Friday, 3 December 2010

Yesterday on the Farm

This last February we had been on the farm for a mere 3 months before we were treated to a massive dump of snow which iced us in, caused us to run out of heating oil and generally made us farming novices sit up and pay attention. Worst in 30 years said our neighbours – don’t worry its unlikely to happen again. Exactly 10 months later we find ourselves in exactly the same circumstances – a foot and a half of snow, icy roads and general mayhem. This time we are better prepared but in building up our flock of Southdown sheep we have a lot more in the way of responsibilities.
So when I looked out the window yesterday morning and saw this magical Christmas card-like scene complete with robin red breast and holly leaves, I thought: forget the romantic sentimentality, better get the sheep in. And thanks heavens we did.
First of course we had to prepare the barn for the influx of woolly-type folk. Easier said than done because the aluminium hurdles we used to build pens kept getting frozen onto my gloves. Even with two layers of protection my hands were soon aching with cold that no amount of happy clapping could remedy. Then it was in the four wheel drive Kawasaki mule and out into fields to drive the sheep in. The ewes were a dream. It was as though they knew exactly what was going on. I rounded them up like an expert sheep dog and within minutes they were in the barn. The lambs were another matter entirely. They were clueless, cold, up to their armpits in snow and hysterical. Marcin the farm manager was wading knee deep in snow that skiers would die for trying to keep the lambs in a group while I tried to herd them towards the gate. Bella the sheep dog sat next to me in the passenger seat of mule and rolled her Collie eyes as if to say where the hell did you two learn to sheppard? After about half an hour of rushing about, stumbling in the snow, cursing, cajoling, waving arms and feed buckets, it finally dawned on the sheep that we were trying to communicate something to them. They began to move in the right direction and I leapt back into the mule, cursing because the seat was wet; Bella having trailed a snow plough’s worth of white stuff into the mule which in the interim had melted under her fat backside. Ignoring my soaking and increasingly cold nethers, I rammed the mule into first gear and drove the lambs across three fields towards the barn. All appeared to be going well when Burt, a teddy bear of a lamb, decided she could go no further – leaping across three fields, belly deep in snow was just too much for her. Her short Southdown legs gave way under her and she collapsed in the snow. She lay there grunting as if to say: you guys go on and leave me to die here peacefully. I managed to close the final gate behind the rest of the lambs and Marcin and I carried Burt the rest of the way – no easy feat since this lady weighs at least 20 kgs more than me. Once in the warm barn on some dry straw and faced with a pile of fresh hay, Burt made a remarkable recovery, pictured here.
With the ewes and lambs in, the next task was to get the two rams in. Now they weigh at least 60kgs more than me and they can be rather pushy. Ask Marcin – he has been floored by them and he knows that they go exactly for the back of your knees with a force to send anyone flying. Well, I will spare readers what went on for about an hour. Suffice to say we got Jean-Claude and Range Master in. What astonished me was how their testicles had iced up – they were even sporting icicles! A fact not known to many folk is that sheep have the biggest testicles relative to their body size in the entire animal kingdom, so this was a sight to behold. Got me a bit worried though - we are supposed to be putting these rams to the ewes next week so that we can lamb in May. Question: how long do these things take to defrost, if at all?
With all the animals in their pens, fed and watered, a most wonderful calm descended on the barn. The sheep settled down to rest, chewing happily and the barn was filled with an amazing smell of warm animal. It was so biblical that I half expected to turn and see three regal men approaching bearing gifts. No such men or gifts but we were richly rewarded just the same- the content serenity of the animals was the perfect present. Four hours later I got into the farm house, chilled to the bone. Nothing a cup of tea couldn't remedy.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Scotland Farm Southdown Duvet

They have arrived - our first pure Southdown wool duvets, a project born out of a recognition that wool's time has come again. New to sheep farming, we were struck by the lack of general interest in wool and we set out to find a product that could help re-establish wool and restore to this wonderful fibre the status it deserves. Our research directed us to Southdown wool which has the physical properties necessary to make a fine quilt. Exactly a year later, the project has come to fruition and we offer these duvets which will encourage you to get a decent night’s comfortable sleep.

