Comment: A farm is not a nursing home

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The Independent Online

It's all right for us. Even though the income from our Worcestershire farm is the same as it was in 1973. Of course, by the same I mean very, very much less; because it's the same number of pounds with the same number of noughts cosying up to them as nearly 30 years ago, not a different amount cleverly adjusted for inflation.

It's all right for us. Even though the income from our Worcestershire farm is the same as it was in 1973. Of course, by the same I mean very, very much less; because it's the same number of pounds with the same number of noughts cosying up to them as nearly 30 years ago, not a different amount cleverly adjusted for inflation.

Costs, meanwhile - the price of a tractor, the wage bill - have risen many hundredfold. You don't need a degree in mathematics to work out what this means. Like most farmers in this country, we're struggling. But every day, now, we think how lucky we are. We're thankful that we don't have any livestock on the farm at present. Unlike Robert Smith, four or five miles up the road, whose sheep had foot and mouth. Last Tuesday, having sent his two youngest children to stay with friends for a couple of days, Mr Smith stood and watched his 3,100 sheep burn. You could see the smoke from here.

People keep asking me why animals infected with foot and mouth have to be slaughtered. Its not a fatal disease, they say: livestock make a full recovery. Well, farmers aren't running nursing homes. These animals are not for decoration. They're meat. The lamb chops you buy came from a little woolly creature only 14 or so weeks old: by the time they've had foot and mouth and been nursed back to health they'd have turned into mutton. It's a similar story with beef: because of BSE it is illegal to slaughter an animal over the age of 30 months. There isn't time to get them well before they get carted off to the abattoir.

Even without animals here, we're not unaffected. There are trivial things, like going stir-crazy because we can't get out for a walk. The only available stroll is along the sodden verge of the main road, but the beleaguered dog-walkers have got there first and the way is thick with excrement. The children - Enid Blyton-style - usually spend much of the weekend making dens in an old barn of ours where a neighbouring farmer stores his hay bales. But because we drive through two infected areas on the school run it would be irresponsible to let them play in the hay.

More seriously, our farm runs alongside a river and we rent out the angling. But no one's allowed to walk across the land, so the fishermen can't get to the water. Every time the phone rings, we think it is going to be the secretary of the angling club, telling us they're not going to pay their rent. The river meadows, meanwhile, are empty. Because these fields are liable to flood, they're not suitable for growing crops and usually at this time of year they'd have sheep grazing on them. A few miles away, ewes and their lambs are literally starving to death in bare fields which have become mud baths. If it weren't for foot and mouth, the RSPCA says it would have prosecuted days ago. But restrictions on the movement of animals mean these sheep have to stay put, while our grass goes uneaten. And you don't get any income from an empty field.

? Cressida Connolly is a novelist and lives on a farm in Worcestershire.

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