The countryside, with its farming and village life, is one of the last remaining bastions of our old traditions, which, as they melt away in the somewhat fierce heat of modern times, become more precious. At Christmas time, one such event that has featured in our old agricultural customs is the Christmas Fatstock Show. Livestock markets themselves are not spared from the march of time and change. However, those that remain uphold very well this festive seasonal activity. No class of livestock is neglected. The cockerel, duck, goose and turkey, porker and steer, are exhibited and their merits analysed by all. They are judged usually by a butcher. Where competitions are held for the heaviest “gobbler”, weights of over 65lbs have been achieved. A good many yuletide meals would be provided from such a bird as you might imagine. The fact that it is probably over two years old might cause it to be a little “chewy!” The more usual age of a Christmas turkey dinner is 6 months for a 20lb bird and nearer 4 months for the lighter weights. The selection of a steer or bullock for the show causes much head scratching and debate. A farmer can select a promising calf to exhibit which might look quite a different animal 18 months later at the time of the show. Prize winning stock on the day is strongly competed for by local butchers. They like to display the prominent red white and blue winners’ cards amongst their Christmas displays of meat. Local companies who supply the farmer with his feed and other requirements give cups to be competed for. So if you want to witness your own local “Smithfield” get along to Campsea Ashe or Saxmundham in early December where once again the shows will be held.
The birds of hedgerow and garden are having an easy introduction to wintertime as the weather is very kind. By a long dense hedge, bordered by a wide area of a “set aside” land, I counted thirteen long tailed tits “flowing” along chattering as they go. Quite large flocks of chaffinches and green finches were busily feeding off the berries and seeds. By a clump of seeded thistles, a “charm” of goldfinches delicately picked at the seed heads. What a pleasure it is to quietly wander the field tracks at this time of year. In this respect the forbearance of our local landowners is much appreciated. Many of us who feed birds in the garden will have the attendance of a good variety depending upon what is offered to attract them. My bird table was, unusually, deserted the other day. No wonder! A sparrow hawk was perched nearby. However, very quickly, after it had zoomed off, life got back to normal at the birds’ MacDonalds of Brandeston Road! By the way, when did you last see a song thrush in your garden?