The last of the fruit hangs fermenting on the trees and hedges, an aromatic ruin of this year’s long warmth before the cold weather comes. We saw Yearling deer playing a mad game of tag in the orchard. We thought they’d eaten some fallen apples and the fermentation had gone to their heads! Our house is quieter without the riotous chorus of songbirds defending their territory while they raise their young. I saw a flight of swallows sitting on the ridge of the barn roof gathering in preparation for their long flight to Africa.
The crops are now all safely gathered in, maize harvest and the last of the rich autumn flush of grass fermenting under plastic sheet to exclude air. Plastic is useful to make the fermentation, and we gather it up through the winter to recycle it. In the old days, silage was fermented using a rotten top layer to exclude air, giving silage a bad reputation for smell and waste. It’s part of a farmer’s credentials now to have minimum waste: the cleaner your silage, the better the farmer you are.
We are just getting the winter crops in now, winter wheat, and oats. The idea is that winter crops yield better than spring crops because of that extra time in the ground. They also need tending for longer. This year’s spring barley yielded really well this year, better than the winter crops, and for much less looking after, We’ll keep some ground fallow to till in the spring, giving winter feed for foraging birds. We have put in some more grass and red clover to fields long in arable. They give an almost audible sigh of relief as the grass and clover roots work their magic in restoring organic matter to depleted arable soils. We have spread silt from the bottom of our slurry store across some of the arable fields: liquid gold (if deep brown). Arable farming is much kinder on the soil when crops cycle through animals and the residues get put back on the arable land: the perpetual motion machine that is sustainable farming.
It’s joyful to see the growing heifers in the energizing autumn breeze. I watched the whole group dash from one end of the field to the other. One laggard, who had been grazing and not noticed the fun, looked up, startled to see she was all on her own, and trotted after them trying to look nonchalant, ‘I meant to make an entrance’, rather than, ‘I got left behind’.
I have the team of four young Angus bulls grazing the field in from of my house, where they have been all summer. Whenever I go out into my vegetable garden, they come over and investigate, sniffing inquisitively, friendly little cattle, completely black. I try not to think how delicious their offspring will be as I chat with them. There are three who stay close by and one who is always off to one side. Given they are such herd animals, it must be sad to be the one left out. They are best friends until they compete for the ladies, so good to keep them far from delectable lady aroma!
The fresh calved cows are enjoying the autumn flush on the pastures. This is the time of year when clover spreads strongly, giving a rich feed: not as much grass as in the spring, but higher in protein. Their milk is just coming up as they calve, to join the spring cows’ milk, now too supported by the meteoric growth of rain on warm soil.
It’s lovely to see the milk in the vat, the curd in the cooler, and the new cheeses, almost incandescent in their freshly-larded form, sitting in the nursery stores.