Sunday, 27 May 2012

Thursday 24 May 2012

The ten day old calf may have been small but, boy, could it suck. In an effort to wrangle the small bull into a camera friendly position I was advised to stick my finger in his mouth to mimic the teat. This did, temporarily, calm the young bull but the novel sensation of rasping tongue and serious suction did little for my smooth delivery to camera - did clean my nails though. He soon realised the con was on and no milk was forthcoming, at which point he started to but his head upwards in the way they bash their mum’s udders. Liveliness was forgivable as this calf, though only young, was lucky to be alive as he is a boy born of a dairy herd and 100,000 of his like are shot soon after birth. 

Dairy cows need to have calves in order to produce milk and while females are useful to re-stock the herd, many of the males are unwanted. Now, British veal (or ‘rose’ due to its pinker flesh) is highly favoured both by chefs and animal welfare experts as it now has the space to run around and tastes great. But it’s still a niche market incapable of taking all the newborn bulls – so could they be grown on as beef? Compassion in World Farming think so but some farmers fear rearing an animal bred for milk yield not beef production will prove a waste of time, pasture and expensive feed. 

But could there be a hi-tech solution? A note just in from the film researcher in the office promises ‘Tom can look at the screen and see sperm wriggling around’. Do not adjust you set, this is still Countryfile – but we’ll be in a lab which can split boys from girls with the artificial insemination. 

Life, death, sex…what more do you want on a Sunday night?

Thursday, 17 May 2012

“This is Miss Folckes’ path. It’s the route she followed three centuries ago to reach the neighbouring squire’s house. Look, it’s marked on this map from 1777 with her name”. This, according to a passionate gentleman we filmed today, was all the evidence required to permit a 21st century right of way which would have given walkers a pretty decent view of his personal hygiene routine, passing as it did within twenty feet of his bathroom window.

We are in a world of stout footwear and waterproof maps as we stride into the realm of the rambler. There are 118,000 miles of public footpaths in England (that would take you nearly 5 times round the equator) yet by 2026 there could be more as historic, so called, ‘lost ways’ and used but undesignated routes could be classified for access. Some may be thrilled, others alarmed.

Of more immediate concern to many rural strollers is what to do when you are confronted by the ploughed up path. Trudge on through with ever growing plates of mud weighing down each step or detour round the narrow margin amongst the nettles and brambles? We’ll reveal the right answer and who to complain to when you get home.

Horse Fostering latest: We had a great response to May 13th’s film about abandoned and neglected horses. The RSPCA were especially pleased as they were launching the appeal to find foster homes for ponies in that tricky ‘adolescent’ period when they are too young to be ridden, yet still cost a fortune to keep and plenty of potential good homes got in touch. They have been contacted by more than 25 potential fosterers and wanted to pass on their thanks to the programme and our viewers. I was pleased to get away with the most eye-watering shot of a bucket lid your likely to see on telly this year – it’s on i-player until Sunday 20th May if you missed it! And if you have a genuine interest in fostering a horse, you can find out more from the RSPCA

CountryFile Sunday evening 10 June BBC 1

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Today ended with a big surprise when checking in to our hotel and finding the bar populated by buff men wearing pants but little else. All the more unexpected as we are staying in a town which could double for the one in ‘Hot Fuzz’ though, hopefully, with fewer firearms.

This week’s film contrasts the growing appetite for people to get into farming with the increasing difficulty in actually doing it. Land prices have more than doubled in the last five years as rising food demand looks a good bet but, perhaps more importantly, big money is looking for a safe haven. As an investment, land is quite literally the new gold: putting it further from the reach of aspiring farmers and into the grasp of pension funds and oligarchs.
Meanwhile, agricultural colleges are seeing applications boom but Rachel, who we met at Harper Adams, is typical of her classmates in not finding a job on a British farm: she is going all the way to New Zealand to raise calves. Buying farms outright was always tricky for new entrants and young blood often flowed towards county farms, land owned and let by local authorities. But many of these are being flogged off too as cash strapped councils need the money for services. Tomorrow we’ll meet a council tenant farmer whose land is being sold beneath him.

Down at the front desk, hasty enquiries revealed sporting your smalls was not dress code but part of a local fashion show fundraiser for breast cancer care. No Countryfile team members were tempted onto the catwalk.

CountryFile Sunday evening 20 May BBC 1