Ten years ago this week marked the start of the most traumatic happening farming had seen for a long time - the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. I thought it might be an opportune moment to remind you about it. We had an outbreak here on our farm in April of the same year - an outbreak which changed our way of life for ever. So here is an account of the day we found out that we had the dreaded disease.
It was a lovely early Spring Sunday. The farmer got up as usual at 6.30am and milked the dairy herd. By 8.30am he was in for his breakfast.
I had decided to try a new recipe for lunch, an Elizabeth David pork recipe and I was eager to get on with the preparation. Breakfast over the farmer went out to walk round his sheep and I prepared the pork and put it into the oven.
An hour later he came in, pulled a chair out from under the kitchen table, sat down and announced that he thought we had foot and mouth - in the sheep. He had seen one sheep on its own in the corner of the field and had gone over to investigate. Opening its mouth he had seen the tell-tale blisters and knew immediately what it was.
We had all been given a plan and we put ours into action immediately. I rang a telephone number in Leeds and reported our fear. We were told to shut the farm gate, allow no-one on to the premises and wait for arrival of the vet.
That was the longest two hours of our lives. The meat came out of the oven but neither of us could eat. We stood in the window looking out on to the road, watching for the vets arrival. He arrived at around 1pm, looked at the sheep, confirmed it was Foot and Mouth and then put the whole farm under an order.
The lane was blocked off; large signs were put up; slaughter men were summoned; valuers arrived to value the sheep and the cattle; everything was out of our hands.We had had five new calves during the previous week and I had been feeding them all. Now I had to face the fact that they were all about to die.
The dairy herd of about seventy cows had almost all been bred by the farmer and he knew each one intimately - number 55 was a real character - if a new calf was born out in the field 55 would steal it and make off with it as she so loved being a mother. Each cow had its own personality and he loved them all.
We were advised to stay indoors, which we did. By 4pm every animal on the farm was dead. The cows and the sheep were laid out in rows in one of the meadows.
Then it was time to build the bonfire. A giant pit was dug and layers of wood, coal etc. were put down and the animals piled on top and by Tuesday night it was time to light the giant funeral pyre. We had no desire whatsoever to go out and watch but the vet persuaded us to do so. And he was right. We stood in a circle round the pyre - everyone who had been involved in building it, in slaughtering the animals, in valuing them - we were all in it together and we got a kind of solidarity and comfort from it. The vet gave each of us a plastic cup and came round with a bottle of whisky and insisted that each of us had a drink. That loosened the farmer's tongue somewhat and at last he was able to talk about it (he is always best at bottling things up).
Both of us were stunned by the whole thing but our sanity was saved by the fact that once the vet had come on to our farm and identified the disease he had to stay put, so for a week or so he lived with us and he really kept our spirits up. I had to cook meals because he needed to eat and we ate in order to be sociable.
It was a bereavement from which we recovered only slowly. We then had to endure weeks of being disinfected - all the sheds and buildings, all the yards, every inch had to be cleaned and sprayed with disinfectant. And again the two men who worked here doing the work kept us going. I would bake them scones for afternoon break, or we would sit and chat over a cup of tea - and it all kept our spirits up.
Eventually we were back to normal. In the September we had a holiday in Dumfries and Galloway, an area which had suffered as much as our area - we felt an affinity with them somehow.
Of course we recovered. We never went back into milk and after ten years the whole thing is a distant but painful memory. But then nobody ever said farming was easy. There will always be setbacks - always be swings and roundabouts - but I sincerely hope that nobody will ever have to live through a time like that again.