July on the Farm
Past midsummer is just getting into high summer for people. For the natural world, the year starts tipping towards the opposite. Plants tip into seed from leaf production, how to throw life forward through the lean time. Animals and birds have done with breeding and now it's rearing young big enough to go through winter.
Nature and gardeners start to slow down and heave a sigh of relief as the deluge of growth eases slightly. Set fruit swells, birds fledge, and brambles throw out spiky lianas intent on world domination before they settle down to producing blackberries in a couple of months.
CROPS - The crops come to harvest, first the winter barley, with its graceful awns, spiky bits that grow from the ear, followed by winter wheat, then spring barley. We've also worked much closer with a local agronomist, John Harris, who has given good advice about what to do when - what varieties, how to manage, when to feed, when to protect. Now we want warmth to swell the grain, and we will have a good crop. Everyone else around the world is hoping for good crops, so the price is lower. Feed to buy in is still high, so we will cut and ensile more of our crops for winter feed.
HEIFERS – TB rumbles on, and we’ve made progress in how we will protect our animals.
The ministry vets confirmed that a single sick badger must have snuffled around picking up nuts we'd put out for as treats for the heifers. We wondered: should we keep the cattle inside? The ministry vets and advisory services say that can expose them to as much risk. When badgers are really sick they can’t fend for themselves, and can come into buildings, affecting the whole herd.
We’d love to vaccinate badgers and cows to keep them safe. We’ve been advised that we couldn’t practically do our 34 setts often enough to work. Sadly there isn’t a vaccine you can use on cows. We wait for the scientists to come up with a sensible solution to protect wildlife and cattle.
Now our task is to work with the vets on how to protect our animals from sick badgers. No more nuts for treats! The fodder beet we fed them on last winter is liquorice for badgers, drawing them in. So we need to feed the cattle on food the badgers do not relish. The key food is grass, so our focus now is how we can have the cattle grazing grass all the year round. We carry on our programme of fencing so we can make the best possible use of our grazing fields.
We are also researching what we can do to keep the badgers healthy, for instance put out some mineral licks for them. Whatever we do mustn’t change their natural behaviour, and do what we can to support their immune systems.
On the farm, we are seeing animals that look blooming, and are becoming good grazers from a young age – the heart of a healthy herd.
COWS - The cows too are looking wonderful. We've had the best grass growth we've ever measured, with the warmth and wet giving lovely growing weather. Now we are coming into the drier, hotter months, when grass growth slows down. The August calving cows are on their summer holidays, exploring the edges of the farm. It’s lovely to go into orchards and distant fields filled with flowers, and cows look at you from the shade of trees, with mouthfuls of interesting flavours from the varied pastures.
The Spring calved cows are settling into milking on pastures where the clover is building as the summer progresses. Their milk is perfect for our cheese, beautifully balanced. Most are now in calf, and getting that prosperous look cows get from good pasture, sun and fecundity.
ROYAL VISIT TO FARM AND CHEESE - We had the privilege of a visit from the Earl and Countess of Wessex, Prince Edward and Sophie. They were fascinated by the process of making cheese. You could see Prince Edward itching to have a go at the cheddaring and salting stage. To see everything, we had to sweep our visitors on to see the transit stores where we nurture the new-born cheese. They saw our cheese cathedral, the cheese maturing to its full splendour, how we blow the cheese and 'iron' them (extract a core) to check its maturing quality.
We showed them the cows and calves. They loved our focus on grazed grass, and getting just the right milk from that grass with the right breeds to make the perfect cheese.