April – flourishing, joyful, exquisite spring, leaves just unfurled, more greens than you ever thought possible. We all, people, plants and animals, and the whole landscape, are emerging from the drenching we’ve received since Christmas. I disturbed bumble bees at the end of their hibernation while I was weeding my heather plants when it was wet, and they would come out bedraggled, shake themselves fluffy, and fly off. I hope they survived those first few days. Now bumble bees are buzzing in the flowers, flying in their unlikely way past my nose. Are there fewer? Doesn’t look like in on the farm, there seem plenty around in our fields and hedges. We need them!
My impression that the weather is moving to big chunks, getting stuck in one phase for weeks at a time. Weather used to be more variable, rain, then fine, then shower, then warm then cold in succession.
CROPS – The crops have moved from their winter wet to growth. Their roots will not be well developed (a bit like the root rot that comes from overwatering a pot plant). So I’m concerned about a prolonged period of dry weather – the plants won’t be able the chase the water down through the soil profile.
I spoke to someone who was appalled I could be concerned about drought, said they’d emigrate if anyone used the ‘D’ word. The problem is that one season’s weather affects the ability of plants and animals to cope with the challenges of another extreme season. I watched the amazing film ‘Chasing Ice’, that said that glaciers are the canary in the mine for climate change; it feels like farmers may be too.
GRASS – The grass is starting to grow, slowly at fast then gathering pace. At the beginning of April, we watch where each blade of grass is growing for the cows. By the end of April, we are working out which fields we will cut for silage, as the cows start swimming in excess grass.
COWS & YOUNGSTOCK – The calves and heifers have come through the outwintering really well, growing better and staying healthier than last year. They are enjoying the fresh grass.
Sadly, the group of heifers that were out on kale met a badger that was very unwell with TB. When badgers are very sick, just like a human with TB, they find it difficult to breathe, and they nest outside. Sadly, one found its way onto a nice soft pile of hay we had put out for the calves on the kale. The calves must have gone and talked to it, as they will. 26 out of 90 responded to the skin test, which shows they have met the disease (not have it). We know there is a sett nearby that is struggling with TB. It’s difficult to see these lovely calves, the very ones in this article knowing they will be slaughtered for their curiosity.
The cows are now settling well into milking, and having their brief time between calving and getting in calf again. That is the natural way, to make sure the calf turns up on the lushest grass growth. Left to themselves, they try and get in calf much sooner, but we make them wait for at least six weeks. Unlike people, they clean themselves up after calving almost instantly.
The milk is building up for the cheese dairy to process. Six weeks after calving is also when cows produce most milk. It’s beautiful and rich; our cross of Friesian, Swedish Red and Montbeliard giving rich and balanced milk at this time of year, unlike the Holstein, who needs lots of cereal to produce milk of the right quality.
CHEESE – Lots of milk is lots of work in the cheese dairy. We make today’s cheese, and wash and tend the rinds and press the cheese for the previous three days. After that, the team go turning the previous 3 months’ cheese by hand to keep it in good condition. No wonder they have upper bodies to die for, and that it is not work for anyone. The moulds are building up beautifully on the rinds, after some over-lush mould gardens during the wet weather.
The team do a brilliant job doing everything there is to be done, even though the milk tide keeps rising, as delicious as December and January, when they are making a just a third the amount of cheese.