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turnout 29 April - in Cow Moor with some of the herd

turnout 29 April - in Cow Moor with some of the herd

It’s done – they’re out! Well, bar a handful of dry cows that’ll stay in to finish the remains of opened haylage bales.

I expected the new bull might be tricky to move. Buying him when I did last autumn he didn’t have an opportunity to run with the herd and he isn’t familiar with our farm or boundaries. Apart from which frustration and hormonal overload could make him very unpredictable. Not counting his twelve hour steamy sexathon with Severn back last September he’s been denied sex and those tantalising teasing heifers have been keeping him on his toes!

appraising...

appraising...

He came out of his pen as if ignited by rocket fuel. The almost-tonne of him bucked, kicked and charged through the cow palace roaring like the minotaur himself. And those saucy heifers with their come-hither eyes? Not so quick to throw their knickers at him now – they backed into the furthest corner of their pen, huddled and quaking, refusing to budge and inch!

We eventually persuaded them out of their corner and into the yard to face their bête noir. We then brought the cows and new calves into the group and were ready for the off.

I shout from inside the cow palace “Okay, calves okay. Ready when you are. Stop if I shout…”

Robert and Olly yell above the incessant cacophony of calling cattle “We’re opening the top yard gate now. You ready?”

“Yes” I scream over the noise – and the jostling rolling tide of  heaving motley-moulting red bodies surges forward leaving baby calves standing and stunned as their mothers disappear from sight.

It’s my job to keep the calves grouped and moving as best I can until they get the hang of running with the herd. All these calves have known is their secure cow palace world. One calf manages to slip through a gap by the cattle crush. I shriek “Hang on! Escapee, escapee. Hold the cattle!”

new man? Okaaay...

new man? Okaaay...

Olly and Robert do their best to steady and hold the stampede as I manoeuvre the calf back in with its herd. As I succeed the bull and a heifer break rank and steam off down the lane…we let them run holding back the cows; we know they won’t go too far (here’s praying) without the main herd. The herd strains and pushes forward eager to catch up with the disappearing pair though luckily Robert and Olly manage to control the pace.
We are prepared, the gate to Cow Moor is open and the rest of the lane blocked off, the bull and his consort swerve into the field, Robert and Olly step aside allowing the cattle to stream in after them. It’s done. The herd is safe and contained. We leave them in Cow Moor for the morning to let off steam, establish the pecking order and come to terms with the appearance of a new bull. After lunch, when they are hopefully calmer, we will walk them a mile or so down the road to the River Meadows.

this looks as if I'm cheering...I was actually trying to get rid of midges biting my ear!

this looks as if I'm cheering with relief...I was actually trying to get rid of midges biting my ear!

green shoots growing in the biome

green shoots growing in the biome

The biome begins to blossom!

the kitchen table (and linen cupboard) is providing the ambient growing temperature for seedlings!

the kitchen table (and linen cupboard) provides the ambient growing temperature for seedlings!

It began as a small seed of  an idea in our heads following yet another atrocious summer and a rotting defunct vegetable garden.We decided to take the plunge. Cleared an area of scrub, trees and detritus behind the fruit cage and booked in digger Dave to level the site.  Then wondered what we’d done as the rain continued and conditions became increasingly difficult.

Biting the bullet we ordered a polytunnel ‘kit’ and  began the massive construction operation. Backs were almost broken along with spirits. Eventually the monster was assembled. The next task? Working hundreds of tonnes of sodden clay topsoil chockablock with tree, bramble and weed roots into a friable workable tilth. Tonnes of chippings and sand were added along with lime to produce a neutral soil.  Robert hit his wall…but somehow found the strength to soldier on.

men at work. site clearance

men at work. site clearance

digger-driver-dave does his bit

digger dave does his bit

men at work

cold and frustrated

form this...

from this...

...to this

...to this

and eventually this!

and eventually this!

The weather is all too seducing. I feel like a naughty schoolgirl playing truant as I abandon  indoor chores.

“I have to go and pick up some bales from the top.” I call out to anyone listening as I guiltily slide out of the office donning wellies and sunglasses (the eyes haven’t recovered from troglodyte-sight following the last couple of years’ rain). On the bobcat I change the scraper for the grab and trundle off up the lane, dogs in tow. The snail pace of the bobcat feels just fine today, and despite the engine noise the vibrant gloriousness of the farm can be hungrily appreciated.

Mission accomplished all too quickly so I reluctantly return to my office and try to concentrate. I get sidetracked by twitter, I get sidetracked by chatty emails, I get sidetracked by the phone. I just get side tracked by anything.

