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August on the Farm


August is the blousy end of summer proper. Leaves are heavy on the trees, some leaves starting to turn on a few branches. The hedges full of fruit, honeysuckle and meadowsweet, that fresh smelling origin of aspirin, harbinger of autumn. House martins dart around, keeping the skies around the house free of insects. Young martins learn their trade, fattening themselves for the long journey south of the equator. Late hatches may not make it, but they are doing their best as the late summer flies hatch just in time for dinner.  


Back on the productive farmland, wheat comes to harvest. The ears have filled, now heavy and golden. We hope now for a few days of dry weather, however much the grass might need the rain. The combine harvester works its way around the field, cutting, threshing and separating wheat from chaff (what's left of the wheat flower) and straw. After it rains, we can see how much of the shrivelled grains has escaped through the sieves and gone out with the straw. The tell-tale green lines in the field show the germinating grains, and tell the story of the season.


The grass is struggling to keep up with the cows’ demands. We are wondering whether to bring the spring herd onto the fertile bottom pastures, and take the dry cows to peck out the pastures on the dry red land on the hill.  It's not what we planned, but we need to keep the spring cows fed on sufficient grass. The soil is a lot less drought resistant than it will be in a year or two.  We sowed some deep rooting herbs like chicory, salad burnet and plantain to take us through the dry time. They've shown their value and we will plant more when we come to reseed. 


The cows closest to calving go into a separate calving paddock, where they can rest and think dreamy milky thoughts. Close to calving, their udders firm, and like a human, their ligaments loosen and their thoughts calm by the magic of progesterone.  Then the calves start popping out, mostly unassisted. First a water bag, then a pair of hooves, then with each succeeding push, some impossibly long legs, then a nose, the head, then push the shoulders out and in a rush the calf drops to the ground. The cow turns to investigate, and there the calf is.  She licks the calf, massaging its body with her tongue. The calf totters up, and nuzzles her way round to the inviting teats.

Now comes the delicate challenge of long enough on mum to suckle enough colostrum, and not so long that everyone gets irrevocably attached which makes the inevitable separation too hard.  Calves soon bond with their pen mates and people, becoming the domestic animals we coexist with and develop the mutual trust required for milking.


For the first week of August, we are doing all our annual maintenance.  It's lovely to see the dairy gleaming after we've tidied up and cleaned all the way up into the ceiling.  Then back to production just as the new milk starts coming in from the autumn herd.  From both herds, the milk is full of the aromatics of clover, lovely in the vat.

The year rolls on!


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