June 2014 – Wildlife report – I mentioned last month that I had been seeing a good number of different species of butterfly, one that I didn’t mention because I haven’t seen one for ages was the Small Blue, so you can imagine how pleased I was to see one. They are tiny and a brilliant blue with the most amazing mottled markings on their underwings. Hurrah! Our swallows are back. They appeared high overhead one evening and then the following day, they started to investigate the shed where they nested last year, Sarah heard them twittering away so maybe we will get more than one pair nesting with us.
Farming report – The majority of our cattle are out at grass now and enjoying the sunshine. So far no problems with hypomagnesaemia and now the weather is looking more settled, the risk will be getting less. The fresh grass encourages the cows to give extra milk and the calves are now big enough to make the most of it. With the weather getting warmer, we have to keep an eye on the number of flies that start to emerge, they can cause trouble by infecting the cows udders and causing Summer Mastitis. Flies also upset the cows by their intense irritation and sometimes the whole herd will take off trying to get away from them. We then get the cows in, put them and the calves through the cattle race and spray them with a fly repellent that lasts for a number of weeks.
The warm weather interspersed with showers has been doing our crops a power of good. Apart from a bit of rabbit damage, we look set for a good harvest. I suppose that there are about 9 weeks to go before we start cutting Winter Barley and the Oil Seed Rape won’t be far behind. We are well up to date with our fertilizing and disease spraying and so we can get on with a few other jobs before we have to think about making silage for winter cattle feed. A major job is to carry out repairs to the drive way to Lordship Farm. That was constructed about 50 years ago and is concrete. I remember discussing with my Father if it should be 9 or 10 feet wide, Father wanted to save the money with a narrower drive, but I managed to persuade him to go for the extra width. This turned out to be a godsend as the lorries collecting corn and milk got bigger and bigger. Now after the passage of thousands of tonnes of corn, fertilizer and milk, parts of the road have collapsed and we have to carry out major repairs.
Garden report – Apart from a very poor germination of Dwarf French Beans and early carrots that didn’t germinate too well either, the vegetable plot is looking quite good. I don’t think that the carrot problem was due to carrot fly as I put a cover on them as soon as I sowed the seed. Last year I did exactly the same and had a wonderful crop of early carrots, may be they didn’t like the cold weather early on. I risked putting my potatoes in early and when we were away, hard frost was forecast which can knock them for six. Emma was kind enough to cover them with fleece and apart from the odd scorched leaf, they have survived. I have earthed them up now and they are growing on strongly. Harry Bott – Local Farmer
March 2014 – Wildlife report – Having had the family to lunch one Sunday, I gave the bone from a leg of lamb to our dog. Imagine my amazement when I looked out of the kitchen window to see a Red Kite pecking bits of meat off the bone just a couple of yards from the window. What a magnificent bird! It was a wonderful sight drifting away in the wind
Farming report – We are about halfway through the calving of our beef herd. So far we have had few problems. We did lose a one month old calf unexpectedly. It was the day after we had been de-horning the first batch that Ian found the calf dead in the pen showing no particular symptoms. I rang the Vet and she said that it could well be the stress of the operation. As it was thankfully a one off, that could well have been the cause. The operation is carried out by administering a nerve blocking anaesthetic and then removing the growing horn bud with a hot iron. This is a routine operation and one that has never given any trouble before, so hopefully it is the last.
The NFU and Young Farmers have been organising emergency relief supplies of fodder and straw bedding for the animals that have been suffering from the floods on the Somerset Levels. The farmers there expect a certain amount of flooding over the fields every year, but this year has been extraordinary with much worse flooding than usual with the water getting into farm yards where the animals would normally be safe and dry. Many cattle have been moved to the local markets and lorry loads of food and bedding have been sent down from other farmers where conditions have been more normal. We together with other farmers have each sent a tonne of wheat down that will be milled on site for cattle feed. This has been organised by Camgrain, our cooperative grainstore, with transport and fuel being provided free of charge. Unfortunately we do not have any silage to spare, but we are hoping to send down bedding straw later when it will be needed as we should have some surplus of that.
