Winter Feed

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Even since I last wrote, the wee birds have doubled and then doubled again in numbers. I spy all sorts in the harvested field, and now they are joined by dark and sodden woodpigeons which cruise above the fallen crop like plashy rags.

A rush of rain battered into the glass windows and made me stand from my desk this afternoon. I looked onto the field to find a queue of seventy yellowhammers grimacing into the smirr along the dyketops. There were greenfinches and linnets in that listed mess, and they flared away like sparks from a grinder as a merlin came off the moss and tried his hand with the wind behind him.

This is no mere improvement on last year, when this field was in grass like almost every other in the parish. This is abundance which has sprung from nothing at all. I wonder where these birds have come from, and now I am almost reluctant to bring livestock here in case the balance tips away again. Cattle will mash the wasted crop and strip this field, but I reassure myself that the best is yet to come. Buxom bundles of oats are waiting in the sheds and the mice are making their skirts rustle with impatience. This is the cream of the summer, and it’ll be dished out to the birds and the dripping cattle when the long nights come. And just as I was the man who cut this crop in sweat and short trousers a few months back, it’ll be me that cowps the sheafs and slits them open beneath rakes of bleeding rain and the black ruts of winter mud.  It’s one hell of a job, this.

And if we finish the sheafs, we can rely on the meal. I have a roller mill now, and by Christ it works. It’s a knuckle-busting brute from the “Albion” works of Messers Harrison and MacGregor in Leigh, and we nearly crapped our puddings in moving it. The machine is older than my father, but now the weight is in place and the belts are tight. We’ve already flattened a trial bag of oats into light, waxy flakes; they sputter out of the chute like sleet and the whole place smells like porridge to make your mouth water. Our buildings shudder and drum with the rumble of heavy wheels, and we power the machine by a shaft through a hole in the wall to the tractor. Making that hole was a day’s work in itself, and many a tough-tipped drill bit was buggered as we battled the old granite.

Our oatmeal will be fed outdoors in a trough I am yet to build, and the bull will surely make a bastard mess of it. He will belch the crumbs into the snow, and I am touching wood that the mess will keep us all busy until the spring.



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