The cold Arctic air tussles with the air from the warm south. The jet stream weakened by a warming Arctic lashes out, challenging unseasonal warmth. Who will win? It’s easy to get lured into believing spring is here, as birds sing loud, as they have done for weeks. New growth is everywhere. The tiny and exquisite hazel flowers open for the catkins’ amorous pollen. In between frosts, we marvel at each other’s reports of frogspawn. The larch across the way purples up, and I search it for the first flush of green. Soft new growth: caution, biting winds and icy cold may shatter your shy advances. All the while, each day grows longer than the last. Plants grow stronger, all of the natural world including us responds to our conductor in the sky.
The buzzard, looking as dark as I’ve seen him, takes off heavily, looking for the first young rabbits of the season. A big fallow buck that hangs around the track. He’s made the copse his home and comes out to sun himself, and slips behind the hedge until we’ve gone by. His ladies are all elsewhere, engaged in kidding or preparing to.
I’m so happy with the no-till drill. The young wheat looks good and even, just now responding to the strengthening sun. We left remains of last year’s harvest on the surface of the earth, and the fields held many more birds in great flocks. Although we drilled the crops in the autumn, the fields more closely mimic the wildlife benefit of spring cropping. That’s a great result.
We carry on measuring the grass growth all the way through the winter. Is there enough for the cows to graze? Will the soil hold their weight? The overwinter rest gives the earthworms time to work the ground and restore the drainage channels crushed in the last days of grazing last winter. We watch anxiously: will the new growth get ravished by hard frost? Our food stores, meagre after last summer’s drought, are vanishing fast into the cows’ hungry mouths.
The calves are still inside, protected from the worst of the weather. We weigh everyone monthly to see how they are growing, and tend to any little ones, and make sure the whole group is growing well. We always imagine we can tell by eye, but we know we can’t. Calves run to the far end of the pen in alarm, then pretend they were never fazed, and come and check if you’ve anything of interest.
Larger heifers are out on the kale. It didn’t grow so well or evenly with last summer’s drought, so we top them up with extra bales of silage. It’s a good job we have neighbours to buy silage from whose microclimate gave more growth.
The spring cows start getting heavy, late pregnant, barely curious. The first few calves always come early. However, much care we take, someone will be born in the crop. Then it’s carrying them back to the shed with an anxious mother in tow, to get them warm, dry and drinking that all-important colostrum, the first milk that carries their mother’s armoury of defence against infection.
The first few cows start milking. There aren’t enough to keep us warm against the weather in our open-air parlour with a view. It’s lovely in the summer and is horribly cold if the winter decides to give a last kick.
Then the autumn cows seem very spoiled in their shed, waited on, fed, beds made and warm parlour. Still they stand by the gate, yearning to be out, as they smell the grass growing.
Now is the time when my glasses steam up going into the cheese dairy, and the vats of milk warm the whole room. We watch the milk as the cows change from silage to grass, and cows move through lactation: the spring cows’ early milk, the autumn cows’ mid-lactation milk. We want the cheese to taste the same, so we tweak the little things: starter amount and time, cutting and cooking the curd, time that we take the whey off, how we handle the curd, and salting to keep the cheese consistent.
We’ve just got a big cheese grater so we can supply restaurants with our cheese. Grated cheese is normally a little plain, so we are excited what this can provide to chef. We’ll have it available in the shop if you want to try it out.
M A R Y Q U I C K E