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January 2012 - Posts - Soil Association Apprentice

Soil Association Apprentice

Emma Heseltine blogs during her placement at Hadrian Organics

January 2012 - Posts

The boss is away and I’ve been left in charge. This is quite a daunting prospect as things tend to keel over as soon as she goes away. Today disaster is averted though when I spot Beechnut acting oddly at Wallace field. She is up near the fence and looks like she is eating the grass through it. I go past again and have a closer look about 20 minutes later and she is still there, that’s not right. I go over and sure enough she has got her horn stuck in the fence. The grass is always greener, but she is not best pleased. As you can imagine it is much harder to disentangle one of our big mama’s than one of the cheeky sheep (who take great delight in getting stuck in fences, gates, hedges, baler twine, troughs etc…) With some help from Ian, one of our Monday volunteers, I get her free. She is very happy and is eager to get the hay we have brought them. The fence needs to be patched but at least there hasn’t been a cow disaster. She would have eventually just pulled the post out and then may have been off up the road to Armathwaite, which would have been a headache.
In order that I don’t get too cocky about managing on my own the Land Rover decides to break down. It refuses to entertain the notion of going backwards, which makes getting out of the yard an impossibility. I have to get the garage to come and take it away and fix the gears (please don’t let it be an entire new gear box) good job I have my own car too. Lets make sure I don’t break that.
Trim is with us at Wallace Field and someone else is herding sheep. As you know Trim wont listen to me so we often have herding problems, but this time its not even our sheep. There are some guys who have come down the drive with a portable pen to check and dose the rent-a-sheep our neighbour has in his field. I realise that Trim is missing just as we are about to have dinner so go to investigate. She has decided that as sheep are being herded within earshot she has a responsibility to help. I go to try and retrieve her but it turns out she is doing okay and actually helping the guys and their dog, despite ignoring all commands aimed at her. I apologise but they don’t mind too much, they think it’s pretty funny in fact. Perhaps we should have been charging them for freelance dog services. Later when we are crushing some wheat Trim falls asleep in the hay, she’s an old lady and it was a tiring morning.
It the weekend and I’ve to get down to Loughborough for the latest of my apprenticeship seminars. This one is pure agricultural so it just me and James, we are staying in the lap of luxury at Lubcloud Dairy farm in Joanna Herbert-Stepney’s cottage. The subjects to be covered are Arable and Beef. I don’t know much about arable but I’ve been spending a lot of time with our cattle so am hoping I have a reasonable knowledge. It’s great to get out and see other farms, everyone likes a good nosey, and the farm which we do our beef unit on also has Longhorns so I am very pleased at this. I come away with a much better knowledge of arable systems and some homework from the beef seminar. How much does it cost us to produce 1kg of our finest beef? It’s a good question which might take me a while to work out!

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The lambs I picked out for Brampton market are all at Houghton, they are going to the abattoir tomorrow. Before they go we have to give them a little trim. For hygiene reasons the abattoir doesn’t want muddy or daggy sheep, we have to tidy them up a bit. This usually means ensuring they are dry, so keeping them in the lambing shed overnight and trimming the wool around the tail. We have been having a fairly mild and wet winter, I’m sure you’ve noticed, and so they are getting a lot muddier than usual. To avoid the wrath of the abattoir men we have decided to clip their bellies as well to get rid of all the dirty wool. Luckily we have some electric trimmers which make life easier than using hand shears. It’s quite possible to the job on your own but much easier with two, these lambs are in fact quite large now and can get quite rowdy when they want to. We double team them; I keep them still whilst Susan gives them a trim around the bum. Next I practice my sheep tipping skills (getting there, more practice needed) and put it on its back for a belly trimming. Soon our little group of lambs is looking much neater ready for their final trip tomorrow. Do us proud lambs.
Sometimes a quiet word is all that you need. We want to take Croft from Aglionby back to Houghton. She is due to calve in the near future and we need to give her a bolus. After a tragic loss of a great cow and blood work being done our entire herd has been prescribed these boluses by the vet. They are suffering from mineral deficiencies which are apparently a common problem in the Eden valley. Unfortunately Croft has a bit of a stubborn head on. We have to chase the whole herd round the field several times before getting her into the pen, but eventually she goes in with Yolanda (who is actually her mum and one of our oldest cows) and is loaded up with a bit of cajoling and some hay. We have a group of youngsters doing an agriculture course helping us out today, three lads who are quite keen. Back at Houghton Susan and I decide to speed things along by getting Croft into the crush before the lads catch us up in their bus. The cattle are not daft and will recognise the familiar voice and outline of Susan and to some extent me, which makes it easier to convince them to go in the crush. A gaggle of unfamiliar people is scary, the lads are quite understanding, quiet and careful considering their age, but unfamiliar makes life harder. We get her in and halter her; the last thing you want is a Longhorn whipping its head around when you are trying to give it a bolus. I have a go but lacking confidence don’t manage it so Susan shows me how it’s done. Very quickly Croft is out and reunited with Cypress and Anne who are already in the big Tarraby field.

