Casualties can be kept to a minimum by good stockmen

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A memory from school poetry readings flashed to mind when I saw the farming magazine headline “Why do lambs die?” The poem was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”.

Anyone who has worked with sheep will see how the connection was made. My recall of Mrs Browning’s poem didn’t go much beyond the first line, but a continuation of “Why do lambs die? Let me count the ways” would produce a long list from any experienced shepherd.

The article went on to list the depressing estimate that more than three million lambs die each spring on British farms. The most common causes are stillbirths, difficult lambings, hypothermia, lack of milk, and the infectious diseases of sheep that account for the majority of entries in any veterinary dictionary. Yet good sheep farmers and shepherds don’t give in to national statistics or despair. By good management, careful planning, feeding the right amounts at the right time, preventing problems rather than panic-stricken attempts to cure, and military-style deployment of resources in the hectic lambing period they get good results. Sheep being what they are, no one gets through a lambing without casualties. But they’re kept to a minimum by the best stockmen.

I was surprised to see that the Scottish Tenant Farmers’ Association supports a proposal for an open register of farm rents. Apparently they have for some time, believing that such “transparency and openness” would put tenants on an equal footing with landlords and their agents when discussing rent reviews and offers.

If that is so, attitudes must have changed because in my experience most tenant farmers are as reluctant to tell anyone how much rent they pay as most professionals are to say what they are paid. As with salaries, most of us can make a good guess at a neighbour’s rent or have ways of finding out. But an open register where any rent anywhere can be checked?

It’s been a bad week for shouting at the radio, TV and newspapers. One reason was the number of times the phrase “lessons will be learned” was bandied about for every type of disaster from level-crossing accidents to animal diseases such as TB in cattle, from corrupt police to child neglect. Plainly, lessons are never learned because year after year we get the same stories.

The second reason I shouted occasionally was food banks. I’m told that there are genuine reasons why people need to use these, even at a time when Tesco has started a £1-for-four-pints-of-milk price war and it is possible to buy basic foods cheaply if you’re prepared to make a home-cooking effort. But I found myself in the unusual position of agreeing with Edwina Currie that food banks are mainly being used as one more available handout. When one user said he wasn’t going to give up cigarettes to buy food I shouted quite loudly.