COLUMN: Farm visitors in search of food and relief from the weather

Red Fox, four years old, standing, white background.

Red Fox, four years old, standing, white background. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

THE calendar may have officially declared the arrival of spring this year but, when our holiday sheep turned up on that day, they were seriously underwhelmed by the weather that greeted them – heavy snow accompanied by bitingly cold, easterly winds.

They carefully tucked their newborn lambs in the lee of the thick hedges surrounding the paddocks and then, like all holidaymakers, set off in search of a bite to eat. The lambs looked so small and fragile that we offered the use of a barn but, amazingly, since their arrival they have never looked back and are doing incredibly well.

Although there is not much heat in it yet, the sun on their backs is encouraging them to thrive and, to quote our daughter on a recent visit: “They are even bigger than your Jack Russell!” I thoroughly enjoy watching them race each other across the fields, and their mothers too are clearly thrilled to have fresh grass to nibble after living so long on hay during the interminable winter.

Whilst winter has been unpleasant in this area, we are so lucky to have young lambs to enjoy. Sadly there will be far too many empty fields in other parts of the country this year where unremitting bad weather has caused death and destruction of farm animals on an epic scale.

Sheep are not the only things that need sun to thrive. The soil is still desperately cold. Although we managed to get some spring crops drilled during the dry spell about a month ago, there is no sign of any crop peeping out of the ground yet. Rob went out to have a bit of a dig in the soil last week and found that the crops have ‘chitted’ (started to sprout underground), but the subsequent bout of cold weather has made them reluctant to do more.

We urgently need some warm weather very soon to increase the soil temperature or there could be a real risk that the seeds will run out of ‘growing energy’ and the crops might fail. I feel slightly more hopeful for them this week as the leaves are beginning to come out on the trees and the daffodils have finally opened, so nature must think that it is getting warmer.

The sprayer had to have its annual MOT the other day to ensure that it is in good working order and does not have any leaks anywhere. Rob looks after his machinery, but felt that this time he could not risk washing the sprayer before the inspector came because the icy weather could cause it serious damage. He therefore apologised to him for the machine not being quite as pristine as it would normally be and was somewhat surprised to be told that it was far better than many and that the cab, in particular, was outstanding.

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I had to smile at this because about three weeks ago, a mouse got into the cab in the and left a few ‘calling cards’, much to Rob’s disgust. Said mouse was promptly made homeless and my house cleaning and polishing equipment disappeared. If he can earn that sort of praise for his cleaning abilities, I might just have a job for him at home!

The delayed spring has encouraged far more wild animals into the farmyard and garden than normal as they have all been desperately seeking food. Birds have come in droves, but we have also had visits from foxes, muntjacs and badgers, all seeking the corn, bread and bits of fruit that were intended for the birds. This has been causing a few problems. Hippo (our farm cat) may be queen of the farmyard but she has delegated the job of ‘head of security’ to Amy, our dog.

Naturally, with so much responsibility, Amy takes her job very seriously, and anything that moves either in the farmyard or garden has to be reported back. Regrettably, her warnings tend to be somewhat indiscriminate and persistent, particularly at night.

Recently, with the wild animals turning up so frequently in the dead of night when all else is quiet, Amy has been getting very little sleep – and so have we! Normally, once we have come down to check that all is well, Amy goes back to sleep and peace reigns once more.

However, Rob was not very amused a couple of weeks ago when he came down to check and thought that she needed to answer a ‘call of nature’. He opened the back door and Amy took off at a high rate of knots after a badger that had been in the vicinity, ignoring all instructions to return.

Luckily, Rob had had the presence of mind to grab a dressing gown before coming down, but rapidly discovered that it is definitely not designed for wandering around the farm at 2am in sub-zero temperatures looking for a missing hound.

Talking of badgers, I am intrigued by something very strange and would love to know the answer. Normally if an animal is killed on the road, predators come and clear up the remains. However, I have noticed that whenever badgers get run over, nothing touches the carcasses. Does anybody know the answer?