Maple Field Milk – Ragwort Results: Field 1 – Ragwort Nil

After the rain soaked winter of 2015/16 our four acres was severely trampled and damaged (mob grazing on ‘repeat’). As if to rub it in, the ragwort came up like a broad-cast crop.  With no sheep to graze it off in the spring when the plants are young, the ‘wort’ came up in serious numbers. We were coated with a wild layer of yellow.  As a dangerous and ‘notifiable’ disease  (Dangerous Plant Act 1953) we notified each other. I looked out on this nodding menace.  I pulled sections on my own, making tragically small dents in the micro-forest of deadly plants.  All the time I noticed the army of pretty caterpillars feeding heavily on the ragwort plants (senecio jacobaea).Out of evil comes forth good.  These caterpillars will pupate into fiercely magnificent cinnabar moths with perfect delta wings.

I summoned the family to the aid of the smallholder.  Within two hours last Saturday in glorious sun, we cleared the invaders into remorseless heaps. And that was that. The government officials prowling the perimeter of the Enclosure Act field could stand down.  A sort of equilibrium between us and nature had been reached for a moment. We shall dine out on that two hours of achievement for weeks to come.  Everyone likes joint  physical effort.

It is interesting that in 2007/8/9, when we had Ashley’s sheep grazing the pasture, there was no sign of ragwort.  Since the population has gone bovine, the ragwort has moved in.  The cows treat it like cyanide and avoid it like the plague, unless it lies hidden within a hay bale where it has become sweetened by the drying.


I sauntered into the dairy room on Thursday. I switched on the MR500 pasteurizer.  Nothing. I checked the fuse board. None had blown. I tried again. Nothing.

I blanched the white of a pallid pastry chef. This is it. This is the moment I have been dreading for three years. 1000 litres of fresh local waiting in the refrigerated van.  An  equivalent number of humans looking out for their Friday delivery of life-giving milk.  Nothing.

So I pressed all the emergency buttons.  Within 25 minutes Stonehenge Electrical with two engineers in red overalls and a van full of spanners sped into the yard.  Within 27 minutes  Richard Bailey – the electrician was on site and carefully analysing the circuits. Within 35 minutes the fault was detected.  The electric heater element had failed..  I phoned our third emergency service – Peter O’Connel in Manchester who had a spare in stock. Next day delivery – no good. He rings his customer in Frome, Somerset who has one on a shelf. “You can have it”, he says.  I google mapped Ivy House Dairy. From Maple Field to precious holder of our future – 53 minutes in a sprint turbo Audi.  I’m there.  Pitifully grateful, I race back down the A36 to Stonehenge Electrical workshops where the men in red NASA overalls speedily assemble the new part. We race with turbos fully open back to Maple Field Farm to fit the parts to the slothful MR500.  By 2.30pm we were RUNNING THE PLANT.  The man from NASA  hovered reassuringly until all temperatures were reached and held.

The emergency system had worked. We came out from under the deep crisis as a company that will endure.  All of us felt a twinkle of enjoyment.  Our customers knew nothing of our furious few moments.  As humans, we were closer.

Bail FM is playing ‘Trembling Bells’ (Folk Band). Our doorstep rounds keep increasing. The HLV (Horrid Little Van) groans out of the yard. Soon it will be maxed out. Then we shall need another one. A brace of HLV’S……. can you imagine?

Nick Snelgar

22nd August 2016

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