Henry Gent: 'Knee-high red clover can get messy in winter'


We had our first frost on October 10 and then the rain arrived, 17 mm of it, at the weekend. Until then we had been really dry. My rain gauge shows July, August, and September were all below half their annual average, and in early October it was still difficult to push electric fence stakes into the ground.


Late October often sees a change in ground conditions here. A few years ago, nearby Ottery St Mary suffered flooding, partly caused by hail blocking the culverts. We had youngstock standing in water on the floodplain, prompting passers-by on the motorway to telephone the authorities.


Someone got wet up to the waist getting them in. Not me, I was away on holiday.


Once our flood meadows get saturated in autumn they rarely dry out enough to take milkers until well into the following spring. If we leave the paddock fences standing, they are liable to sag in the floodwater and become entangled with flotsam.


It pays to take up the fences after the final graze and, if dry enough, go in with the comb harrow and spread the dung pats, which we have done on several fields this year. In the past, we used to graze them off again with sheep on tack but the income does not cover the cost of labour and the lost opportunity to build up cover for the spring.


The big push has been to eat off the flood meadows. A few feeds down there with the milkers will finish it off; we have been going at it day and night. A large part of it is more than a kilometre away – about 0.6 miles – and it takes us 45 minutes to get the cows in.


However, our system sees the first person out in the morning starting milking ‘the highs’, which are autumn-calvers, in the cubicles eating silage. The second person on-site goes off to the meadow to get ‘the lows’, the spring-calvers, plus a few autumn-calvers who have been demoted as there is no room for them in the cubicles.


The pasture on the drier ground has been neglected and knee-high red clover can get messy in winter. I did consider making silage out of it, as the weather was so settled. However, we do not need more silage and yet we certainly need all the grazing ‘the lows’ can get this autumn as our kale crop is feeble.


Once we have eaten off all these clover leys on the drier ground, which will take us into November, then we will have to feed kale.

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