It's great to see the landscape covered with frost again, but what we really need is a good steady downpour of rain lasting for several days, if not weeks.
England is traditionally associated with a high annual rainfall but last summer and autumn were exceptionally dry, especially in the western midlands. I've mentioned before that the drought last year was the reason we had to stop filming our new sheepdog training DVD. We're determined this won't happen again in 2012 but some of the footage may look a little strange if the grass appears vivid green one moment, and brown the next!
In an effort to compensate for the lack of grass growth during 2011, we reduced the number of sheep from our normal forty, right down to a minimal fifteen. We didn't want to have to feed more sheep than absolutely necessary throughout the winter.
I hoped for a wet, mild winter. Wet to bring the water table back to normal and mild to enable the grass to grow enough to feed our sheep. Well, it's certainly been mild, and we have had enough rain to make the surface muddy, but just two or three inches beneath the surface, the ground is dusty-dry.
We have a stream close by, which the dogs love to play in when we take them out, but instead of being a good strong flow, at the moment, it's merely a trickle. This is because the ground is so dry it's absorbing all of the below-average rainfall that we're experiencing at the moment.
It's very worrying indeed, feed prices are very high and reserves are low. I was talking to a farmer yesterday who told me they've been feeding their livestock since August last year. It's ironic that Queensland and Western Australia, areas which we're far more likely to associate with drought have recently suffered serious flooding, yet here in the centre of England, farmers are extremely anxious about the severe lack of rainfall.
Meanwhile, we are running just one group sheepdog training course each month until further notice and we have abandoned one-to-one classes for all but the most regular customers. We need to preserve the grass as much as possible, so we don't train sheepdogs on frosty days unless we have to.