After the rush of harvest and sowing, the farm calms down again now as we start to get ready for the winter. All of the crops have been planted now and are looking well. The good weather at the end of September and beginning of October was a great opportunity to get the land prepared, sown and rolled in good time so that the plants have chance to establish themselves before the weather gets colder. We even had rain at the right time – just after the last field was planted – the moisture is essential to promote good germination rates. For once we have ended up a bit ahead of schedule with the crops so we now have to wait and see how they develop over the next few months. We also use a specialist advisor who walks the crops on a regular basis and checks on growth rates and any pests or diseases. Most farmers have someone who does this for them now – the technical side and the huge range available of all the various treatments is becoming more and more complicated all the time and it is difficult to keep up with all the new information. That’s why we bow also use a contractor to do all our spraying – he can cover the ground in about half the time and is set up to comply with all the paperwork and record keeping that we have to keep now when using any chemicals
Grass growth slows right down now so we are starting to bring in the cattle for the winter. One of the big jobs is bringing in the 190 heifers on the Town Moor. This is a bit of an epic involving all our staff, several quad bikes, the lads who manage the moor day to day plus lots of trips with the trailer back to the farm. If we haven’t managed to strike terror into the heart of at least one jogger on the moor during the day then things must have gone too well.
They will go onto a silage and cereal diet – all of the work in June and July in making good silage pays off now as we start to use this for winter feed. We also mill and mix all of our own cereal rations for the cattle as well – this way we can make good use of our own barley and wheat. We use a large mixer wagon to do all this – it is basically a giant “magimix” on wheels (the big green thing in the pictures) with chopping and mixing blades inside. Once the rations are mixed, then we drive along the front of the cattle pens and a chute discharges the mixed feed directly in front of the cattle. For us it has two main advantages – it saves lots of manual labour and it stops the cattle picking out all the best bits first. Cattle can be like kids sometimes – trying to eat the bits they like best and push the rest to one side. It is comical to watch half a tonne of beef on the hoof delicately picking out the choice pieces of corn while trying to ignore the plainer silage.
All of the ewes are still outside but are being fed some extra cereals to make sure their energy intakes are kept up so that they maintain condition ready for mating. It is vital to make sure they are fit and healthy so that we maximise the conception rate to produce a good number of lambs for next year. We also have to make sure the tups (or rams) are in tip top shape as well – from doing nothing for the last 10 months they now have a busy 6 weeks come the beginning of November!
For our farm, this time of year gets quieter but for our turkey suppliers it is the start of their busy period. December is our busiest month in the Farm Shop so I will not be spending too much time on the farm from mid November onwards. There is a lot to do behind the scenes just keeping on top of customer orders and making sure our suppliers have everything in place for us again. It pays us to check and double check all the turkey and Christmas meat orders as they come in so we can make sure we are matching weights etc. Last year I thought my system had failed – a customer arrived to collect his turkey on the 24th but we had no record of any internet order for him. Much stress and list checking later it transpired he had ordered from Moorhouse Farm alright – but in Shropshire. Easy done and we still managed to sort him out with a nice free range bronze to take home. All of the order forms have gone out in the post now and the on-line ordering system is live on the new website. Orders are all in for our Christmas trees again – it’s been a great growing season for them so we expect some good quality trees this year. It’s also a good excuse to get the old Fergie out for a run to haul trees around