How is it possibly the end of August? Does any other farmer reading this imagine the summer will last forever, but by the time the cows are all out, the silage is collected, the sheds are empty of muck and the straw is almost lugged… they have ran out of summer time? Now, I’m a bit of a home bird and perhaps I’m sad, but I am generally quite happy to live my summer months to this structure, with a few local shows and the odd day at the seaside thrown in (however, I think my ‘towny’ partner thinks I am a little crazy sometimes).
To me, summer means long days, ticking jobs off a list, enjoying where we live, local agricultural shows and watching the grass, lambs and calves grow. By now, I would usually be saying how delighted I was also, to witness ducklings, goslings and ground-nesters young grow too, but sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case from what I can see for 2019. I am still hopeful that I will stumble across young curlew and lapwing, although after witnessing how the ducklings and goslings were predated, I think that the chances of finding some young curlew, are slim. I watched as over 30 ducklings were reduced to just two over the space of two nights which makes me strongly believe that with the help of the Curlew Country team, the best chance for Curlew to at least maintain population in our area, is to be hatched and released in a controlled environment. With that in mind, I think it’s really important for the likes of farmers like ourselves, to continue to mow our grassland at the times we do and to try and look after the birds that we do spot during our daily practices.
In my last blog, I mentioned that we had resigned from renting a local 100acre block of land. Although it joined our own ground and had been within our grazing pattern for 19 years, the land wasn’t showing us any sign of returns anymore, so with a heavy heart on my behalf, we realised that this was no longer a viable business path for us and we withdrew, after three years of debating whether we should or not! As a young farmer, reducing our farmland, wasn’t something on my radar as all I have wanted to do is to grow, but the phrase ‘less is more’ definitely applies to this case. We have made several slight changes to our grazing patterns, which should hopefully help to improve some of our other poor, rented land and encourage our own land to be more productive and have also slackened the rented ground outgoings by over £7500. Any farmer will know that during the current climate, it is near impossible to make back £7500 from poor, rough grazing of 100acres, let alone make a profit from it. Cow replacements, ewe replacements, fuel, costs of machinery and corn… the list goes on, and to justify it all, with beef cattle around £200per head lower than needed and lambs £10-£15 a head less than needed, is virtually impossible.
So, now that we are nearing the end of our first spring and summer without this block of land, I am actually surprisingly thrilled that we haven’t got it under our control any more. With land we have bought over the past five years (mostly of much stronger quality than what we rent), a great growing time for grassland over the summer months and the decision to turnover our fat cattle quicker than previous years, I can conclude that it was a great decision for us as a family farm. I must admit though, I am slightly gutted that we have spent the past few years being ‘busy fools’ when I had convinced myself that we were using the land to help us grow.
A quick note on the sheep before I round off my ramblings… I am really chuffed that after drafting cast ewes and weaning the lambs up to a month earlier than we normally do, we have a stronger lamb to ewe ratio than we have collected in recent years. The final percentage definitely isn’t a bragging point and I know many farmers will be aiming much higher than us, but it is an improvement for us, and the general health and stature of the sheep is also showing signs of improvement than what we have faced at this time of year in the past. I think that these results are down to making the most of carefully selecting where we have grazed the sheep and moving them slightly more often and using our cattle muck and close topping to try and improve the rented land closest to us. Again, these practices come at a cost because our muck is very valuable to us so results do need to be shown from these changes.
Currently, our lambs have had just two doses of wormer, a dose of vitamin supplement at weaning and no antibiotics, which leads me to my final note. With recent propaganda in the headlines and media, I am sickened by the allegations of agriculture being a large cause of climate change. I am not defending worldwide agriculture but will always defend British agriculture and the example of lambs throughout our hills in the local area alone should be enough for our population to realise that we can produce a fantastic product, extremely economically and efficiently. In my next blog post I will discuss this topic further. I will also make a point of stating how recent, negative publicity for the farming community, mixed with the worries of Brexit are affecting farmers mentally. I am prepared to share my personal experience and how it is affecting me daily, as a young farmer facing a very uncertain future.
As always, many thanks to anyone who has read through my ramblings and supported the Curlew Country website by doing so. I am thoroughly enjoying putting my thoughts to paper, or in this case, keyboard, and I look forward to sharing my next trail of thoughts which will be based on a subject extremely close to my heart.
Enjoy the rest of summer, last weeks of school holidays and perhaps even some bird spotting.