March 2006

View from the Hill                                      25th February 2006

This is the time of year in the agricultural world for conferences and training courses, seminars, workshops, breakfast meetings, open days and yogic flying.  Well not the last one really, but at times it feels like it, I could probably have spent every day since Christmas at one jolly or another, paid for either by firms desperately advertising their wares, Defra, (the department for the elimination of farming and rural activity), or if I am mug enough, myself.  Fortunately I have managed to resist all but the most appetising, in order to stay at home and get some real work done.

During February we have been doing the regular work of feeding and looking after animals, most of which are on a healthy diet of rape and turnips.  Incidentally, I have never noticed, before this year, what an unmistakably pungent form of halitosis is caused by turnips in the animals eating them.  Besides this, twice a week for the last month we have been sorting bunches of animals for market.  Lambs have been heading for the abattoir at Sturminster Newton, and beef animals have gone to Shaftesbury market to be sold on to farmers with access to cheaper feeds than we can get, in order to finish the animals for slaughter.  The only way we can finish animals properly is on the lovely grass on the river meadows, at the right time of year (not mid-winter when nothing is growing).  Turnips plus hay or straw make a good maintenance ration, but not a fattening one.

This month we have been practising building skills, laying blocks and concrete, levelling floors with diggers, insulating roofs and so on, all very handy stuff to keep the buildings up together.  We had a false start with the spring sowing a couple of weeks ago, when the soil was dry and we could fool ourselves that spring was on its way, many farmers got quite a lot done on the lighter soils, but we only sowed one small field of beans.  Plenty more beans to do yet, and about 100 hectares of spring barley too.  We will just be patient and wait for some warmer drier weather.

Going off on a bit of a tangent, another project on the go at the moment involves doing some research into a number of different ways of reducing our dependence on the oil that we run our machinery on and heat our homes with.  I am quite keen on the idea of crushing our own rape oil and turning it into biodiesel, also putting in a new central heating boiler that will burn grain, as well as a solar water heating system and a wind driven electricity generator on the roof.  The downside is that the capital cost of all these things makes them a bit marginal unless the oil price goes up some more.

We have had some unexpectedly early lambs appear in the last week, some of the 150 welsh Beulah ewes we bought in last autumn must have had a bit of early autumn unsupervised liason with a ram in ewes clothing or some other disguise, because the rest of the flock are not supposed to lamb until May.  The first lambs arrived last weekend in the cold east wind that has continued ever since.  On closer inspection of the flock it seems that about 25 are 3 months closer to giving birth than they should be.

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