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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!

chiffchaff

chiffchaff

I was clearing up in the kitchen yesterday morning when Robert walked in. I turned to ask him something about weighing a load of young stock that were being collected around lunch time but stopped when I saw his face

“Wow, that’s a big grin! What’s that for?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing.” His grin was growing bigger by the minute “Nothing.”

“But something’s made you light up like a beacon…what’s it, hey? The wonderful, wonderful sun? Oh I know I know…it’s because I’m selling a load of animals today! That’s made you smile!”

Our land, as you’ve gathered, has been badly affected by the last two unprecedented wet years. The farm has all but stopped growing grass and we don’t expect much improvement this year even if the weather is better. Worried at how we will manage to produce enough grazing and forage I made a decision to sell twelve of my young stock. These were being bought by an organic farmer from South Devon who is already ankle deep in grass. My animals will thrive on it!

Robert went all smiley-secretive “No, actually. Though, of course, that does make me relieved and happy.”

“What then. Look at you. Like a cat that’s got the cream.”

He laughed “Weeell, I was just sitting on the bench outside when I heard a chiffchaff…and then, just to make sure it came and sat on the gate. Sat there, right in front of me. A confirmed sighting!”

“Really? Fantastic. That’s earlier than last year isn’t it?”

“A little, most years they arrive on, or very close to, 21 March.”  He went on to say that his records over the last 18 years showed no trend towards earlier arrival, as might be expected from all the talk about climate change.  In fact, although not denying that springs are getting earlier (some years), he believes that many of the trends for earlier and earlier sightings can be explained simply be people looking harder, and making better records. The result, I should think, of all those high profile Nature Watch/Birding programmes on telly!

It doesn’t matter though, whether it’s early or late, to me it’s a sure sign that Spring it really on it’s way. Hooray!

last year's chiffchaff nest with eggs (you can just see them)

last year's chiffchaff nest with eggs (you can just see them)

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