July 10 - seventeen weeks after the start of our nightmare - we have been served a "Form B", which lifts our "Infected Premises" restrictions.
The blood tests having all proved negative, a final check by the DEFRA vet preceded the issue of our release papers. Yes, it does seem like being released from prison, with no work to go to and pretty dodgey prospects. However, what with the derestriction and the successful cataract op. that I have just had, at least I can now see ahead more clearly!
All livestock farmers have received a video this week from DEFRA showing us the "eight key precautions" we must take to wipe out F&M. I'm afraid I can't see the logic in the first two- "Keep livestock separate" and "Deal with sheep last". Given that the disease is so difficult to spot in sheep, and the fact that if they find it in one animal they kill the lot anyway, it would seem to me logical to flush out the virus by mixed stocking. This would avoid the prospect of it lurking unnoticed among the sheep, awaiting the chance to surface again in the future. The rest of the video is stuff that ought to have been sent out months ago, although I am doubtful about the efficacy of the advice; even though we shut up the farm and instituted a disinfectant regime immediately on hearing of the first outbreak, we were still wiped out (whether as a result of F&M or Ministry panic I know not).
Once this epidemic is over, there has got to be some serious thinking take place in the corridors of power. Never again can F&M be allowed to wreak such havoc across such a wide range of industries. Only the disinfectant manufacturers seem to have been on to a winner.
Our restocking plans seem to be grinding forward. The region of Powys where our new sheep have been trapped (see May 24) has now been upgraded to an "At Risk" area, so we should, at least in theory, be able to get them back here soon. There are, of course, minor complications such as finding a haulier (they've either gone out of business, or spending so much time in the disinfection stations that they can't do any extra), and the dreaded form filling.
The massive tanks of slurry and disinfectant which have been gracing our entrance for the past three months have, at last , been emptied and the contents take to a sewage disposal works for treatment.
The tanks were cleaned out thoroughly by a fellow with a hosepipe who climbed inside (lucky chap!), and were finally lifted out and carted away on Friday 20th, four months after their arrival.
I heard today that our two movement licences have been granted, so on Wednesday 25th we should see our first little flock arrive from Powys. I won't need any other birthday celebration!
Meanwhile, I have been hunting out other stock - llamas, cows, goats and so on, and intend to try for permits for them next. The trouble is that the DEFRA folk seem reticent about passing on any great hope of a successful application for these.
I attended a leavers' assembly at our school today. Reviewing the past year, the pupils recalled our F&M outbreak and their reaction to it, and once more the old lump came back into the throat of this old, battle-hardened farmer. I still can't plumb the depths of people's kindness in all this. Still not a week goes by but that we receive a gift from one quarter or another. Maybe we are nearly at the point now where we can start to put these gifts to use.
Apologies for the long delay since the last entry. I think the problem has been that I have spent my time enjoying the pleasures of having stock around, instead of putting finger to keyboard.
The 70 odd Welsh sheep duly arrived in a huge, luxurious truck, followed a week later by 155 from Wiltshire.
We now need to source a few rams in order to be milking again in the New Year. We have had to drop our hope of re-opening to the public this year. That will be a mere 10 months with no income.
I have applied for a licence a cow and calf as the next step; if that is successful we will press on with replacing the other animals - llamas, goats, pigs and so on.
We have also acquired a skewbald Shetland gelding- a sweet tempered little fellow. We weren't actually looking for one, but he just came along, so we had him!
We completed our haymaking without a single drop of rain falling on it; I can't remember a year when I could say that before. Unfortunately it is all rather mature "gut fill" owing to the delay in getting the machinery and getting a licence to cut.
Restocking continues with the aquisition of three Suffolk tups and a Shetland cow and calf, although we will now have to slow down a bit as we are running out of space to keep each batch isolated for the statutory three weeks.
Our new cow took the whole day to shift about 20 miles, what with all the disinfections and red tape. I am sorely afraid that this rigmarole will become the norm once the F&M outbreak is over. Government perception seem to be that, but for wicked, uncooperative farmers, this plague would have been long since defeated. Certainly, killing off farming will make F&M easier to control in future, but surely what we basically need is the fanatical border control that so many other countries practise, in order to stamp out illegal and suspect imports.
