Damp, dank and dark. That’s November’s reputation, and It looks like that’s what we’ll have. We descend towards the lowest point of the light and life of the natural world. Summer’s pride and early autumn vigour retreat, rot and return to the soil. I catch the last of the rosehips and haws, to make the last hedgerow jelly, even a few lingering sloes.
Birds are now in low season mode. The little seed-eaters flock together, finding safety in numbers from the watchful buzzards. It’s a welcome whir of wings as you walk across the fields, The fallow deer continue their eerie roaring, as males advertise their attractiveness. Little rabbits diminish, still easy dinner for foxes and badgers.
The wet weather caught us out. There is a world of difference between the crops we sowed before the rain and the fields we’ve snatched the odd dry day to sow. Sow too early, and you can lay the crops open to moulds and mildews. Sow too late, and the plants may not root well enough to protect the soil from winter rain.
I’m delighted we’ve introduced a grass and red clover break in our arable rotation. Arable after arable is so hard on the soil, stripping it of organic matter, making it hard and unyielding, putting the resulting carbon dioxide into the air. The magic of grass and clover roots, exploring the soil over many months, living, dying, and rotting makes a rich ecosystem in the soil. That’s my problem with livestock-free farming: it just isn’t good for the soil. Crops and animal manure add crucial heart to a soil.
The cows are on their last round of the paddocks. As the soil gets wetter, we need drier pastures. At the same time, we need to keep some of those drier pastures with enough grass to turn the girls out onto in early spring, when the soil will be even more tender, and the grass even more valuable to the cows. They eat any overlong growth down, and trample some to create organic matter and a carpet for them to walk on, protecting the soil.
The autumn girls come in, first by night, and then at the end of the month, by day. They are all keen to see Mr Bull, on a 21-day cycle. There are frisky knots of passionate cows. We first satisfy their desire with an AI person’s arm up the rear end, to guide the precious semen to exactly the right place. Artificial insemination means we can use some sexed semen, that only produces heifer calves- that’s what we want in the dairy herd. We will rear some bull calves for the shop and the rest go for sale. Fewer bull calves, give us more of the heifers that we want. Sadly we find the semen treated in this way is a bit less fertile, so we can only use it on our most fertile animals right at the start of the serving period, so they get more chances to stay in the herd. If they don’t get in calf after nine weeks or 3 cycles, we consider they have chosen a career in the beef industry. We have to have them calve in a block to be at the right stage to graze the flushes of grass in spring and autumn.
In the cheese dairy, we are making a little less cheese, while we work out what happens to our exports, which is well over a third of our sales. We want to see how Brexit and the recently announced extra tariffs to the US will impact us, and don’t want to end up with more cheese than we can sell. Meanwhile, we are keeping busy on cheese care as it matures, and packing cheese up for UK Christmases.
FESTIVE CHEESE TASTING EVENING
To help provide inspiration for the upcoming season of entertaining, from the cheeseboard to the wine rack, we are holding a Christmas Cheese and Cider tasting evening on Friday 22nd November in our Farm Shop. Find out more here.