January 2014 on the Farm


The start of the hundred hungry days between Christmas and Easter and the slow beginnings of the New Year are the start of the hardest times for us. -

However, all is not lost because when you look closer, you see the stirrings of new life, harbinger of the spring to come. The catkin buds swell, the primrose leaves grow, the snowdrops start to flower, providing us reassurance that the warm time is coming.

The little egrets are back on the cows' fields, beautiful, elegant, shining white. I caught sight of a heron standing motionless in the cold river water, patient and timeless. The bleak river is rich enough for them. The deer get hungry and bolder, eating the kale we've grown for the cows, leaving their slot foot marks over the fields.

The fodder beet is coming into its own, feeding dry cows and growing heifers with their fat sweet roots. When we first introduced it to them, they tentatively nibbled the green leaf, and yanked the roots out of the ground. They didn’t know what to do with them at first, and started playing with them and kicking them down the hill. They soon caught up with the idea that their football was sweet and yummy – as sweet as sugar beet, with pale golden flesh.

Milking cows grazed the grass until the end of December, and now are tucked up in the barn to let the pastures grow back. With exception of the frozen days, it'll grow a little – around 5 kilos of dry matter a hectare a day – equivalent to five bags of sugar spread over a football pitch including the stands.  It might not seem like much bit but it all adds up. The earthworms restore the pastures, smoothing out the hoof marks left from the season's grazing. We've trialled some machines to help break up the compacted layer just under the surface as you get with so many hooves going over the ground, and the fields are responding, with rain soaking in more easily.

The autumn cows are in the barn eating the stored silage; summer time shifted to winter, with grass and maize and wheat. Now we make their beds, bring them their food and clear their manure, the real hard work of winter. Their milk becomes very rich, with more cheese produced – it’s now taking eight litres to produce a kilo of cheese, rather than closer to ten as we do in the summer. But I can’t complain as it's rich, sumptuous and deeply buttery.

As there is less milk, with so many cows dry, restoring themselves before calving next month and less cheese to make, now is the time we plan for next year.. It’s 2014 and we'll keep making the cheese we love!