January on the Farm
The start of the hundred hungry days between Christmas and Easter or the slow beginnings of the new year, the darkness rolling back minute by minute? Both – the start of the hard time, when the whole earth looks scoured by the cold, and look closer, and you see the stirrings of new life, harbinger of the spring to come. The catkin buds swell, the primrose leaves grow, the snowdrops start to flower, reassurance that the warm time is coming.
The little egrets are back on the cows’ fields, beautiful, elegant, shining white. I caught sight of a heron standing motionless in the cold river water, patient and timeless. The bleak river is rich enough for them. The deer get hungry and bolder, eating the kale we’ve grown for the cows, leaving their slot foot marks over the fields – have we disturbed them or reduced the numbers enough to leave us sufficient food for the cows and a sensible harvest for this year?
CROPS – We drilled some barley early, bitten by the difficult weather the previous autumn, and that’s a little over proud, and has got battered and fungal – we need a little deer damage to eat back the excess growth. Later drilled wheat looks orderly, that prim look of a well-drilled crop, all the plants in the right place, growing evenly. In the winter fallowed fields, charms of finches flash over, interested in the disturbance I create as I walk.
The fodder beet is coming into its own, feeding dry cows and growing heifers with their fat sweet roots. When we first introduced it to them, they tentatively nibbled the green leaf, and yanked the roots out of the ground. They didn’t know what to do with them at first, and started playing with them and kicking them down the hill. They soon caught up with the idea that their football was sweet and yummy – as sweet as sugar beet, with pale golden flesh.
GRASS – Milking cows grazed the grass till Christmas, and now are tucked up in the barn to let the pastures grow back – except on the frozen days, it’ll grow a little – 5 kilos of dry matter a hectare a day – that’s like five bags of sugar spread over a football pitch including the stands – not much, but it all adds up. The earthworms restore the pastures, smoothing out the hoof marks left from the season’s grazing. We’ve trialled some machines to help break up the compacted layer just under the surface you get with so many hooves going over the ground, and the fields are responding, with rain soaking in more easily.
COWS – The autumn cows are in the barn, eating the stored silage – summer time shifted to winter, grass and maize and wheat. Now we make their beds, bring them their food and clear their manure, the hard work of winter. Their milk becomes very rich, with more cheese produced – now taking eight litres to produce a kilo of cheese, rather than closer to ten as we do in the summer. It’s rich and sumptuous, deeply buttery.
Less milk, though, with so many cows dry, restoring themselves before calving next month. Less cheese to make, and less cheese to send out, after the rush last month. So now is the time we scrub shelves, mend racks, catch up on cleaning, plan next year, and catch up with our customers to find out how Christmas went. The cheese store, our cathedral of cheese is a little more empty; the cheese gone out on its adventures across the globe for people to enjoy. Now for the New Year, and getting ready to fill the cheese store up again. It’s a new year, and we’ll keep making the cheese we love, and we hope you enjoy it too!
RECIPE – My niece Lucy Quicke has come back to the farm – very exciting, and like her mum, she’s a great cook. She gave me this “Very Simple Quickes Omelette.”
1 tablespoon of cooking butter
Handful of frozen peas
Quarter of leek, chopped
4 closed cup mushrooms, sliced
Quarter of a red and yellow pepper, chopped
1 crushed garlic clove
Dash of semi skimmed milk
Large handful of grated Quickes Ex Mat Cheddar
Heat the butter in a pan and add leek, peas, mushrooms, peppers and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes. Whisk the eggs and milk together and mix in the cheese. Pour over the vegetables and cook for a few minutes until golden brown underneath. Place under a preheated grill for a further 5 minutes and serve immediately.
After Christmas, I need some easy recipes for party exhaustion, and this one just fits the bill. Happy New Year, and keeping loving cheese!Photo Credit: Eduardo Amorim via Compfight