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February 2012 - Posts - Soil Association Apprentice

Soil Association Apprentice

Emma Heseltine blogs during her placement at Hadrian Organics

February 2012 - Posts

Anne is about a week overdue. This morning its extremely windy and throwing it down, so of course this is when the calf is born. Im doing some cleaning of ice boxes for meat when one of the boys from the Gilford centre comes running up to tell me to come quick. I head to the little paddock and Susan has got Anne and the calf in the little shed. The calf cant be more than a couple of hours old and it looks a bit wobbly and obviously hasn’t suckled. This is bad news, colostrum is vitally important in the first few hours of life as it gives energy and precious antibodies to the newborn.

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It almost feels like spring is in the air, there have been several days this week when the temperature has got up above 9 degrees and the sun has been shining. To make it feel all the more like spring there was a new calf this morning. I’ve been keeping an eye on Cypress as I have calculated all the due dates for our cattle, based on the vet’s prediction of how in calf they were when she PD’d them, and put them on the calendar. Cypress was due according to my calculations on the 27th January. So far no calf, which is making my predictions look pretty stupid. Every morning when I go to feed them I check, hopeful to see a little brown and white blob, but no luck. Then this morning here he is! The first of the year and the first ‘K’ is named Kookaburra. Like all calves he is massive eyed and long legged, I look forward to seeing him running about, well done Cypress!
The house is starting to look like a marmalade factory. We are now in top gear as far as chopping, boiling and bottling marmalade is concerned. This week I actually got a blister from chopping. Next weekend is the Dalemain marmalade festival and we will be having a stall there all weekend. We have finally this weekend entered our submissions to the competition, including those from Halo and Croftlands, two of the groups who regularly come to help on the farm. I hope they win something.
We have been discussing halter training our young store cattle. If they would walk on a halter it would make life so much easier when we have to move them anywhere, if the vet needs to see them or if they need some medicine. I don’t think I’m quite up to showing them. We have enlisted the help of Nicky Luckett who is a local pedigree Longhorn breeder, expert in showing cattle and provided us with a couple of our cows way back in the day (Yolanda and Wasi) Nicky has a few youngsters to halter train so we are going over to help and hopefully learn a bit. The kindest way to do it is in stages with lots of encouragement, this group are heifer calves aged between 8 months and 1 year old. The first job is to actually get the halter on the calf; some are calmer than others. I feel a little like a cow-girl trying to lasso the halter over the horns and ears, but I eventually decide they don’t know me well enough to let me get close enough. We get one into the race and then it is a little easier. The next trick is to try and get the heifer to walk along a little with the halter on, and me holding the other end. These calves are strong and I get dragged around quite a bit but eventually a measure of calm is reached and we move on to the next. Lavender is the last we get to and she is not keen. I manage to get the halter on without too much difficulty but she has a good stamp on my foot in the process, that’s going to bruise! After a bit of fighting me, bucking around and upsetting the others we have calm again. We leave them for a little while to get used to the feeling of the halter. If they wear it for an hour or so a day for a week they get used to it and then you can start trying to lead them. The process takes massive amounts of patience and a lot of sweet talking.The advantages are obvious; cattle that are calm when being handled.

