After my remarks in last month’s notes, that old man winter had given up in December, he took his revenge in late January and early February and inflicted his ice and snow on us. I can only say that, unlike Michael Fish in October 1987, my remarks were more of a reflection on previous years than a forecast for this one.
The penetrating frosts were a mixed blessing depending on whether the farmer has broad acres or a building full of pigs. Certainly with temperatures at 24 degrees F (-4 degrees C) a certain “sterilizing” effect could be expected in the soil. In days past, when much more land was ploughed in early winter time, and left until the spring for sowing, a good hard winter was claimed to be most beneficial to soil condition. Modern farming practice demands, especially with cereals and oil seed rape, no sooner is a field cleared of one crop, than another is quickly planted. Of course, farmers with livestock dread penetrating frosts. Frozen water pipes mean much time is spent thawing out to ensure an uninterrupted water supply. A sow suckling a litter of piglets will drink about 8 gallons of water (35 litres) each day. Add on to this the water requirements of pigs destined for your breakfast bacon or your ham sandwich at lunch time, it quickly becomes apparent how important it is to have an uninterrupted water supply. A herd of 100 sows (quite a modest number by today’s standards) will consume well over 1000 gallons of water a day.
Those farmers whose business it is to produce the roast beef of “olde England” by breeding calves to be raised for this purpose have always had one problem in particular. It concerned whether or not “Tipsy” or “Lottie” were actually going to have that calf. Not only “if” but “when”. Much speculation and head scratching and informed opinion was expressed. The potential mum would be viewed from all angles and scraps of paper would be consulted as to when the original introductions with the big chap with the ring in his nose, was made! For a farmer in Cretingham parish all of that is no longer necessary. A telephone call soon brings into the farmyard a bright young man, who quickly changes into an all enveloping suit of protective clothing complete with very clean rubber boots. From the car comes the latest technology which includes a small television like set. Waiting in a nearby yard are three “mums” in the situation of “are they” or “are they not”. Each cow is put into a holding crush and the man in the very clean rubber boots gently goes into action. A thin probe with a pencil like sensor on the end is guided into the cow’s cavernous interior via the “back door”. There on the small screen can be seen, with skilled interpretation what is happening in the womb. By “freezing” the image and making certain measurements conception and birth dates are, at the press of a button, displayed on the screen! Even “Lottie” seemed pleased at the good news!