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In your field: Mike Harris - 'Grass is growing better in winter than in summer'

In the week we learned a scotch egg constituted a ‘substantial’ meal and The Path to Sustainable Farming was published by Defra, we were catching up on a list of autumnal jobs on-farm.

The Herefords have been housed for nearly a month already, which is unfortunately one of the downsides to a farm which lies partially on clay, meaning early housing in late October/early November to save the ground from poaching.

 

Grass growth in winter has been outstripping that of summer in the last three years, with Dorset suffering especially from the prolonged periods of drought. Our first cut silage now relies heavily on the winter growth to bulk up quantity.

 

Cattle have all been wormed and drenched for liver fluke in the last three weeks.

 

Having always relied on a combination pour-on treatment in previous years, I decided on a different approach this year, but as Herefords are mild mannered, the job of drenching wasn’t as arduous as perhaps dealing with some other breeds.


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Early November was especially mild and, even with an extremely well ventilated open span shed, the pneumonia risk seemed very high, so my wife Kate was cajoled on a day off from teaching into helping trimming backs of all the stock.

 

With these husbandry jobs completed, the one final task was to wean the calves. After three of four rather noisy days and thankful that we had a few days when the wind direction took the constant blaring away from the farmhouse, the calves and cows are now settled into their new separated lives.

 

It seemed ironic that, having spent many hours in the last month putting the welfare of our animals at the forefront of our thinking, the so-called roadmap published by the Government was, in effect, telling farmers we need to improve the standards of our stock-keeping, among other things.

 

Of course there will be a minority of farmers who do not adhere to these high standards, but that could be said of any other industry.

 

British farming has some of the highest welfare criteria in the world and yet this document implies there are numerous flaws in our farming practices, leaving aside the subsidy system.

 

It is hard not to feel slightly despondent with the document, considering the challenges farmers in this country will now face, on top of trade deals and tariff complexities that Brexit has produced.

 

More so than ever, we need the disconnect between farmers and the general public to be narrowed. Initiatives such as Open Farm Sunday and the ever increasing presence of the NFU, led admirably by Minette Batters, are just the start.

 

My next job on the agenda: increasing our flock of four Light Sussex hens to keep up with demand for those scotch eggs.

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