March on the Farm
The lingering end of winter, and the hopeful start of spring. The strengthening light of the sun, ever higher in the sky, up earlier in the morning and down later in the evening, powers the whole natural world. Catkins stretch and sway, daffodils make a great splash, leaf buds swell and burst.
Birds nest, carrying twigs in their beaks, then feed chattering nests. The first baby rabbits, daft and tasty, make their way out under the watchful and hungry eyes of foxes and buzzards.
CROPS - the oilseed rape has come through the winter, the first time we have managed to grow it. The pigeons have had their share, and left enough of a crop for us.
The wheat and barley start growing, thickening up. Now we see how well the roots have grown. They are growing in eerily straight lines, sown by the guidance of GPS. That way, the plants all have an equal chance of light, water and feed.
We've bought a new tractor (even larger) with the idea that we can till and drill ground in one pass, so minimising the loss of organic matter and disturbance to soil life and structure. It'll have its first serious outing drilling spring barley this month.
SOIL - What soil likes best is lying undisturbed with roots, fibrous and more chunky growing through it. The soil sits in a nice crumb structure, and top predator earthworms and the whole ecosystem they rest on develops like a vast city.
GRASS - We watch and wait, welcoming the new shoots, fretting about the cold nights, for the cows are calving, and in our opinion the best feed for a fresh calved cow is nibble of fresh grass. The finest food to produce a vat full of milk for cheese is a field full of grass. It grows in the warmth, and stalls in the cold. The cows calve, nine months later, warm or cold.
COWS - and we've got calves everywhere! We bring those first to calve from their winter quarters, barn or field, and get them settled in their milking quarters. Soon we will have them outside both night and day, but until there is enough grass, we keep them inside at least for the night time.
The very first calf born was delightful and lively. I sat down in the pen where she was born. She was so curious and bold, coming up to me, racing round and round the pen, cocking her head on one side. I suppose she was exploring the world - It was amazing to see this little self-possessed little creature, so young, so confident. Now she has a pen full of playmates, and has grown so fast in those first few days. She is still friendly and interested, coming up for a quick scratch.
CHEESE - the milk from our cows is glorious, they don't produce so much milk, and what they produce is very rich. It's a perfect balance of fat, which gives flavour and lusciousness, and protein, which gives the structure and firmness of the cheese.
The milk builds up in the vats, filling them a little fuller each day, making half a cheese or more extra each day. That builds up into extra work, each cheese needing making, cheddaring, milling, moulding, pressing, brining and dressing, and all that before it gets to the store. Then each cheese needs turning once a week. As the milk rises, the cheese dairy team get more focussed, less time to repair racks or help pack a bit of cheese, or take a turn blowing the racks of older cheese to keep them clean of mite.
In March, we are packing cheese for the little Easter flurry; a later Easter gives a bigger flurry: people are more party-minded with the longer days.