Because this is March in Britain, the chance that the weather at time of reading will have any resemblance to weather at time of writing is slim. So all I can note as I write is that it’s a lovely morning, cold, but sunny.
Spring is officially here, March has come in like a lamb and for arable farmers on lighter land that is drying out quickly it’s all systems ready to go. Or quite possibly by the end of this week, if this weather continues, it will be all systems going – sprays, fertiliser, cultivations, drilling.
Given the weather, this is always a time to get on – an exciting, optimistic period of the farming year.
It is also an interesting test of character and a farmer’s psychological make up. Recently, I watched a TV documentary about Alaska that included the short period in a year when fishing boats are allowed to catch salmon. Watching the boats jockeying for position before the starting signal reminded me of arable farmers waiting to start spring drilling. Who will be first to move? Who will panic and go too quickly? Who will rely on experience and patience, and move only when ready and get it just right? Who will inevitably be the last in the district to start? A lot of fun at no charge in trying to guess who will do what and when over the next few weeks.
Lowland lambing has also started – well under way in some cases – with lambs out in the fields in good condition. No matter if we get frosts and cold snaps, lambs always seem to stand that much better than wet weather. But from all reports another threat to ewes and lambs remains not only prevalent, but increasing. That is, being attacked by dogs. For those of us who have reluctantly concluded that there is no limit to human stupidity, carelessness and callousness, it is no surprise that some dog owners allow their animals to run amok among groups of defenceless sheep. Publicity photos of bloody, ripped, ewe and lamb bodies and annual urgings to owners to keep their “pets” under control don’t seem to have much effect.
Of equal concern for farmers is the apparent fact that the law does not offer much protection. Seventy sheep were savaged to death or had to be put down after being attacked by a bull mastiff and – not so ironically for those who know that a collie gone wrong is one of the worst offenders – two Border collies. The owner of the dogs was fined £400, with no order to compensate the farming family who had lost animals, including veterinary and legal costs, worth an estimated £20,000.
If wondering what sort of moron can allow his dogs to savage dozens of sheep, note the fact that reported cases of organised animal fights, mainly dog fighting and cockfighting, have increased in the past five years. I suspect many more have taken place in secret without being reported. It helps explain, but doesn’t excuse, the casual attitude taken by too many to sheep worrying.