Staying grounded

DandelionWe're lowland folk here at Lower Dairy Farm.  We live towards the valley bottom and have no aspirations to climb tall buildings or scale mountain peaks.  Perhaps this may explain the recent curse that hit the farm.  It is safe to say that every piece of lifting machinery that could go wrong, went wrong in the past few months.  To the point the curse became ridiculous when in attempting to manoeuvre the last remaining operational lifting device (an engine hoist) into place during repairs to the loader tractor...the wheel fell off the lifting mechanism and it smashed the barn doors...and was so heavy, it required a lifting machine to lift it. You couldn't make it up.  The one device that just about kept going guessed it, the Nuffield and the buck rake.  And here we are at work:

Dad and Grandad

Oh no, wait...that's a picture from the 1970s.  In positive news, we have used a heck of a lot less fuel and oil in not having an operational JCB.  And aside from some truly dark days and muscles worthy of a Venice Beach bodybuilder, we have (touch wood) made it IMG_0632.JPGthrough the curse.

Professor Tractor has, as ever, stepped up to the mark and become the UK's fastest tractor-splitter, with the help of Team Concrete we have created the new Stansted runway ('Welcome to London Little Horkesley'), Mum has outdone herself with the range of tasty chutneys, jams and marmalades in the farm shop, the grass is growing and we have also welcomed a remarkable selection of ridiculously friendly calves.  Onwards and upwards!  Curse permitting, I'll be updating the blog again soon...

The Madness of The Stour

The Stour Valley has not been very quiet for the past few days.  The replacement of portage points on the River Stour has kept the valley ringing with the sound of pile driving, or 'Wiston fracking', and we've all been driven a little bit mad.

To share this momentous occasion - and what can only be the arrival of the QE2, the portage points are so big, we bring you a brief history of pile driving in the valley.  Are you sitting comfortably?  Then you're not in the Stour Valley...earplugs in, and I'll begin.

Sadly, not a bowler hat and cane, or non-fluorescent waistcoat to be seen today. Standards are slipping.

Rain and roses

A sprinkling of rain and the pasture is green again.  The cows are happy, and we are enjoying the opportunity to hide indoors between showers.  This week, Dad even managed to successfully dodge the showers in an early morning dash to the grain trader, clearing the bins in preparation for the return of the this space.

And, horror of horrors, that was his second outing in a week!  Farmer Humph's Day Release also included a little contracting next to Cants' Rose Fields. Definitely trading up.  I enjoyed the opportunity to visit and celebrate in colourful style the start of harvest support season, with trips to Colchester's finest at the Hythe:  Ray at Does, and Industrial Bearings.  Whilst others are sunning themselves on holiday, we spend time reconnecting with Colchester's bypasses.  Interesting fact: the Industrial Bearings building was opened by the most famous bearing enthusiast of all, Sir Bobby Moore.

Fortunately for Dad, the mass of roses reminded him to order flowers to celebrate 35 years of wedded agricultural bliss.  And so today, we travel down memory lane to prove that all farmers have agriculturally themed wedding cakes...Congratulations Mum and Dad!  We're very proud of you.

A little too basic...

OK, so when I said we were going "back to basics" recently, I wasn't quite meaning this basic:

Early Woman aka Mum was thrilled to find a new penknife whilst out walking our  domesticated wolfhound.  Proof positive that an early, possibly Neolithic Farmer Humph roamed this land.

But, the 'back-to-basics' jinx struck again this week, with Mum's discovery of a hand plough hidden under several decades of brambles.  A one-furrow plough.  So at last count, we have a one furrow, a two-furrow, two three-furrow and a four-furrow;   The Evolution of the Plough, a new exhibit at Lower Dairy Farm.  Join them all together and you could take on a prairie.

 With the Massey 690s still out of action, Dad has worked very hard to complete the ploughing, cultivating and drilling with limited tractor power.  It has been a long time coming, but finally, our last sugar beet crop is in the ground.  Hurrah!Actually, last year was supposed to be the last, but our agronomist bullied Dad into signing the contract for another season.  We like him really, but if he attempts the same this year, I shall be invoicing him for 20 years of tea and cake - and even when you take into account inflation, it's good cake, so he should be very afraid.

For us, sugar beet is a lot of hassle and no longer suited to small acreages like ours.  British Sugar are laughing all the way to the bank with the price they pay, and frankly, the NFU should be ashamed to put their name to the "deals" they "negotiate".  Negotiating with a monopoly is never going to be an easy task, but as one wise farmer put it: "They must drink in the same pub..."

And so, the sugar beet drill will be put to rest.  First looked at in 1982, it had lain unused in a field for so long, sheep had eaten the electric cabling.  A year later, Dad decided to buy it, rewired it and two of the units have lasted without upgrades for thirty years.  Seen here riding off into the sunset for the last time...

Note our state-of-the-art geolocation system: a bag on a pylon.  When the satellites fail, we'll be okay.  I'm off to knap flint tools for my survivalist shelter.

