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calves on Saturday's frosty morning

calves on Saturday's frosty morning

Glorious October certainly! We continue to be busy outside with the hundred and one jobs this dry weather has allowed us to get on top of…dung spreading, ditching, fencing, hedge trimming, cutting and carrying wood from our wood stacks to our winter store and, of course, never ending topping (yes, we are still able to get onto the land with a tractor!).

ewe lambs enjoying the autumn sunshine and grass

ewe lambs enjoying the autumn sunshine and grass

The ewes have been tupped and are now grazing peacefully, happy in the autumn sunshine and revelling in the unexpected bonus of being dry underfoot.

Cows and calves are contentedly munching away in the River Meadows, whilst the bull and his cohort are doing a first-rate job around our smaller meadows at the home farm.  Our autumn flush of grass has been excellent – more sustaining and nutritious than the rank crop our waterlogged fields produced during the wet summer months.

the bull happily grazing Flop Meadow

the bull happily grazing Flop Meadow

Polytunnel beds are gradually being mulched down with our organic dung and covered over for winter – though a handsome supply of chilli, aubergine, tomato, squash and carrot are still providing us with tasty suppers. Outside in the kitchen garden leeks, kale, red cabbage, spinach, broccoli spears and roots are giving us delicious seasonal variety.

Though apples haven’t produced that well this year the quince tree is heavy with golden, fragrant fruit which I’ll pickled, make into jelly and quince cheese. The pear tree in the orchard is also bowed over with small, bullet hard fruit for which I’ll have to invent some different preserves.

It’s a good autumn; land, man, beast and wildlife flourish. Next weekend, on the 25th, we have two farm walks, so though the weather is due to break tomorrow I hope  we won’t  return to horrendous torrential drenching!

Devonian Whitebeam (indigenous to Devon) berries, which I'll harvest to grow sapplings from.

Devonian Whitebeam (rare and indigenous to Devon) berries, which I'll harvest to grow saplings from.

Meet Dora the Dormouse. She’s very special (and hugely cute). Dora made her first public appearance yesterday at our dormouse and hedge training day. She was the icing on the cake!

Dora the Dormouse

Dora the Dormouse

What? Why? How? I hear you exclaim. ‘Aren’t dormice a rare and protected species?’ Yes, yes they are, you’re quite right. So let me tell you Dora’s story.

Over the next month or so we’re holding a series of training days on hedges, hedgerows, their management and their wildlife, especially the dormouse.  As you probably gathered in various other posts I’ve written, we have magnificent hedges on the farm which are home to a thriving dormice population. This year numbers appear to be down compared to previous years – probably the result of three wet summers in a row; but still, when people come on these training days what they are really keen to see are dormice nests and dormice! Dormice nests, yes, we can generally oblige, but dormice? Not a given, more luck than anything else.

Now I’d heard that Paignton Zoo (who are involved in a dormouse breeding programme) occasionally need to find knowledgeable homes to care for individuals unsuitable for release into the wild. This would be, I thought, a wonderful opportunity to show people a real live dormouse.  I contacted the zoo to see if they had anything and would consider us appropriate guardians.  Unfortunately they’d recently just re-homed the last of their old breeding males the keeper Julian told me, but he would have another look and call me…!

On Thursday, just as I’d given up all hope, he contacted me and said they had a young female which had lost her back leg. It was completely healed; she was fine, she’d been checked by the vet, it was really unnoticeable, but they’d be willing to loan her to us if I was interested. She couldn’t be released into the wild and they wouldn’t want to breed from her. Was I interested? You bet!

So on Friday afternoon we went to collect Dora.

Dora

Dora

Yesterday, Saturday, was the training day, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. A golden afternoon. Jane from UrbanExtension came all the way from Dorset with fellow officers from the Dorset Wildlife Trust. Not only did we find dormouse nests we also saw three wild dormice…and then, of course, there was Dora!

wild dormouse, Flat Field

wild dormouse, Flat Field

Why did we think they’d get it right? We believed them too. And we began to plan ahead. Strange in the circumstances…

Let’s face it; they’d got it wrong so badly so much. But last week we were told the sun was going to shine.

