Autumn is rapidly turning to winter down here in Cornwall. We have been so lucky with the weather these past couple of months – thanks to a mild September and October we have managed to put off winter feeding by a good six weeks, but now the rain has arrived the fields are rapidly turning to swamps.
We are blessed with pretty free-draining soil in the Tamar Valley, so we are able to outwinter all the suckler cows on forage crops.
We have grown a field of forage rape for the first time this year and we are very impressed with how it has grown. It was a bit of and emergency job as the pesky flea beetles munched up all of the kale we had originally tilled.
I’m looking forward to see how well it feeds out and how winter-hardy it will be. I have invested in a new pair of waterproof trousers in anticipation of months of trudging through mud to move electric fences with a mob of hungry cows on my heels.
We have finished weaning all the spring-born suckler calves, so it has been very noisy in the yard this past week; I have been busy clipping their backs to stop them from sweating in the shed. Will is trying to finish building the bulk bunkers so we can start buying in our beef nuts in bulk rather than the tote bags we rely on at the moment. It should save a good chunk of money and hassle.
Our first Limousin calves from the bull we bought 18 months ago are going to be heading to market soon and I am so impressed with them. They are, without doubt, the best cattle we have ever bred.
I must admit to once being a bit sceptical of Limousins based on stories I had heard about their lively temperament, but ours seem very chilled and easy to handle, just like their dad.
We are now on the hunt for another young Limousin bull for next spring – unfortunately, the sniffle our Charolais bull was suffering from that I mentioned a few months ago proved to be rather more terminal, so we are going to be a bull down otherwise.
Alongside the suckler calves I have gone back to the calf-rearing business. I always used to have a few pens of calves, but I gave up for a while after I had Lydia. But now that she is toddling about, I’ve dusted off my milk feeder and staked a claim on the front of the barn.
There are currently only eight Angus calves in residence, but I plan to build up the numbers to about fifty over the next few months. Calf rearing is a job I really enjoy. I’m very particular about every aspect of their care, not least about hygiene.
Will is not allowed to feed my calves – he just can’t quite grasp the importance of hot washing all the equipment after every feed and why I insist on liming the pens, but then, they often say calf rearing is a woman’s job (although I am sure there are lots of chaps out there doing a cracking job).
In the past we have always kept the reared calves to sell as big stores, but from now on I will be selling them as stirks as soon as they are weaned to boost the cashflow.
It seems counter-intuitive to be buying in so many cattle at a time when we are trying to eradicate BVD, but we are going to be tissue-sampling all the bought-in calves and keeping them isolated until we know their status.
Away from the farmyard, now that Bonfire night is out of the way, it is hard to ignore the Christmas juggernaut heading towards us. Every other TV ad is for perfume or a sofa that can be “delivered in time for the holidays”. This year I am ahead of the game and I am already a good chunk of the way through the gift list for the kids.
Now that Teddy is three, Christmas is well and truly on his radar and his wishlist keeps getting longer. He is desperate for a “proper” saddle for his pony. His pony has a perfectly functioning saddle, but he has spotted a bright blue Western saddle while I was scrolling through eBay and he just has to have it. We will be standing out like a sore thumb on the hunting field in that getup on New Year’s Day.
Online shopping is a farmer’s wife’s best friend when it comes to Christmas – it’s ideal, being able to buy everything from the comfort of the kitchen between chores and having the lot delivered to the door. Not always my door I might add, but our neighbours are generally pretty good about not holding my shopping to ransom when the delivery driver’s sat-nav lets him down.
The thought of dragging both kids into Plymouth to battle my way through the festive crowds in search of presents is enough to put me off my breakfast. I’m sticking to ecommerce this year.
As for my present, I’m hoping for a fully functioning, all-singing, all-dancing, wheelbarrow. Traipsing up and down the yard with buckets of cake and milk and a toddler in tow is taking ages. I know, I’m high-maintenance!