Back in the mists of time when Guy Lee was a newcomer to the Borders I poked a little fun at one of his many pioneering ideas attracting interest among neighbours.
He took it to heart, as he was entitled to do, and I’ve regretted it ever since. I’ve also realised over the past few years that he’s having the last laugh as the type of farmer I’ve always said we need more of – innovative, enthusiastic, willing to try new ideas that don’t always work and determined that there must be a way to farm without subsidies.
He’s also open about how he got his start. After college he was a farm manager before buying Sandystones, St Boswells, in 1990 with money from the bank of mum and dad, one of the rule of three for most farming starts – patrimony, matrimony or parsimony. He and his wife Philippa own 160 hectares and rent 40 hectares of grass parks, growing wheat, oilseed rape and malting barley. They finish about 300 cattle each year, produce organic eggs from 4,000 hens, rear 14,000 pullets each year and also 60,000 pheasant poults.
Plus, of course, they run Agrimart, an advertising-based magazine that goes to about 8,000 farming businesses each month. And, since 2007, Wendy the Winch, a 60-year old heavy-duty mobile winch for hire that has its own column in Agrimart and gets letters from admirers.
All of the above means I was sorry to miss him speaking at a Merse Discussion Society meeting. Laid low by the bug that has made early 2015 a misery for many, I have to rely on the views of farmers who were there, all favourable. He was, they said, entertaining, interesting and “knew the costs and returns of everything he’s doing.” That’s the way to do it.
Religious slaughter methods and general treatment of animals in slaughterhouses are seldom far from the news at present. Having seen all types of animals killed in slaughterhouses, taken part as a youngster in old-style on-farm pig killings, killed several hundred turkeys every Christmas for more than 20 years and seen or assisted a number of emergency sheep and cattle killings on farm, I can say there is no pleasant way to do it. Crucial factors are how the animals are dealt with before slaughter and the skill of the person doing the killing.
In the argument about religious slaughter much is made of the fact that animals are not pre-stunned before throats are cut to allow blood to flow. In my experience of seeing poultry and pigs react to electric shock stunning I don’t think stunning is necessarily preferable. A sharp knife used correctly and quickly is, I believe, as effective. When we get down to it, the question is whether we want to eat meat or not. If we do then we accept that an animal must be killed to supply it. Most will be killed as humanely as possible, but when millions are killed each year some will be treated badly and produce the sort of videos publicised recently. It’s our choice.