It happened. Just like they said!

After a grisly start to the week, on Wednesday, as promised, the sun broke through and shone, and shone and shone.

But dry conditions + shining sun = total mayhem! A summer’s worth of jobs to do in days.

meadows-in-waiting - abundant red clover our 2nd cut grass

meadows-in-waiting - abundant red clover our 2nd cut grass

Apart from our window saga (see tomorrow’s post), our second cut haylage was well overdue. By Friday the ground was tentatively dry enough for machinery to drive over. On Friday afternoon we cut. I was pleasantly surprised by the shear too – more than I thought.

willow and skye in the freshly cut Rutleigh

willow and skye in the freshly cut Rutleigh

We turned the grass on Saturday in the shining sun with a good drying wind. On Sunday, eventually, after seven gruelling hours of  machinery breakdowns (our contractor’s) all our second cut haylage was baled and wrapped. In organic systems  second cut forage is jam-packed full of proteins from the clovers; it’s also soft and palatable. We call it ‘rocket-fuel’ – perfect for calves and freshly calved cows.

at last! the baler works...

at last! the baler works...

From an ideal vantage point. Ness and Willow observe the frantic activity.

ness and willow

ness and willow

winning smiles - Salar cow and calf

winning smiles - Salar cow and calf

For the last two years the Okehampton Show, our local one day show, has been cancelled due to impossibly wet weather. If it was rained off again this year it wouldn’t survive.

As you can imagine the weather’s been minutely monitored. Certainly it appeared the forecast was better than July, but definitely not settled.

Tentatively, a week or so before the actual day, skeletons for the large marquees began to appear; cautiously, almost furtively, the show ground began to take shape…cattle lines, sheep and cattle pens, goat and pig tents, show rings, walk ways, beer tents, an army of porta-loos – every day a little more  emerged. We scarcely dared look as we passed by – it was as if even looking was enough to tip the balance between rain or shine. Instead we sucked in our breath, crossed fingers and bit  nails.

Nine days earlier the North Devon show made it…just, though conditions were far from easy. Talking to friends who’d been there showing we heard how stock trailers were unhitched, towed onto the show ground and left, dotted about  randomly, in a sinking quagmire of churned mud…’Lucky’ Sally said ‘the only white bit in danger was the end of the cattle’s tail. Otherwise we’d have been in an even sorrier state!’

The night before Okehampton show it rained. I woke in the night to hear its patter-pittering  on the leaves of the trees outside our bedroom window and the soft sighing hiss of waterlogged ground. The morning dawned in a grey shroud of misty drizzle. Though not, mercifully, torrential rain

Armed with wellies, hats, waterproofs and warmish clothes we set off. We’d planned to get there first thing as a cousin of Robert’s was paying us a visit in the afternoon.  Even at that early hour the car parks were swelling; folk seemed determined to make the show a success come rain or shine.

A serious moment - judging a young Devon bull...

A serious moment - judging a young Devon bull...

As we hung over the rails of the show ring the misty drizzle gathered itself up into a leaden sky – a bruising layer of cloud enveloped the tops of the tors. Uncertain fingers of  sunlight hit the sides of the valley. For a few moments clouds and sun vied with one another when unexpectedly, so it seemed, the sun decided enough was enough and with determind force blistered its way through, burning back layer upon layer of cloud to sizzle and shine gloriously over the show for the rest of the day!

even dogs had to wear sunglasses in the glare!

even dogs had to wear sunglasses in the glare!

Overheating and dripping with sweat in our rainy weather clothing, we squinted, smiled and laughed our way around the show ground bumping into a plethora of friends and those acquaintances that we generally  see on occasions such as this. When it was time for us to leave we felt completely exhausted from the sheer exuberance of the event (and the heat!). As we drove away were amazed to see cars still pouring in. Hoorah! The Okehampton Show was a resounding success and lives to see another year…

young sheep handlers wait to be called...

young sheep handlers wait to be called...the 2nd in is a Dartmoor Whiteface two tooth and the end ram's a Whiteface too.

