The weight of accusation

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Farmer James Cossins looks back at the strain of the last month – caused almost entirely by a complaint about his animal care

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As I write this in the middle of January, once again the weather has been the main topic of conversation on the farm. In the last four weeks we have received nearly a third of this year’s annual rainfall, with rain nearly every day. The Tarrant is now flowing strongly, with parts of the meadows flooded – it’s difficult to believe that, right up to the beginning of October, parts of the Tarrant were barely flowing at all on the farm. With the recent record of extreme weather, it will be interesting to see what weather patterns 2023 decides to throw at us.
Apart from the heavy rain over the Christmas period, the plan for everyone on the farm having some time off worked well, with a timetable in place to ensure everyone took their turn for the cows to be milked and the feeding and bedding up duties to be carried out. We had no major breakdowns, but it was interesting to see over the festive period which carried on in a small way and which shutdown completely; most of our agricultural suppliers continued in some form or another.

Animal welfare at Rawston
The farm did have some disturbing news – which we only discovered via social media – of perceived animal welfare issues on the farm.
The first call we received was from the NFU, reporting that they thought our cattle had been videoed apparently showing them in a poor state (although the NFU agreed this appeared not to be the case). Then our local vets called to warn me the farm had been targeted with complaints to them – but again they could see no issue with the cattle. Next our milk buyer called and advised me that their farm liaison officer would come and visit us; he arrived the next day and again could see no problems, but suggested that we should have a full Arla farm audit within the next seven days to give us a clean bill of health.
Ordinarily this would have been fine, but during that seven day period I was due to have a hip operation (just to add to all the stress…). The audit was scheduled for the day after I returned from hospital. Still hobbling on crutches, I delegated to my son and the whole farm team got involved in showing the auditor around the cattle and the buildings. The cattle were given a clean bill of health with no issues. The final visit I had was from an officer of the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency; we were once again inspected, and once again no issues found. This particular visit did save us from a subsequent visit from the RSPCA as there was nothing to report.
Whoever put up the original social media post could perhaps have saved a considerable amount of anxiety by just calling into the local vets for a chat rather than putting an ill-informed opinion out into the world and hiding behind its potentially damaging effects.

James Cossins assessing the harvest at Rawston

The strain
This single social media post has obviously caused me, my family and the entire farm team a considerable amount of mental stress. With a hip operation in the middle of it, I had the added pleasure of a large amount of physical stress too, and I was beginning to feel I was heading for a dark place – who was going to contact me next?
Thankfully I have my family, close farming colleagues and the whole farm team, who have all been incredibly supportive.
But the experience has made me look at what mental health support there is for others in such circumstances, feeling as though there is unbearable pressure from external sources.
I know that agriculture as an industry is not alone in having mental health pressures as an industry, but it is a growing concern in the community. Farmers are working alone, dealing with huge outside-their-control issues such as the weather, animal diseases like Bovine TB and bird flu, the constant financial pressures and often even the stress of working as a family – and those are just off the top of my head!
The NFU provides good support for members through the group secretary network and also The Farming Community Network, the RABI (the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution is a national charity providing local support to the farming community) and YANA (You are not alone, a rural mental health charity) to name but a few other sources of help.
Sadly, agriculture has one of the highest suicide rates of most industries and at long last it is now being recognised as a problem, so help is out there. Please use it.
As I look out of the window the sun is shining, which makes us all feel better. Before long it will be spring again – all us farmers and growers will be out in the fields and smiling once more!

Sponsored by Trethowans Law as it should be

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