Not just an old tree

With hands and faces stained purple, my brother and I perched in this old tree every summer of my childhood. The exquisite mulberries were just reward for a hard day’s labour in the scorching heat filling sacks with buttery yellow ragwort flowers.

I looked forward to hoisting Zoe up that very same tree this year but the tradition will stop with me.

Old mulberry

She has at last succumbed

The tree has writhed across the landscape ever since I can remember but now she has a hideous crack right up the base of her trunk that must have made life not just tough but impossible. Normally, she would be covered in heart-shaped leaves hiding almost black fruit in early March. Instead, just a handful of leaves remain even though thousands of buds seem poised to burst open with new life.

She was the last productive member of an ancient orchard Dad told me was planted by the farm’s settlers before they realised it was an island on a floodplain. The house was later built a few hundred yards away, reached only by the worst floods. She could well be 100 years old.

Her death brings the cycle of life into stark focus. My Dad and brother are gone; Zoe and Alex walk beside me these days.  When Zoe turned one, we planted a mulberry tree in the garden to celebrate. It has borne its first fruit this year.

Crunch time

The pastures are still green but they’re barely growing and, now, we must make hard decisions about what to feed and to whom.

Already, we’re feeding seven rolls of silage (each weighing about 800 kg) and a very hearty meal of grain to the milkers and if I want to keep the cows milking really well, I’ll need to step that up even more in the next few weeks. Any cow who is not producing at least 10 litres of milk per day is not paying her way. If she’s in calf, we will let her take a holiday. If not, we must sell her. Fortunately, the vast majority of cows are in calf, so we should be able to keep almost every one.

The reality that farm animals are working animals rather than pets is one of the hardest lessons of life but a valuable one, I think. Farm kids learn from an early age that the circle of life is inescapable but it is in a farmer’s power, though, to make every life a good one. What an awesome privilege.