One of my young (sixteen month old) heifers had developed warts.

This in itself is not a particular problem. Warts are a fairly common occurrence in cattle, particularly in stock under two years old, and are caused by the skin’s reaction to an infection with papova virus (six different papova viruses have been identified, though the majority of cases are caused by one of two types). These warts can crop up anywhere on the animal’s body though most frequently around the head and neck area; less common but more worrying sites are the teats, scrotum and penis. Warts can grow fast and vary greatly in shape and size from almost flat pea-sized lumps to large orange-sized balls on stalks.

bovine warts around the head of an animal - google images

bovine warts around the head of an animal - google images

My heifer had a few small areas of infection around her muzzle though the worst was a cluster of large nebular sessile (squat) warts on the inside of her hind leg and, horror of horror, a huge, repulsive pedunculate (stalked) brain-like growth hanging off the side of one of her teats. It was the size of a nectarine (but not as juicy!).  Not only was it getting knocked and damaged when she walked, becoming a fly magnet, its sheer size and weight was elongating and deforming her teat.

warts on the udder of a cow - google images

warts on the udder of a cow - google images

Generally warts disappear within six months but in this case something had to be done to the one on her teat so she didn’t suffer permanent damage.

We discussed the options. Cutting it off? Not the best of times to do this; possible excessive bleeding, fly strike and difficult to treat post-operatively in the field. Restricting blood-flow with a ligature? Not ideal, again the problem of fly-strike, but probably the best alternative in the circumstances.

So having decided on the ligature we began to gather up equipment and manpower.

The young stock spend their summer at some rented land a few miles away and though we have a corral where we can gather and load them we don’t have a proper crush. We decided we’d rig up a gate crush and with strong rope, brave men and a little bit of luck we would be able to pin her behind the gate and hopefully immobilise her sufficiently to be able to tie the ligature on.

Robert, Joe, Olly, me and, of course, my right-hand man Theo all piled into the truck, complete with elastrator (castrating tool, just in case I was able to fit a castrating ring over the growth), suitable strong, non-slip string to form the ligature, iodine, salt solution, Spot On (fly deterrent), rope, baler cord and, most important, a bucket of nuts as an incentive and reward.

In no time an admirable gate crush had been constructed. We managed to lure the cattle into the corral in record time with the promise of nuts. Once the cattle were contained it wasn’t too much bother to isolate and crush the heifer concerned behind the gate. So far so good, now the difficult bit. The elastrator was unfortunately far too small. We would only get one attempt with the string ligature…she would kick, she would start forward and she would make it impossible for a second attempt. Robert decided I would become permanently damaged and broken so he would endeavour to tie the ligature. All was ready…Olly on the ropes, me with the nuts and Robert at the business end. In the flash of a moment the heifer lunged upwards and forward in an attempt to escape, landing on top of the gate – but in her violent forward movement against Robert’s pull on the ligature the string had severed the whole gruesome growth! Yes, it was bleeding but not too severely. Settling the heifer down behind the gate, I dressed the wound with iodine and cobwebs (cobwebs are an old remedy used to hasten blood coagulation), fed her a good measure of nuts, treated her with fly deterrent and sent her off into the field.

Then we searched around for the wart, and found it.  What a trophy!  I showed it to all our friends, many of them aren’t speaking to us now. First I kept it in the fridge for easy access until the family rebelled.  Now it’s in the freezer.  I just hope that in a year or two someone doesn’t open the bag, think that looks tasty, and have a good fry up!

roe deer by Courbet

hunting roe deer by Courbet

I draped and fixed a blanket over the foot-well providing the deer with a dark confined space – this I hoped would keep him calm and quiet for the duration of the journey, which was about nine miles.

