… sits on the skyline above the Priory. I visit once a week to stock up on eggs, catch up with local gossip, spread local gossip, help out if needed and wander round the farmyard.
After several months, her cows are still over-wintering in the sheds.
They’ll be turned out in a few weeks when the grass is long and the ground firmer. Many of the calves were born indoors and know nothing yet of the outside world. Watching them gallop excitedly across the fields for the first time is a scene I look forward to.
As a sideline to beef, lamb and eggs, Margaret rents out Aberdeen Angus bulls to other farmers. A bit like a male escort agency, I suppose. As far as she knows, she is the only woman bull hirer (or Madam) in the south of England. I suggested she erect an arched sign over her farm gate, Southfork style, but with the words: The Finest Semen In Sussex. She wasn’t keen.
With three new bulls, she now has a stable of seven. One of the new arrivals is Edward; a second, Emblem, is already out on the job and having a marvellous time. I have yet to meet him.
This is the third newbie, Pinton. (The other four Angus bulls are: James, Eric, Envoy and erm, Petal). He weighs in at about a ton … or 143 stone … or more than eleven of me, which is a lot of bull. His ‘attributes’ catch the eye; enormous and pendulous, they almost brush the floor and swing alarmingly close to his rear hooves. The obvious, real danger made me wince. But Margaret assured me that she hasn’t had any unfortunate accidents with a bull’s dingle dangles (to use her technical farming term) . Even so, his dd’s looked horribly vulnerable to me and, involuntarily, I winced again.
I’ve known Mr Grumpy for several years but we don’t hit it off. He’s a massive Charolais, bigger still than Pinton, and a fearsome brute. He isn’t rented out but stays home serving Margaret’s own herd … which you’d think would make him a contented, happy bull.
But no, far from it and frankly, he scares me rigid. Some of Margaret’s bulls are docile, stroke-able even, but not Mr Grumpy. The clue is in the name and it would be a brave person indeed, or more likely a lunatic, who reached over the bars to ruffle his curly locks.
Far safer to leave him be and move next door. At this time of the year it is, of course, the lambs that I want to see.
Last year, I was lucky enough to witness a birth for the first, remarkable time.
This year, I’m happy just to watch the young singles and twins in the straw filled pens with classical music playing softly in the background. (Margaret has a radio tuned to a classical station for the benefit of the ewes and lambs only). I try to ignore that one of these youngsters might one day call my freezer home.
I allowed one lamb a taste of gardener’s thumb.
For quite a long time.
As a boy, I wanted to work on a farm but I’ve since learnt what a tough, unremitting life it is and besides, I’m far too sentimental to select individual livestock for slaughter. I love helping out on the farm and usually it’s fun: feeding chickens and guinea fowl; counting sheep or herding cattle. But, very occasionally, there are less pleasant jobs: hefting a dead ewe onto a trailer; or picking maggots off a fly-blown calf. (The calf recovered and Margaret christened her Maggot, of course).
With wrinkled digit, and a last wary glance at Mr Grumpy, I climbed back in my car, returned to the Priory garden and my far easier life as a gardener. Helping out on the farm is one thing, but only a remarkable person could successfully manage one single-handed.
Someone like Margaret.