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I am hopelessly behind. I know I have a legitimate excuse but the things-that-must-be-done mound doesn’t get smaller – it just keeps growing!

The leaver is pulled, my head spins wildly like a fruit machine, then slows to a juddering stop. And the jackpot? Three Cherries? Three Lemons? Three Oranges?  No, and no spewing waterfall of bounty either.  My fruits are Mucking Out Cow Palace, Lambing Preparations,  Straw Delivery,  Soil Association Inspection or yet another TB Test.   (We are contiguous with infected herds, they say, and must now be tested every six months – but we have been contiguous, no, cirtiguous for ages, and this test will be right in the middle of calving…)

mucking out the cow palace

mucking out the cow palace

After landing three Straw Delivery fruits on Thursday, on Friday  I pulled the jackpot of Cow Palace Mucking Out .  So it was all hands on deck to get the job done and dusted by the afternoon, so cows could be returned to a sparkly clean and carpeted palace in time for imminent calving.

These are savvy cows. Instead of the usual thunderous explosion out of the cow palace, a decorous bunch of gigantic pregnant galleons swayed rhythmically down the lane. Memories of deep frozen wastes still fresh in their minds, they were not too sure if they wanted to spend another day banished to hostile lands without food or water. They need not have worried: temporary accommodation was available in Silage barn with all basic mod cons laid on.

Meanwhile back at the ranch all was a hive of activity and in record time we’d mucked out, hosed down, scraped and swept up, re-hung gates, bedded down and fed up.

making the muck heap

making the muck heap

On their return, no longer worried about possible banishment, they took time to take in and consider the state of the surrounding countryside, adjust their rather uncomfy corsets, pull  nonchalantly at hedgerow ferns or straying binds of ivy and discuss the merits of employing full-time staff 24/7 365 days a year.

After a cursory look at their gleaming accommodation and dragging a haughty hoof along the feed barrier to check for clinging grunge they got down to the all important task of eating, belching, breaking wind and dunging…just to give it back that lived-in appeal!

building sand castles?

building sand castles?

The next day my lucky strike was Lambing Shed preparations…

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no frosty morning scenes this yesr

no frosty morning grazing this yesr

Yesterday we brought the cattle in…again.  For good this time. By that I mean until May, when hopefully it’ll be dry enough, and grass-growing enough, for them to go out again. Poor old beasts, it really hasn’t been much of a year for them.

It’s a busy day. First the cow palace has to be made ready; fresh bedding put out, haylage bales fetched, gates and yard arranged. Then the young stock are collected up and boxed home in several journeys. Once back they’re sorted into steers and heifers, and run through the crush to be weighed and drenched (given a dose of medicine orally) for fluke; a parasite prevalent on our wet land. The Soil Association has given us a derogation to do this. However, the withdrawal period for all drugs has to be doubled in organic systems.  In the case of a flukicide, this means I can’t treat any animals I intend to sell for meat within as much as 108 days. This concerns me as fluke is very damaging and can cause an animal to become ill and die. It’s one of those rules that are made with good intentions but really ought to be applied flexibly. Still, I keep an eagle eye on untreated stock and if I suspect an infestation the animal is treated right away.

Once the youngsters are settled it’s time to fetch the main herd.  Having been in and out so much this year  the cows, and us, are beginning to get used to the routine. The cows and calves are again sorted into batches and run through the crush for weighing and drenching. There’s always a cacophony of noise and excitement as the different groups come into contact with one another after a summer of separation. Princess, a young cow due to calve soon, and who I’d kept back with the new bull as a companion, became hysterical in her excitement at the returning herd. She, Princess, is the daughter of Severn, one of the herd matriarchs, and has recently become a strong dominant cow in the herd pecking order, taking the place of her mother who’s beginning to show her age: she was desperate to get back with them and reinstate herself!

Soon peace descends on the cow palace as everyone settles to contentedly feed on the evening meal of aromatic haylage. I must say there’s something extraordinarily satisfying looking at fifty odd deep chestnut red bodies along the barriers as they mumble and munch. I walk along  them listening to their strangely comforting rhythmic chomp, punctuated by burps, gurgles and rumbles with an occasional soft low of greeting as I pass on my way  to the farmhouse at the end of a long day.

p.s. I thought you might be interested in the weight gain of the calves and young stock over a 52 day period (they were last weighed at TB testing). The calves have gained 35-45kg and the yearlings 25-35kg. Not bad on a pure organic grass diet and our unimproved pastures at that!

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

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