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October on the farm


The hot summer has given hedgerows dripping with fruit. Now they are squelching into the damp corruption of autumn. Catch the last fruit as you can before time and damp seize them. Sloes, blackberries, hips and haws, even wild hops have rioted everywhere. The orchards contain the last of the fruit, apples and perry pears. I must pick any remaining quince and medlar, both such particular flavours that pair so well with our cheese. The first trace of frost scorches the pumpkin plants, leaving the fruits perfect, bright and incongruous under the blasted leaves.

We’ve had young buzzards around the house. One perched on the washing-line pole and took off heavily as I turned to see him, calling to the world in general in that ‘just evicted from the nest and who is to feed me’ outraged manner. 


We are drilling wheat and barley. We’ve got a new ‘no till’ drill. We want to preserve the soil structure and avoid disturbing the life beneath the soil. It places the seed in the soil, disturbing the soil only to place the seed. Crops we drilled this way last year were less weedy, as every time you disturb the soil, you bring up new weed seeds to germinate. The fields look a bit more scruffy, and the track record is they look cleaner next harvest. We want to preserve the soil organic matter, which reduces when you cultivate more deeply.


We want dry weather for tilling, and we want rain to grow grass. Typical farmer, never happy. The silage pits are looking empty. We didn’t have a second cut in July, we fed winter feed in August and September and maize harvest was two thirds of what we’d hoped for. We’d like to snatch a good late cut to make sure we have enough for winter. If you see us out in the fields with the silage kit, root for us getting the winter feed in. We want a short winter, as most farmers do after the dry summer. We hope that the rich hedgerows don’t presage a hard winter, as myth has it. 


Cows and heifers are out grazing the lush autumn grass. We are planning how much longer to graze this year and how much to leave to graze early next year.  We keep the grass leafy to provide as rich feed as the dwindling sun allows.  We’re still feeding milk out at pasture to the youngest heifers. It helps them cope with colder, wetter weather. When we weigh them, we will see who is thriving, and who needs a little more TLC.

The last few autumn cows are calving. It’s a great relief when the last one pops out.  This herd has been calving for the last two months and it demands something to keep focussed. We are looking out for cows coming bulling, cycling, demanding the bull. Easy, girls, give your bodies a chance to recover. Fields start looking frisky as cows ride each other, little knots of cows all at the same stage. It’s too early and we will make them wait till next month.


In the cheese dairy, we settle into comfortable milk, neither herd too close to calving. The weather is not too hot, there is good clover in the grass, the milk is nicely balanced. We are sending cheese off to Christmas in points east and west across the globe. It goes by boat so we need to send it off a couple of months before it’s needed.  

M A R Y  Q U I C K E

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