You’ll forgive me for always talking about the weather, but when you’re a farmer it’s your everything, even in a pandemic. So life in lockdown for many farmers won’t be feeling that different to normal, except perhaps it takes a little longer to get the groceries, and the kids seem to be on permanent school holidays. But self-isolating and social distancing yep, no problem, that’s our old normal.
In fact, for many of us, lockdown might well be feeling a lot more social than our old normal. Our off-farm working spouses or partners are now around all the time, so we’ve actually got someone to have lunch and a conversation with. Someone who has got more to contribute than our ever-faithful dogs. Even having the kids around more can be really useful for getting some of those farm chores shared around, so that you can get back into the house before dusk each day.
Personally, I’ve found lockdown a rather welcome change from my usual days on the farm. Having the two older teens back home from uni and college, plus their dad off work, has meant that in just three weeks we’ve already put a big dent in the autumn tasks that were dropping off the ever-expanding list prior to lockdown. We’ve even got the veggie beds that had languished and become neglected in the never-ending drought, refurbished and growing food again. Those seeds that we’d squirreled away in the potting shed came in very handy when all the seedlings disappeared off the shop shelves. The hot, dry weather that has been awful for our pastures was perfect for our fruit harvest this year, so the family spent several days bottling and preserving apples, pears and now feijoas, and we’ve had many lovely pies and crumbles embellished with a juicy crop of wild blackberries too.
The wild harvest has also provided some intensely flavoured field mushrooms, which with meat from the farm means we have been eating rather well. Fortunately, with all the outdoors work in the ongoing Indian summer weather, plus now having the time and company to actually do some recreational exercise with an evening cycle ride around the district, has meant that girths have not been expanding. Our new evening ritual has become a wonderful way to explore our local country roads as they are now so quiet and peaceful, free from worry about being swept off our bikes by a passing motorist.
Unfortunately, girths have not been expanding on our livestock either, despite my best efforts. The cattle have required supplementary feed for many weeks now as the drought has doubled down. Fortunately, I did have hayleage reserved for just such an eventuality, as summer drought feeding has become our new normal, despite dropping cattle numbers.
The sheep will get through the tupping or mating season okay, but certainly not plump. All of us farmers will be looking to the late autumn rains, that are just showing promise of arriving, to restore our livestock to full reproductive vigour over the coming months, before the hard work of lambing and calving begins again.
Apart from some of the practical difficulties of getting stock away for processing, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic affecting working procedures in our processing plants, as well as overseas market restrictions, it has been largely the drought which has been the main preoccupation on the farm. I, for one, am not too impatient for lockdown to end.