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a group of ewes feeding this morning

a group of ewes feeding this morning

Last night it unexpectedly began to snow…and snow and snow. This morning we were shrouded in a foot of  soft, white silence. Trees bowed under the weight, bent almost double, forming arches and bowers. Power cables and phone lines stretched to within a couple of inches of Robert’s head. Huge wet snowflakes fell, fell, fell.

our lane in heavy snow

the farm lane in heavy snow this morning

The dogs are beside themselves with snow excitement.

...and this afternoon

...and this afternoon we bring out the snow plough!

This afternoon we dig ourselves out with the help of the trusty bobcat. Half a mile of  steep lane needs to be cleared.

olly clearing snow from the lane

olly clearing snow from the lane

And shovelling.

the view across to Dartmoor from the top of our lane

the view across to Dartmoor from the top of our lane

looking across rutleigh ball towards dartmoor this morning

looking across rutleigh ball towards dartmoor this morning

I love this weather! Finger-numb, frozen-face cold mornings; the farm and surrounding countryside is bleached by frost and ice until the first ray of sun spears a low shaft of rose-gold light through the filigree of shilloueted branches.

holly leaves crystalised with frost

holly leaves crystalised with frost

I love this weather! I revel at the crack and crunch of frozen water, leaves and mud underfoot. An invisible ice-glaze coats the yards and dogs, humans and bobcat slip-slide in comic ballet of uncontrolled glissades; astonished looks of surprise across their faces (not the bobcat, but certainly the driver’s!)

cow moor in heavy frost this morning

cow moor in heavy frost this morning

I love this weather! The cattle huff clouds of warm  vapour-white breath across the cow palace; their dark chestnut coats are spangled with glistening beads of moisture.  The cold has made them impatient for their morning feed.

oak and ivy patterns

oak and ivy patterns

I love this weather; I feel alive!

the scarce umber

the scarce umber

Have you noticed the preponderance of moths stuck like fridge magnets to the outside of your kitchen windows recently? These are probably Winter moths, not particularly colourful or alluring, more along the line of drab and grey, as befits the weather! But you can, even at this time of year, find some stunning beautiful ones with romantically wistful names…the merville du jour, scarce umber and feathered thorn.

merville du jour

merville du jour

I’m intrigued by moth names and how they came to be. They can be ambiguous; the anomalous, the uncertain and the suspected; or factual like double line, triple line, the red, orange or yellow underwings; then there’s the purely descriptive – the lead-coloured-drab, the dingy mocha, the emerald and chocolate tip. When out of the blue these dour, dry scientific recorders appear to be overcome by nature’s beauty and names like pale shining brown, the beautiful brocade, peach blossom, flame carpet, ruby tiger and clifden nonpareil appear! Exquisite and evocative. Sometimes when Robert empties his moth trap and notes the species it can sounds like the recitation of a poem with each word leaving his mouth morphing into the very thing the moths have been named after – the phoenix, the silver hook, the sprawler, even Mother Shipton.

the december moth

the december moth

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.

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