Down on the Farm Feb 2016

I don’t need to tell you that this has been a wet last few months – it’s great to start seeing some sunshine at last as we start to come out of the winter. The snowdrops are looking good so maybe this winter had=s suited them just fine.
The rain has caused a few issues on the arable side of the farm especially with some of the oilseed rape crops. A couple of the fields were sown later than recommended as we were struggling to get land into the right condition to sow. As a result, they struggled to get established properly before the winter and it is now showing up with some very big bare patches in those fields. We also suspect there were a higher than normal number of slugs about in the back end – they love a good munch on tender rapeseed shoots!! Oilseed rape has a good ability to “tiller out” or spread to fill the gaps but even so, we might be looking at a spring re-seed with a different crop. It’s a toss up between letting things be and accepting a lower yield or investing time and money in re-sowing with the expectation of a better return with a different crop. We can let things run for a few weeks though to see if the increase in temperature will help to bring things along. The rest of the arable crops (barley and wheat) are looking fine although they will start to need some fertilizer shortly to help keep things growing well. However, we have got off lightly compared to some places on the West side of the country where farmers have lost entire crops and even livestock in the flooding.

The sheep have not enjoyed the damp conditions over the winter either – we have had to keep their supplementary feed levels up to makes sure the ewes have maintained their condition ready for lambing. Let condition drop too much and the ewes will produce smaller lambs and less milk when they come to lamb. That’s a combination that doesn’t make for a happy shepherd! Fortunately we have plenty of good quality silage available as well as our own barley so they have a good mixed ration to eat when grass growth has been slow. The ewes are looking fit in spite of the wet conditions although we have had to work hard over the winter to keep their feet and hooves in good shape.
Just a heads up on the lamb feeding days at the farm shop this year – we normally hold this over Easter weekend but as this falls o early this year we will have to wait a couple of weeks so that enough lambs are available. The current planned date for this is the 9th & 10th April, but we will be giving plenty of notice closer to the time.
Our store lambs were bought inside for much of January and February as the paddocks they normally graze were so wet that they were getting damaged or “poached” where the grass plants get trodden in and start to allow space for weeds to get in. We obviously try to avoid this as it affects the quality of the sward for the next years grazing. We also need to avoid the lambs that are ready for the abattoir getting their fleeces too wet or muddy so that we comply with the hygiene regulations in place.

Our cattle are still indoors and have done well over the winter as temperatures have now really been that low. Most of the work with them is feeding and bedding. We prepare all of the cattle rations ourselves – the silage crop from last summer was good quality and this has meant cattle growth has been good. We top this up with wheat and barley from the farm as well – this provides the protein element of their diet. The cereals are all crushed or rolled rather like porridge oats, to make them easier to digest. The grass silage element also provides volume to make sure there is plenty of “gut fill” to keep their rather complex 4 stage digestive system working. A cow sitting chewing the cud is generally a happy contented animal quietly going about digesting her last feed. The cattle will start to get turned out when things dry up and there is enough grass growth to keep them fed.

Some developments have happened on the pig side as well. We currently buy in our little weaner pigs from a farm on the Borders and then grow them on here until they are ready for the farm shop. We have been very happy with the pigs but in line with our “Own and Local” ethos we have decided to start taking pigs from a local lad Mathew who has started a new pig enterprise and is keen to produce weaners for us to our exact requirements. This gives us a bit more control over the type of pigs and reduces the food miles significantly. It also means the money we pay for the weaners stays in the local economy. So far things are looking good with the first batch of pigs coming from him in May.