Robert calls up the stairs “Want to come on a walk?”

to help new puppies aclimatise themselves with the farm and surrounds whilst keeping safe, I carry them in a rucksack in between letting them explore. Willow has taken to this means of transport like a duck to water

to help a new puppy acclimatise themselves with the farm and surrounds whilst keeping safe, I carry them in a rucksack in between letting them explore. Willow has taken to this means of transport like a duck to water

“I’m trying to work.” I shout back “Trying…” And it’s definitely trying “So yes please…hold on a second and I’m there.” I give up all pretence, close down the computer, grab socks, rucksack, puppy and dogs and I’m off.

Robert’s day time interest-of-the moment is hoverflies. Having been on his course he’s all fired up. So with butterfly net, collection jars and an insect pooter – a thing to suck up insects into a collection tube (and I thought he was talking about a computer…) – he scours the hedge and wood line of all accessible fields and moorland; this wonderful weather has been perfect for insects, especially hoverflies.

We decide on Scadsbury, an hourglass culm grassland field bordered by ancient woodland leading down to the River Lew.  Primroses dotted among the soft pink-mauves and deep purple-blues of violets spill out of the woodland into the scalloped edges of the field; nature’s own subtle embroidery.   Dancing a jig at the very tops of pussy willow trees, males of the beautiful moth Adela cuprella seek to attract mates.  This small moth, with its metallic bronze and copper wings, and flowing white antennae many times the body length, has never before been recorded in Devon but it’s common this year.  The book says it comes and goes, some years being very seldom seen if at all, and others in some numbers.

the first bluebell flowers in Scadsbury Woods

the first bluebell flowers in Scadsbury Woods

Down by the river clumps of pungent wild garlic are linked through a green carpet of bluebells teetering on the edge of flowering.

after much newness and excitement...

after much newness and excitement...

Robert finds his hoverflies while the dogs and I introduce Willow to woodlands, boggy grassland and rivers. She’s entranced while we (yes, even Skye and Ness, though they have tried their best to ignore her) are enchanted by her!

...Willow falls sound asleep!

...Willow falls sound asleep!

Every Easter Sunday we hold an egg competition. Will is master egghead who devises new ingenious eggcentric challenges.

Over the years we’ve had ‘How to Get an Egg Across a Lake ( using air power)’, ‘Keeping an Egg in the Air the longest’, ‘How Far can you Splatter an Egg’…how to cook an egg, how to dissemble an egg, egg creations, egg songs, egg poetry, egg music. Around fifteen to sixteen years of eggsperiences.

Locks Park mafia keep a close eye on proceedings

Locks Park mafia keep a close eye on proceedings

This year the challenge was ‘The Most Remarkable Thing You Can Do with an Egg’. Entries were slow starting  but by Saturday they were pouring in from across the world.

Winner of the World Class. Joe and Jess's  most remarkable thing they did with an egg...!

Winner of the World Class. The most remarkable thing Joe and Jess did with an egg!

Judging was hard. Bribes of unmentionable proportions were bandied across continents.  In the end the judge decided to categorise the entrants (those bribes worked) and was happy to award a first prize to all competitors!

Undisputed winner of the Under 10 European Entry - Camille's egg juggling!

Undisputed winner of the Under 10 European Entry - Camille's egg juggling!

There are too many to upload. A big thank you to all participants, judges and competition inventors!

Here she is!

Willow's first day at Loks Park Farm

Willow's first day at Locks Park Farm

Robert has asked me to formally introduce you to Willow Lark Thylacine…‘Umm? What?’ I can here you thinking. Let me explain.

We were being indecisive between the choice of Willow and Lark (elegant, graceful, dainty. swift, fluid, alive). As the suitability of each was being tossed backward and forward between the family, Robert, in a world of his own, was staring at her quizzically. “I’ve got it.” He suddenly exclaimed “I know exactly. She reminds me of a Thylacine.” (You, of course, are totally familiar with the extinct Tasmanian Tiger? In fact, I’m sure it’s just what you were thinking too…) “Thylacine. That’s what we should call her, Thylacine!” He rushed off to get his mammal book for those who were looking more than a little perplexed.

taking it all in

taking it all in

In the meantime ‘puppy’ was getting a little fed up with what she thought was a quite obvious choice, and decided to make it abundantly clear to us the next time ‘her’ name was called. So with instant recognition,  a bound onto my lap and  a million little licks,  she was, she informed us …Willow!

Robert, a little put out that we hadn’t rapturously agreed on his choice, thought, in those obviously formal situations (?), she should be known by her full name of Willow Lark Thylacine…

a wee bit sleepy - but I shan't give in...

a wee bit sleepy - but I shan't give in...

