landlines

A JOKE’S a joke, as the saying more or less goes, but, as some of the worst early-December weather for a century continues, drat this for a game of soldiers.

No matter what the meteorological reasons are for apparently unremitting snow, ice and cold, I’d be grateful if they eased off now.

Me and approximately 63 million others in Britain, I guess. Sledging and snowballs lose their appeal fairly quickly even for those under 15 and for the rest of us the disadvantages of getting to work, doing a job, shopping or caring for a family in bad weather far outweigh picturesque scenes.

As noted last week, I was impressed, but not surprised, by the way so many on farms and in rural areas adapted and coped with the snow, a view borne out by the thorough and painstaking reports of my Tweeddale Press colleagues and some terrific photographs in the same issue.

As I also noted, it doesn’t help, but always provides a little consolation, to know that so many others are dealing with the same problems.

Given all of the above, it is clear that not much changed in a week as far as the weather was concerned, except that for some things got worse. That included the accident suffered by a teenager who, helping her father clear snow on a Borders farm, was flattened and, at time of writing, paralysed by snow sliding from a roof.

As always when we’re moaning about bad weather and inconvenience and worrying about a diesel or animal feed delivery and the road being blocked again, a genuine tragedy pulls us up short and puts life in perspective. I wish Samantha Kinghorn a successful recovery and extend sympathy to her and her family at this most difficult time.

Because there are so many types of farm, the problems being faced vary. Farms growing only cereals and oilseed rape don’t have major problems because of bad weather at this time of year as not a lot needs done.

But farmers trying to harvest vegetables such as carrots, sprouts, cabbage and turnips to meet supermarket contracts or supply local shops and stores face massive problems not only of getting crops out of the ground, but of getting them off the farm. There can’t be many more miserable jobs than trying to get vegetables out of snow, but digging out trailers carrying the harvested vegetables must run it close.

Or the problems facing all types of livestock farmers of trying to get feeding to animals. Sheep on hills are a particular problem, but feeding and caring for outdoor pig herds in weather like this must give new meaning to the word “nightmare”.

That is because pig production is a continuous process. Lambing is a once-a-year event – thank goodness, as some might say – in spring so sheep being fed now are all adult or at least eight to ten months old. There are problems, big ones at present, in getting feed out with the looming future problem that this will create of running short of feed early next year.

But most pig herds are managed to produce an even supply of pigs all the year round so feeding, mating, births, weaning and transport of small pigs and finished pigs is much the same during any week. If the given week is like the past two, it makes life on an outdoor pig farm extremely difficult.

As others have also pointed out, the mighty efforts of lorry drivers to get supplies on farms and take livestock and crops off should be noted. When getting a four-wheel drive or Land Rover to where you want to go is tricky, think of what it’s like with a 30-tonne lorry or a big milk tanker.

As with the awful weather earlier this year, there have been reports of collapsed roofs on farm buildings, some of which killed animals. Estimated damage of more than £30 million was caused by the collapse of more than 3,000 farm shed roofs last winter and no one wanted a repeat. But it could be happening and there isn’t much we can do about it except hope – the last place anyone should be at present is on a roof trying to clear snow.

I don’t expect the following to cheer anyone in the slightest, but those of us for whom the 1963 winter is still a clear memory might still be surprised, as I was, to read that it was the coldest for 222 years. But it didn’t really start until late January, a time of year when snow and ice might be expected.

According to weather experts we have to go back to 1890 for the sort of weather we’re getting now at this time of year. In that year, snow storms began on November 25 and the December turned into the coldest on record with snow lying up to two feet deep (60 cms or so) at Christmas.

For good measure, the Arctic-type winter continued through January 1891, followed by the slight relief of a mild February then blizzards in March. I thought that comparison might cheer you up.