This spring seems more beautiful that any spring I remember. The slow build with the cooler weather tantalisingly stretched early spring out. Then we had the bright dry middle, when buds burst, grass grew, the hedges flowered. Now we have the grand finale of spring. The may, the hawthorn flower, covers the hedges with blossom. The trees drip with new leaves of every green that you can imagine, and few you hadn’t believed possible, and young of every kind ventures out into the big world.
That has the buzzards and other birds of prey very happy: daft young rabbits sniffing the growing grass make the job of rearing a clutch of hungry meat-eating chicks considerably easier. A young buzzard waits for me to pass down the lane, knowing rabbits, field mice, and voles will startle into his waiting talons. I’ve seen sparrowhawks use cars in that way to assist their hunting; this year is the first time I’ve seen buzzards do it.
CROPS – In the fields, the crops grow. Warmth and moisture drive the dance of their growth stages. The stately progression of growth through winter and early spring now gains pace to become a wild bacchanal as ears emerge in barley and wheat, and the rape flowers its vivid yellow. The crops use the soil’s precious moisture to grow and flower, harvesting the sun’s energy to set seed, to ensure their species’ future. As farmers, we take that innate drive in plants and animals and harness it to feed our species.
PLAYGROUND – In the farm playground, it’s lovely to see children connecting with this process as they play with the tractors and our pretend cows, and see the grass grow and the lambs and calves eating it. Children know how to play, and we gently inform them of the facts of farming. The children seem to relish the connections they start to see.
GRASS – The cows are day and night at pasture, now there is plenty of grass to feed them. Last month’s anxious wait to have enough grass available for them almost overnight changes to measuring how much we need to cut to avoid the grass going long, stalky and unpalatable in front of the cows. We close up the paddocks they will never eat in time, and cut it for winter feed.
SILAGE – Silage making is now a huge enterprise undertaken by contractors who go from farm to farm with maybe a million pounds worth of tackle. Mowers whizz from farm to farm, cutting to catch the good weather. Tedders, with alien looking steel fingers, turn the grass to dry it. The spread grass gets ordered into swaths when the tedder fingers turn the other way. Along comes the king of the operation, the forage harvester, a hungry mouth that claws the grass into its whirling knives, which chop the grass into bite sized lengths, then throws it into the following caravanserai of trailers hauled by skilful drivers. Back to the silage pit, and the heaviest tractor carries and rolls the tipped grass into the enclosed heap, where it will ferment just so under plastic to give a good feed for cows to eat when the grass stops growing next winter. It’s a joyful job, especially when the contractor makes it to your farm in the fine weather window. It is satisfying knowing that some of next winter’s feed is safely put away.
COWS – The plants drive to reproduce. The cows do too. They’ve just recovered from calving, and yearn eagerly to do it all again. At the beginning of May we watch all the spring calving cows to see if they are keen to breed, which they show by avidly riding each other. In the middle of the month we start to satisfy that desire. To start with they get the AI technician’s arm up the back passage, guiding by feel the precious semen into the one fertile horn of the uterus – they need to work out which side is pumping, or the semen will be wasted. In the first 3 weeks, almost all the cows will enjoy a service, and about two thirds will become pregnant if we’ve got everything right with our fertile little cows. They will get another chance at a dairy bull, semen drawn from the best bulls in the world for grazing and producing the right milk for our cheese. We select the best Friesians, Swedish Reds, Montbeliards and a little dab of Jersey. After that, any cows still not pregnant get one go with an eager bull, our little Belted Galloways Rooster and McCoy, then we consider they have chosen a career in the beef industry.
CHEESE – The cows are milking very well, which means words are sparse in the cheese dairy. We have to take care to make great cheese every day, even when muscles ache with the sheer weight of curd to handle. Our cheese is handmade, and we do not have double the hands when the milk is double.
GRADING – We’ve just graded last year’s cheese made at this time, and I’m proud to say we’ve had the best result ever—98% in the very top category, and all of them I’m happy to own as Quicke’s.
FARM SHOP – In the Farm Shop, come and taste the cheese—I’m really enjoying our mature cheddar, 15 months old. It’s beautifully balanced, rich, buttery, with layers of flavour that tell the story of our farm, the seasons, and our traditional craft. In the Farm Kitchen, I’m really enjoying sharing my love for edible flowers and salads from unusual plants, accompanying freshly prepared dishes that express the essence of our beautiful valley.
We are fortunate to be hosting some resourceful and hardworking interns from South Africa, Niel Neethling and Elzahn Nel. They were homesick for a proper South African braai (barbecue). They spent the morning preparing a delicious lunch: mushrooms stuffed with caramelised onions, lamb chops and sausages, and pumpkin, all prepared on the barbecue, as well as a delicious malfa pudding (like sticky toffee pudding) and proper custard. They made delicious Braaibroodjies—toasted sandwiches—on the barbecue.
Braaibroodjies: Cut white bread generously. Butter well, right to the crusts. Fill well with your favourite. I loved their apricot jam & grated Quickes Mature Cheddar braaibroodjie. Then they made sliced tomato, caramelised onion, and grated Quickes Mature Cheddar, and that was glorious. Toast well on each side on the barbecue. Eat hot. Make enough to eat cold. Niel and Elzahn said people fight over who eats them for breakfast. They didn’t make it that far, half a sandwich each came in as a perfect supper after a blow-out lunch. Thanks for a lovely South African Sunday lunch!
It’s that time of year again! We are planning for our annual Open Farm Sunday June 7th—watch our video from last year and see why it is such an important scheme.