So I set off, leaving the men of the household looking to the heavens, shaking their heads and tutting. “Ah well, if that’s what she wants. Mad if you ask me.” muttered Olly.

Three miles down the road and the blanket erupted in an explosion with the deer jettisoning himself with force at the windscreen, the window, the whatever. With one arm trying desperately to restrain and calm him whilst the other attempted to bring the truck to a halt I was hugely relieved there wasn’t another vehicle in sight.  Once stopped I thought I might just as well turn back as it was far too dangerous to carry on. However I had to continue up into the village before I could turn. Soothing and calming the deer I settled him on the passenger seat and placed my hand on his head between his ears and emerging antlers and blow-me-down if he didn’t take a deep breath, relax entirely and fall asleep. Tentatively I pulled out on to the road expecting him to explode at any second, but he didn’t…so I took the decision to carry on to the vets.

They must have been looking out for me as no sooner had I turned into the vets than Sally and a couple of nurses piled out to greet the truck. Inching the door open I explained he remained calm only as long as my hand was on his head. Sally gave him the once over “I don’t know Paula. I really don’t. Let me go and get someone else for a second opinion.” She returned with Rupert and his son. They hummed and hahed. He could be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, no problem, but it was the crepitus and his breathing that was causing concern. We decided to give him a chance and called Debbie at the local wildlife sanctuary whose main expertise was looking after owls and small mammals, not deer.

Debbie arrived with her partner and the exchange was made. Sally turned to me “In all honesty, Paula, I don’t think he’ll make the night. What with the shock, the injuries, the travelling…” she tailed off.

“I know” I replied “but at least we’ve given it our best shot.”

“But given all that, it’s been just amazing to work on a live roe deer. He’s so beautiful. His muzzle, extraordinary, fine and very black! Really striking. Thanks for bringing him.”

“My pleasure!” I said somewhat ironically “We’ll keep in touch. Exchange news. And thanks Sally.” I drove off home.

He did survive the night and the following day he began eating! None was more surprised than Sally. For ten days he lived in a dark horse box, recovering from his wounds and regaining his strength. Debbie was careful not to disturb or visit him too often so he wouldn’t become familiarised with humans. After ten days we thought the time had come to release him. Unfortunately the day of his release coincided with the bringing in of our haylage bales so all was not quiet and peaceful on the farm.  I’d chosen Flower Field for his release – small, well bounded by thick hedges – inbetween the copse and the route he was using when attacked. I waited with camera for the moment the door of the horse box was opened…but it was all rather anti-climatic. He had to be lifted out and with that he scuttled into the brambled hedge bank and as far as I could see hunkered down deep in the undergrowth. No leaps to freedom there! I expected he would stay the day there possibly moving away to his territory at nightfall – or maybe he just wouldn’t survive.

Later that afternoon Jess and Theo were taking their last goodbye walk around the farm. They were leaving the following morning. Whilst walking in Dillings the heavens opened and they ran across to Ravens Copse for shelter. Unable to find a way in they walked a little way down the headland looking for a less brambly entrance when Jess saw two ears twitching in the long grass.  “I grasped Theo’s hand” she said “and put my fingers to his lips…very slowly we walked a little closer. He was facing away from us, but yes, it was the deer, resting up in the grass. We gave him a wide berth; we didn’t want to disturb him. But he knew we were there, his ears were semaphoring.”

So he had already made the half mile trek back to the edge of Ravens Copse, the place he was making for on the day of his accident. I’ve searched, of course, the hedges and banks around the copse and the copse itself for signs of his demise, but have found nothing…so perhaps he’s once again running wild and free.

And when we landed back at the farm? We collapsed, gasping deep breaths of apparent tranquil Englishness greenness; an illusion nevertheless! In fact the countryside thrummed with industry as every farm for miles around unwaveringly and single-mindedly mowed, turned, raked and baled their forage fields in a race to make silage, haylage or hay. Unsurprisingly this year everybody was determined to beat the weather!

