I think I tempted fate by mentioning the ’Beast from the East’ in my last column.
While the second instalment that arrived in Dorset a few weeks ago was far less severe than the previous incarnation, it was actually a welcome break from the incessant rain to have a spell of cold, dry weather.
This time, we escaped the snow that struck other parts of the country, but the biting wind was familiar.
Cows always seem to calve at inopportune times and, sure enough, the first cow to calve this year decided to do so when the temperature had plummeted on a freezing night. Typical of a Hereford, the calf was up and sucking in no time though and, with a belly of milk, was content for the cold night ahead.
As I write, we are about a third of the way through calving, with the majority of the cows deciding to calve at night.
I’ve heard stories of changing the feeding pattern of in-calf cattle to try and alter the time of the day when they calve, but I have yet to break with tradition and alter my morning feeding routine. Sleep deprivation will continue for another year.
While the weather has been pretty unpleasant for much of winter, the farm isn’t looking too bad considering the drastic swing from drought in the summer to persistent rain in the last three months.
There is plentiful grass which will stand us in good stead for a potential early turnout, and the herbal leys that were sown as part of a mid-tier stewardship scheme, are also looking in good fettle.
The plan with these is to take an early silage cut from them and then rest them for the required five weeks, before turning the cows and calves into the regrowth.
The winter barley has also wintered remarkably well, with only an odd patch on the heavy clay parts of the fields suffering from the constant rainfall.
Paul Aldridge, my agronomist, has been doing his rounds and even though he was accosted by Kate, mistakenly thinking he was an errant rambler, his crop report was very positive.
With a fungicide and trace elements to be applied in March, and nitrogen and sulphur to go on when the ground conditions allow, the crops are looking promising.
Paul is a ‘glass half full’ person and his visits to the farm are always very welcome.
While ploughing has recently become unfashionable, we have used the method and subsequent barley crops to try and give some parts of the farm a break from old unproductive pasture that has also harboured a high tick population. Unfortunately last spring, a bunch of our heifers were struck down with the tick-borne redwater disease, which is quite common in our part of Dorset.
Even though the heifers were born on the farm and technically immune to the disease, they lost condition in very short space of time, and the sight of them urinating blood, was not an episode to be repeated.
As with many aspects of life, in farming, you never stop learning.