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My Farm by Miss Elizabeth Creak

The following article was written by Elizabeth Creak, who farmed nearby, and which appeared in The Warwickshire Farmer in 1978.

My Farm By Miss Elizabeth Creak Clyde Higgs Farm, Hatton Rock Stratford Upon Avon

Elizabeth Creak

3.30 a.m. Brian arrives at the bottling dairy at Hatton Rock, and starts to open the giant fridges for the roundsmen to start loading their milk delivery vans. Some like an early start to get back home in the weekdays before 10 a.m., and deliver while the roads are clear, though it takes until two or three on Saturdays and Sundays when they collect their money. The start is staggered so each roundsman has the individual attention of the checker, who also issues cream, eggs, and juice. Messages are taken off the Ansaphone – they are staccato, slow and repeated. No jokes. Some heavy breathing.

4.30 a.m. Jo rolls over in bed, squints at the clock and starts off on his cycle ride to his herd at Black Hill Farm, 143 cows to put through the 12 x 12 Hosier herringbone parlour by 8 a.m. It’s summer, so the cows have to be called home from the adjoining fields. In wintertime they are streamed into four sections in the Farmplan wooden kennels and fed ad lib by the new Turner complete feeder servicing the four herds.

5.00 a.m. Malcolm, who milks the one herd still in an abreast Hosier bail (we used to have six, but now we are rationalising to three herringbones) grazing in the summer where the grass is greenest, cycles to his herd of 104 cows, with a high standard of stocksmanship – though too much back-bending for the men.

5.30 a.m. Bill and Mike, herds managers in charge of the four milking set ups milking 700 cows and the young stock, start their rounds – and their problems. A calf to be picked up, a cow with foul in the foot, (a phone call to the vet for this). AI man to come to three herds. Testing for TB and brucellosis next week to be arranged.

6.00 a.m. The heron calls in for pre-breakfast snack at my goldfish pond then heads for the Avon, still shrouded in mist promising another golden day, for his next meal. He will be back for tea – a handsome bird, mobbed by smaller ones in flight, he stands stock still before pouncing, only the speedy black fish survive.

6.30 a.m. Ted, the manager is at his desk, telephoning Bill at Lodge Farm fixing an appointment with the man from the Ministry and planning the day’s work. The dairy starts washing down before starting on bottling yesterday’s milk. Problems such as vehicle breakdowns, a man not turning in, another later, are dealt with. The white smoke rising from the dairy denotes the churn washer working, not papal blessings.

7.30 a.m. Les, the arable foreman, collects his gang to start. Today they are filling the new silage pit at Lodge Farm, Snitterfield – 4,000 tonnes to feed the 131 cows based here for next winter. Second cut silage a bit thin, covered nightly with black plastic, having been rolled by the big Muir Hill. The cutter is broken again – always on a Friday.

7.45 a.m. Roger, recently featured in the Sunday Times, starts off silage cutting in his new, brand new, Hesston Model 2150 Precision Chop Forage Harvester. It’s wilted after some unfortunate happening with silage effluent and a neighbouring trout stream some five years ago. Paying the cheque for nearly £10,000, I try and convince myself that in these inflationary times, one is best out of money and into goods. I cannot do without it, but I wonder how long it will take me to pay for it, compared with the apparent ease with which the dealer sold it to me.

8.00 a.m. Ali, the lorry driver, verger in his spare time, and attender of steam engines at the Royal and the Town and Country, starts to collect the morning milk in churns to bring it to the central dairy, where the quantities are checked, the milk sniffed, and poured into the tip tank to be pasteurised and bottled.

8.30 a.m. The office opens. The post brings forms to fill up – how many employed, how much milk have I sold, the agricultural returns, will I give milk to the village fete, VAT, more magazines than I can read, letters from parents whose kids want jobs. 90% is dealt with the same day thanks to the phone and the IBM.

9.00 a.m. The phone gets hot – OK but cut the small talk. After 9.30 p.m. its deaths and breakdowns only.

10.00 a.m. The workshop at Hatton Bank Farm is checking over the three New Holland combines for cutting the winter barley to start next week. Fire extinguishers on board. This 200 acres is additional to our usual 600 acres of spring barley, so it will be sold off the combine at £74. I long to dispose of more antique machines, but we keep them because of the high cost of spares.

11.00 a.m. Roger in the dairy is burning some rubbish and the wind is in the wrong direction. Some of it starts ablaze in the rape, now dry and ready for swathing. For two seconds I mentally check our insurances, then call the fire brigade. But the dairy staff have beaten out the flames, so there is little to do but damp down by the time our thorough and prompt firemen friends arrive.

