As the evenings draw in and the weather cools, there is a definite change of pace on the farm. The winter feeding regime is starting to dominate the working day and checking the stock is becoming a job less suited to a stroll with the pram and a toddler in tow, thanks to the encroaching mud. As a result I am spending more time in the house and less out and about on the farm.
So far autumn has been kind to us; the cattle are still grazing, although we are now buffer feeding and decreasing stocking rates to reduce poaching. Soon it will be time for the older suckled calves to be weaned and housed, so Will is busily trying to get the yard ready for winter. Gates need to be rehung, water troughs serviced and the silaging equipment needs to be evicted from the cattle shed. This is will upset my hens, as they have been laying in the pick-up of the baler all summer.
Store prices seem to have been firming up in recent weeks and we recently sold a batch of strong steers to a large finisher. All was well until he came to collect his new stock. We always seem to breed a couple of nutcases each season and unfortunately this year’s psychos were in this batch.
All but two of the bullocks were easy to drive into the loading pen, but the ornery pair decided they didn’t like the idea of moving home. We spent a couple of hours trying every trick (and curse) in the book to load them, but after their flight response developed into a fight instinct we decided to retreat and regroup another day. Eventually, after a week of coaxing them with some beef nuts, we managed to trick the terrible twosome into a shed and they were quickly loaded and on their way to the fattening shed.
The bale wrap that we spent a fortune on in the spring is about to become my biggest bugbear as we start to use the silage. Every year I set up a fool-proof plastic recycling station beside the barn so that whoever is feeding the cows can easily deposit each class of waste in the correct dumpy bag.
I start the winter with a thorough training session on how this is to be done and yet every year I end up spending my days rifling through the bags and resorting the plastic that has been jumbled up, or worse, left on the ground in a muddy heap! This year I am planning a terrifying list of sanctions for anyone who messes up my system. All suggestions gratefully received.
Will’s main milking customer is in the process of installing robots, so I will soon be enjoying his company during the evenings instead of watching him wolf down dinner before passing out on the sofa by 9pm. However, while the customer is busy in the short term, this has meant that Will has been milking even more, up to 10 times a week recently – no mean feat when we have 80ha of our own to look after. As a result he has been grumpier than usual and my recent request to have the Aga turned on was met by a tirade of grumblings.
Our Aga was installed in the late 1940s (no, really!) and the oil conversion was fitted sometime in the 1970s. As a result she is a temperamental old maid and requires gentle coaxing into service. It took three days of bleeding, lighting and relighting before she finally decided to co-operate. At one point Will was considering installing a mattress beside it to make the process more comfortable. Finally he succeeded in keeping it alight for more than a few hours and I have been enjoying the luxury of being able to dry laundry without using the tumble drier and hot water out of the tap.
Edward started nursery this term. It has been really nice to see him settling in and making new friends. Now when I drop him off he shoves me out the door saying “go home mummy!” Sometimes I think they are growing up too fast. Lydia has started on solid feed and has inherited her father’s love of chocolate biscuits. It doesn’t seem five minutes since she was a tiny newborn, but now she has learned to sit up and is trying to join in playing with her brother, which is fine as long as she keeps her hands off his toy tractors.
My dear mother-in-law bravely volunteered to babysit recently when we attended our old YFC’s annual dinner and dance. We bowed out of active club life when we moved to the farm, as we simply didn’t have the time, but we enjoy showing up a few times during the year to catch up with everyone and let our hair down a bit.
The event didn’t disappoint. I emptied a couple of bottles of wine with some old friends and we compared baby photos and cattle photos along with the customary bopping about to old favourite YFC tunes and newer dance tracks I have never heard before, but that had every member under twenty gyrating as if they were in Ibiza.