August on the Farm
Rich landscapes, full of harvest or the promise of harvest. Everything is at its most thriving. We saw a yearling fallow buck start up from her resting place in long grass on the edge of a field of spring barley, as we were almost upon her. Then there was the doe and large this year’s kid running down the lane. It’s lovely to have few enough deer to enjoy the ones we have, not worry about them taking much more than their share of our crops. To keep them at a sensible number (given each mature doe will have a fawn each year) we will need to harvest the increase in numbers each year. We’ll have venison in the farm shop and served up in the Kitchen, to share with everyone. On the same walk, we saw a young badger run towards us in the evening light. He stopped, stared at us, then dashed in the culvert just below Tom’s feet, the entrance only a hand’s breadth away from where he was standing. Agile, healthy and sleek, I’m glad to say.
CROPS – We’ve harvested winter barley – we’d sown lots because the deer don’t like to eat the prickly awns. The crop was better than we’ve had for years. Rain and dry in the end came at the right times. Wheat looks lovely, free of deer grazing. Now we wait to see if the harvest fulfils all that hopeful promise out there in the fields. Never work with children or animals, they say. They could add the weather, even more random; we have no control over it. We just work to give ourselves the biggest margin for those random events to happen, to limit the downside.
The maize keeps growing, powered by those great leaves, solar collectors every one. Then out pokes the flower, first the male bit, the tassel that stands upright. Then comes the silk, the female bits. In a visible orgy of airborne sex, the pollen flies from the stiff tassels, and finds its way to the sweet, soft, yielding silk, where it worms its way to quicken the flower and form each seed in the cob. When you eat a young sweet corn, you can still see the silk attached to each grain, memory of summertime frolics.
We’ve grown good crops of fodder beet. Some we will sell to an anaerobic digester where we have concern about the health of nearby badgers, it is pure liquorice to them, drawing them to its sweetness. Some, near robust setts, we plan to fence the wildlife away and graze cows over winter on it.
GRASS – grew the fastest it ever has in the spring, and put the brakes on with the drier weather. We’ve harvested a good amount for winter, and hope to catch a little more this month or next to make up for the fodder beet we are selling off. The clover finishes flowering and gets into its stride spreading across the ground, rooting where it goes. We want to get as much clover as we can, it’s so full of protein for the cows, and its roots harvest nitrogen from the air to manure the grass around it.
HEIFERS – are thriving on the clover, each group shiny, growing and nosy, coming up to greet you. We’ve just got a mobile handling kit so we can do all those little attentions that animals need in their field. That avoids the fun but time-consuming stampedes as we used to do. We were always herding the animals together and driving them to the buildings for their fly treatment, worming, weighing or whatever. You have to keep them all in a group, not so easy if you go past woods or turnings or across roads. There are always delicious bits of grass to distract them, or the ornery one (usually the Montbeliard cross, very independent minded) that decides she’d rather go the other way. Much better to keep them in the paddock, less drama for everyone.
COWS – calving again, this time the autumn cows to provide milk through the winter. That’s partly because people eat more cheddar in the autumn and Christmas, and like it at a year old, and partly to keep enough milk coming through the cheese dairy to keep everyone busy. The cows can calve outside at this time of year. They spend a time in the maternity ward, all together, on a paddock without too much grass, eating straw to keep their digestions going. One by one, their udders will firm and fill. Then a cow decides to find a nice quiet spot away from but in sight of the herd, where she sits down, stands up, turns round, driven by the processes of birth. The calf starts its progress down the birth canal, she stands up, her tail arched out, the water bag comes, the little feet, then long forelegs, then nose, and in rush once the shoulders are free, out comes the calf in a liquid flop on the ground. Mum turns round to see what’s happened, and licks the calf to breath. It takes that first breath, then slowly, driven by ancient need, it tries out its impossibly wobbly legs, gets up and nuzzles, licking and sucking till it finds the precious teat with its life-giving first milk. We check them, and mostly stand back. Our cross bred cows, as long as we’ve done our feeding and supplementation right, calve easily, with calves that like living.
We couldn’t find one little calf, until she got hungry, and poked her nose out of a tractor tyre. She’d curled up inside the tyre, gone there maybe to seek that reassuring swaddling effect of the tyre sides. We hadn’t seen her before because she had very few white markings. Glad to find you, girl, we were worried!
The spring cows are now mostly happily 3 months in calf, quiet and as yet unburdened, settling into milking on the late summer pastures with its rich clover.
CHEESE – in the gap before the autumn cows’ milk takes off, we close the dairy to do our annual maintenance and repairs – clean the tops of walls, the ceiling, repair pipes, test and renew the key bits of kit. Then in a sparklingdairy, we start again. After a rest, it’s hard if the weather is hot, working over warm vats, making big cheeses in heat and humidity. Turning young cheese in the cool stores suddenly becomes much more attractive, all of it thirsty work.
STORES – We are doing a project to draught proof our cheese stores. We generate electricity from the photovoltaic panels on the roof, it would be foolish to waste it in chilling warm air coming through air gaps. It’s unglamorous but essential.
SHOP – thank you for supporting our shop, with so many of its products from just round here. Come and see our prizes – we’ve just won Best Cheddar with our Mature at the Great Yorkshire Show.
QUICKES FARM KITCHEN – it’s been great to serve those lovely products in our Kitchen Cafe. I’ve been busy growing salad and flowers in my garden to go with Deborah Custance Baker’s delicious food. We’ve got good coffee, monitored by our passionate coffee buffs on the sales team. I want it to be the best it can be to show of the delicious food of this valley, so our guests can support everything that makes it so beautiful.
AUGUST EVENT – on Thursday 25th September Tim Harris, The Devon Chef, will be doing a cookery demonstration, cooking a delicious dinner with our lovely local ingredients, that we will then share. Visit the shop or Facebook for further details.
YOGA – We are also starting a Yoga class at the Kitchen, with Cassandra Collins, on Thursdays. Relax in beautiful surroundings!