Opinion: Rain, calves and pups on the way

When is it going to stop raining?

Our little corner of Cornwall typically enjoys a very early spring, but not his year.

Winter has a soggy sting in its tail and I’m going mad, waiting for it to get dry enough to get on with spring pasture work and turn out baby calves, now that calving is in full flow.

Jess Jeans with hay bales and dogs

© Jim Wileman

I don’t know of any other business where the weather plays such a critical role in success; my non-farming friends laugh at my meteorological obsession.

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The wet conditions are dragging out winter housing, but thankfully we will have ample silage to see us through.

It does feel like we have had cattle in forever, though. The smell of silage is so ingrained into my hands now I expect I will still be smelling of it in May.


Calving is going well. Last year we blood tested the cows and discovered that we had a serious iodine deficiency. This explained away most of the issues we had last season with calves being too stupid to suck.

Since addressing the issue with a range of suitably expensive potions, touch wood, not a single idiot calf born so far. Spending weeks trying to get a dopey Limousin to suck a grumpy, hormonal cow is not something I hope to revisit.

So far the only issue we have had has been an enormous calf that required our first ever caesarean.

Unfortunately the calf didn’t make it, but the cow has adopted a bought-in calf, so not a complete dead loss there.

I’ve seen a few caesareans in the past, but this was my first time getting stuck in, assisting the vet. Ironically it happened not 12 hours after Will and I spent the evening having a good critique of a similar scenario on Countryfile.


We passed our annual TB test back in January and have been selling stores over the past few weeks. We have been chuffed with the prices we received – the trade has been really strong and long may it continue.

The decision we made a few years back to switch to Limousin stock bulls is finally starting to bear fruit. We are achieving on average £200 a head more compared with 2013.

I always enjoy going to market and comparing our stock with other farmers. I always feel we can improve and when I see really well-grown stock, I always feel like I want to pick the farmers’ brain. What do you feed? Do you creep calves? What stock bulls are you using? What daily liveweight gain are you getting? What’s your calving index?

Focus on performance

Focusing on performance is becoming increasingly important for us. Every year we try to identify and improve uncertain areas.

A few years back we were losing far too many calves. Once we identified and eradicated BVD from the herd, our calving improved drastically. The iodine problem then became apparent and addressing that seems to be working too.

This year, a key area for improvement will be getting the cows back to the bull as quickly as possible and improving our grazing management.

I feel we have a lot to learn from the dairy farms on that score. We will be looking at ways to improve grass use through paddock grazing and moving away from set stocking, but this is going to prove challenging, as we are going to have to address some of the water infrastructure.


I’m also going to start tail-painting the cows again this year. I used to do it before we had the kids and it always proved really useful for identifying repeating cows, but I fell out of the habit.

We really need to tighten up the calving period; there are too many stragglers that aren’t taking to first service.

The dismal weather is hindering us on the home front, too. It’s been weeks since the kids or I have been out on the horses.

Hazel will be pretty feral by the time I get back in the saddle, but with the feeding and bedding taking so long, I simply haven’t had the time to get out on her.

My father-in-law and I are champing at the bit to get vegetables in the garden field. He did manage to get it cultivated a few weeks ago, but so far it’s been too wet to get any seeds in.


We have loads of work to do to get the campsite ready for our first guests later in the spring. As a newcomer to the farm tourism scene, I’ve been amazed at how far in advance people will book; we are just about full for the August bank holiday weekend already.  

I’m upgrading the facilities this year from the makeshift greenhouses we used for the loo and shower last year; hopefully the new structures won’t be so prone to blowing away.

One very exciting piece of news is that our lovely cocker spaniel is expecting pups in the next few weeks.

The kids are beside themselves with excitement and William is furious with Ruben (our springer) for deflowering Daphne.

We had always planned for them to have a litter at some point, but her season took us by surprise and Ruben took full advantage.

As she is getting so big and uncomfy, she has been banned from jumping up in the tractor. Right now, she’s where she is a lot – fast asleep on the porch.

Jess Jeans and her husband Will run 75 suckler cows on an 80ha National Trust farm on the

Devon/Cornwall border. They have two children, Teddy and Lydia. Jess has a degree in rural business management and enjoys horse riding. You can follow Jess on Instagram at @jessicajeans

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