We hear that there are going to be three enquiries into the outbreak and its effects. This is, of course, needed, but will inevitably soak up a few more million pounds.
It is amazing how many people think the whole outbreak is over. Cases are no longer hitting the headlines, but every day brings its handful of new heartbreaks. What it must feel like to have survived this long through the horrors of Cumbria, and then still be wiped out, I can't begin to imagine.
Not a great deal to report lately, hence the lack of new diary entries.
Thirteen assorted sheep from Wales that we couldn't get back in July are now here, and the rams are in with the ewes. So we now have a timescale to work to, and can start to produce a meaningful budget. One of the most worrying aspects of the last months has been the total uncertainty of timing, which has made it impossible to produce any sort of financial forecast. We can now see an income starting up again next February, and can plan accordingly.
Last year, my wife and I were talking of a trip to Canada this autumn. The events of this year made it look totally out of the question, but recently we realised that we will probably never have a better chance than now. We found an exceptionally good value package, so we took the risk, and decided to go. Our son and daughter will be looking after things while we are away. Sadly, we won't be able to visit any farms this time, but it will be a welcome break.
So don't despair if there are no entries for a time; I haven't forgotten you!
The frightful carnage in the US successfully finished off our hope of getting across the Atlantic. It would be petty in the extreme to bemoan a lost holiday when one considers the terrible, terrible loss sustained by so many. It even makes F&M pale into insignificance.
After 36 hours of uncertainty we were informed that our flight had been cancelled, but by that time we had lost the enthusiasm to go, so we just threw a few things in the car and drove north, getting as far as Fort William. We had to plan our route to avoid current F&M hot spots, but by and large the sun shone on us. It would certainly not have done so had we remained here: my son reports rain almost the whole 11 days we were away.
I picked up a "Farmers' Weekly" while we were away and found an article on restocking based on our experiences here.
On a brighter note, Essex has been declared free of F&M. A curious feature of this is that we managed to get our last sheep back from Wales (see Sept. 7) just in time, as it would now be impossible to get the licence to shift them. Things do work to our advantage some times!
Not a lot to report lately. We should soon be taking delivery of a couple of llamas, a small flock of Castlemilk Moorit sheep and a herd of 21 goats - mostly pygmy. We have also been offered another 80-odd Friesland ewes, so livestock numbers are creeping up. We have also had the first school visit post F&M - a local secondary school which makes regular use of us as a teaching resource for their year 11 and sixth form.
Still on the education theme, I was in the playground of the village school where I have been teaching French, waiting for children to emerge, when one of the mothers pushed me in the direction of "a real french lady". Having spent some hours recently writing out Esperano poetry for a friend, my mind was not exactly in French mode and I innocently used a verb from the wrong language. Wishing to say "I was asked to..." I said "On m'a peté ..." I suspect I didn't make too much of an impression!
This week has seen yet another major step forward to normality. We have acquired another 90 Friesland ewes for milking, plus a small flock of Castlemilk Moorit sheep (a rare breed on the critical list), 21 goats (Heaven help us!) and two llamas. The goats are mainly pygmies, so it doesn't appear that many.
Last Saturday/Sunday we experienced over 60 mm of rain in 24 hours. We knew our river meadows would flood, so we moved all the stock safely to higher ground in good time. What we did not expect was the biggest flood in memory. About 17 acres (7 ha.) disappeared under the water, but the farm buildings and our house stayed dry. I spent the afternoon and evening pushing out stranded motorists and ferrying people across the hundred metres or so of flooded road by tractor. One family arrived back from London after dark to find they couldn't get to their home at the nearby water mill. I managed to ferry them through, but the water in their drive was so deep that it threatened to come into the tractor cab. Both headlamps filled with water and blew the bulbs, and warning lights were flashing all over the dashboard. I realised afterwards that the battery was a good foot under water! I didn't admit it at the time, as I didn't want to worry the children any more than they already were, but I began to wonder if we were going to spend the night stranded in the tractor cab. That would have even worse for them than the knee-deep flooded house they came home to.
