In late March dark clouds descended upon the agricultural scene in our parishes and far beyond. The bewilderment experienced by our livestock farmers was echoed through every rural parish in the land. The time bomb of Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (commonly referred to as “mad cow disease” ) had exploded with the possibility of danger to human health. For livestock farmers especially it was nothing new to be threatened with the possible decimation of their stock. Contagious abortion diseases from time to time necessitated the slaughter of livestock and poultry to contain and eradicate infected stock. In some instances it was necessary to slaughter both infected and fit animals to contain the spread of the infection, as in the case of Foot and Mouth disease. Consequently Foot and Mouth disease is virtually unheard of now in this country. With other problems, such as tuberculosis and brucellosis in the dairy cow, regular testing of the herd and culling individual animals that react, was sufficient to protect the milk consuming public from infection. These scourges too are now less of a problem, except in certain areas of the country. One could almost fatalistically predict that some other menace could be lurking in the wings. Thus it was that in this modern age of rapid communication the initials BSE became a familiar part of our daily news and conversation. The “knock on” effect of dire warnings of the consequences of eating beef sent out waves of fear like throwing a large brick into a pond. From the animal feedingstuffs industry where it all began, to all livestock farmers, auctioneers, haulage contractors, abattoirs, right through to Mrs Housewife’s visit to the local butcher and even our children’s school meals, the effect, for differing reasons was evident. It was almost a relief to be told it was safe to use meat and bone meal as a fertilizer in our gardens! As the first quarter of this spring month has passed, those concerned await officialdom’s instructions with apprehension.
April is usually a month of much bursting into life for the countryside. On the farm and in the garden, it got off to a very chilly start and consequently a delayed start. The usual surge of growth and activity that this time of the year normally produces, is at least a month late. Certainly the birds are busy nest building. Certainly the wild rabbits are busy breeding again. (Do they ever stop?) However, soil temperatures are too low to stimulate much growth and germination. In 1995, on April 14th, I recorded in my diary “Another lovely morning with the prospects of a warm day“. A year later I registered 28 degrees Fahrenheit at 8am accompanied by a chilly fresh NE wind. Nevertheless, in the best traditions of gardening folklore, I planted my early potatoes on Good Friday. I wonder if, as last year, we will be digging up the first roots by mid June? Nature is very adept at making up for lost time, so, somehow I think we will!