12.00 noon. The ubiquitous rep is announced. Their instruction booklet must start 'Press the flesh and name the name'. Do they think I am waiting just to see them. Leave the list and I will consider. I put on my frosty face, but realise that it is a Dr. from the neighbouring Wellesbourne Research Station who wants to monitor the spores in the rape, and can he set up his instruments. Yes indeed, but be careful they don't get mown down by the swather.

12.15 p.m. Maggie and Barbara and Joyce check the eggs into the packing shed at Hatton Rock. Their small female fingers handle the grading with minute care, though the occasional plop shows that eggs don't bounce.

12.35 p.m. Ern phones from Blacon Farm, Norton Lindsey, reporting a water leak. These can cost over £1,000 if not dealt with immediately, and Doug the maintenance man hurries along from his lunch. Ern deals with the heifer calvings, and Elsie rears the calves on ad lib cold milk feed. She considers each calf a challenge in inverse proportion to its health, and many a by-now strong cow wouldn’t have pulled through without her fighting tender loving care. The heifer calves are kept for herd replacements, the beef are sold at 12 weeks, but this winter we are keeping some on, feeding them off the 150 acres of maize silage grown at Park Farm. This maize isn’t any good for human consumption, but I always notice more cobs in the centre of the field.

12.55 p.m. Lunch for some … but it’s a good time to phone.

1.30 p.m. Ali is off round the herds with the empty churns on his lorry, and then off to collect hen food from Barford. 10,000 hens laying extra brown and tasty eggs delivered without the benefit of the middleman.

2.00 p.m. I go round and look at the wheat from the car. (“You must get a lot of exercise living in the country.” “Yes, we even turn our cars in the field driver to driver so we don’t have to get out to talk."). 800 acres, a thick, heavy crop. Tramlining has cut down wheel damage. The Charlecote deer, who cross the river at low tide, lay low, with the tips of their horns showing. A spot in the corner is splashed with red, where we missed spraying. Scarlet sins for all to see. Wild oats where we sub-soiled are harvested by hand. The seed must have been dormant for at least 30 years. The dying elms bring a melancholy touch, but their cremation will keep my new Jotul woodburning stove full all winter.

3.00 p.m. Second milking. Don at Old Pastures Farm down near the river opposite Alveston turns out around 700 gallons a day, in a 20 x 20 Alfa herringbone, A.C.R.s etc. He lives a stone's throw from his herd, no commuting. We started turning our 30 year old Ayrshire herd to Friesians nearly seven years ago, and now we are almost black and white.

3.15 p.m. Bill tests the drier on a bit of last year's wheat. This will run 24 hours a day during harvest, and our oil bills show it. The wheat will be sold during the autumn, and will be all gone by February, to help pay the fertiliser bill due in March.

3.30 p.m. Cyril sets off to bring in two loads of old tyres to hold the plastic sheets down on the silage pits. Have to be quick as other farmers are on the scrounge.

4.00 p.m. Jo phones from Hampton Lucy to say that there are some cows out – reinforcements are despatched, but they come from a neighbour's herd. Have to be careful with brucellosis about.

5.00 p.m. John, the assistant dairy manager, is waiting-for the 1,000 gallons of milk to be brought to the dairy, where he will cool and store it in the insulated tank ready for next morning.

5.30 p.m. Ray is standing under the hedge at Hampton Lucy waiting for the pigeons (3,500 on the rape last February) coming on to the corn - an increasing menace. He's retired, so we pay for the cartridges.

6.00 p.m. is technically the end of the day for most of us, though the arable men will still be hard at work until dusk. At harvest time we cut until the dew stops us, and the combines look like giant liners with lights in the rigging and spars and tugs and tenders in attendance, refuelling and off loading. Les will collect and deliver the tractor drivers home in his Land Rover – no homeward plodding for these 20th century ploughmen.

We have worked through the night – when we were short of water for bottling, and had to have 10,000 gallons for the milk to go out the next day. The corn drying goes on at night at harvest time and there may be a couple of difficult calvings, but usually the farm reverts to the foxes playing in the fields; rabbits – next morning the corpses of the unlucky ones are half-eaten by the crows; my personal yellow-eyed unblinking owl, hopping from stake to stake, racing me down the drive; a hedgehog snuffling for its supper; my cat dining out on smoked salmon and chicken through his Snitterfield cat flap – it’s all there until we start again at 3.30 next morning, every day of the year.

Elizabeth Creak

Article © The Warwickshire Farmer