January 2016 on the Farm
We've had a mild winter so far, and the weather maps show a different story in the North of the country - wild, wet and cold. We think we have our local environment under our control, and then Mother Nature gives us a slap!
I love hearing rain beating down on the roof, and good waterproofs make rain workable. Creatures who live in burrows, holes, setts, earths and dreys or on branches get sodden, and if it keeps raining, stay sodden. We hope sensitive wildlife will have enough dry weather to keep healthy. And even in the grimmest, darkest weather, you walk through the arable stubbles and charms of finches, hosts of sparrows and flocks of fieldfares rise up, a resonant sound to hear their wings whoosh all together. I love sharing our beautiful farm with a rich variety of wildlife by providing overwintering fallows, arable stubbles, field margins and hedges left untrimmed for them.
CROPS - The crops have gone into a sulky dormancy, wet feet, tattered leaves, barely growing. We trust that our work on soils in the autumn will be enough to allow the rain to seep away so the subsoil stays aerated.
HEIFERS - Some heifers are out on the grass. It's always a balance between eating what the animals can safely graze without damage (a surprising amount) and leaving enough leaf to kick start the growth in the spring. Leaf grows leaf. So we'll watch the weather, the soil the grass and the heifers and make the judgement. Then we'll bring most out onto kale. We grew that after we harvested wheat early and put into bales. The heifers have a paddock of kale and a bale at a time, and they will slowly move across the field until the spring.
The rest of the heifers are in the barn. I love to see the younger ones dashing around when you put fresh straw in, kicking, leaping it and bunting it with their heads.
COWS - Their pregnant older sisters, due next month, have become more staid. They are still curious and enquiring, the friendliest coming up for a scratch behind their ears, the one place they can't reach, try as they might with their back hooves. The heifers give you an appreciative look!
The spring cows are out on their winter holidays, relaxing before calving next month. They eat fodder beet, a great column of sweet starch with a green top. It's hard work for the people tending them, making sure they have enough feed and water and a bit of straw for the all-important fibre. The cows look happy enough, again seeming to go almost dormant. They chew the sweet beet down to the base. At first they pulled it out and shook it, wondering what to do, then they realise where the interest lies and get stuck in.
The autumn cows are in the barn, milking. We made silage for them through last year, with feed mixed in. We feed this with Apple pomace from our apples sent away to be crushed into juice & cider. The cows' milk is rich and keeping a good colour, making a good firm cheese.
CHEESE - In the cheese dairy, we have a little lull before the spring cows calve: we have half our normal milk. So we can catch up with cleaning and repairing racks to put cheese on in the spring, and do all those jobs that get left behind in the busy times.
PACKING & STORE - In the packing department, January is normally quiet after Christmas, as people empty their fridges and delay ordering. We are busy this year, sending cheese off to the four corners of the world. It goes by boat, so we send it now for Easter sales in Australia, and Valentine's Day in America.
We send our eager cheeses off on their adventures around the world. It's lovely to hear how they behave themselves - send us news, tell us what foods and drinks they hang out with!