Plaw Hatch Farm

Plaw Hatch Farm Diaries: January

We are delighted to welcome first generation farmer Gala Bailey-Barker into the Indie Farmer fold as a new regular contributor. In her first post we learn about how she got into farming and her experiences of life working at Plaw Hatch Farm (with the help of some of their instagram images).

I always enjoy sharing the life of the farm, so I’m delighted to be asked to make a regular contribution to Indie Farmer (thank you Nigel). I have wanted to be a farmer for as long as I can remember and somehow I have become one.

I volunteered at Plaw Hatch farm during the last few months of 2012, and was fortunate enough to arrive at a time when the farm was considering having an apprentice. After two years I became employed as a farmer. I now have responsibility for our growing flock of 35 Lleyn ewes, 2 Tamworth sows, our Duroc boar and resulting piglets.  I’ve also taken on the day to day work of looking after our 400 laying hens.  

Collecting eggs this afternoon. Some of the chickens were hiding inside out of the crazy wind! A photo posted by Gala Raven (@plawhatchfarm) on

Anna (our mother hen) is also a full time teacher and having set everything up to run smoothly she still oversees the enterprise. We sell the majority of our produce, including our sheep’s wool, through the farm shop. Last year we decided the farm needed a new website which I put together using the huge collection of photos I have amassed in my time here. I also run the farm Instagram, Facebook and now, tentatively, Twitter.

Our lovely Tamworth x Duroc piglets they are growing so fast!   A photo posted by Gala Raven (@plawhatchfarm) on

Working on a mixed farm there’s plenty of opportunity to try your hand at a whole range of tasks. I’ve learned to make silage, drive the combine and baled hundreds of bales of straw with our dear old Massey and wonderful new Mc Hale round baler.

Alice of to harvest delicious greens for the shop! A photo posted by Gala Raven (@plawhatchfarm) on

Getting my tele-handler license allowed me to bed down the cows with the bedding machine. Having engaged with all these things and many other things besides the one thing I had always resisted learning was milking, until last month… In my time at Plaw Hatch I have listened to many conversations and debates about milking in our daily farm team meetings.

It was such a beautiful evening yesterday.   A photo posted by Gala Raven (@plawhatchfarm) on

As I have spent more time with the cows I have come to see how distinctive our cows are and know each one by name. This has made the process of learning to milk in our 6 abreast parlour much easier. One of the most complex parts of learning to milk is understanding when a cow has given all her milk, the point before over milking. We don’t have clusters that automatically come off, so one has to learn that Bramble gives her milk very fast and suddenly she’s finished and that Clover is very slow to milk. All the cows have their cheeky tricks and individual moods. Betsy will almost without fail, stick her head in the oat barrel, once her head is in you are hard pushed to get it out! Some cows like to back up in the parlour and therefore need a chain whilst others have inactive teats that can’t or shouldn’t be milked. They each have their quirks, and having a smaller herd (around 24 milkers) means you quickly get accustomed to their individual nature and needs. Our cows are a mixture of breeds. Mainly Meuse-Rhine-Issel (MRI), Montbeliarde and Viking Red. Many modern cows have been bred to have uniform characteristics including how fast you can milk them and the shape of their udders. By having a varied herd our ambition is towards resilience rather than uniformity. We breed our own replacement dairy calves and this way the herd is gradually adapting to the particular environment of Plaw Hatch. By growing up here and drinking their mothers colostrum they become resilient to many of the challenges they will face during their lifetime.

Milking times!   A photo posted by Gala Raven (@plawhatchfarm) on

To cement my newly learned milking skills I decided to cover for Robin (our herdsman) while he went off to the Oxford Real Farming Conference. Getting up at 5.10am is an interesting experience. Once you’ve set up the parlour and brought the cows round, the parlour becomes your world. You don’t tend to get visitors in the morning but in the afternoon I put up a sign welcoming people to watch but asking them please not to ask me questions. It takes a lot of concentration to make sure everything is going right especially as I am so new to it all.

Here’s hoping we have some dryer weather soon, it was raining so hard on one morning I was milking, during the first week of January, that huge drops of water were running off the cows stomachs and falling down the back of my neck, not what you want early on a chilly January morning.

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