June 2015

View from the Hill                                                                 8th June 2015

 Rain in May fills the barn with corn and hay, or so the old saying goes, somehow we managed to amass 80mm of rain in May, though it certainly didn’t feel much like it, more than 40mm fell in the first five days of the month, and the most of the rest fell in the last two days. Most of the month has seen nice dry growing weather with quite a lot of sunshine, great for keeping disease at bay. When we get to this time of year we start to ask ourselves if we have had enough rain to see the crops through to harvest, we always fear too many wet and miserable days and a shortage of sunshine when the crops are grain-filling, but would a drought be a disaster?  It would be if we had very high temperatures, so that plants would start to roll their leaves to reduce moisture loss, this means photosynthesis slows, and growth is restricted.  The perfect recipe would be an inch or two of rain, gently, and overnight, giving it a chance to soak in, rather than run off.  The picture above shows a good vigorous crop of poppies, which always prefer dry weather to wet, we got though the tricky establishment phase, and avoided damage from frost, which took out some 400ha of the crop nationally (out of a total of 2200ha), and now they are forging ahead, watch out for white flowers before the end of June.

Lambing has proceeded through the whole of May, the dry weather has been great for new lambs, though cold nights not so helpful, the fields around Durweston are now dotted with gamboling lambs and their doting mothers.  Last week we took the mobile sheep race around to each field to catch up all the lambs for rubber ringing, to vaccinate and worm them, and apply a maggot fly spray to all the ewes and lambs.  This should keep them clear of fly strike for a couple of months, and may well need to be repeated after that.

The last three cows finally produced their offspring near the end of May.  As soon as a calf is born, the cow’s hormones send milk production into overdrive, and seeing as most of our cows are the progeny of dairy cows, which are bred to produce plenty of milk, this can be a struggle for a new born calf to deal with.  Bulging bags, warm weather and flies are not a good combination, and we had a spot of bother with mastitis at one point, though once the calf is a few days old, and learns to take milk from all four quarters, things settle down a bit and the cow will match her production to the calf’s appetite. Our little ginger calf who lost his Mum some weeks back, seems to be thriving, he has been adopted by one of the other cows, let’s face it they all have milk enough for at least two!  Farmers will sometimes buy in calves to twin on to beef cows, but it is a bit of a gamble, because if the twinning fails, you are left with an orphan to deal with.

Speaking of orphans, we have a tribe of seven lambs in the back garden, still being fed milk four times per day, as some of them are still quite small.  The stronger ones are very entertaining now, and have been named, themed, as per tradition here, this time after the stars of the general election……

                                       Cleggie, Camerons 1 and 2, and Nigel

 In the interest of balance, we do also have a Milli, and a Sturgeon, but they are not in this picture.                                                           

 Footpath maintenance during the summer always involves a bit of mowing, second time around for the paths on Shillingstone hill last week, and for one through the middle of the poppies.  This little vintage outfit is perfect for the job on a sunny day, fully airconditioned, this tractor is a treat to drive.

In the next picture it is shown up against our largest tractor, whose driver Gary, started his career longer ago than anyone might believe, driving one just like this JD 2130, which in those days was considered a modern and quite sophisticated tractor.  His did have a cab on it.

Around the farm everything is growing fast at this time of year, our environmental stewardship headlands are no exception, many are just coming into a great show of ox-eye daisies, with plenty of birdsfoot trefoil lurking beneath.  Later there will be a fine display from the Knapweed, which is growing in ever bigger clumps.

Shortly we will have to begin to clean out the grainstores  in readiness for harvest, although it is proving difficult to get rid of the last few lorry loads of last year’s grain, barley is held up by a sluggish buyer, struggling to place it in a difficult market, and there has been some difficulty over the wheat, having found we have more than we thought, the new weigher we bought last year has not done its job properly!  We can’t complain though, more to sell means last years good harvest just got even better.


Both the winter barley and wheat are now well in ear, and the spring barley is not far behind, with its awns just poking out.  The winter barley is well into grain fill, and in two to three weeks time will start its slow ripening process, aiming for a start to harvest sometime in mid July.

                                                          Winter barley

                                                        Winter wheat

News came in last week (first week of June) of a crop circle, which had appeared near Thornicombe.  Pictures appeared on the Dorset Echo website, showing a frankly rather shabby looking display in a field of what looked like barley, from the air.  Several basic mistakes have been made in the production of this artwork, including the fact that it is too early in the season; the crop is still growing and will turn upwards again from having been squashed onto the ground, spoiling the definition of the piece, also, crop circles are more normally found in wheat, and not until later in June, when the crop is ripening.  Wheat stands more erect than barley, and therefore holds its position and allows a more precise definition of the edges.  The pattern itself is an interesting one, but a shame the execution is lacking!  It is funny how the pictures got into the press so quickly, a better performance on publicity than on the project itself?  It’s a 4 out of 10 from me.  Better luck next time Aliens.


As a follow up to last month’s rant on TB, our whole cattle herd was injected again on Tuesday and tested on Friday, very fortunately all was well and no reactors were found.  Luckily the bulls behaved themselves, they have plenty of distraction at the moment, and have been quite tired.  This just leaves the single cow and her calf, who have been on their own since being found ‘inconclusive’ back at the end of February.  We are still unsure how long they will have to remain separate, as their testing is out of kilter with the rest of the herd.


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