After the lovely warm sunshine and crisp clear nights its rather depressing to return to mud, flood and snow! All the sheep which lambed last week are back inside. Having been settled on some fresh grazing we decided in the early hours of the morning with the rain falling heavily and snow forecast to bring them all in. Although even lambs a few days old are fine if its just cold, the wet and cold together can chill them very quickly and if they get separated from the ewe and don’t feed regularly they soon get in trouble and if not found could easily die. We had a very busy night with two sets of twins born, with little assistance from us, and rounding up the 30 ewes and lambs from the meadow as the sun was coming up, and getting them settled back in the sheep shed. We divided the shed in half so those that haven’t lambed are easy to see at a glance, even when you half asleep at 3am. Its now late evening and snow has settled, well, settled everywhere that isn’t flooded. Next week we had planned to get the last of the fields ready for sowing sugar beet but that will now have to wait until we dry out again. In the meantime the sheep will be staying in until this weather clears and we can get on with the event present paperwork.
Lambing is the start of the working year and certainly the most exhausting sign that spring is on its way.We started last week and certainly when your up at 3am under a clear star spangled sky with a the chill of morning frost in the air is doesn’t feel like spring at all.Our first lambs have been out in the sun this week watched by our ever present buzzards who have taken to displaying over the meadow, a rather spectacular closed wing plummet to the ground, then at the last minute, wings open and they glide off as if nothing has happened. Every other bird and mammal having dived for cover including our lambs, which after a few thousands years of domestication and only a few days old know a predator or the warning signs there is one around.On the farm we have been giving all our wheat’s a feed and harrowing our organic cereals to knock the weeds back and allow the crop to get a head start. The huge pigeons flocks, which have plagued us all winter, are still eating into the rape but the longer warmer days are encouraging fresh growth and it won’t be long until its way above their heads and out of reach and they will disperse.There is plenty of spring bird song with great spotted wood peckers hammering on the hollow oaks that fringe the orchard and even a solitary yellow hammer singing in the warmth of the midday sun in the sheltered valley below the farm house.
Its the first warm sunny day of the year. One of our hens thinks it spring and has hatched two chicks in the old cart shed, worrying they would freeze over night or worse be taken by a rat or fox we have moved her to a purpose built run with plenty of straw in the nest box and a bowl of chick crumb to help them grow. She is a bantam cross and fearlessly protective of her chicks so moving her required some skill and a pair of gloves! This task was all done with no fuss by Dennis our only full-time farm worker who must have done this job countless times in the 30 years he has worked on the farm and probably helped his Dad, Albert, do it when he worked on the farm. He also manged, between chick wrangling, to get all the Oil seed rape sprayed not easy when you have to wait for the snow to clear and get on before the rain comes he had a one day weather window and worked late to get it finished. Overnight we had several millimetres of rain and with the ground already saturated our little valley was flooded again on Thursday.
Yesterday the last snow melted from the dips and dark hollows that don’t see even the weak winter sun. I was doing a ‘Pigeon’ walk with the dog. Which means slogging aross the fields of rape, which were sown in the autumn, slowly accumulating heavy bumpers of clay on each boot.
The Oil Seed Rape is a magnet for the massive flocks of pigeons which land like a thick slaty grey carpet and strip all the leaves off ever plant. It is quite an amazing sound when a thousand plus pigeons fly low right over you something between a rocky water fall and waves on a shingle beach.
After they had gone I spied a large brown creature on the far side of the field probably a Brown Hare we have a good population on the farm and they are easy to see through the winter as they love to be out in the open. Once the spring comes they will be hiding in the crops and raising their young. As I neared the Hare it turned into be a Buzzard! which was feeding on a rabbit, we certainly have plenty of those as well. I can’t remember exactly when the Buzzards started colonizing this area again but I see one or two most days throughout the year. I didn’t want to disturb it so walked along a hedge line to disguise my silloette I looked back just i was leaving the field to see it joined by another one so maybe we have a pair. It reminded me of hot summers day in 2011, we were getting the barn ready for a wedding, the florists were hard at work arranging scented lilies and English tea roses and I heard the unmistakable sound of Buzzards calling to each other. I looked up to see four birds slowly circuling right above our heads, I think as it was late summer they were most probably a family, well I hope so.
