Here’s my first instalment of life on the farm – with 2 months full-time farming under my belt this is a bumper round up of the what’s been happening, my experiences of learning to farm and a little context to my future weekly updates. As always I’d be happy to answer any questions and would be really grateful to receive feedback and any comments…
Having moved our cows and calves back to the sheds from our wildlife grazing land on Pevensey Marsh last week – we have had 2 cases of Black Leg over the space of 5 days. For those of you unfamiliar with this disease (which included myself until Sunday) it doesn’t really have any symptoms and is fatal. We had a case about 25 years ago and then subsequently vaccinated for a number of years, but in the last ten years or so this had lapsed.
Apparently the Clostridium spores can lay dormant in the soil for hundreds of years and once the cow comes into contact with them they then become a carrier. At this point the infected animal becomes a ticking time bomb only activated once it sustains any sort of bruise, when the spores move in to the affected area of the body, multiplying rapidly and effectively poisoning the animal to death. It’s been a couple of days since our Hereford died (the reddish brown cow pictured below only last week) and we are keeping our fingers crossed we don’t suffer any more losses.
One of our British Blues cows..
Much of my day to day activity involves stock work – such as bedding down the cattle (the Sussex heifers in this instance), feeding them with hay (see round feeder in the background)…
I do a lot of lookering on ‘Shrek’ our trusty 4×4 Kawasaki Mule checking there aren’t any problems and ensuring our sheep are happy and have access to plenty of grass, stubble turnips and water. With all the recent wet weather I even managed to get stuck crossing the brook last week…
We moved our flock of 215 Suffolk and Mule Ewes and four Rams down the lane back to our main farm Hockham.
Barn Fire – a local farmer had a devastating fire rip through two farm buildings burning over 1000 large square bales of hay and straw.
Luckily there was no loss of life and the fire brigade were quickly on scene – managing to contain the fire from spreading. The farmer was also able to let his livestock out of the adjacent buildings into the fields. As anyone who’s had a fire on their property will know, these events happen at lightening speed and provide a warning to all of us to be more conscious of the risk of fire.
We’ve had 10 new born calves born on the farm over the last couple of months, one of which calved down on the Pevensey Marshes – Here’s our Simmental cow with her calf at foot and the South Downs in the background.
And until last week (when we got them into the buildings for the winter months) the rest of our cows and new born calves were out grazing in ‘pylon’ field at Hockham.
Once calved we often we get the cow and calf into the sheds to keep a closer eye on them for a couple of days, connect them up (if needs be) and ear tag them before letting them back out into the post natal paddock..
Unfortunately during calving this year we did suffer a couple of losses…like this poor fella who’s mother hurt her leg whilst calving and the calf wasn’t able to get his all important dose of Colostrum. Fearing we might lose him we managed to get some from a local dairy farm and had to tube him (as he was too weak to suck) but it was too late and he passed away that evening. On a more positive note the cow has just about made a full recovery herself and is now back on her feet doing well with the rest of the herd.
And I’ve also become somewhat of a surrogate mother myself having to bottle this little guy morning and night – the calf, who has a loving and dotting mother (see picture), hasn’t been able to feed from her udder due to problems with his tongue.
This years crop of lambs are nearly fat and I have convinced my parents to let me sell some of the meat direct and learn some butchery skills in the process..(more on this topic soon)..
The tups are in with the ewes and seem to be happy working when not fighting amongst themselves – our Suffolk ram is only just recovering himself after a nasty run in with one of our Beltex cross rams (I would normally post a pic of the injury but it was rather gruesome)…here’s a picture of the one of our Beltex rams (quite possibly the victor) instead..
Our cattle numbers have dwindled over the last few years and having spoken to my parents about moving towards more native breeds I spotted a number of Sussex heifers up for sale at our local livestock market in Hailsham. Looking up the details we found out that one of the vendors only lived a couple of miles up the road and has a pedigree suckler herd of Sussex. Since my parents knew him we managed to get a sneak preview of the heifers on the Sunday before the sale.
Going to a livestock market is a bit like stepping back in time, if it wasn’t was for the occasional glimpse of a smart phone – this age old farming scene could literally be 50 or more years ago! The days selling commenced and we settled in to gauge the buying mood – watching lot after lot being sold, noting down prices and catching up on local news with other farmers.
After a good couple of hours the first lot of Sussex heifers came into the pen. The bidding started and before you know it we had bought 10 Sussex heifers – Mum promptly phoned Dad with the good news and half an hour later he arrived with the Ifor Williams livestock trailer to ferry them home..
One of our new Sussex heifers in her new home.
Family team work setting up our trusty Rappa, a sheep handling system, that makes penning and dealing with sheep out in the field infinitely easier than other methods.
This particular day we were worming our lambs and also selecting which ones to join the flock.
Action shot of me administering a dose of wormer…
A beautiful sunrises over the farm – one of the perks to living in the countryside!
Ploughing up arable land we farm in Wadhurst – with Bewl Reservoir in the background.
Dad drilling some winter corn..
And finally I’m beginning to get to grips with the farming social calendar back in East Sussex. Surrounded by fellow well worn wax jackets (possibly the only similarity with East London) I joined in the annual Ashburnham Tractor Trundle and hitched a lift on one of the 60 + vintage tractors and trailers…
That’s all for this week folks. Please check back next week for an update on our Black Leg situation, I’ll also be visiting a farmers market in London, attending a two day british meat and butchery course and plenty more besides.