appear hostile to each other. The well published wars raging in the middle-east and the importation of terrorism to European cities will cause, more than just the elderly, to become fearful. And in this regard the term islamophobia may be correct, they do fear the growth of  Islam, and are not reassured when they see the persecution of Christians in the Middle East or local police activity oin their capitals.

The working class believe mass migration has allowed their wages to be undercut and living standards to fall and made them fear for their and their families future. In times of stress they see their welfare states failing to meet the demands placed upon it and start to question whether it is being spread too thinly. Welfare states survive because we all feel “we are all  in it together”, it is the governmental form of our collective identity, and it operates best when people feel a sense of social cohesion. We all want the best for our neighbours as we can understand  them and their predicaments. However, as societies become increasingly diverse that cohesion is loosened and the willingness to share with those we don’t recognise as “like us” is reduced.

These groups, and others, think on the group level. They think about “them” not about the individual, not about their specific neighbour, not about A’ishah and Zarif and their kids next door. The more people know people from other cultures the less they fear them. Those who report the most hostility to strangers are those who have the least interactions with them. It is true to say that those living in the very diverse cities tend to have less xenophobic feelings to those living in small rural backwaters.

Day to day, first hand experience, does a great deal to counter prejudice and bigotry. Knowledge is the best antidote ignorance and the best source of knowledge is communication. Unfortunately communication in this particular area has been bvery poor. The major migration shifts were never discussed and now the problems people perceive, rightly or wrongly, are not discussed either. When attempts have been made to question aspects of migration which are seen to be adverse all too often the response has been to shut the debate down with cries that “You can’t say that. You are being racist“. While this does effectively shut down conversation it does not sort the problem. Those with concerns still have concerns but now know they are not allowed to discuss them.  They know that they are no longer seen as part of polite society.

Unable to discuss their concern they have to try new strategies. They switch from unacceptable concerns (“I’m worried about my job prospects”, “I worry there are not enough maternity beds”) to proxy concerns “I think it is terrible the way these womens’ faces are covered” which allows them to attack the group without appearing to do so. This is what is happening with these clothing bans, although with very little that obscures the true intention.

As an aside, a further danger of this refusal to discuss these concerns, is that it actually creates the problem that is feared.  If someone can’t discuss their worries, and feels they are defined as a racist for doing so, may come to think  “I’m as well hung for a sheep as a lamb” and start listening to those who wish to foment racial tensions and divides. Much of the success of Brexit, Trump, and the populist parties in Europe can be seen as a popular response to a ruling class which will not honestly debate concerns – they are then forced to listen.

I fear that this Danish ban, and the others preceding it, are signs of the tension that arises from problems with our social cohesion. The European Court of Human Rights  has allowed these bans as they (Denmark, Belgium, France) stating that it is reasonable to infringe the individual’s right or religious freedom for the sake of “living together” and “community values”. The hallmark of a tolerant society is that it people live together despite having different views of the world and different habits and behaviours. A tolerant society is one in which the minority is tolerated and not forced to bend to fit the majority’s wishes. The EHCR ruling flies in the face of basic Human Rights by supporting the idea that some individual human rights can be jettisoned for the benefit of the greater good. This approach is always fine when you are one of the majority. Those who support this strategy should consider their future. Their delight at banning the burqa might in hindsight seem misguided, if (although unlikely) 50 years from now the majority population were Islamic. Sometimes our mistakes are much clearer in retrospect.

This ban will also fail to do what we need. We need more integration and this only comes from communication. As we intermingle and interact with others we learn of each others beliefs and opinions. Through this we adopt and change, we integrate. Over time cultures live side by side and benefit equally from each other. I look at the many Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and other who are fully integrated members of my community. Certainly they practice a different religion but otherwise you could not tell them form any other member of our society. They are shopkeepers, doctors, plumbers, taxi drivers, neighbours, friends and , increasingly, family much more than they are Jews or Bhuddist or whatever.

These bans push us apart and cause us to see others as “them”. It increases the divides between us and increases the fears and worries that are there. If we really were worried about the woman’s role in Islam this is completely the wrong way to proceed. An observant woman is not going to abandon her faith just because of an ill-thought law.  This law may mean that the woman doesn’t venture out now in public places and be less influenced by aspects of our culture which promote female equality and liberation. It may keep her in the home, where she is much more so under the influence of her cultural leaders. If we really wish to help woman relinquish the burqa the way to do so is by showing that living a good and moral life without is entirely possible and discussing the issue. Unfortunately you are unlikely to discuss things with people who seem to be attacking you.

You can not compel someone into a religion.  Obedience is not observance. If we wish to see religious and moral beliefs change it will occur by example. By showing that an open culture is a successful culture, by showing that equality and religion and good bed-fellows, people may start to think. If your moral beliefs and religious ideals are superior to others then your life and actions will showcase them. You will become the example and encourage others to follow. Many people come to Europe because it is a liberal and tolerant culture. We must display that tolerance and openness if we want it to continue. This is especially important at times when we feel uncertain or afraid, it is when we are tested that our true metal is revealed. If we think freedom and religious expression are important we need to defend them. Not just for ourselves but also for others.