This spring, there’s a poignant contrast between the worrying and absorbing unfolding drama of Coronavirus and the equally absorbing and magnificent unfolding of spring. So much has been cancelled in the outside world, it almost feels like the dark days when foot and mouth disease rampaged through the countryside. Only this time we are all affected, rural people and urban people, farming folk and everyone else. I’m really enjoying the extra time released from all the busy activity that’s been cancelled. I’ve always had a sense of hanging on to every moment of the spring, like it could be the last spring I see. This spring’s risks heightens that sense of rolling around in and relishing the perfection of every moment.
Leaves, so long swelling the buds, burst forth. Every vista changes moment by moment. Every hedgebank, that feature of the Devon landscape dating back sometimes a thousand years, blossoms anew with flowers. The primroses came early and stayed late in the cool early spring. Wild strawberry flowers, Queen Anne’s Lace, and pennyroyal all come. Sticky grass makes a children’s game: can you stick any to your companion’s coat without them noticing? Shaded banks are full of ferns, one of the plants that loved the winter rain.
Young creatures are everywhere: fledglings, young rabbit kits, even a jumbling tumbling crew of tubby young badgers, fat from those rabbits, venturing into the lane before they get shy with maturity.
Finally, we can work on the fields, so long impossible to travel on with machines. We got some crops in in the early autumn, and they weathered the rain well. Later drilled crops just sat in the wet and sulked, some to death, and some are pulling through now. That leaves the rest of the ground that we managed to sow only at the end of March. Dry weather brings some chilly winds, with the promise of balmy days to come. Little seeds, hasten and grow. Warmth has them leap out of the ground, almost racing to catch up their siblings, older by six months. They will never grow as strongly, and that very quality makes spring crops less prone to all the pests and diseases. We will be looking at lower yield, though. Winters have been forecast to get milder and wetter, like we’ve had. Summers are forecast to be hotter and drier, so the late sown spring crops may suffer that way too.
The grass is growing like crazy, and now even the wettest fields are reachable by the cows with damage to the soil. The cows are out day and night, harvesting the sweet new grass down to a lawn. Overnight, the grass plants shoot up a delectable little shoot, sent out to pioneer new growth. We move the animals on to protect the new shoots, otherwise the cows eat those and hamper the next cycle of growth.
This is the time when we deny the cows their urge to get pregnant. They are hot for it, and would welcome a date with Mr Bull. Hang on, girls, play amongst yourselves, give your bodies time to recover from calving.The most staid matrons get as flirty as schoolgirls, with crushes on their besties when their hormones take them that way.
The new calves explore the beautiful new world, distracted by the joy of being alive. They chase the milk bar, brought with a quad bike to feed them. With milk in their bellies, they can face most weathers, and we keep an eye out to make sure biting wind and rain don’t drag them down.
The milk has settled down, with good grazing. The milk has a beautiful ivory colour that becomes golden as the milk concentrates into cheese and the carotene of the grass shines through. Often, we’ll get cheese that is technically a little soft, from all those health giving short-chain fats from the grass. We know those cheeses will firm up with the loss of moisture through the cloth and rind. They’ll retain the lusciousness and melt-in-the-mouth that grass-fed brings.