The exceptional weather hasn’t affected our cattle as they are all in covered yards in the dry. In a normal year we would expect to turn out to grass around the 20th of April, but this year I have revised that to the 1st May as there is nothing worse than being forced to turn out because fodder supplies are all used up. The spring grass could well be coming on by then, but if the ground is sodden, the cattle can ruin the land for the rest of the grazing season. I had a count the other day and I reckon that we have just enough silage to take us through to the 1st of May.Garden report – We will soon finish the leeks, but I am still digging Jerusalem Artichokes. Sarah makes them into the most delicious soup as well as eating them as a vegetable.
Every year we try to grow our own tomatoes from seed. We can get them to germinate, but then have the most terrible trouble stopping them drawing up into wretched lanky things that never do any good. I have just bought a special light that should stop this. As soon as they germinate, I have to lower the light to within 10 cms of the seedlings and then raise it as they grow on. I will report later on how I get on. – Harry Bott – local farmer
February – 2014 Wildlife report – I saw no less than 5 Cormorants circling overhead our pond here at Garratts early one morning. I had just stocked it with fish and the last thing that I wanted was to have them taken by these birds who will hoover them up. Luckily I had a couple of rockets left over from Bonfire night and one of them let off over the pond soon sent them on their way.
Farming report – The good growing season that we had last year has meant that the grass available for the cows has lasted well into December. They were due to start calving soon after Christmas and so we got them into the yards before the holiday. It was just as well that we did as shortly afterwards the first calf was born to one of the maiden heifers that had joined the herd. It was also the first calf by our new Simmental bull. Much to our relief it was born without any complications and was a healthy girl. There is always a slight worry when changing bulls in case the new one produces calves that are too big for heifers to give birth in particular. We have since had 10 calvings with only one problem. We had to get rid of our previous bull because of persistent lameness. We spent a lot of money on veterinary attention and foot trimming, but it proved to be impossible to keep him sound, so he had to go for slaughter and be made into burgers. The new bull was bred by Bridget Borlase from Watton-at-Stone and seems to have settled in well.
In contrast to last year, the crops are looking exceptionally well. Both cereals and oil seed rape are looking green and healthy, long may it last! Andrew is planning a large acreage of Spring sown crops for the coming harvest and these fields are growing a green cover at the moment. The purpose of this is to prevent soil erosion during the wet weather and also to soak up residual fertilizer so that it avoids polluting the water courses and when it is sprayed off, the nutrients that would have been wasted become available for the new crop. Some of the land has already been sprayed with Roundup in preparation for sowing the new crop, but the land is saturated at the moment and we shall just have to wait until it dries sufficiently so that we can get on the land without causing too much damage to soil structure.
We have also been doing the usual Winter jobs, machinery maintenance in the workshop, hedge cutting round the road network and cutting some of the internal hedges round the fields. These are done on a three yearly cycle so that there is plenty of fruit left for the wild birds to eat during the Winter months. This is also the time of year when we attend training courses. One of the most important being the annual refresher that Andrew and Ian attend to get up to date with the latest spray information.
Garden report – The garden is producing the most wonderful leeks for the kitchen, the best that I have grown, but not up to the ones produced by Manfred & Doris at the Garden Show!
I am also cutting cabbages and keeping a close eye on the sprouting broccoli as I suspect that with this very mild weather, it will be early this year. Harry Bott – local farmer
January 2014 Farming report Not much has happened on the farm, so I thought that I would write a bit about my memories of farming 70 years ago. (Yes I am about to be 79).
In my earliest memory of the farm, we had no tractors as all the work was done by horses. My Grandfather always had Suffolk Punch heavy horses and they lived in a large stable at Lordship Farm that had stalls for about 12 of them. Charlie Spicer (Hayden’s Father) was in charge of them. The first job of the farming year was to plough the land and this was done with a single furrow plough drawn by 2 horses. A man would plough an acre a day and was reckoned to walk 10 miles doing it. Depending on the soil type, the team of horses might be changed at lunch time. Mares were worked when in foal and it was not unknown for them to give birth on the headland and for the foal to trot home with mother at the end of the day. My Grandfather used to breed his own replacements and the Stallion used to visit on a regular basis during the breeding season. The Stallion would walk up to 25 miles in a day, serve his mares and spend the night at Lordship Farm, which was one of the lodges for him and his handler, before going on to the next farm. I think that Suffolk Punches could be quite lively sometimes as I remember Mousy Draper telling me that he had been run away with on several occasions when driving a horse & cart.
