Thriving, glorious June! The leaves all unfurled, the hedges at their fullest and most flower-filled, the young of all creatures fat and thriving. I watched a little family of mallard ducks, the ducklings paddling like crazy, concentrating on keeping up with mum, stretched in a long line behind her, little scraps making headway against the stream. I dug some compost from my compost heap, essential to grow my flowers and salads for my table and the Farm Kitchen. I found the papery eggs of a slow worm, a huge clutch of them. I covered them over, and a few weeks later I went back and was pleased to see the eggs had hatched. I love to see those beautiful deep copper–coloured reptiles, once I’ve overcome that primeval fear of their snakey shape.
CROPS – The crops are thriving as sun gets to its annual peak, plants extending themselves to make full use of its life-giving energy. The barley ears start filling. The wheat’s green flowers, ears except all fibre and no starch, pump their invisible pollen into the air. The oilseed rape’s pods set and swell, seeds green and juicy, collecting the sun’s energy to turn into that lovely nutty oil.
The maize finally warms up enough to grow. A sub-tropical plant, it sulks in a jaundiced manner in our brisk English spring, making its visible and heady growth in these four warmest months of the year. We think of it as a new plant: a great maize-growing champion, Geoff Vickers, told me he’d seen reports of maize growing competitions in the 1880s, run by the Agricultural Societies, those great agents of agricultural progress in Britain.
GRASS – The grass, that true glory of our farming: its thoughts turn away from leaf, which is what our cows and us are interested in, and turn to sex, seed, and posterity. So we, with the cows, engage in a biting, cutting conversation to persuade it to get its mind back to the green stuff. The cows graze paddocks at the leafy stage; it is growing so fast some paddocks get away from them. We cut and harvest those paddocks just before the plants flower, though they throw up the stalks in hope. The grass growth is at its most vigorous in search of flowering, so we cut it down in its prime. Again and again it will try and flower, and again and again we cut it. It doesn’t give up the desire to set seed, to reproduce sexually, until the autumn comes and cools its ardour.
YOUNGSTOCK – We keep all the heifer dairy calves and rear them outside for much of the time, out to graze from a young age. The crossbred animals thrive outside, enjoying the open air, learning how to graze well. For the first few months, we bring them milk, which supports them until they are able to get all their nourishment from grass. To begin with, they will nibble the sweet and tender tips of the leaves, and soon, as their rumens develop, they learn how to curl their tongues around the leaves and push it up against their dental pads, cutting the plants with their teeth, which sit at the bottom of their mouths. This way of eating means they need a reasonable length of grass, more than sheep or horses, who have a set of teeth top and bottom of their mouths.
Put good grass in front of them, and they will grow well. By fifteen or sixteen months, they are two-thirds full size, and big (and fruity enough) to yearn for a calf themselves. They are pregnant the same time as us, 280 days or so, and are nearly full grown by the time they calve. We serve them to a good dairy bull. They spend the summer, autumn, and winter growing the calf and bring new life to the dairy herd and start milking in February.
COWS – The cows, too, feel the urge to reproduce, to counter the turning years with another generation in preparation. The cows yearn for a calf, and we, in the form of straws of semen inserted deep into the correct place, fulfil them. The straws enable us to get the perfect breeding for grass grazing, fertility and cheesemaking: for our farm, Friesian, Swedish Red, Montbeliarde, and now with a little touch of Jersey. Only later, if they haven’t taken to the straws, do we use our Belted Galloway Bulls, Rooster and McCoy. The resulting (delicious) calves will never join the dairy herd. We only breed dairy cows from those ones who best thrive on our farm, shown by getting in calf from one or two matings.
CHEESE – The grass is slightly stalkier now in June as the plant tries to send up its flower heads. This makes the milk more creamy. Fibre stimulates the cows’ rumens to produce more butterfat, so the milk returns to its richness after the very leafy grass of May. The cheese becomes a little richer in flavour and slightly softer in texture. The cows are milking very well, and that makes more work in the cheese dairy. As the weather heats up, that makes for hot work in the cheese dairy. More cheese made is more cheese to wash, lard and cloth, and then care for in store.
STORE – The stores work harder to keep the temperature and humidity just right. Fortunately the solar panels on the cheese store make more electricity the more the sun shines, a perfect combination.
FARM KITCHEN – In the Kitchen, we are developing our menus. I love people coming and seeing the calves, cows, and grass grow, while they are enjoying the delicious products of those animals, and those fields.
AWARDS – Delighted to announce we won ‘Best English Cheese’ at the British Cheese Awards 2015 for our Goats Cheese, Gold for Extra Mature Cheddar, Silver for Oak Smoked Cheddar and Bronze for Elderflower and Vintage Cheddar.
Nicola Fleming sent me this lovely letter:
“Just wanted to say we absolutely love your Traditional Hard Goats Cheese—dare I say it is better than parmesan!
We particularly enjoy shavings of the Hard Goats Cheese onto our favourite pasta dish of leftover chicken pieces, onion, mushrooms, rigatoni with mascarpone as a sauce. The dish is tasty on its own but with the addition of the Goats cheese it just takes the dish to a higher level of taste. Wow!”
Thanks Nicola, just a perfect summer dish, I tried it with a salad picked from the garden.