So what is sleep and why is it so important?

The directory has a really boring definition of sleep - a necessary regular recurring period of rest for the body and mind, during which volition and consciousness are in abeyance and bodily functions are partially suspended. Yawn.

What this definition fails to highlight is that sleep is essential for good health, allowing your body to rest and restore its energy levels. Most adults need between 7 and 8.5 hours of sleep a night, so we spend about 30% of our lives sleeping. Sleep or lack thereof, has a profound effect on both our physical and mental wellbeing. A good night's sleep is often the best way to help you cope with stress, solve problems, or recover from illness. During the stages of deep sleep, the body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bone and muscle and appears to strengthen the immune system. As you get older, you sleep more lightly and get less deep sleep – not surprising that its older people who tend to complain about disrupted sleep.
But sleep deprivation or poor sleep affects everyone, from children to seniors – irritability, lack of concentration, feelings of depression, impaired memory, increase stress and anxiety, feelings of being unable to cope with daily life are a few symptoms of bad sleeping patterns.
More seriously, lack of sleep contributes to other health problems that may seem unrelated to the most obvious symptoms of sleep deprivation. For children, disrupted sleep can contribute to an inability to concentrate and process new information, making school work more challenging and affecting their academic achievements – something that will impact on the rest of their lives. In adults, lack of sleep has been conclusively linked to increased risk of heart attack, diabetes and strokes not mention increased risk of accidents on the roads and when operating machinery.
In short - you cannot function without sufficient sleep.

So how can you encourage better sleeping patterns and how can a wool duvet help solve sleep problems?
The key to a good night’s sleep is comfort. A cool well ventilated room is the starting point. Then you need to keep warm enough to feel comfortable without over heating and sweating. Here wool comes to the rescue in a number of ways:

Wool has excellent wicking qualities which means it will help regulate the micro-climate around your body. Wool has the natural ability to draw up to 50% more moisture away from your skin than other duet fillings and therefore will cool you down when you need to without you breaking into a sweat. But conversely, wool will keep you warm as toast so no more waking up needing to grab an extra layer in winter or tossing off the overly hot quilts in summer. Wool can even accommodate thermal differences between sleeping partners; adjusting your warmth needs relative to that of your partner while still keeping your individual micro climate just right for you – great for sharing and no more fighting over the duvet! This is also good news for all those ladies over 50 – wool duvets can really help reduce the night sweats associated with the menopause.

Wool is anti-allergenic – it will help reduce problems associated with skin irritations and will not encourage the presence of dust mites or mould. This is achieved through the scouring of our raw wool. Remove the protein and it’s no longer of interest to the dust mites. Our duvets are also moth-proofed but are not treated with harmful pentachlorophenol (nasty stuff that causes eye infections, breathing difficulties and skin problems among other horrible ailments).

Wool is safe because it is a natural flame retardant. It won’t ignite easily and does not spread flames as synthetics do. There’s good reason why fire fighting gear has a high wool content. Also unlike thermoplastic fibres, wool will not melt into a sticky mass, which can adhere to the skin and cause severe burns. Wool simply smoulders down to an ash that is non-sticking and cool to the touch. Most importantly, it does not generate toxic gases when it burns.

Wool is sustainable and it is obtained without cruelty unlike down and feather duvet fillings. 70% of the down and feathers used in bedding and clothing come from China and you don’t want to know how this down is “collected” – it’s really nasty. Our sheep don’t particularly like being sheared but once they are freed from their heavy fleeces, boy do they feel frisky! Watching a newly shawn sheep leaping about in the fields always makes us smile.

Wool is durable. Wool fibres resist tearing and are much hardier than cotton, silk or rayon. Treat it with respect and your wool duvet will last for years.