January dawn we woke to a mini ice age on the farm, every dead stem and lifeless branch were bought to glistening life with a layer of hoar frost catching the early morning cold steely sun and underfoot a layer soft sparkly snow. I walk every morning in all weathers, the dog demands it, I don’t aways take a camera but a morning like this offers a chance to capture such a familiar place looking extraordinarily exotic. I love most that it covers the brown mud and mess of farming in winter. There isn’t much to be done outside, in these conditions the sheep need food and water but are hardy enough to be out in all weathers, it aways surpises me how drab and dirty they look against the pristine white background. Keeping the water pipes flowing to the cattle troughs is always a challenge but they are nice and snug inside with deep straw and last summers pungent clover silage to keep them happy.
A cold first few days of March but dry and getting warmer with the advent of early spring sunshine. Work on the farm progresses with putting some fertiliser on wheats. Last year we were caught out by the exceptional dry spring so the this year we are going on a little earliar. The sugar beet have all gone over a week ago now, however the legacy will go on in that the field remains uncultivated, I am reluctant to plough in the rotting remnantsof the last crop until it has decayed on the surface to a degree. I am then not sure what it will grow. Despite British Sugar’s efforts to mollify concerns this years sugar harvest will leave a bitter taste for many farmers, you will be not seeing as many fields of beet in 2012.
On a brighter more positive note more calves have been born, and we have even had chicks from one of our very free range hens.
Almost a dry week when strong winds gave way to an idylic springlike day on Tuesday, we were able to progress with spreading an early dressing of a nitrogen sulphur compound fertiliser on the conventional oilseed rape crops, and some later drilled wheat.
One load of sugar beet was harvested straight onto the lorry and delivered and was accepted for processing, there are many more to go, it is still uncertain if they will all be harvested. This will seriously affect our future growing of the crop, nevertheless I am very lucky to have delivered what we have this year.
Meanwhile we have had Simon Bonnett here this week coppicing an old hedgerow down by the minster. This work rejuvenates hedges, cutting out the old growth and allowing the hedge to grow out from the bottom with renewed vigour. It also allows plants that have been shaded out to flourish for a few years until the hedge regrows.
And in a sign of spring another calf was born this week.
Below additional picture showing what coppicing a hedgerow has done in previous years. It looks bleak at first but as the next pic shows
Letting the light in allows flora to flourish for a few years until the hedge regrows.
One of those weeks where the time goes in a flash ‘cos everything is happening at once. Living and working in an historic landsape provides many challenges but also positive benefits, one is working with English Heritage an organisation that has transformed itself over the years. This last week were descended upon by what seemed a substantial proportion of their East Anglia team, always supportive and positive. Recently we have been lucky enough to have a grant to repair the grandly titled West Gatehouse (the East Gatehouse was pulled down 300 years ago). That work is now virtually complete. We are now looking to expand our B & B facilities in the Hall which as a Grade 1 listed property requires EH approval.
We also have tree surgeons (The tree GP Mike Barker) working here at the momen on trees in the Minster to make sure all areas are safe for vistors and around the car park area.
It will be February tomorrow and for the first time in my farming career, and my entire experince on the farm here, we have sugar beet still in the ground to be harvested. The crop is contracted to British Sugar, usually we have everything harvested by mid-December at the latest and the fields all drilled up with winter wheat. In 2010 British Sugar in their wisdom decided to delay opening the factories and taking delivery of the crop. I had decided to grow a few more acres to be sure of fulfilling my contract. We all got caught out by the unprecedented weather in December of last year. As a consequence we have frost damaged sugar beet, we do not know as yet if they are good enough to deliver. It is not just this crop that is affected we have lost out on a potential 2011 wheat crop in this field. It is uncertain at this stage if we will be able to crop the field in 2011. I have never had such a situation before.