Tuesday, 31 January 2012
By The Barn - January
Already our animals have been inside for nearly a month and we will be starting lambing again soon! We are in a spell of what seems to be a never-ending feeding/ bedding/ feeding cycle.
With the shortest day just gone, it will be a little while before we notice any lengthening of the days and so most of our work is done in half-light( or so it seems) and one of the night noises we tend to hear at this time are the foxes mating.
Sounding like little boys shouting to each other in the woods, the noise usually sets off our dogs too, so we get a stereo sound effect! The fox( or Reynard, as he is known) is the only surviving member of the wild dog family and lives off small mammals and birds. Rabbits and game are the usual, but he will take weak lambs if inclined. We’ve had problems with predatory foxes-even big lambs were maimed. Foxes leave a strong smell from their glands when they are out and about and it is a very pungent smell to come across in the morning when out walking our dogs- you can’t mistake it!
With the frosted ground, our ridge(rig) and furrow grass fields show up really well. Cleverly, they were to increase the land area available to cultivation, with the furrow(dips) acting as drainage channels. This is what we call permanent pasture and, obviously, has not been under the plough for many, many years. One of the questions over CAP(common agricultural policy) reform is what exactly is the definition of permanent pasture- some farmers might have a rotation of several years and if the level is set too low, it might jeopardise their farming rotation. Actually, farmers just want to be able to farm, nothing more and nothing less!
We will be taking our Christmas decorations down before twelth night and when I was small we used to decorate our tree with “wessell cups”(xmas tree ornaments) . It wasn’t until I was much older I discovered they were “wassail cups”.
‘Wassail’ means ‘ be well’ in Saxon and wassail is a spice/ale/crab apple and honey drink given out at this time of year in a ‘loving cup’ to friends and neighbours. Labourers were also paid partly in cider and so ‘wassailling’ was a tradition carried out on old twelth night(17th January) to wake up the sleeping tree spirit by rattling pots and pans and singing, inorder to make the apple trees grow well and produce lots of fruit in the coming year.
Cider was also poured on the roots of the oldest tree and cider-soaked toast hung in its branches to make the nasties feed off that instead of the fruit, thereby ensuring the workers got their cider.
This tradition is still carried out, mainly in Somerset, where the apple orchards still remain- sounds like good fun to me, so if you hear shouting down our way it might not be my husband shouting at the dog or the sheep(or me), it might be me waking up our apple trees!
Angela Sargent, www.baldfields-farm.co.uk