Wool is cost effective – over ten years your wool duvet would have cost 4p per night, that’s half the cost of an electric blanket. Yes, our sheep do contribute to carbon emissions (they politely bleat “excuse me” every time they break wind, promise), but their addition to your carbon footprint is minute compared to that of a coal-fired power station that runs your electric blanket.

So how should you look after your duvet?
Very simple – dry clean only. Otherwise it will look after itself.

Message to those hackers out there

To the hackers who hijacked the Scotland Farm website, we say: may the fleas of 1,000 camels infest your armpits and may the parents of these aforementioned camels spit in your breakfast cereal.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Annie and Funky Fusions

About 15 years ago, as commodity analyst for a major mining company, I was invited to a seminar run by a Japanese recruitment and career promotions company who took themselves very seriously. The title of the programme was CREAGEMENT. With upper lips as stiff as their starched collars, these earnest presenters explained that CREAGEMENT was a process of creating the right environment to ensure creativity in the work place. The objective was the establishment of a direct relationship: create a creative environment and it will ensure entrepreneurial excellent and innovation from the staff. As a meerkat we all know would say “simples!”
Snorting silently I listened politely for the first hour and then to their utter amazement and annoyance, I stuck my hand up and begged to differ with them. In polite Japanese interaction one never dares ask a question or interrupt a presentation; it is deemed the height of rudeness. But I could bear it no longer. I quoted the old relationship between silk purses and sows ears and the difficulty of converting the former into the latter; the point being dull lack-lustreness does not beget genius irrespective of the lighting in the room, the colour of the walls or the level of white noise piped out of vents in floor panels. But then I also addressed the converse; that being real talent is irrepressible, irrespective of environment. I cited the Beatles whose raw and unbridled musical gifts were spawned out of unemployed and down-trodden Liverpool – not a climate that my Japanese presenters would define as CREAGEMENT-opportune. My comments were received with polite nods of the heads but cold stares. A fellow attendee leaned over to me and whispered “I rest my case M’Lord”. Needless to say I didn’t to stay for lunch but rather hoped that Clive James might take my place since he would be far better placed than me to take fully the satirical piss out of the rest of the afternoon’s proceedings.
But in a sense it was a useful morning and the lessons of what not to do in the creation of a working environment remained with me as I set up my own company. Ten years after founding my own business, I know that the recipe for real success lies in hiring talented people. A talented analyst will create the same magic sitting in a cardboard box or a plush penthouse office suite which has been Feng Shui-ed to its gills. The same applies to a really good writer, artist, musician, designer and so on. Spot and attract the talent and the battle is won. In other words you cannot suppress talent – like water oozing out somewhere, it will find the cracks to emerge and make itself known through the line of least resistance. But that focuses on talent in a negative environment. Now if that same talent so happens to be born into an environment that nurtures and encourages that recognised potential, then the sky is the limit and great things happen. The result is spontaneous and intensely creative. It begins to gain its own momentum and it evolves over time, getting better and better as it grows into itself.
This is what I see in Annie, the teenage artist behind the glass jewellery called Funky Fusions. I actually met Annie through Scotland Farm’s head honcho hen, Paxman (I have a lot more than delicious eggs and tonnes of amusement for which to thank Paxman) and I am really happy to have Annie’s jewellery displayed on the Scotland Farm website. I don’t know where Annie’s career is going to take her, but if this jewellery is anything to go by, she is going to leave her mark in an industry somewhere, sometime in the future – perhaps fabric or interior design, perhaps fine art. Annie has everything going for her. Not only is she seriously talented with an intuitive eye for colour, texture and shape but her family are fully behind her. In short, her environment is as supportive as it could be. And I think this jewellery simply speaks for itself. I am just sorry that I cannot meet up with those Japanese CREAGEMENT gentlemen again (I would love to know what became of them) – if I did, I would like to say them: look at Annie, she epitomises the point I was trying to make fifteen years ago.