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Wasi’s calf June is looking a bit on the skinny side. We have been watching her for a few days now and suspect that she is not getting milk. Its time to intervene, we get Wasi and June out to Tarraby and load them up to take to Wallace Field where hopefully we can feed her up a bit. What we need (and don’t have) is a calf creep, which is a feeder which will allow June in to get to the food, but that is too small for Wasi. We put our heads together and have a scrounge around for materials. Half a wooden crate, a bent metal hurdle, some pallets, fence posts and a whole lot of baler twine; an idea is forming. After some debate and wielding of the maul we have prototype one. The crate on its side against the fence is high enough to allow June in but thin enough to stop the gigantic-horned Wasi in, the pallet and hurdle make a funnel held with fence posts. Now to test, add some hay and see if Wasi can get in. Clearly too crafty for us, she manages to manoeuvre her horns through the gap in the fence and get the hay. Back on the scrounge we come up with some more pallets to tie to the fence, make the creep a little thinner and block the hole in the fence. Prototype two is almost a success; Wasi can’t get in but can certainly block the entrance. The trick is to give her some food on the other side of the creep, giving June a chance to get in. Now we just have to convince June that wheat is good and we will be well away. We tie a bucket to the inside back wall and fill it with wheat, hopefully she will get the idea.
There is a tree down at Willowford. A huge sycamore has come down by the river and we could do with chopping it up and using it for the wood burner before it gets washed away, which has happened before. So we take the chainsaw, tractor and log splitter down to the river. Liam gets to the task of carving up the trunks and I skirt the edges clearing the smaller branches with an axe, making a big bonfire pile. Once there are some slices I use the log splitter to chop them into smaller manageable chunks. Its hard wood so makes an incredibly satisfying crack when it splits. We soon have a fairly efficient system going on and a huge pile of logs mounts up. There are easily a couple of big trailers full which will keep the farm warm for a good while. Storms can be useful sometimes.
There is an extra sheep at Wallace field. I’ve to get the lambs in, weigh them and pick out three fit ones for the next market. We have a little detour getting them in, Trim is a one woman dog and will not listen to me so disrupts the herding process somewhat. Eventually Skye, with a little help from me, gets them into the pen. There should be 26 but a bright white face catches my eye, there are 27. Our lambs are all Mule cross Suffolk so are black faced and black legged, there is a mutton ewe in with this group but she is a Mule with the black and white face of her Swaledale mother. I catch the interloper, she is a Cheviot I think belonging to a neighbour. She has a tag and I consult the boss who gives me a number for the neighbour, we don’t want her hanging around in our flock any longer than necessary. Promptly a Landover appears from over the hill and we pop her in the back to return to her rightful flock. Profuse apologies are offered, but it’s a fact that sheep are determined to be where they are not supposed to be, it can’t be helped and there’s no harm done.

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There have been some escapees at Wallace Field. The heifers in Big Dipper are looking mighty happy and smug when I come down to feed the creatures, I wonder why? I drive round to the shed to get some hay for the calves and find some evidence. Bin of wheat, knocked over. Hay, strewn around and cow pats spread liberally throughout the shed. I suspect cattle have had something to do with this… sure enough the gate to Big Dipper is wide open. It seems the heifers have leant on it (it’s got a dodgy latch) got out and spent much of the previous afternoon and possibly the night chomping away in the shed. Then they took themselves back to their field and tried to look innocent. Nice try girls, shame you cant shut the gate behind you. Guess who isn’t getting much in the way of extra food today.
At Wallace Field the heifers have stayed in Big Dipper today but we are having another problem. The entrance is fairly steep and has got a bit muddy over the last few weeks, inevitably the quad and trailer full of silage for the heifers gets stuck. Team effort is in order and two of us push whilst Susan tries to drive it up and out. Some wheel spin and elbow grease and suddenly its raining mud, all down the back of my neck. I try not to shriek like a girl but its cold and makes me jump, dissolving into laughter I manage one more push and the bike is free. It is decided that we should go up the road and use the top gate in the future.
There is a wall fallen down at Wallace field. The halo group are going to help us fix it on Fridays, it’s a good group project and it’s a fair old length that’s come down. First its time to dig it out, get all the stones out of the area and sort them into size order, which makes it easier when reassembling. It seems the boys have it under control and soon have a system going on, so the girls and I clear out to get on with another job. The stable needs mucking out and the calves have made a lovely mess on the hard-standing their hay hecks are on. We spend a happy hour shovelling various types of poop about. You get used to the smell after a while and the fact that it will be great fertilizer is a motivator. We also discuss muck shovelling as a gym alternative, who needs weights and tread mills when there is shovels and a barrow? Its green gym; a free work out and a good turn for the animals and the environment. Its social and you can see results quickly, if only in the fact that the stable looks clean.

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