She’s a delight. She’s bright, alert and quite enchanting. A definite people person she has won over the hearts of the whole family.  Not a collie though, not a collie at all. Instead of finding the draftiest, most inhospitable spot in which to fall asleep, she actively searches for downy comfy-warm softness (fleecy snug-basket in front of aga)! Bright as a new penny, she’s already sussed out the characters of Skye and Ness, who, surprisingly, are not as put out as I thought they might be. She asks to go out for a wee or poo and has good recall of the house and immediate surrounds, knowing how to get both out and in – a cat flap for her present size would be perfect.

I will keep you fully informed of her progress!

Mary asked how I now managed to tweet. After all, she commented, you’re running a farm, a business, and holding a blog together. This week, Mary, believe me, it’s been challenging!

I returned from Marseille with a French cold – very different, my body maintained, from an English one – more refined, targeted, kind of specific.

And as I arrived home on Monday evening one of the cows, Wildcat, began to calve. It was a straight forward calving, with no problems, but it meant we didn’t get to bed until well after midnight.

I’ve also had a hot line to New Zealand. Joe, my son, and his partner Jess were waiting for their baby to be born – she was two weeks late. Jess, as you can imagine, was almost at her wits end. Every minute over one’s due date seems an eternity, so two weeks must seem interminable.

A small problem had arisen with Jemima’s calf (born whilst I was away) who developed an infected navel and needed daily treatment with antibiotics.

My last parcel of fat lambs had been procured by an organic co-operative and were due to go on either Tuesday or Wednesday. At present there’s a shortage of organic lamb, and prices are excellent, but selling this way when it is not my norm involves a fair amount of organisation – entailing paperwork, transport arrangements and bellying-out. This last involves shearing the tummy and crutch area – a doddle for an experienced shearer but a little more testing for a novice like me.

A group of friends – the erstwhile ‘Pie-nighters’ were convening here for a meal on Wednesday evening. It also happened to be the evening Jess at long last went into labour. Between absorbing and challenging debate and calls to the other side of the world I eventually got to bed in the small hours with the wonderful news that Jess had produced a beautiful baby girl !

Joe and Jess's baby daughter, my granddaughter, Islay, just minutes after her birth

Joe and Jess's beautiful baby daughter, my granddaughter, Islay, just minutes after her birth

The next day I had to be away early to complete the last legal rigmarole on my mother’s estate so probate could be granted.

This brought us to Friday and a household full of family for the Easter weekend. Our new puppy was due to arrive on Monday – but amid cries of ‘Oh, no. We won’t have time to get to know her. We’ve got to go back on Monday!’ I arranged to pick her up on Friday afternoon…little did I know that in true bank holiday style our kitchen tap would decide to give up the ghost and regurgitate a fountain of hot water and my trusted washing machine gasped its last breath…so Mary, you hit the nail on the head, this week’s been a bit of a struggle!

Puppy post tomorrow!

dog violet
dog violet

Visiting Ben, Berengere and Camille in Marseille for the weekend on countdown-to-wedding arrangements.

An interesting journey. The Trainline sent me the wrong ticket. I’d stupidly trusted my confirmation email and hadn’t given my tickets more than a cursory look before putting them in my wallet.  Silly me. Confusion and doubt caught me out at the station where I foolishly asked the ticket people for advice. A new ticket had to be purchased and naturally I wasn’t cut any slack by British Rail who gleefully charged me mega bucks to re-purchase the ticket I’d originally booked. Lesson learnt – check tickets minutely in future.

The next excitement was staying overnight in a Yotel capsule.  The plane to Marseille leaves early in the morning (they’ve changed the flight times), making it necessary for me to leave Devon the evening before. The Yotel is a Japanese concept, which funnily enough throughstones mentioned in the dormouse nest tube post below (though this one did have a shower, loo and basin) at the very instant I was experiencing one! As I checked in there was this extraordinarily svelte expressionless American woman checking in at the same time. Chatting to the helpful, de-stressing check-in guy (I had failed miserably at the automated security point outside) about how excited yet trepidatious I was about staying the night in a luggage rack, I was never more surprised when the ultra sophisticated American tapped me on the shoulder and, with a very unexpected girlish giggle, said “Me too. It will be the highlight of my trip!”

I slept well, and so, apparently, had a lot of my fellow travellers, as I found out the following morning as we  checked out.  A chatty place with everyone apparently enjoying the novelty.

And then the pilot over-ran the runway when landing at Marseille! He managed on the second attempt as we held our breath and pretended we were as cool as cucumbers.  Except, that is, for a child who began to scream “I want to get off. Mummy, mummy, mummy. Now. I. Want. To. Get. Off. Now!” Echoing what we were all really thinking.

I arrived in one piece. No more disasters and will be back on Monday night.

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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