Margaret’s Farm …

… 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.

Calves (1)

After several months, her cows are still over-wintering in the sheds.

Calves (2)

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.

Southfork_Ranch

wikimedia image

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.

Edward the Bull

Black Edward

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.

Picton

Pinton cost almost £2000 but that’s considerably cheaper than Emblem

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.

Mr Grumpy (1)

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.

Mr Grumpy (2)

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.

New Born Lambs (2)

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.

New Born Lambs (3)

Last year, I was lucky enough to witness a birth for the first, remarkable time.

New Born Lambs (6)

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.

New Born Lambs (4)

I allowed one lamb a taste of gardener’s thumb.

New Born Lambs (5)

For quite a long time.

New Born Lambs (7)

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.

Margaret

Margaret, 2012

Someone like Margaret.

38 thoughts on “Margaret’s Farm …

  1. I’m a bit partial to a farm visit myself – I’m lucky in being able to walk over to a City Farm quite regularly. There are lots of lambs and kids (the goat variety) at the moment but I count the pigs every time I’m there. The two remaining pigs of last year’s litter weren’t big enough to go to market last month but now that they’re a bit heavier I fear the bacon factory beckons … and Shirley, the resident cow, would probably appreciate a visit from Black Edward!

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    • I love pigs! I suggested to Margaret that she kept some to root about in a wood she owns but I think she has enough on her plate. I would love to have a couple but will always be reminded of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall sending his off to slaughter in River Cottage and no. I couldn’t do that however much I like bacon and sausage. I’d just want to scratch their backs. I’ll pass Shirley’s contact details on to Edward. I’m sure he’s game. D

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    • Me too, Brian. The bulls are immensely strong and I’ve seen huge metal gates within the pens effortlessly crumpled by a bull doing what it shouldn’t. And it’s not like they are just left to their own devices; they are always leaving and then returning to the farm by trailer. It’s a dangerous business. Dave

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  2. especially fab photos today; thank you for the b/w album. it’s calving/lambing/kidding season here, too, of course, but greenery is just barely popping through the ground, and i still have some fall cleanup to do. –suz in northern ohio/usa, a long-ago b/w photo hobbyist.

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    • Hi Suz, thanks for commenting. I used to take a lot of B&W film photos too and my son recently bought me an Olympus trip camera. Can’t wait to get some film (B&W obvs) and start playing with it. D

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  3. Lovely article David,thanks for the black and white photographs of the animals!
    I’m sure that ‘Mr. Grumpy’ bull is giving you the evil eye!!
    Margaret obviously works very hard and the place is a credit to her.

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    • I don’t take Mr Grumpy’s evil eye too personally – he’s the same with everyone, Margaret included. Pleased you like the B&W photos but see my comment to John below as to why I chose to use monochrome! Dave

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  4. couldn’t agree more with all the positive comments about your fine photography and interesting comments about the animals and farm life. it seems you are lucky to have the capable margaret as a friend and a neighbor.

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    • Hi Annette, she manages it single-handed but does have some help. She has a student from a local agricultural college on Mondays and a regular, Nick, on Fridays but not much else and none in the evenings or at weekends. Glad you liked the post, Dave

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  5. Really beautiful black and white photograph, David, and a good, light-hearted take on the serious business of farming.

    I’m guessing the sheep are Southdown or a Southdown cross – beautiful little sheep, very popular in this part of Kent for grazing traditional cobnut plantations, due to their short stature and (for sheep) biddable nature.

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  6. I always give a wide berth to bulls (scary) and cows (unpredictable) but lambs are ok. There’s a farm up the road (with a whole team of workers) here that opens during lambing for people to see what goes on and to hold and feed the lambs. Your Margaret sounds like a mighty woman 🙂

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    • Hi Sam, I come across bulls quite often when out walking but have never had a problem. Cows with calves however, especially if I’ve had a dog with me, have given me a run for my money on a couple of occasions. Mighty is a good word for Margaret – but then I’m biased. D

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  7. Nice monochrome issue. We need more black and white photography! Pinton must have an albino brother living not far from here! Him breaking into an occasional trot after some attractive female is definitely a sight to wince at! I guess the gynormous danglies cannot be said to be in the genes (groan!).

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    • I’ll let you into a little secret, John. The lambs (like toddlers the world over) had very runny, green slimey noses. Change the photos to b&w and hey presto, almost invisible snot! You’re right. There ought to be more monochrome, I use it occasionally but not enough. I saw Pinton again today and ‘they’ weren’t quite so dangly – perhaps it was colder? D

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    • As fair as any death for a farm animal, I think, Christina. The local abattoir is less than half an hour’s drive away and so they don’t suffer hours or even days in a lorry. Both lamb and beef is sold by Margaret to customers who have expressed an interest and not to supermarkets. Dave

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