The farm was divided between Autumn sown crops and those that were sown in the Spring. The Autumn sown always followed either roots such as mangolds or a hay crop that was ploughed after the hay had been taken off. Before it was ploughed, the hay stubble used to receive a dressing of cow or horse dung that was carted out of the yards in the spring and stored in a dung hill until it was needed. There were no tractor loaders in those days and all the loading was done by hand using a dung dork. From the dung hill, the muck was put in heaps over the fields and the men would then go out and spread the heaps, again by hand. A very labour intensive job. The land that followed the cereal crops was ploughed after harvest and the target was to get all the land ploughed by Christmas.
Threshing was one of the main jobs that happened during the Winter. George Haggar used to be in charge of the threshing tackle that was powered by a steam engine. The drum had to be set up with some care and I can remember George making sure that the machine was level before work began. The engine was powered by coal and used vast quantities of water. It was a full time job for one man with the water cart to keep it supplied. You may remember before the Village pond had rails put round it that the end nearest the Church had a shallow gradient down into the water and this was used to reverse the water cart so that it could be filled up. The grain came out of the threshing machine into 4 bushel sacks. They varied in weight depending on the variety, Wheat was about 250 lbs, Barley 225 & Oats 170. The sacks were put on a sack hoist and then carried on a man’s back to be loaded onto a cart. It was then a full day’s work for a horse and cart to take the wheat to Garratt’s mill in Hertford. Charlie Spicer’s Father would get up at 5am, polish the brasses, plait the mane & tail and feed the horse before having his own breakfast. They would then set off to Hertford, deliver the sacks of wheat and then drop off at a pub or two on the way home. On more than one occasion the empty cart would arrive back at the farm with the old man fast asleep. – Harry Bott – Local Farmer
November 2013 – Wildlife report – Our local population of Magpies has exploded for some reason and while walking the dog, I have seen up to 11 in one bunch. They are very destructive birds preying on the nests of other birds and stealing their eggs and young. We will be carrying out a campaign of trapping them before the nesting season next year in order to reduce the damage.
Farming report – The mild weather has meant that the crops have been growing on well. There is some yellowing of the leaves on one or two of the wheat fields, but I think that the very wet weather that we have been having will have something to do with that. The Winter Barley that was just showing last month has now come through and all the Autumn sown crops are looking pretty good. Andrew has been experimenting with green cover crops that will enhance the soil fertility on the land that is due for Spring corn. It is a special mixture that was devised by a French farmer and walking across the stubbles is a most interesting experience with a mixture of Vetches, Sunflowers, kale, Buckwheat, peas and other plants to be seen.
We sold our weaned calves on the 1st of November in the store market at Thame. I was very pleased with the result of the sale, our calves averaged around £740 each, slightly better than last year. We had an unfortunate accident with one calf that somehow cut it’s foot while travelling to the market. The vet treated it, but said that it must not go into the sale ring. The haulage contractor said that he would buy the calf for the average price of the others, so it didn’t have to be sent home to us. We had to pay half of the vet’s bill of £100. We were advised to send our barren cows to the same market and again I was pleased with the result. I am sure that they would have made less if we had sent them to slaughter ourselves. The rest of the herd are now scattered around the farm clearing up the grass that is still growing in our fields.
Much colder weather is forecast for next week and that will slow things up a lot.
County Council Notices – You may soon see notices displayed around the farm by the County Council relating to the Highways Act 1980 and the Commons Act 2006. The reason for the notices is to publicise the fact that the farm partners are accepting the present position with the footpaths and common land and not accepting that there should be any additions to the current network of footpaths or any more common land. This requirement has been brought in by the passing of the above 2 acts through Parliament and is not an attempt to close any of the existing rights over our land.
