June 2015 on the Farm
Thriving, glorious June! The leaves all unfurled, the hedges at their fullest and most flower filled, the young of all creatures fat and thriving. I watched a little family of mallard ducks, the ducklings paddling like crazy, concentrating on keeping up with mum, stretched in a long line behind her. I dug some compost from my compost heap, essential to grow my flowers and salads for my table and the farm kitchen.
I found the papery eggs of a slow worm, a huge clutch of them. I covered them over, and a few weeks later I went back and was pleased to see the eggs had hatched. I love to see those beautiful deep copper coloured reptiles, once I've overcome that primeval fear of their snakey shape!
CROPS - The crops are thriving as sun gets to its annual peak, plants extending themselves to make full use of its life-giving energy. The barley ears start filling. The wheat's green flowers, ears except all fibre and no starch, pump their invisible pollen into the air. The oilseed rape's pods set and swell, seeds green and juicy, collecting the sun's energy to turn into that lovely nutty oil.
The maize finally warms up enough to grow. A sub-tropical plant, it sulks in a jaundiced manner in our brisk English spring, making its visible and heady growth in these four warmest months of the year.
GRASS - The grass, that true glory of our farming: its thoughts turn away from leaf, which is what our cows and us are interested in, and turn to reproduction, seed and posterity. So we, with the cows, engage in a biting, cutting conversation to persuade it to get its mind back to the green stuff. The cows graze paddocks at the leafy stage, it is growing so fast some paddocks get away from them. We cut and harvest those paddocks just before the plants flower, though they throw up the stalks in hope.
YOUNGSTOCK - We keep all the heifer dairy calves and rear them outside for much of the time, out to graze from a young age. The crossbred animals thrive outside, enjoying the open air learning how to graze well. For the first few months, we bring them milk, which supports them until they are able to get all their nourishment from grass. To begin with, they will nibble the sweet and tender tips of the leaves, and soon, as their rumens develop, they learn how to curl their tongues around the leaves and push it up against their dental pads, cutting the plants with their teeth, which sit at the bottom of their mouths. This way of eating means they need a reasonable length of grass, more than sheep or horses, who have a set of teeth top and bottom of their mouths.
COWS - The cows feel the urge to reproduce, to counter the turning years with another generation in preparation. The cows yearn for a calf, and we, in the form of straws of semen artificially inseminate them AI to fulfil them. The straws enable us to get the perfect breeding for grass grazing, fertility and cheese making: for our farm, Friesian, Swedish Red, Montbeliarde, and now with a little touch of Jersey. Only later, if they haven't taken to the straws, do we use our Belted Galloway Bulls, Rooster and McCoy.