All Hands to the Pumps- (on our farms)

WHEAT WAS sown in perfect conditions on Oct 22 and 23 using the popular variety for this area, Sponsor.

Home-saved seed was drilled at 140kg/ha and purchased seed at 125kg/ha, so we will be able to judge how the two types compare.

 We are enjoying a fine autumn with mainly dry conditions, although chilly at times. It”s a change from previous years when we have been plagued by rain at drilling.

All the land for wheat has received 400kg of a fertiliser containing magnesium and sulphur with calcium, trace elements and a small amount of nitrogen (5%). The fertiliser is claimed to benefit organic matter and soil bacteria.

Having seen good results on maize fields, we hope our wheat crops will enjoy similar benefits, particularly as our organic matter content is always high at 4-6.5% instead of the more normal 2-3%.

The level of home-grown wheat fed to the lambs has been a subject of debate recently. Some of our fat lambs were declassed for too much colour. That was surprising since the lambs are kept outside and receive a ration of oats, gluten, Lucerne, sugar-beet pulp, peas and wheat from ad-lib hoppers.

Since we deliver our own lambs to the abattoir, we decided to wait and check the carcasses ourselves. Much as we thought, the colour was fine – it had been used as a pretext to keep the price down.

As the best lambs were at £4.20/kg deadweight, one can understand the abattoir”s incentive.

Nevertheless, they averaged just under £70 apiece for 19.42kg with some 40% U grades and the rest Rs.

When delivering lambs for friends, the enhanced carcass quality of the clipped lambs with less colour and better conformation and fat texture was obvious.

We will soon be clipping lambs for next year”s Muslim festival of El-Kabir and our ewe lambs for breeding. We will make sure they all have access to shelter afterwards – one advantage of the numerous limestone caves on the farm.

All our bull calves are being kept back for bull beef production instead of selling for veal fattening, and that has put pressure on calf-rearing facilities. Following last year”s good results with yoghurt fermented milk, we have modified the system to economise on milk and help with weaning.

Using the yoghurt system has reduced scouring problems almost to zero, but the drawback was the amount consumed ad-lib and persuading calves to eat concentrates early enough.

This year there is no spare milk to waste and so, at about four weeks old, we start feeding in buckets.

 They have just learnt to drink water and so should adapt quickly, and are strong enough to handle a little stress. Once on buckets they can be rationed far more easily and the amount reduced to encourage eating concentrates.

An added bonus is the encouragement to put their heads through the yokes for feeding.

The calf ration is a hybrid of purchased calf feed and home-made, as we have all the ingredients for other classes of stock. To a 25kg batch of coarse mix calf food, we add 35kg of rolled wheat, 10kg of rolled oats, 12kg of whole peas and 25kg of a Lucerne, pulp and maize gluten mix. Purchased calf food is far more appetising so they eat this more quickly and in greater quantities.

Our milk recorder has suggested a straight mix of whole peas and whole maize grain as a calf ration. But we prefer our own cocktail, although the addition of some whole maize is a good idea.

Tragedy

We missed this year’s Fatstock Show in Vimoutiers after a phone call from our mayor requesting help for another farmer in the parish whose farm was ablaze.

After two fires at Vimer, we know only too well the misery it causes. But this fire was more serious than ours because the house had been destroyed. With other neighbours, we moved his 25 Normande cows and milked them through a parlour in a nearby empty steading. The cows had never seen a parlour and Normandes can prove stubborn.

Fortunately, after a second milking they were much easier to handle. We also moved 130 milking goats to another empty holding that had a milking parlour for goats; not common in this part of France.

Sadly 16 goats and seven calves perished along with the house and most of the steading in the fire.