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It never rains but pours. This morning when I was feeding the ewes at Houghton I noticed one hanging back on her own when the others came to get their wheat. This is never a good sign although she looked perfectly healthy. I went to investigate and discovered the reason she looked so dejected, she had lost her lamb. She is baaing pitifully at me as if to say, ‘come on sort this out human’, but there is nothing I can do. Its 5 weeks to lambing and its defiantly dead. We isolate her and consult the vet. It could be an infectious cause and we don’t want a repeat of a previous year when toxoplasmosis ran through the flock, (horrifying I’m told.) There is unfortunately no placenta so there is little point in sending it to the vet lab as most infectious causes for abortion are harboured there. There could be a million reasons why, even the fact that she’s a gimmer could contribute, it’s her first lamb. We need to keep an eye out and make sure there are no more in the next few days. It’s not a nice way to start the day but I feel most sorry for the ewe, standing by her lamb baaing her sorrow and confusion to me and her flock mates.
I’ve been trying to get better on the tractor at Willowford. We have been knocking in posts and have been moving the posts around with the tractor and trailer. I’ve to go fill up the trailer with posts. After a wobbly start I manage to get going in second gear (why is that? It feels counter-intuitive to set off in anything but first gear) it feels horribly unstable and every lump and bump means I have to correct our course as the steering seems very sensitive. I am definitely getting better, I didn’t crash and even managed to change gear, an achievement as the location of any of the gears is something of a mystery, there is no gear knob.
Jenny, Daisy’s calf is looking scraggy. All the rest in the weaned calves field are looking great, James the calf especially is looking well and is making friends with anyone who enters the field to see if they have brought any food. So we get them all in the pens for a check up, small cattle are so much easier to move around than the big mama’s, although one does stand on my foot which still hurts somewhat. We decide to give her a wormer as she is looking quite crappy, this might be why she is skinny. We put her in with Wasi and June in the little paddock so that she can get more food, less competition might help her out.
The sheep at Houghton are getting some wheat in the morning and the evening now, as we get closer to lambing its important to get the nutrition right. Most of the year they are quite aloof and wont come anywhere near you but when you have a bucket of wheat in your hands it’s a different matter. As soon as they see me there is a stampede. I often have trouble putting the wheat in the troughs as I get jostled by 50-odd sheep. They are certainly quite unruly and as they are huge pregnant Mule ewes have given me some nice bruises. Sometimes I wish we had small calm sheep.

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Whilst I was away there was a tragedy. A sneaky four legged fiend got into the hen house. It was a massacre, we had 24 hens and now there are only 10. I’m kind of glad I didn’t see the carnage, it must have been horrible. I know a fox has to eat too but it did not need to kill that many. Sad times at the farm, no eggs for anyone for a while it think, the poor girls must be traumatised. We have some pullets on order but they won’t be ready until March. Our sad little brood will have to survive until then. The fox is unlikely to be so lucky.
It’s almost time to start getting things planted, it seems like spring might be around the corner despite the recent cold snap. We are planning to get the tomatoes going in the greenhouse and get the sweet peas in. So what we really need is some compost. In steps me with a fork, the sieve and a plastic sheet. First I try the stuff in the top compost heap that we discovered the other week when we were re-arranging it. The heap over the wall from the car park where all the trailer poo/straw goes was looking a little unruly and was spreading into the orchard, so the Halo group and I decided to split it in two and turn it over. We found some great stuff at the bottom that had been merrily composting for quite some time so put it on one side. I try to sieve this but its a little bit claggy and after a frustrating 20 minutes of turning the handle on the sieve I only have a measly 3 small pots of compost. Time for a better plan. I head down the garden to the other heap, the one the gardener keeps for best and find some much more suitable stuff. Soon I have 12 pots ready for planting. Now we need to get them a little warmer, it’s actually below freezing outside now, so they go in the conservatory to warm up. In a couple of days we will be able to start planting I think.
We are starting a new fence at Willowford. There is a long stretch to be put in so we start hammering in the posts. After a post knocker incident (why is the top loose? That wont work!) we have to do it with the maul, a long an arduous process. At lunch time I am sat admiring the lovely sunny wintry day when the curious Angus’s come down for a nosey. What’s this? A row of scratching posts just for us? No! Get lost! I shoo them away, the posts are fine, and if they couldn’t take a little mauling from the cattle they wouldn’t be much good.
The halo group proved their enthusiasm for anything jam-related in autumn so we are getting them on to marmalade making this week. Whilst some of the guys help finish off the wall we have been working on at Wallace field the rest of us get chopping and squeezing. The electric juicer makes life a lot easier and soon we have several pans on the go, chopping the peel and debating thick cut or thin? High peel or low? We are going to enter one of their jars in the marmalade festival at Dalemain at the end of the month, in the community group’s category. I hope they win!

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