A very productive month, we have sown all our spring barley earlier than in most years, also more than half of the poppies. All crops have had their first doses of fertilizer, and have consequently perked up a great deal in the warmer weather as it takes effect. The oilseed rape is growing fantastically fast, and at this rate will be in flower at least as early as last year. Looking back at my notes I find we had an invasion of pollen beetle this time last year, fortunately this has not happened so far this year, and as flowering is very nearly upon us, it looks unlikely that we will need to apply an insecticide. We seem to be getting stuck in a pattern of dry springs, which is great for getting stuff done, but when the media starts to talk of hosepipe bans this early in the year, one remembers that we will have to pay for it later on in one way or another. The soil temperature is only around 6 degrees at the moment, which is not particularly warm, yet a lot of plants have put on quite a lot of growth already, it usually needs a good dose of rain to get the soil warmed up, and to mobilize the nutrients lurking below ground.
Our cows have been steadily popping out calves over the last three weeks, we have had a more interesting variety of colours in the calves this year, a trick of genetics, which has produced several red calves (well brown really) from two black parents. It may mean that our bull Bonnington is carrying a recessive gene for red colouring somewhere in his genome. A teacher friend of mine explains it like this: Coat colour in cattle is controlled by a number of genes and is more complicated than straightforward monohybrid and dihybrid patterns. Epistasis plays an important role where genes at different loci interact with each other. It all makes interesting reading and there is lots of stuff on the internet. Some articles suggest that red is recessive to black but another one suggested that all cattle have an R gene and that interactions between genes determine final coat colour. It’s fascinating reading and has potential for a really good biology project. So there you have it!
Bonnington himself shows quite a bit of interest in the new arrivals, as you can see here. It is always surprising how much the cows need to drink after the effort of giving birth, I guess it is to wash away the taste of the afterbirth, which they always insist on eating………..
There has also been some unofficial procreation going on in the sheep field. It turns out, as so often happens, that some of the new ewes we bought in last autumn must have already been pregnant, to some itinerant welsh ram no doubt, because we now have six lively little characters like this one, in amongst the ewes. Lambing is not supposed to begin until May on this farm, but no one told his Mum.
This fellow is much happier recently, after a fox murdered several of his young wives back in January. The hen house has been brightened up by the arrival of six ex-cage hens, who have adapted to the outdoor life very quickly, although they do seem to have lost the laying habit along the way. They spend their time scratching out the flower beds in the garden, and providing the dog with endless entertainment, one of them is so tame she has been seen in the dog’s clutches having its feathers licked.
The grainstore operator has had to admit to some kind of cockup last harvest, he was convinced that he had accurately weighed 494 tonnes of winter barley, yet after loading out 18 lorries, weighing 520 tonnes in total, there still seems to be what looks like two more loads in the store, turning what had looked like a pretty miserable yield into quite a respectable one. The mystery of where the mistake came has not been solved, and although the extra yield is of course good news, it has given our buyer a bit of a headache finding a home for the barley this late in the season. A difficulty with a lot of last year’s barley is that it has been too high in nitrogen, the problem has been worst over in the east, where yields were very poor. Low yields tend to push up the N content in the grain, and this poses a problem for the maltster and the brewer, as high protein malt leads to cloudy beer. We have at least been able to sell our barley for malt, but over in the east things have been pretty awful. I have heard that some farmers inNorfolk had such bad yields that they were defaulted on their forward sold contracts. In plain English this means that they had sold more than they actually harvested. When this happens, the farmer has to pay the merchant the value of the grain he was not able to supply, a double whammy. To add insult to injury, much of the small amount of barley they did manage to harvest was not of malting quality either, so had to go for animal feed, with a huge price deduction, a triple whammy. It is too easy to sell grain into a lively market, thinking you will get a reasonable yield at harvest time, but if you get it wrong, the consequences can be very expensive.
The other weekend I had the honour of being asked to co-judge a couple of classes in the Puddletown Young Farmers Ploughing competition. After my visits to the National Ploughing Championships, and the Wessex Horse Ploughing match last autumn, it was at last time to put my experiences to the test……
I was accompanied by a senior member of the family, who is well versed in the matter of ploughing competitions, we had about twenty ploughmen to judge, and it is a surprisingly exacting business. There are about eight different aspects which have to be awarded points, the opening split, then the first eight to ten furrows, followed by assessments of such things as straightness, cloddiness, firmness, level, seedbed quality, neatness of entries, general appearance, and the finish. In each class there were five or six particularly good ploughmen, who knew what they were about, and it took a lot of head scratching to decide on the top three. We were judging the vintage trailed ploughs, and the classic classes, there was an interesting selection of old machinery, still in very good condition, and the odd vintage driver too, that’s why they needed a vintage judge.