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We have a new visitor to the farm. About a month ago I became aware of a different sound in the air. Not listening properly, at first I thought it was the ‘yaffle’ of a green woodpecker, not a common bird around these parts; we’re more likely to be home to the great spotted woodpecker and occasionally, very occasionally the rare lesser spotted woodpecker. So, when I heard the call, I thought ‘oh, that’s nice’ and got on with whatever it was I was doing. But it was persistent, and, when I came to listen properly, quite different – ‘klee…kleekleekleekleeee’ – it called.

the hobby - falco subbuteo

the hobby - falco subbuteo

At the weekend, when Robert was home, I asked him to listen out for my new bird and see if he could identify it and what it was doing. It wasn’t long before he excitedly called me outside “It’s a hobby, flying backwards and forwards to raven’s copse.”

During the summer we occasionally get a hobby flying high, high over the farm chasing swallows or martins to feed its fast growing young. But we’d never had one persistently around.

“Do you know what” said Robert “I think it’s nesting in ravens’ copse.”

“No, really? Do you think so? How exciting!”

Ravens’ copse is a small area of woodland butting onto sections of Dillings, Rushy and Five Acres. It has tall mature Scots pines and, as the name suggests, has been the home to nesting ravens since time immemorial.
“A bit dicey, don’t you think, nesting so close to the ravens? Or could it be a bit like the time there were stock doves nesting directly in front of a tawny owl in the owl box up in silage barn? You know…so up close and personal you’re kind of protected?”

“Could be” said Robert “but the ravens fledged long ago”

“I know, but they still live there, that’s their roost.”

I decided to do a bit of research, and yes, hobbys do like to nest in old crows nests, often in fir trees, and yes, the young are frequently lost to crows nesting in the area. So ravens? Umm, I think I’ll keep my fingers very crossed there.

They, the hobbys, are most active first thing in the mornings when I’m checking the stock and it’s wonderful to see them sweeping out over Marymead looking for food for their ravenous young. The other morning I witnessed a full-on dog fight between hobby and raven high in the tops of the scots pine across from Dillings. The aerobatics, speed and dexterity of the hobby’s movement and flight was extraordinary and exhilarating to watch.

They won that time as the next morning the now familiar ‘klee…kleekleekleekleekleee’ rang out over the farm as they went in search of breakfast.

the hobby - flying high above the farm

the hobby - flying high above the farm

We still have no grass. I’m waiting patiently for the current warm weather to have its magic stimulating effect on the recalcitrant stuff. The cattle are not! As I write this, the perfect, here-at-last, golden-green evening is reverberating with deafening booming bellows, bouncing and crashing up from the yard just metres below me. This noise thunders around my head, twangs and plunks every taut stretched fibre in my body with insistent persistent discord. Of course this is exactly what it is meant to do. I, as number one food provider, am failing at my duty. The unrelenting bawling coupled with the compelling force of combined herd psyche is designed to send me into a spin, in much the same way as the cry of a newborn.

I’ll explain. Last year’s wet summer and very late harvest meant the forage we made was not as nutritious as usual. In the winter, when the cows are in-calf, this is not a problem. But now they are coping with the demands of their fast growing calves with an ever increasing need for milk. My cows are telling me they need plenty of accessible protein, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins as well as roughage, and last year’s haylage is not delivering. Fresh grass would!

Trouble is, the cold wet spring over the last two months has meant the ground is still soggy and producing little forage. Coupled with this, our landlord on the ground we normally turn out onto – our best drained land – has entered into an Environmental Stewardship Scheme which prohibits the use of round feeders. So we can’t put the cattle out just yet. It’s been a long winter, very nearly six months of looking after the herd indoors. And they are not stupid – they know full well they should be out by now – it’s close to summer and they can smell what fresh grass there is: it’s time to be munching that first delicious bite. So the psychological warfare escalates….

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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