Garden report – Autumn sown lettuces are through the ground. I used up some year old seed for one row of Arctic King and sowed the other with new seed, what a difference! The old seed had very poor germination and I had to sow again. Beans are not through yet, but they will be soon. We had our last dish of French Beans in November, the latest that I can ever remember. Harry Bott – Local Farmer
September 2013 – Wildlife report – I think that our Swallows have had a good breeding season. They started rather late with one pair nesting in our wood shed. Lately I have seen up to 7 in the air at the same time, so I am fairly confident that they have had two broods. I hope that they have a good journey South when they leave us and hopefully next year we may see a few more nesting here.
Farming report – After a very late start, we began the harvest with the crop of Linseed that was growing beside the High Elms Lane. Where the crop had survived the very wet conditions, it yielded quite well and Andrew was pleased with the quality of the seed. He is not planning to grow it again, however, as it can be a beast to cut with the combine. Winter sown barley followed on and this has gone to the central store at Linton in Cambridgeshire. Quality has been good so far and yields have been moderate, but not the disaster that I anticipated in the Springtime. The straw has been baled for stock feed and will be carted off the fields as soon as possible as we shall then be planting the fields with Winter oil seed rape(OSR). Last year we had tremendous problems with slugs taking the young plants almost before they had emerged from the ground. Hopefully things will be a bit better this year as we shall give the seed bed a dressing of slug pellets before the crop is sown. We have nearly finished harvesting our top quality milling wheat and much to my amazement, the quality is outstanding. Our proteins have been averaging over 13% and the Hagberg falling number has been up to 300. Both those figures are an indication of a extra top quality milling sample and should achieve a very good price for us as Camgrain, who run the store, will use our wheat to blend with other of lesser quality to bring it up to the specification that the millers require. The yield of these top quality wheats have been less than we would have hoped for, but the final result shouldn’t be too bad given the quality.
Spring barley is next on the list for harvesting and I am not very hopeful of good yields as it has looked bad and uneven throughout the growing season. Finally Spring OSR will be the last to be combined this year as it has been taking a long time to ripen. A long period of green OSR pods may not necessarily be a bad thing as it should give the seed a chance to swell.
The cattle have been grazing happily at Lordship farm with just enough grass to keep them going. We have been supplementing the calf feed by offering sugar beet pulp nuts in the creep feeder as the mother’s milk supply will be getting less now. One of the late calvers produce a healthy calf the other day, they will probably both be sold when we send the weaned calves to market in the Autumn as it is very inconvenient to have the odd animal calve o ut of the main stream.
Garden report – Leeks and cabbages are now planted out and growing on. I tried sowing a late crop of Summer Spinach, but to no avail as it instantly ran up to seed. We will get one small helping from it. This had been recommended to me by an expert, but I shan’t try it again. My lettuces have also been running up to seed, but here I think that I need to change the variety. I have been using Tom Thumb that Jim Collis used to grow for my Parents at The Lordship, but it obviously doesn’t suit this garden – Harry Bott Local Farmer
July 2013 – Wildlife report – Our swallows are back! I was so pleased to see them. They were circling our pond at Garratts and then later on they started to fly in & out of our wood store and now they have a nest. I haven’t seen the sparrow hawk around for some time, so I am very hopeful that they will breed successfully. I put in a few yellow flag Iris plants in the edge of the pond a couple of years ago and they are flowering spectacularly for the first time as I write.
Farming report – Despite all our efforts at making sure that our cows have sufficient magnesium in their diet, we have just lost one to magnesium deficiency. She had a difficult calving as the calf was dead and this put additional stress onto a 10 year old cow. She now has to be sent to a special centre where they will examine her brain to see if there is any sign of mad cow disease. I am confident that it won’t be found as it is many years since we had that problem, but the law says that any cow over 3 years old that dies has to be tested. Otherwise all the other cattle out at grass are flourishing and the calves are growing fast.
We have just started to cut silage for feeding the cattle during the coming Winter. The first to be cut is the Lucerne, (sometimes called Alfalfa) on the left down High Elms Lane. We would normally reckon to have cut by the end of May, so we are at least a fortnight late this year. The yield looks to be reasonable and if the damp weather continues, we should get a good second cut that will be made into hay during July. It is good practice to cut as late in the day as possible as the sugars rise up in the plant during the day and by cutting late, we preserve as much of them as possible. The sugar has an important part to play in the preservation of the plant material as it turns to lactic acid which is preservative and keeps the forage palatable and nourishing, preventing it from going mouldy. Air must be excluded from the bale for the action of the acid to take place and that is why we wrap it in stretch plastic as soon as possible after baling. The plastic is collected up during the Winter months in big bales and sent off for re-cycling.
