This is not the same farmyard I knew as a child, where (usually) cheerful men toiled with sacks, with welding gear, with drums of diesel, bales of hay, a tractor that wouldn’t start (again),: the machine shed and the patient cattle steaming in the misty, morning light. The yard that was organised chaos, that dogs, chickens and Adam, the Hereford bull, bossed in turns. The sound of Guinea fowl, the gentle lowing demands of calves and the moody exuberance of pigs.
The humming of the chaff cutter, the mechanical-but-hypnotic clanking of the baler in a distant field, the repetitive vacuum pump, pomp, pump of the milking machine. Swallows planning through the top half of stable doors in the cow-shed, spiders webs with litters of chaff entwined, the sickly sweet smell of the brewers yeast stack, the prowling, near-feral cats. No people here today, where my grandfather thatched ricks atop giant ladders. Indeed no ricks either, not even the staddle stones that they sat upon.
The place where I learned names like Alfa- Laval, Fordson Major, Friesian, BOCM and David Brown. Where fly-papers gathered insects on an industrial scale and a barn owl raised young on rats.
A single, immensely imposing tractor, yellow, somehow more like a Lego toy than an agricultural powerhouse. No trailers, no stock cattle in the barn, no combine harvester proud in the wooden shed complete with Hansel and Gretel trail of spilled grain and scarf of work-dusted hessian.
Gone to ghosthood, I hope they are happy, satisfied; for as I stand in what was the dairy yard, across which I manfully struggled as a boy with pails of body-warm milk I feel both a pride and an emptiness.
No cattle have been milked here for a decade, though swallows still balance elegantly on the same wires and twitter the same going-away messages. There is order and clean lines where there were families and humour and a pile of empty blue drums wait where the itinerant’s warm caravan used to settle each harvest time.
It still , thankfully,functions as part of a farming concern, looks cruelly efficient, the JCB is parked straight and protected from rain, the ground is level and ruthlessly weed free, the hedges neat, though flailed, not cut and without pheasant and songbird friendly batter. Because agriculture has changed, often, in adapting becoming monoculture. It’s not wrong: business is business naturally (or not) and development happens, the weakest go to the wall or having no support are taken over.
This is not the farmyard I wandered as a child, where I learned to make some sense of life’s tapestries, where I began my journey into society and, indeed, adulthood. It is not and why would it be? Why should it be? Change is the nature of things, it’s evolution, process and progress.
But, for the few evening-sun gilded moments I am there I ask myself whether, as a child I misread the farmyard. There must have been a sense of business then. Was it that I didn’t notice it? Or was the farm, somehow, run with a more human, caring face? There are still foxes on the land, buzzards, rare then, now nest in the Lady Wood and nature turns on and on under the early evening Harvest moon: a time for thinking of those that have gone before, bless them.