Spuds away!

It's National Potato Week!

  Whilst we're not potato farmers (last grown at LDF in the '50s), we are surrounded by a potato growing giant, so to celebrate, we're delving into Grandad T's farming archive to compare two very different harvests...

From one horsepower  c.1945... today in Horkesley




  The valley is alive at the moment with the merry harvesters working from dawn 'til dusk to harvest the humble potato.  I like to adopt a dig-for-victory approach to growing potatoes in the garden, but Humbug rejoices in the opportunity to chase the big machines.

   And so, as Rix's workers fill the local pub comparing which model of tractor adorns their credit cards (only the most dedicated make the harvest cut), we salute the potato -provider of employment, most versatile tuber and saviour of dinnertime.

Beef chilli and baked potatoes for supper?  Yes please!


Whilst the nation rejoices in the success of Team GB, we are in mourning, for one of Humphrey's hats has gone over to the other side.

And yes, the other side may be the council fabric recycling bag, but it is a loss Humphrey feels keenly.  For those who have met Humphrey will know, he is always to be seen in a hat.

In the winter, he chooses to adopt the Smurf look, occasionally tending towards French beret when worn at a jaunty angle.  In the summer, he models a range of sun hats in various shades of grime, from off-white to khaki.  From the fisherman's hat to the floppy-brimmed cricket hat, all are to be found protecting Humphrey's bald pate from the ferocious sunshine for which the Cote d'Horkesley is known.

And whilst Hannah may despair, and cruelly wrest these hats from him or behind the tractor seat or scattered around the farm (life is a catwalk), to make them moderately sanitary, the millinery parade marches on.  Some even say it runs in the family.

And so to the passing of the hat.  It's demise came when it entered the washing machine and the oil, diesel and dust holding it together were lost.  Seen here in better times, the international stardom years on Google Streetview.

And so, it is with sadness in my heart, and a rapidly disintegrating sunhat in my hand that I sign off this blog post.  RIP sunhat.  You've gone to a better place.

(And no Dad, we're not saving it for rags.)

Happy Harvest

It's raining!  Good news as it meant limited guilt when I abandoned the farm for the Olympic eventing final yesterday.  You should know, I love the Olympics more than Humbug or my family.  To the point I walked Humbug the other day by sprinting to a friend's house (fortunately within the death distance - approx 1/8 mile) in the break in the men's gymnastics all-round final.  Apologies to the local farmer who had to witness my attempt at running (less Usain more Jumanji) along the edge of a sugar beet field.

But it IS harvest, and the combine IS ready to go  - at last testing barley was at 20% moisture, so not long now.  And so it is time for a vintage picture.  I've recently been sorting through Grandad's photos and negatives from the '30s (after dark, late at night - all hours must be accounted for pre-harvest).  Last week, I came across this picture of a time before the JCB/Manitou took the load off a farmer's harvest.


Having spent a long time as a child climbing/being lifted one layer higher on a trailer of bales (whilst wearing a natty knotted 'kerchief), this photo brought back fond memories of harvest.  It is a strange time, in my opinion the most stressful and most enjoyable time in the farming year.  But, just as at the Olympics, everything comes down to this.  And having worked increasingly with Dad over the past year since I returned to the farm, I would like to encourage all involved to 'Make the Promise' to come home safely.  Don't get me wrong, we may despair of HSE at times and we do not have to harvest in the conditions in this photo, but it is important to get through it in one piece!  As the HSE executive say: Do it for yourself, your family and your farm.

Good luck to everyone starting harvest, finishing (you lucky things) or struggling to get heavy machinery into boggy fields!  It has been a challenging season in the UK but spare a thought for our American counterparts.  With extraordinary drought conditions across the US, we are lucky to be able to head into the fields to harvest.  There'll be lots of cursing, screaming and probably a few tears (from Humbug) here at LDF, but here's wishing you all a safe harvest.

What lies beneath?


(Less Harrison Ford, more sheet metal.)

40 years ago, one man used 5 million nails to create the world's most hygienic parlour wall.  Now, the harmonious farmhands are set to remove it.  Nail by nail.


But what's that?  A ghost?  Am I losing my mind?  Or have we found the missing sideburns (and hair) of this man, last seen milking in this very dairy in 1982...

 Nope, the barn won't give up it's secrets easily.

It's just more tin.  And (more worryingly) water appearing from somewhere.

Just as we allowed ourselves a little hope....another layer, and overlapping, and joy! - another row of nails which are totally unreachable.

But the harmonious farmhands persevered and today, for the first time in 40-years, we have an exclusive sneak peek behind the metal facade...


 Looking good....?

  Join us for a week of discovery as we determine the condition of the timber frame.  Fancy a flutter?  Join our pool and guess the number of mummified rats behind the facade.  And join me in hoping there are no emergency Acro prop situations and more importantly, we don't find one of the child's shoes/clothing/similar that were put there for luck (thus must be put back) but really freak me out.

Forget London, this is going to be quite a week!