August 2012

In spite of the weather in the last couple of weeks, we managed to get the wild oats pulled and the grainstores cleaned, by a keen gang of young school leavers.  Some days out in the field were quite miserable, on one particular day there was persistent light rain all day, but the gang remained cheerful throughout, and came back for more after a day’s break.

In the grainstore, we hired a magnificent cherry picker to help us reach the furthest corners so we could service all the equipment that moves the grain around, it also enabled us to carry out some roof repairs, gutter cleaning, and to rig up some high level cabling to improve the cctv system which helps me to monitor the grainstore for the long hours during harvest, whenever that may be.

You might be surprised to know that grain can wear holes in metal pipework, and every year we always have a few sections that need to be taken apart, to be welded up by a skilled operator, not an amateur who only seems to be able to blow holes in the thin metal with the welder.  It is a delicate job, for someone with a steady hand.  A Mig welder is best for this, although in the right hands, our arc welder can do a very acceptable job.

The worst wear points come where the grain falls, repeatedly, on a small area of the inside of the pipe.  It is difficult to prevent this happening, as there are some quite tortuous angles and junctions in place to direct the grain exactly where we want it.

The other day the time came to dose our young cattle with a pour-on wormer, this is a medicine applied to the animal’s back which is absorbed by the body, and will control parasistic worms in the gut of the animal, it will also provide control of flies, and will prevent eggs laid on the animal hatching into maggots.  The sheep are also dosed with a similar drug which likewise gives them protection from fly strike, which can be a desperately painful and cruel way for sheep to suffer.  Flies will lay eggs even on clean wool, and if the animal cannot reach hatching maggots to bite them off when they feel them itching, then the pain and discomfort to the animal can be considerable.  It is surprising how many flies there are about even in this cold and wet summer.

The orphan lambs have been growing well, after a slow start the youngest two, who were born as triplets to a ewe with very little milk, have fought off their early gut infection and are thriving.  Their brother was left with their mother who hopefully had enough milk to keep him going.  After getting through seven bags of milk powder so far, the eldest lambs, now nearly eight weeks old, are down to one feed a day, and they make a lot of noise every time anyone comes near them as they would happily continue to drink milk for months if anyone had the time to mix it up.  It’s weaning time next weekend I’m afraid.

The disastrous weather we have been at the mercy of this summer is taking a deadly toll on some of our crops.  An examination of both wheat and spring barley crops earlier this week showed that fusarium, a fungal disease of the ear, is rampant in the seemingly endless wet weather.  I hope you will be able to see in the photograph how the disease develops in individual spikelets of the wheat ear.  The initial infection will have established itself shortly after ear emergence in early June, and in most years hot and dry weather prevents it from developing.  This year, like no other that any farmers I know can remember, the disease is becoming an epidemic.  The grains in the infected spikelets will, by harvest, be shrivelled and pink or even black from moulds, and of no feed value.  The sample will look very poor and yield overall likely to be severely reduced.  Fusarium can be treated to a limited extent by chemical sprays, but the decision to do so must be taken in early

June, and very high rates of one particular chemical are recommended for this, however this fungicide is not very good at controlling Septoria, a disease of the leaves, as I mentioned last month, so most farmers will have opted for applications of chemicals targeted more at the septoria, because in most years this is the most cost effective way to treat the crop.  As our agronomist said this week, we are now in uncharted territory with such high levels of fusarium, particularly in barley, which he has never seen before.  Sorry to be a gloom munger.

For light relief and an account of how to enjoy the results of the summer deluge visit www.viewfromthehill.org.uk/sample-page/news where you will find pictures of what happens if you mix 88mm of rain in 40 hours with 30 acres of river meadow, 34 lively cattle and a little boat on a sunny Sunday morning!

The June rainfall total was 193 mm, the average is around 55mm.  July so far has dumped 150mm on us, and it is only the 12th today, early printing this month means earlier writing.  The last four months have averaged 150mm each, that’s 6 inches per month, more than half a normal years annual rainfall, which is approximately 40 inches.

Way back on a sunny day in June, we were joined by a very cheerful group of village residents for our Open Farm Sunday tour, we looked at growing crops, met some animals and were even lucky enough to have a bit of sunshine at lunchtime.

Just a taste of what happened on July 9th, when the river Stour burst its banks in July for the first time anyone around here can remember. We had about 2 inches of rain in 30 hours running up to this point.

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