April 2014 on the Farm

April – flourishing, joyful, exquisite spring leaves just unfurled, more shades of greens than you ever thought possible.  I disturbed bumble bees at the end of their hibernation while I was weeding my heather plants when we had the earlier wet weather and they would come out bedraggled, shake themselves fluffy, and fly off.  I hoped they survived those first few days.  Now bumble bees are buzzing in the flowers, flying in their unlikely way past my nose.  Are there fewer?  Doesn’t look like in on the farm, there seem plenty around in our fields and hedges.  We need them!

CROPS  -  The crops have moved from their winter wet to growth.  Their roots will not be well developed (a bit like the root rot that comes from overwatering a pot plant).   So I’m concerned about a prolonged period of dry weather – the plants won’t be able the chase the water down through the soil profile. 

I spoke to someone who was appalled I could be concerned about drought, said they’d emigrate if anyone used the ‘D’ word.  The problem is that one season’s weather affects the ability of plants and animals to cope with the challenges of another extreme season.  I watched the amazing film ‘Chasing Ice’, that said that glaciers are the canary in the mine for climate change; it feels like farmers may be too.

COWS & YOUNGSTOCK  -  The calves and heifers have come through the out wintering really well, growing better and staying healthier than last year.  They are enjoying the fresh grass.

Sadly, the group of heifers that were out feeding on kale met a badger that was very unwell with TB.  When badgers are very sick, just like a human with TB, they find it difficult to breathe, and they nest outside.  Sadly, one found its way onto a nice soft pile of hay we had put out for the calves on the kale.  The calves must have gone and talked to it, as they will as  26 out of 90 responded to the skin test, which shows they have met the disease (not have it).  We know there is a badger sett nearby that is struggling with TB. 

The cows are now settling well into milking, and having their time between calving and getting in calf again.  Left to themselves, they try and get in calf much sooner, but we make them wait for at least six weeks.  

The milk is building up for the cheese dairy to process.  Six weeks after calving is also when cows produce most milk.  It’s beautiful and rich; our cross of Friesian, Swedish Red and Montbeliard giving rich and balanced milk at this time of year

CHEESE  -  Lots of milk is lots of work in the cheese dairy.  We make today’s cheese, and wash and tend the rinds and press the cheese for the previous three days.  After that, the team go turning the previous 3 months’ cheese by hand to keep it in good condition.  No wonder they have upper bodies to die for, and that it is not work for anyone!  The team do a brilliant job doing everything there is to be done!