Spring Farming Diaries: Entry 4

Here is the latest Spring Diary Entry from Rhi. You can read her previous entries here: Entry 1, Entry 2, Entry 3

So, as we moved towards the end of lambing, and April, we found that unlike most years, when we’re fed up, knackered and ‘sick of wearing waterproofs!’, we were actually happy! (A happy farmer? Are you sure?… Okay, maybe we weren’t physically smiling but it came close.)

Now we all know, as Brits, that no two years are the same when it comes to weather and as farmers who’s lambing practices heavily rely on the day-to-day forecast, we can be fairly certain that if this April has been almost continually dry, that next year we will surely have a wash out… possibly even a freeze for good measure! The weather is such a huge factor because, in short, the more it precipitates, in whatever form, the more lambs we will lose! I don’t want to count my chickens (or lambs in this case) but am hopeful that we will have had the lowest mortality rate ever. This ratio is based on how many ewes we keep, to how may lambs we end up with and we then subtract our total of live lambs to the total of lambs that were scanned.

Towards the end of lambing time here, we have faced further problems with predation, losing a handful of the youngest lambs to a fox. We have carried out a bit of fox control surrounding the fields where we lamb and where the Curlew appear to be settling (hopefully!) however, we have seen the fox disturbing everything in its path many nights whilst checking the calving cows and the tail-end of the lambing ewes. My little girl is particularly upset that the fox has killed 10 of her 11 ducklings. A duck made herself a nest inside the trunk of a tree at the bottom of our garden and my daughter went to spy on her often, until one day she went to peek at the sitting duck and the duck had gone, leaving a pile of eggshells. She was mortified that ‘her’ duck had done a runner! And why were all the eggs broken? As we sat and waited patiently, I tried to explain how an egg worked to a three-year-old, the mother duck pushed out onto the pool in front on us, trailed by 11 beautiful, tiny babies. Thank God she did take them onto the pool at that moment as all was explained… I think she was listening to the ‘Whyyyy Mummy’ over and over and thought she would give me a hand! However, a week later, at 1.30am whilst I was checking the cows, I spotted a pair of sharp eyes in the headlights, and sure enough it was the fox edging about around the pool. I took towards it and scared it off, but it was too late. He had killed 10/11 ducklings and I now had to explain to a toddler that a naughty fox had stolen her ducklings. She took the news well. She picked up her water pistol, put on her fluffy hat and dealer boots and stormed out of the door. ‘Where are you going?!’, I questioned her, knowing full well what she was up to. ‘I’m going to shoot the naughty fox that eats ducks’ was her reply. So, we went and patrolled the pool with the water pistol, fully armed to soak the fox to its death! Personally, I think that went as well as it could have possibly done so! Duck stories aside, what chance has a Curlew got against a fox? Predators absolutely must be kept from reach of the ground nesting birds for success in their breeding.

So, I said in the previous blog post that in this one, I would talk about the alterations we are making from recent years. Basically, there have been changes to the conditions for renting our 220-something acre block, which have encouraged us to adjust our grazing/silage yielding regime. The land that we have been attempting to improve through mowing and applying manure in recent years will relax to the sheep grazing fields they were previously. We have also been used to moving the sheep around, to graze an area bare, before moving them on to a fresh area in order to let the last lot green up again; now we will be keeping the ewes in larger lots, with a larger run of acreage to graze. Not all, but most of the gates will be open and we can only joke that at least if we keep the gates open, it will save someone else leaving them open later down the line. New stipulations to us have also meant that we can only take ATV’s/UTV’s onto this block of rented land meaning that I can no longer go onto the ground with my pick-up. To me, this is a massive change because I need to have my girls with me, particular in the current situation as I haven’t been able to ask anybody to look after them for me and I can’t take a toddler and a 6 month old on a quad, catching lambs and treating ewes for mastitis etc. and we don’t have a UTV. The only way forward from this, is that we will need to invest into a UTV in order for me to cope. Thankfully, I have been lent the use of one for the time being, to which we are extremely grateful as without it, I wouldn’t be able to tend to the sheep at all! The final, new addition to changes is that we are not to supplementary feed our livestock here which will mean that we will have to move sheep onto our own ground earlier than we would usually, but obviously we can’t move them onto the lambing ground any earlier, so we will have to sacrifice some of the cow ground to feed them on. We can’t really tell what we will do until the time comes because, as always, it depends heavily on the climate at that time of year so we will have to cross this bridge in the winter.

Anyway, moving into May, I have vaccinated all of the lambs that are old enough, wormed them and applied our flock mark. The sheep have been thinned out at home, pushing them over the edge of the bank and down to the rented land. We have turned off the three mowing fields at home that we silage earlier than the main lot, however we will leave livestock on the rest of the mowing ground fairly spaced out for a short while yet. With it being so dry and no sign of a decent soaking to help the grass grow, we won’t be applying fertiliser or turning animals off the land anytime too soon.

All of the cows that are freshly calved and still due to calve are outside. Many of them have been out all winter (wintered-out) and with the ground under them now so dry, the rings filled daily with fresh silage, fresh spring water, new babies and stunning views they are the happiest cows (okay, they probably don’t appreciate the views, but I like to pretend that they do)! Like the sheep with lambs at foot, as the cows calve they too are moved further on to different parcel of land. Like me, my little girl is so excited to see new baby calves, if a calf is born in the night, I tell her in the morning and she can’t wait to go and see it. She is also very aware to keep an eye out for Curlews; next time I write I’m really hopeful that I will be able to give some good news for the several pairs that we have been studying throughout April. We have attempted to keep a diary of them and most days we try and capture little snippets of them and they’re unusual mannerisms.

For now, I need to go as I have just given out cakes as ‘breakfast-pudding’ to buy me a couple more minutes to finish this off! Thank you to those who keep reading these! I’m really enjoying sharing brief bits and bobs of what we get up to! If there are things that anybody reading these are particularly interested in reading then I would thoroughly appreciate a nod in the right direction… constructive criticism is even welcome as I really want to keep people interested!

Next time, hopefully there will be a little more Curlew and a little less predation! Rhi x

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