Garden report – I have just dug my first new potatoes and they are looking very promising. They also taste delicious! The variety is Red Duke of York that I hadn’t grown before. Winter sown broad beans are popping up well and should be ready for the weekend. My sowings of courgettes and squashes have grown very poorly, I think that they have suffered from the cold weather, so I have abandoned them and have grown on plug plants that I bought from the Westmill garden centre. I potted them up as soon as I got them home and they have come on really well. My runner beans that I started in the greenhouse have also not done very well, but I have put them out and at last they are starting to grow on. I sowed seed directly in the ground at the same time and they are looking as if they might overtake the early ones. – Harry Bott local farmer
June 2013 – Wildlife report – How wrong I was about the ducklings on the Village pond! I saw them the other day and they were well fledged up and looking very healthy. They must have a very good Mum and maybe passers-by who are generous with pieces of bread. The cold weather continues and so far I have not heard a cuckoo and only spotted 2 Swallows. I was very pleased to see 2 Plovers flying over Garratts, one was displaying doing the most wonderful aerobatics.
Farming report – All cattle are now out to grass and so far doing alright. The cold weather is a worry as it puts stress on the lactating mothers that in turn can bring on hypomagnesaemia. This is caused by a lack of magnesium in the diet. We feed a magnesium supplement in the drinking water, but if the grass is very lush and the cows are not drinking enough, they may not take enough mineral to keep them going.
There have been recent press reports of a man being killed by cows and his bother being injured. A dog has not so far been mentioned, but it is very likely that a dog was with the men and that is what cows do not like especially if they have calves. If you have a dog on the lead in a field with cows and they start to approach you, let the dog off the lead at once and although the cows will chase it, I guarantee that the dog will run faster that the cows and the cows are very unlikely to bother you. My old Ridgeback was not frightened of them and used to stop and lick their noses much to the cows surprise.
The arable side of the farm is beginning to look a bit better. The wheats have pulled themselves together remarkably well although there are quite a few bare patches in the fields. The Spring Barley along the Walkern road looks pretty unhappy and I am hopeful that the rain that arrived in the middle of May will help it along. Ian has drilled the Spring Oil Seed Rape and it has germinated quite well. I walked two of the fields today and the third true leaf was beginning to emerge. Again the good rain that we have had should help it a lot. We are hoping very much for some warmer weather, the cold holds everything up such a lot
Garden report – My first sowings have germinated well outside and I have good rows of lettuce, carrots, beetroot, spinach, leeks, Spring Broad Beans Sugar Snap Peas and Salad Spring onion. The potatoes are all well through the ground and Jerusalem Artichokes are growing away. Our Asparagus is slow due to the cold weather, but we have had a couple of good pickings. It is in it’s fourth year. My row of conventional peas failed completely and I have sown again. My sweetcorn that I sowed in the greenhouse and then put in the propagator, has produced 4 plants out of 28 sown. Humiliation!
I have had to go and buy plants as it is getting late to sow again. Runner beans have also germinated very badly, but I think that is due to trying to save money and grow my own seed again. We are looking forward to a visit from the Gardening Club on the evening of 26th June. I hope that there are no more disasters and surely we might get a fine warm evening by then. – Harry Bott – local farmer
May 2013 Wildlife report – As I write, the weather is at last beginning to show some signs of getting a bit warmer. The effect of the exceptionally cold weather on our birds must be pretty severe as they are starting to nest now and the lack of insect life that they need for their young ones will be very bad. I walked past the Village pond the other day and was surprised to see a brood of newly hatched Mallard ducklings on the pond. It very often happens that their first brood does not survive the lack of insects as well as the cold water conditions and they all die off. The mother then has a second brood in May and they then have a very good chance of making it through to adult hood
Farming report – I am very pleased to report that our new young bull has taken to his work with great enthusiasm. He is now in with the main herd and has been seen to serve at least 9 cows. We now have to watch the cows that we know that he has served very closely in 3 weeks time because if for some remote reason he might be infertile, cows cycle every 3 weeks and we will see them coming back to service for a second time. This is very unusual in a young bull, but you can never be sure. Hopefully the cows will soon be going out to grass that at last is starting to green up. Before they go out we have to check and replace any missing ear tags and also we have to give the calves a final check over to see if there are any horn buds that need to be removed. Ian tells me that there is at least one good strong calf that has emerging horns and it will be a tough job for the boys to get it into the calf crate for the operation. The older calves are starting to eat quite a lot of concentrate feed in the creep feeder in the yards, this will reduce a lot when they get their first taste of the new grass. It will also encouraged a flush of milk from their mothers.
