Plenty of work to do as the sun continues to shine and the days get longer. The oak are in leaf, soft light green leaves which will darken and become hard in the sunshine.
The woodland is a cascade of flowers now, wild cherry, pear and crab apple; the frothiest blossom bringing real colour to the woodland edge.
The little birds seem to be louder than ever in the morning, and the crows next to the house are very noisy first thing. I have had to put an electric fence around my vegetable garden, as badgers have taken a liking to the softly cultivated soil and compost. My evenly raked area looking like a war zone with holes dug everywhere!
The cows have responded to the change from second cut grass silage which has now all been eaten to first cut made last May.
The milk has increased by a litre and we have now broken through the 30 litre a day average, a target which we set ourselves for the winter.
It has been tantalisingly close for a couple of months and whilst it is less than many other farmers achieve, with our level of feeding it is an achievement for us. It is also surprising considering that we made this silage in the clamp, and then dug it out and put it in Ag-Bags as it was in the way of the construction. The analysis showed it had come to no harm, but the ultimate judges are the cows.
Maize ground coming on now with the first 120 acres ready for the power-harrow and drill, which will begin this next weekend, the pressure will then be on as the drill covers the ground at a much faster rate than our cultivator.
We need to finish applying fertilizer to the remaining maize ground, and continue with sub-soiling behind, whilst there are a couple of blocks which need lime. The maize seed and fertilizer will need to be taken to the various blocks, ready for the contractor.
The grass is coming on well, and our attempt at rolling some of the silage fields came to a halt as we discovered that the ground is too wet; the roller making the surface on the clay jelly-like. We did manage to drill grass seed in the leather jacket damaged areas of the fields and there is plenty of moisture for it to germinate.
We will start to lift the builder tracks with the sub-soiler once the maize work is finished as it will hopefully have dried up by early May. With all the rain over the winter the soil is still very wet and a fairly shallow trench soon has water at the bottom of it.
Our new water main is now in and we are busy constructing the new system for the cows, where a pressure tank system with on-demand pumps will supply all cattle troughs, a heat exchanger taking heat from the AD plant to warm up the water for the cows to drink.
This will make a difference in winter, increasing the amount of water the cows drink, and hopefully more milk. There is plenty of evidence to show that taking the chill from cold water in winter does increase the amount cow’s drink and as we have so much heat around, it makes perfect sense.
Given that the Common Agricultural Policy is insisting that farmers grow three crops in the future, we have been giving this some thought as we grow maize and grass and that apparently will not do! The obvious route for us is to grow some wheat on one of our blocks of land and cut it as whole-crop for the cows.
This would be done in July and put in an Ag-Bag for use in the winter as forage, giving us maize and grass silage and whole-crop silage; research showing that a third forage does increase the amount cows eat, but will it produce more milk?
The other option is to grow some fodder beet on sandy ground, this is a root crop which is often grown and grazed in the field by cattle or sheep.
The attraction of fodder beet is that it needs very similar preparation to maize for planting in the spring, and provides a huge yield of root if it’s done properly, and can be fed to both cows and the AD plant. It would need to be cleaned and chopped of course, but it does deliver a lot of gas and the cows would find it an interesting ingredient in their mix, as it is very palatable.
Dog attacks on sheep have increased dramatically over the last few years, with over a thousand attacks in 2013. The ‘Farmers Guardian’ newspaper has started a campaign to try and get dog owners to act responsibly and to ‘get a grip’ on their animals. With a 50% increase in attacks over the last three years, and 58% of sheep farmers finding it a persistent problem, it is time to do something.
We have had problems at Crouchlands when sheep graze in the winter, and it does seem that few members of the public exercise proper control of their dogs by keeping them on the lead.
It does seem strange that farmers are encouraged to make habitat for wildlife, whilst the public have dogs running ahead chasing everything they see rather than being under control. Owners will hotly dispute this, claiming that their dog would not hurt anything and that it is only running around enjoying itself.
Analysis of European skeletons over the past 7000 years has shown that there is clear deterioration in bone strength, and agriculture is to blame! Whereas the strong knees of the first farmers were equivalent to cross-country runners, I’m afraid today we have flimsy knees by comparison.
Alison Macintosh a PhD student at Cambridge University has been comparing the leg bones of old skeletons with those of students. She found that early farmers had an activity level similar to that of the athletics team at the University, but by 2000 years ago their strength had dropped as agriculture and other technologies such as metalwork had reduced the need for long distance travel and heavy physical work.
I see that at a cost of £60,000 Britain’s first cloned dog has arrived. A lady from London won a competition offering the procedure for free as the prize and the result is a Dachshund puppy cloned from her 12 year old dog.
If you remember ‘Dolly’ the cloned sheep of a few years ago and ‘Gene’ the first calf cloned in America caused a lot of discussion about the ethics and welfare of cloning, which is now banned in the EU.
With dog and cat cloning we enter a different world, that of the private individual, and whilst Scientist and ethicists frown and disapprove, it seems that this has not put off 500 people paying for the procedure.