I was overcome. My neighbours and contractors had done me proud. Knowing my anxiety at being away they’d come in over the weekend and despite being under huge pressure themselves had worked unrelentingly to finish my harvest!  I couldn’t find the words to thank them enough. What wonderful neighbours. This was just the perfect homecoming; hundreds of bales of quality June haylage for the stock this winter and the opportunity to take a second-cut of ‘rocket-fuel’ as we’ve nicknamed it (the second-cut in organic systems is bursting with clovers, proteins and sugars; soft and palatable it’s perfect for weaning calves and freshly calved cows).

I was ecstatic! All that was left to do was to carry in the bales. This was something that could happily wait a few days.

The next day I was off to admire the fields and bales with Theo, who was ever so serious and involved in all this real ‘portant farming stuff, when there was a kafuffle in the hedge alongside the lane “Oh! What’s that Nanu?” asked Theo

“I expect it’s just the dogs after rabbits…or” as there was a sudden increase in the excitement “…it could just be a fox.”

“A fox, Nanu? A fox? In there?” Asked Squiggs aka Theo.

“Umm yes. Ness and Skye are pretty chasey after foxes. It’s because they are sheepdogs, you see.”

“Oh” said Squiggs thoughtfully “Nanu, are you sure?”

“Not sure, sure. But…” I trailed off – the dogs had started up an excited hunting yelp along the side of Rushy field. Followed by one of the most chilling screams I’d ever heard.

“Run Wiggle, run, run, run with me” I got hold of his hand and ran as fast as his legs would carry him along the lane. We reached Rushy Field gate. The screaming and yelping had reached a crescendo.

“Listen Wiggs – this is very very ‘portant. I have to run as fast as I can over there and I need you to follow me, really follow me. You mustn’t go away. Please. You must follow.” I bent down to him and put my hands on his shoulders “You’ll do that won’t you. Cos you’re my best boy?”

He looked a bit askance. I could see him sizing up the alternatives. The noise was frightening. But it could be exciting. He could go on up the lane to the bales. But maybe there was something in following Nanu. Looking at me solemnly, he nodded.

“Good boy! I’m off now.” And with that I pelted across the field whistling and calling to the dogs having no idea what I would find. Breathless I reached the other side and thank god saw Theo following. Ness suddenly erupted out of the hedge, her mouth wide and frothing, tongue lolling, wet, muddy and panting as if her heart would pop. She flung herself at my feet. Skye, just as run-out emerged higher up the field. I was about to turn and call out to Theo that all was well when I heard a loud splashing in the stream.

“Oh no” I thought and fought my way through a tangle of bramble, thorny blackthorn and low slung willow branches “Oh no” I muttered as I pushed through to the edge of the steep stream bank. A bloodcurdling scream filled my ears and there was a young roe deer buck, desperately scrabbling to get out of a deep pool of muddy water. His eyes enormous with fear, his nostrils dilated, breath jerked out of him in jagged rasping wheezes. He caught a glimpse of me uttered a spine-chilling screech, floundered and sunk under the muddy, blood-stained water.

I jumped in, scrambled to get hold of him, stop him from going under. Terrified and gasping for breath he screamed and kicked at me frantically with fear-strengthened legs and hooves as somehow I managed to put my arms around him. Then I saw. His neck, lolling helplessly to one side, puncture wounds stippling its circumference trickling trails of watery blood. An open gash along one shoulder. He screamed again and quietened momentarily in my arms.

“Nanu, nanu? What you doing?” I looked up and there was a grimy, scratched Theo looking down on us and not at all sure if this was frighteningly serious or a kind of weird Nanu game. “Nanu what is you?” he asked puzzled.

Simultaneously I heard Olly calling “MUM, MUM? What’s happened? Where are you? I’m coming!” and in the background Joe shouting “Theo, Theo! Mum is Theo with you. Mum! Theo! Will you answer? Answer me!”….

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.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk