December 2015 on the Farm
Short days and long nights, the sun wearily makes it above the horizon. No wonder people needed a winter festival to keep their spirits up. While people party, the natural world reaches its ebb. Trees bare, hedges trimmed and stark, the colour leaches out of the fields. In my garden, the salads for the Farm Kitchen get sparse, and land cress, chickweed and shepherds purse, normally unregarded weeds, become interesting bursts of flavour; they grow merrily while everything else slips backwards into the soil.
Flocks of birds - mainly Little Brown Jobs (I never was that good at bird identification) enjoy our overwinter stubbles. They seem to find all they need in the rough regrowth after harvest. Over the years we've seen a big upgrade in the number of species we've seen on the farm. The hawks, buzzards and other predators let us know there is plenty of keep for them, as they wheel patiently in the sky or sit hunched on a handy field side tree. At night, owls hooting and screeching tell us our farming grows enough tasty morsels to keep them fed.
CROPS - wildlife round the edges of the field, productive land in the centre; that seems a fair split. Our crops went in the best ever in the golden autumn that is now a memory. The straight lines and even growth of the new seedlings remind us how it was. The good growth means much of the goodness in the soil, the nitrogen the soil made over the summer, will get harvested by the new crops' roots.
COWS - The animals harvest the last of this year’s grass. In a good season, we might be able to keep them grazing individual paddocks, just a day's grazing even into January. On a wet day, the paddock will look muddy. We move them on, the soil gets washed off, and the earthworms get to work restoring the structure, as long as we keep the animals on for a short enough time. That way we can harvest all the grass that our mild climate gives us.
The autumn cows are in the barn and they fall into their inside routine. Some mooch around outside however most are content to eat under cover, then come in and cud, rest and sleep on their cubicle beds. Mainly it is the cows ready to conceive who frisk in the open air with others at the same stage. It makes it easy to see who needs the AI man's attention.
The spring cows start on the fodder beet. It always takes them a day or two to get used to it. They lift it by its leaves, and kick the great roots like footballs until they realise there is sweet food inside them.
MILK - The milk stays rich. Our crossbred cows, Friesian, Swedish Red and Montbeliard keep producing a rich, well balanced milk from silage.
CHEESE - All the better for making cheese with - it is the solids that goes through to the cheese. Cheese is milk's leap to immortality, and the concentrated essence of the milk, the distillation of the feed they have, and the land they are fed from.
DAIRY - In the cheese dairy, we capture that by adding our heritage starters, those precious cultures that work to ferment the lactose into lactic acid, one stage in the preservation of milk. That right balance of fat, protein, moisture, salt and acidity is the magic woven by the cheesemaker's art, not just nourishment but also exquisite flavour.
AWARDS - Honoured to have received the award for Exceptional Contribution to Cheese at the Wolrd Cheese Awards. We also won two gold medals and bronze!
Finally I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about life down on the farm this year and I wish you all a tremendous Christmas and New Year!