With the weather warming up a bit, the Spring Wheat fields are showing that lovely light green colour with bright clear rows and that has cheered us up a bit. The wheat was sown earlier than the Spring Barley along the Walkern road and is ahead as a result. You can just see the rows of barley appearing and if we get the rain that is currently forecast, it should gallop away. We still have Spring Oil Seed Rape to sow where the Winter sown has failed and Andrew is waiting one more week for the soil to warm up before he gets the drill out to sow that. The rest of the farm is not looking good and what is absolutely clear is that this is going to be a farming year to forget.
Garden report – I have made good progress in the vegetable garden. First and second early potatoes are in the ground together with one row of main crop. I have sown a spring variety of broad bean to follow on after the winters and put in 2 rows of peas, one of conventional and the other of sugar snap. I am surprised at the way my winter sown beans have survived, whereas the winter lettuces have all failed miserably. Other sowings I have done are lettuce, spinach, beetroot, leeks and 2 rows of early carrots. I have made up a frame covered with very fine mesh netting to go over the carrots and this should keep the carrot fly off. Harry Bott – Local Farmer
April 2013 Wildlife report – Sarah & I get a lot of pleasure from our wild bird feeders that are just outside the kitchen window. We have been trying to attract Gold Finches and we have been having success with feeding them Nijer seeds. Other birds we have been seeing are Red Polls, Siskins and the usual range of Tits except for long tailed. However we were so pleased to see the Long Tailed back again last week, I think that they are my favourites of the Tit family. Sarah calls them flying tea spoons!
Farming report – We have almost finished calving the beef herd, there are just a couple of heifers left at the time of writing. We still have plenty of feed in stock, but it would be nice to get some dry weather so that we can get them out to grass. Our 7 year old bull has been causing me some concern. During the Autumn he went lame on a front foot and we had the foot trimmer out to sort him out. There was infection in the foot that the trimmer treated and then he glued a wooden block to the foot in order to take the pressure off the wound while it healed. This seemed to be successful. Last month, however, he went lame again and it is vital that he is fully sound on his feet during the coming breeding season. If a bull comes down off a cow after service onto a sore foot, it puts them off doing it again, so with the breeding season fast approaching, action was needed. We got the vet out first and she made a valiant effort to deal with him, but without success, so we had to get the foot trimmer man again with his £40,000 worth of equipment and he was able to sort him out. In the meantime I was nervous that he might go lame again in the middle of the breeding season and as he was getting on a bit, so Tony & I with Andrew went to see Bridget Borlase and bought a lovely young bull to take the place of the 7 year old. He is now on the farm with a small bunch of cows as he hasn’t served a cow before and being with the whole lot of 47, he could be over awed. In the meantime, the old stock bull has made a good recovery and we should be able to sell him as a stock bull for breeding. The crops are starting to pick up and we have managed to get a lot of drilling done. Spring wheat was put in first and has germinated. Spring barley was next and that is now safely in the ground. We are waiting for the ground to warm up a bit before drilling Spring Oil Seed Rape(OSR). We had a most interesting visit from an agronomist who was talking about the importance of soil temperature on the success or otherwise of germination and subsequent growth of OSR. He asked me if I would ever consider drilling OSR as late as the third week in September and when I said “Of course not” he pointed out that the soil temperature when we drilled in August last year was what it would normally have been at the end of September, due of course to the very poor weather that we had last Summer. So although we did get our Winter OSR drilled in good time last year, it really didn’t have a chance. The weather forecasters are talking of a good Summer this year, let’s hope that they are right!
