August 2015 on the Farm
August is when the sun says summer is getting tired. Leaves take on that weary look, trees all mid green with the first few leaves withering. Leaves are weary because they've given their all through the year harvesting the sun's energy. Everything that relies on them - that's all animals including us - are fat and happy with the food that directly or indirectly we get from plants.
I saw a nest full of fledged swifts take off one after the other in a graceful sequence from the eaves of the forklift shed, grown fat on insects and fat on nectar from those hardworking plants. Garden fruit - raspberries, wineberries, gooseberries and plums pour out of the garden, to eat now or into the freezer ready for winter joy. The hedgerow fruit shows the promise to come.
CROPS - Out in the fields, we combine harvest the crops. It's called that because one machine cuts the straw, then threshes the grain out of the ears, and deposits the straw out of the back like a vast golden worm cast. This used to be the work of whole communities, the reason why school holidays are in August. Now one person on a combine and one person on the trailers harvests and carries safely home the whole parish's share of the sun's stored riches. Forgive us as we negotiate the combine through the lanes; the bed, the set of combs and knives, hauled behind as we change fields. Forgive us as we haul the baler from field to field to squash the straw into half tonne square bales, food and bedding for the winter. Forgive us, too, the heavy laden trailers taking grain and straw safely home.
GRASS - The grassland is alive with the glorious scent of clover. It always feels like it imparts a subtle aromatic note to the cheese. The grass tends to stalkiness, which lends itself to a richer milk. The clover gives rich protein which is good as a feed to grow calves and make milk. The swards on our flower-rich pastures are alive with wildflowers, knapweed, clover, trefoil and bugloss with clouds of butterflies and hoverflies sweeping up around you. We need the productive areas to make milk, and we are happy to have some areas where we can support our wildlife.
COWS - Those less productive and more beautiful swards also provide the diet ideal for the last stages of the autumn cows' pregnancies. We want the cows to maintain their stomach capacity even while they have a hundredweight and more of calf and placenta squeezing their digestions. It's also good that the cows don't get too fat - we need to leave plenty of room for the calf to be born easily.
CALVES – Calving in the warm months is lovely. The cows sit companionably in a late-pregnant progesterone dream, grazing gently or sitting in the shade of a tree, or at the top of the field, catching the breeze. One will get restless and go off and find a quiet corner. Mostly it's best to leave them be. It's lovely to come across a new mother, tenderly licking the her calf clean, the calf alert, getting to its feet, nuzzling its way round its mother to the milky goodness it knows is there.
HEIFERS - The heifers are testing our fencing. I went to visit the dry cows. Mr Bull (Rooster) and his eager teenagers had broken out of their field and come for a social visit to their sisters, cousins and aunts. OK, leave them there while we find out where they escaped. We are doing a mammoth project re-fencing the farm.
CHEESE - The cheese dairy finishes its break. This year the big job was renovating a vat. They are amazing constructions, double skinned, with steam pipes between the layers to provide heat to get the milk just at the right temperature at just the right time. The heart of a good cheese is to get the whey off at just the right time, when the curd has the right 'shotty' texture and the acidity at the right level and increasing at the right speed. All that takes getting the right times and temperatures for starter, rennet and scald, as well as when to take the whey off. The quality of a cheese is mostly made while it's still milk or curds and whey.