"You'll never guess the prices," she said.
"Okay, okay," I replied, "I'm sitting down."
"No, no," came her voice again, "You'll need to lie down!"
And she was right. My friend had been to the sales where four-day-old calves were fetching a higher price than twelve-week-old weaners and, with the dollar signs ringing in my ears, the thoughts of raising autumn calves disappeared into a resounding thump of a cash register slamming shut!
Small farming folk can't keep up with those who have the means to buy anything at any price. It's all very well for the 'big boys' to have a pressing need to supply their nurse cows, regardless of the cost, but small farming folk do not have the backing of a three hundred cow herd into which a loss can be absorbed in the name of convenience. Small farming folk do not have enough financial room to accept a loss as a part of a normal farming practice, and small farming folk cannot compete with those who have no regard for true value. For me, autumn calves have priced themselves off the market this year and, with true flexibility, I shall buy a couple of weaner pigs and raise them instead. The end result will be the same - meat or money - and I will still be able to complete the task before drying the girls off at the end of May.
Although, with the weather over the past six months being so unkind, and with the quality of feed continually being affected by the cold temperatures and a lack of sun, I am predisposed to drying the cows off early and giving them a longer break than usual before calving in August. I'll see what the calf prices are this week before I make a decision, but I have a feeling there won't be much change. Also, if I turn Little Cream Cheese and Little Miss Poppy out early, it will give me the room, and the time, to bring Little Miss Jonquil and Gumboot home for some 'house-cow' training.
The goodie baskets are fair flying around at the moment. I manage to get rid of some corn, gherkins and pears arrive back. Out go jars of marmalade and fresh peppers, in come eggs and Black Boy peaches. Off goes a pile of tomatoes and some Black Boy peaches, back comes a lovely piece of fresh fish! There are four goodie baskets waiting to be sent off again and none of them are a Middelmost original. A couple are really lovely baskets and I am very tempted to have them stay, but goodie baskets are transient things and must continue their journey. Yet with one basket in particular, a deep and square sided container into which a picnic for six would fit, there seems to be a difficulty. It came to Middelmost filled to the brim with an amazing assortment of home-made and town-treat yummies. These have been consumed, shared, stored for the Harvest Dinner and displayed, according to their attributes, leaving behind a nest of delicately shredded packing into which Albert has decided to snuggle on a regular basis (that is to say - once a day - all day)! He has definitely laid claim to this particular basket and so it shall stay, my excuse being that it's a bit busy to move on at the moment.
Even though the weather is not as hot as it should be at this time of the year, it is important to remember the very small creatures who live on your farm and their need for a regular supply of fresh water. I have little bowls of water dotted around the place for the hedgehogs and the bowl on the front lawn has a continual stream of birds visiting, either for a drink or for a swim and this bowl has to be refilled sometimes three or four times a day because it is so popular. Now, I could put a bigger bowl down but I'm concerned something may drown in it...and it's fun to watch the rush on a refreshed supply. One of the evening tasks is to check the water bowls and to refill the cat biscuit bowls for the hedgehogs. I counted five hedgehogs the other night and I'm thinking I may need to put some extra cat biscuits out for them, prior to hibernation time, as a couple of them are rather small and will need extra help to survive the winter. Middelmost used to be infested with snails and slugs and this year there haven't been any to speak of, so I think my little slug slayers deserve a thank you for their efforts.
Thank goodness for macrocarpa sawdust and hydrated lime. With Middelmost being such a tiny farm, not paying attention to hygiene could cause an environmental catastrophe, especially as Middelmost is farmed so intensively. The set-up here goes most of the way to keeping everything discrete and sweet smelling as each area is separated and screened by gardens, trees, buildings and fences, but even so, I need to be very vigilant with any waste. Because I have hardly any need for grocery shopping (or any shopping for that matter) non-biodegradable waste would amount to a bread bag full a week and that is easily disposed of as I pass a convenient roadside rubbish bin. Garden refuse is easy too. First it is offered to Last Thyme, then to the cows, and what is left is snuffled up by the pigs or is trampled into the floor of the forest. Any garden trimmings unsuitable for this process are composted down in the worm farm. Kitchen scraps (peelings, cores, off cuts etc.) disappear very quickly via the pig bucket and this leaves the animal waste as the major item to be dealt with. Here is where the sawdust and the hydrated lime play their part. As washing things down or hosing things out is not an option, because the only water supply is from the roof, every place where the animals are housed has a thick bedding of sawdust that is easily kept clean with a leaf rake and a shovel. Macrocarpa sawdust has a naturally antiseptic smell which masks any distasteful fragrances as it envelopes the waste, and its friable properties help it to convert this animal waste into an easily transported and composted commodity for the vegetable garden. Friends and neighbours tell me how delicious and full-flavoured my tomatoes are.
"Thank you," I say. "Fancy that!"
It's a daily task. Two wheelbarrows full of mucky stuff out to the compost heap, one wheelbarrow full of clean stuff back, and one wheelbarrow full of matured compost out to the garden. It's part of the living cycle and the exercise is good for the appetite. Hydrated lime is sprinkled liberally on anything else I think may become offensive and a good dose of it down every plughole once a month keeps the drains and the septic tank functioning well. There was a very boggy patch in the cowshed paddock that wouldn't dry out (something to do with Mrs Pig pretending to be an alligator). It was becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes and flies, but a generous dusting put a stop to that. Hydrated lime can give an uncomfortable reaction to some people but I make sure I wear 'all-covering' clothes, gloves, goggles and a dust cover over my mouth and nose when I'm handling it. I really hate dressing up like a spaceman but the results are well worth the trouble.