Garden report – There was a day in March when it was dry enough to start to work down some ground for early potatoes and I was delighted with the way that the frost had broken down the big lumps that I had left when digging in the muck. My first earlies are still in the greenhouse with good shoots on them and I shall be planting them very soon. We have finished our leeks and they have left the ground in good order for sowing Spring Broad beans and lettuce to follow on after the two Winter sown crops.
March 2013 – Farming News I have been involved with the Farm for over 60 years and I have never seen it look worse than it does at the present time. Virtually all of our Oil Seed Rape (OSR) has failed, only one field of Winter Wheat looks anything like producing a decent crop and the Winter barley looks dreadful as well. We won’t be buying any new machinery this year, that’s for sure! This has been a year that has benefitted those farmers who have stuck with the plough and it is interesting to see that the only decent crops have either been sown on ploughed land or on very free draining soil. The continual wet weather has now completely saturated our land that we have direct drilled but the farmers who have ploughed, have drained a lot of the wet from the top layer of the soil profile with very good results. We have a field of about 50 acres at the end of Hebing End where the OSR had completely failed and we re-drilled with Winter Beans. I walked the field the other day and there was hardly a viable bean plant to be seen. Rooks have a maddening habit of pulling up young bean plants and leaving them on the surface and there were a quite few of them about. The majority of the seed had simply rotted in the saturated ground and I think that I only found about half a dozen bean plants over the whole field. Andrew is thinking of fallowing the field for this season which means that it will produce nothing for this crop year, but hopefully will give us a good start for a crop of Winter Wheat for the 2014 harvest. We are over halfway through our calving now and in contrast to last year, the cows have been having many more bull calves. I find this odd as it is the bull’s contribution that determines the sex of the calf and I wondered why this should happen. After last year’s results I began to think that he was a heifer breeder. As I mentioned last time, the cows are in rather better condition and fatter than we would like for calving and as a result, we have had to help with more cows calving than usual. One cow had such a big calf, that not only was it born dead, but the mother was unable to get up after calving probably because of nerve damage to her spine. This very often sorts itself out after a day or two, but not in her case and we had to have her out down. The rest of the calves are doing well and it is a real pleasure to see them skipping about in the yard, always a sign of good health.
Harry Bott – Local Farmer
February 2013 I went to feed the lambs on New Year’s Day and met Ian in the yard. I wished him “Happy New Year” to be greeted by the not so happy news that the first of our black heifers had produced an enormous dead calf, she had had a prolapse during the birth and had to be put down. Not a good start to the New Year. This was very disappointing as we had used an Angus bull that would normally have produced a small first time calf. Thankfully the next 2 calved normally without any difficulty. We try and manage our cows and heifers so that they don’t get too fat pre-calving also managing their feed means that the calf that is growing inside them generally doesn’t get too big. This year has been difficult because we have had plenty of grass and the cows have put on more weight than we would have liked. The heifers have been followed by the main herd calving all of whom have given birth previously and so far, there have been no complications with them. As I write this, snow is falling covering our crops with a thick blanket. This is a very good thing during cold weather as it insulates the crop from excessive cold and also adds some nitrogen that is absorbed from the air as it falls. You will notice that when the snow finally melts, the young crops and the grass all look greener due to the absorbed nitrogen. The hard weather also makes it difficult for wildlife. We have twice seen a fox in our garden in broad daylight looking for a chance to catch our chickens. Sadly he was successful some time ago with mine and has killed the lot. I bought 6 lovely black pullets from Frances Twomey and shut them up with my old girls for a couple of days before letting the out into our hen run. To start with they behaved and went to bed with the old hens, but then decided to live outside the pen in the bushes where the fox picked them off one by one. Then we had a very dark day when my photocell operated henhouse door shut early leaving the old girls outside, the fox leaped the five foot high chicken run fence and killed the lot. I shall wait now until Spring before restocking. Andrew has caught all his hens up and shut them in a loose box for the time being hopefully safe from fox predation.