February on the Farm
It was so exciting to see the first snowdrops peeping up last month. This time of year is tricksy – the early winter was mild, no deep frost, just wild wind and rain. Will we be bitten by the arctic bear, who will drive the growing signs of approaching spring back underground? February can be ‘fill the dykes’ wet, or high pressure that keeps us shrouded in mist, or Siberian cold, or even warm and sunny. It matters to beast and birds and us.
A long winter challenges the hibernating creatures, like the bumble bees I find tucked into heather plants in my garden. It’s demanding for birds finding seeds, and the hunted and the hunters alike. It’s demanding for us as we hope to relieve our silage stock with grazed grass, and ova fur crops would like drier, less waterlogged roots.
As farmers, we do what we can, and then we wait and trust in the weather and the hidden natural processes to work their magic to have the growth happen.
It’s a resting time for crops, everything waiting for the year to turn. The crops are looking wet, and would benefit from a cold blast to dry and open the soil, and kill the mildews and moulds that like wet and mild. Over the years, people have bred out resistance to disease in pursuit of yield – I was interested to hear that researchers are looking to put that primeval robustness back into crop plants.
We are looking to buy a little more silage from neighbours this year to top up our silage stocks. Last year’s late spring meant we went into the winter with less than we ideally wanted to feed our animals.
This has been our first year of outwintering our dry cows and young stock. The trick is to get everything set up so the food and water is ready for them and you can move them every day to avoid too much damage in a wet period.
We grew fodder rape and kale, which went in a little late, has carried on growing, but was not the amount we hoped. This year we’ll plant it after an earlier cut of whole crop silage, wheat or barley cut before it’s ripe, to get longer growing time and a bigger crop.
The fodder beet grew really well, great towers of feed that the cows at first didn’t quite know what to do with. They settled in, and we worked out they need more shelter and run back, and enough straw to balance the excessive sweetness of the beet. In the wet they were up to their hocks in mud, but seemed contented enough, growing great shaggy coats, looking like hairy mountain cows. They’d gaze at you, too busy with negotiating the next beet plant to fuss about.
Heifers were also still out on grass, moving across paddocks daily, like we do with the cows. It’s been impressive to see the paddocks recover even after torrential rain because they are there for such a short time.
Grass – will we, won’t we be able to turn the milking cows out early? Will the ground be dry enough, will hard frosts come and stop the grass growth. We watch the forecasts, the fields and the silage clamp to work out the best time to take the milking cows out.
The cows calve; we bring them back from their out wintering, woolly beasts now turning into dairy cows. It will be interesting to see if they lose their mountain look, and we aim to have them grazing as soon as they calve, for them to keep their out wintered robustness.
Their calves will go out onto grass too, as soon as they are drinking reliable amounts of milk to look after themselves, hardy animals from birth onwards.
Grazed grass is that magic ingredient in the warm vats of milk, giving a extra layer of complexity to the cheese. We’ve just had the best grading ever – Keith Plowman, our external grader, takes a core from each vat of 3 month old cheese, assesses it and tastes it with us. The cheese from last autumn’s grass was glorious and rich, benchmark cheese after benchmark cheese. We graded the year old cheese, from last year’s winter cheese – lovely, balanced and complex too, and I just had that yearning for the grass richness.
We prepare the stores and the shelves for the onslaught of the spring cows milk, to restore the stock, reduced by everyone’s winter feasting. It’s lovely to think of our cheese providing joy an pleasure on so many people’s celebrations.
Farm Shop – On 9th March we are holding a ‘Sampling Sunday’ from 11am-3pm, come and meet our fantastic local producers and sample the delicious Devon produce they make, including Fred’s kitchen, JB preservers and Hunter’s Brewery.
Recipe – now it’s the time for nourishing and warming food – our Whey Butter was nominated as a ‘Forgotten Food’ part of the Slow Food Global Ark of Taste campaign, celebrating small scale produce whilst preserving edible biodiversity around the world. This recipe is part of a series featuring our whey butter courtesy of Slow Food Chiefs.
Whey Butter Aioli with Winter Vegetables and Gnocchi
20g Anchovy (can be substituted for another herb if preferred.)
250g Whey Butter (melted and cooled)
7g English Mustard
5g Parsley, chopped
1 Shallot, chopped
1 clove Garlic, chopped
75g White Wine
Seasoning to taste
- Combine the shallot, garlic and wine in a small pan and bring the mixture to the boil. Continue to heat until the liquid has reduced by half.
- Transfer the mixture to a blender and combine with the egg yolk, capers, anchovies (if using) and mustard.
- Blend to a smooth paste.
- With the motor still running, slowly add the butter to form an smooth emulsion.
- Fold in the chopped parsley.
- Serve the aioli with a medley of seasonal vegetables from the garden, cabbage, parsnips or sweet potato and fresh gnocchi for an added treat!