Hundreds of homes in this area have been flooded, and the poor residents have spent the week mopping, drying, cleaning and discarding ruined furniture, carpets and flooring.
This time we have been the fortunate ones.
Bonfire Night, and I've been spitting more sparks than a Catherine Wheel. This last week has left me extremely fed up with DEFRA. For starters, I received a letter this week saying that my Setaside claim was being disallowed as I didn't have arable land to set against it. Now I wouldn't mind, but two of the supervisors that we had on site during the clean-up were arable area aid inspectors, and both gave me to believe that we qualified. They even helped me on how to fill in the IACS form (a revoltingly complicated document to come to for the first time). Now I suddenly have a £1600 hole to plug in my budget.
Then, to add injury to insult, we were informed that we were to have a Tuberculin Test on the cattle. This turned out not to be a routine test, but simply because we had had cattle back for three months. Our little Shetland cow was subjected to a half-hour of amateurish jabbing and indignity (witnessed by an NFU Livestock Committe man) in order to get the two TB injections and a little blood for the Brucellosis test. Her confidence has been totally battered, and she has reverted to a highly strung, unmilkable beastie. I would dearly love a DEFRA officer to demonstrate milking at this point.
My really serious gripe, however, I have been storing up ready for the F&M Enquiry, and it is this:
When we were condemned, we were grilled on all manner of things - they even wanted to know if our ducks flew onto the neighbour's land (pigeons and rooks don't count I suppose)!
BUT AT NO TIME THEN, OR SINCE, HAS ANYONE ASKED TO SEE OUR MOVEMENT OF ANIMALS REGISTERS
until the TT vet asked for the cattle book this week. The cattle passports were taken at the time of slaughter, but the records of sheep, goats and llama movements were never inspected! This is an omission of gigantic proportions in my view and should be subject to investigation. I know full well that, having made this revelation, it will not be long before some pretext is found to inspect my records, but sorry DEFRA, the cat is out of the bag.
Multiply my discontent by the 9,000-odd farmers who have seen their livestock slaughtered and you see MAFF/DEFRA has a lot to answer for. I went into this epidemic thinking they had the industry's welfare at heart; now I'm certain that they want to batter us out of existence.
BBC East are here at the the moment filming me typing with one finger. The trouble is that I am expected to do this over and over again whilst innumerable takes are being made. I don't know when this is likely to be broadcast, if ever, but I'm sure I will eventually find out. I gather it will be sometime next week on Look East.
Guess what. Two Trading Standards people ended up on my doorstep yesterday asking to see my movement records! They denied any knowledge of my complaints of a couple of paragraphs back, but considering that the last time they visited was June 1996, that is one heck of a coincidence. I may be required to believe in fairies next. With tongue firmly in cheek,I did ask if we kept the records just to give them something to do.
On a lighter note, our sentinel cattle have all returned to their owner, all in good order and, I hope, well grown. They had recently been grazing on the "pyre" field, and had had great fun climbing on the heap of subsoil that remains from the burial.
I had always intended to bring this diary to a close when we started milking again, and suddenly, unexpectedly, I find us in just that position.
Our nearest other sheep-milker, in Suffolk, has decided to up sticks and go to live in Spain, and she offered us first pick of her flock, including a number of December-lambing ewes. My son jumped with joy, and yesterday, the first ewes since this diary was started in March, went through the milking parlour.
It will still be another couple of years hard grind before we are back where we were a year ago, but the routine has returned; no quiet Christmas after all!
Actually, our Christmas looks like being postponed anyway, as, just to crown this crazy year, our disabled daughter, Hazel, is seriously ill in hospital.
If you can come to our "Carols in the Cowshed" on Sunday 30th December at 2-30 p.m., we will be delighted to see you. As usual, we will be collecting for "FARM Africa"; we have had just a tiny taste this year of the uncertainty that many African farmers have to live with year in, year out.
Both to those friends who have watched our progress through this site, and to the many total strangers all over the world, we send Christmas Greetings. Your support has been such a strength to us - with friends like you, a strong family and faith, we have won through. Let's hope that 2002 is a much better year both for the farming community and on the international front.
P.S. Hazel fully recovered after a worrying week.