February is when the human beings think it’s still winter and the natural world is revving itself up underneath the duvet of cold weather. Jayne, who trains our team on food safety, is an acute observer of the natural world. She spotted some frogs in a mating frenzy. Great gouts of frogspawn, other male frogs trying to join in, thrashing the water: I need to watch the ponds this month more carefully. I love the idea that all the birds pair up on Valentine’s day. Certainly, the birdsong is building up in the mornings. Territories become more important to defend when you have a prospective wife to allure and family in view to support.
Snowdrops and then a few early primroses start their mating games, little flowers peeping out, quiet and perfect even when the wind seems too harsh for such delicacy.
The winter’s water is coming off the fields into the river. We’ll check our drainage outfalls to make sure it can all get away. I noticed there is a tree jammed across the river bridge; that created a little more flooding in the fields above the bridge. Miraculously our neighbour’s sheep managed to walk through the water to safety. Sheep often won’t walk through water as they know their fleeces hold the water, weighing them down. We’ll need to get the tree out when it’s safe to get to it.
In dry weather, we are getting slurry and manure out to the fields, that wonderful cycle of animals feeding plants feeding animals. We prepare the ground and seed the spring crops after the kale that the cattle have been eating over winter. We are also catching up on seeding the crops we didn’t get to before the weather closed in last autumn. They will thrive now with the longer days and potential for better weather.
We have the best sight of the year when the housed cows first go out to graze. They walk out of the milking parlour, see the open gate, ears pricked up, start to trot then gain speed, racing with your friends out to the field, joyful and free, relishing the open air and the scent of the new grass. A few minutes later the herd is settled, sedate as if nothing had happened.
The spring cows calve from the middle of the month. First just a few early ones, then more and more. It will be interesting to see who calves easier, the ladies who have spent the winter outside or the ones who spent the wet weather more sedentary in the barn. Will the greater exercise give them muscle tone to assist with calving? That would be my bet, and we will see when calving finishes. We want to know, as we are wondering what is best for them.
We are now on a good balanced milk-making firm cheese, and I can’t wait to see and smell the first milk from grass, even the first day of grazing fresh pasture makes a difference.
We graded some cheese made in the autumn from these cows’ milk later in lactation: good flavours, and softer than we’d like. I’ll be interested to see how they mature on: will they become luscious and melting?
Barney Butterfield of our local cider works, Sandford Orchards, gave me some ice cider he’d made: cider frozen to concentrate the flavours and the alcohol. A little nip of iced cider pairs perfectly with thinly sliced Quicke’s Mature Cheddar. You somehow get much more flavour from a given amount of cheese with all that edge melting in your mouth followed by the lovely aromatics of the ice cider.