It’s a late season for most things as leaves cling on

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A dry week has helped things along no end, and the early morning frost is a small price to pay for some nice sunshine. The colours are now quite magnificent around the farm and as one drives around on the roads locally, and this is greatly enhanced by the bright sunshine.

The leaves are reluctant to fall this year, a late season for most things and I expect we will enjoy them at least until the end of the month. Ground conditions have improved a little bit, but at this time of year it does not dry up much on clay, but Tillington on the sand is nice and dry underfoot these days.

Plenty of grass available still, but at Crouchlands we are only a week or so from yarding our in-calf heifers, as they will make a mess if we attempt to prolong grazing into next month; we have had a very good run after all.

Sheep are tidying up the grass behind our heifers, and I have decided that the last remaining 40 acres or so of third cut silage will also be grazed by the sheep. It is still green and lush, but it needs grazing now before it starts to decay underneath and they will hopefully clear it up as it is much too wet to think of taking machinery on the land now.

It will make up the shortfall for the young sheep farmer as the late cut of silage has meant that there is little grass in those fields and I don’t want it grazed as it will affect our spring growth. Electric fencing will need to be erected to graze each area individually so that the sheep don’t walk all over the tall grass making a mess of it; we want them to graze it off area by area in military style!

I have moved our young heifers which we have had a problem with from Tillington and yarded them at Crouchlands. Most of them look fine now and the ones really affected and quite ill seem to be recovering slowly. I am quite sure that in a few weeks’ time they will have made a complete recovery, but we are still not quite sure what went wrong.

There was a very sick one in the group and we took the decision to put her down and carry out a post mortem, but nothing was found to be wrong by our vet. A farmer friend of mine suggested that the grass had high levels of protein in it this autumn, and maybe the combination of protein in our feed on top of that proved to be too much? We are at a loss really, having not done anything different, but the amount of grass this year was very unusual, and maybe at their age it was too much? As is often the case, will we ever know?

We are embarking on an intensive fortnight foot-trimming our cows. We have now moved our high yielding fresh calving group to a different shed, which means they no longer have to walk up to the dairy from the furthest shed on the yard for milking twice a day.

This not only saves quite a lot of time, but it means they are not subjected to walking through mud and soil which has tiny stones in it. They had a new tarmac walkway which was very good and perfect for them to walk on during the dry weather, with the occasional sweep to keep it clean. Once the wet weather arrived however, mud and soil was dragged on to the tarmac with builders vehicles, and small stones stick to the clay and are deposited on the road; a perfect medium to cause real problems in cow’s hooves.

I have decided that the only way to get on top of the problem and not wait until more cows become lame is to put the group of 100 cows through the foot crush and trim all their feet.

We will then find any stones which are attached to the hoof and could work its way into the soft tissue above as the cow continues to walk and put pressure on it. We have had a couple with infected ulcers in their hooves caused by stones and we must prevent it happening to others. Luckily we have a very good foot-trimming crush which makes the job reasonably easy, and trimming a hundred cows in a fortnight is within our ability.

Her Royal Highness Princess Anne wants us to reconsider eating horse meat, and true to form the media have covered this in their usual way, and politicians have immediately shied away, as one would expect. The Princess Royal, of course, was making an animal welfare point, and it is a valid one; that if any animal has value, it is much more likely to be looked after properly.

Horsemeat would put a floor in the market, preventing animals falling to such low values that the danger of them not being looked after becomes a real possibility. The neglect of low value animals such as horses and ponies is a big problem, caused very often by people who would not ordinarily be in a position to own such animals if they had real value, picking them up for next to nothing.

All Princess Anne did was to ask us to consider the benefits of producing horse meat, and have the debate; sadly it seems we are incapable of rational debate on the matter.

Another lady who dared challenge animal charities last week was Christine Nicol, Professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Bristol. Research by Christine Nicol, an independent expert on animal welfare has found that the average free-range laying hen enjoys a lower standard of life than one kept in a cage.

This advice contradicts animal charities who claim that free-range eggs are more humane, but Professor Nicol compared different types of housing systems for hens, and found that those kept in enriched cages had the lowest rate of problems.

Free-range systems are poorer as it is much harder to get conditions right and there are massive variations in welfare standards amongst free range producers, where some are excellent, better than caged, but some are not.

Professor Nicol also commented on the misconception that small flocks are better than large ones. She said that birds in small groups have complicated and difficult social encounters, they often peck each other and welfare is compromised. In large flocks they react as humans do when living in a city, not chatting to everyone on the tube.

They avoid difficult social encounters and aggression levels are much lower. Professor Christopher Wathes, who chaired the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) always stated that when the first hens were put in cages it was a huge leap forward in their welfare, protecting them from predators, disease and most of all from each other.

Of course over time this was diminished as more and more hens were kept in less and less space, but with the new ‘colony’ cages we have now a cage system which allows the hen’s space, ability to perch and scratch around. Best of all there is proper labelling which allows you to make the choice when buying eggs.