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Mary’s Dairy Diary March 2014

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March on the Farm

The whole world has had exceptional weather – non-stop rain here and in Europe, deep freeze in North America, drought in California, Australia and Brazil, weather whipped into a frenzy by warmer oceans. Farmers around the world are reliant on the weather doing what it’s always done, the seasons being in the right place, seed time and harvest at the right time. That was so important that our ancestors built Stonehenge to tell them the time of year so they would know when to do what to feed themselves. So what to do when the weather is so extreme?

Clear up the damage, for one. Our 30 year old eucalyptus fell, all 88 feet of it, roots ripped from wet soil, just glancing our fruit cage. Owls hoot less frequently – they hunt by sound, so wind and rain leave them hungry, maybe starving. We found a dead buzzard by a broken electricity line – did it break it, or kill itself chasing a leaping spark from the live wire. Spare a thought, and some cash, for those farmers on the Somerset levels, who spent a second winter under water, to help them recover. It’s heartwarming to see how the whole country has leant in and supported them. If we were in that much trouble, we’d want the world to think of us. Our Farm Manager Adam informed me that out 10 year average for rainfall was 2.5 inches, last month alone we had 8 inches. I have attached a link at the end of my diary for anyone who wants to give to the Somerset appeal helping those affected by the flooding.

I can’t help thinking when the weather turns, our wishes for dry and sun will be answered with a drought; weather reverts to the mean.

CROPS 

It’s been warm all winter, and the crops are growing, although their roots are waterlogged. March often gives brisk east winds and dry. The crops want gentle dry, to allow their roots to breathe and chase the water though the soil profile. We will feed the crops, which turns them from yellowing and straggly to green and thriving as if we’ve taken a paintbrush to them.

GRASS

We’ll wave the same magic paintbrush over the grass, either with flood water (other people’s nutrients), dilute slurry from our very full slurry lagoon (all the manure, whey, dairy washings and a lot of rain), or a bag. The cows went out later than usual 2nd March, waiting for the floodwater to subside. We had to buy extra silage to feed animals before the grass grew. Now we wait for ‘magic day’, when the grass growth is more than the cows can eat, we hope that comes by the end of March. Then we know spring is here.

COWS & YOUNGSTOCK

This was the first year we have out wintered the youngstock and dry cows. This is part of us working to get ways of keeping our animals that are stable against whatever shocks the weather throws at us. The simpler the system, the more leeway you have.

The calves thrived on kale and silage, out all winter. They are growing faster than last year’s calves kept inside, and were noticeably healthier – no pneumonia. They grew long woolly coats, and looked happy. We move them every day, so no part of the field gets unduly damaged. That field will go into a spring crop, maize or spring barley later this month.

Their teenage sisters looked happy and equally woolly on our clovery grass. Again, they move on daily, and the grass has recovered – they will go back to the beginning and eat what they grazed in early winter

The dry cows and in-calf heifers were out on the fodder beet. They were nourished adequately by the beet, plus a few silage bales. Those cows are calving now in March, and their almost hibernation in the mud has created toned pelvic muscles and healthy calves. Again, those fields will go to a spring crop this month.

The new calves are thick on the ground, blarting after milk, out as soon as we know they are drinking well, starting on their outdoor lives that their breeding fits them for.

CHEESE

And the new grass-fed milk comes through, yellow and rich in flavour, steaming vats for the cheesemakers to transform in that daily miracle, taking milk, heritage starter, rennet and an age old recipe to make glorious flavours.

-Mary Quicke

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