A month on from becoming tenants of Northumberland Water on some land surrounding Abberton reservoir and Phil is still behaving like a kid released in a sweet shop. Regular meetings have been happening with Essex Wildlife Trust who oversee the environmental aspects of farming the land. Soil samples have been taken to establish the nutrient base line level, target levels established and sampling will happen at the end of the tenancy and penalties imposed if a 'healthy' soil has not been maintained. They are looking at levels of organic matter, nitrogen and phosphorous.
It was only three weeks ago when we were still in desperate need of rain. The grass seedbeds had been prepared and Phil took the gamble of sowing £2000 worth of seed - the green haze on the left of the picture is encouraging. Hopefully it is the three way mix of Italian rye grasses and not volunteer herbicide resistant black grass. The right will be sown with spring barley and further down was sown with winter wheat only a couple of days ago - before it got too wet and sticky. There wasn't much of a working window for cultivating and drilling this year.
Slugs are the main pest capable of preventing the establishment of a good crop. They thrive in organic matter such as the straw left from the previous crop and like a loose soil structure to move about in. Burning straw and stubble has been banned due to the smuts it created. So, to remove the bulk of the straw now, it is baled and carted off to power stations or used for animal bedding. Compacting the seedbed by rolling is another management tool available, but it may still be necessary to use slug pellets to protect the seedlings.
Their use is kept to a minimum to save the expense, hassle and potential water contamination. Northumberland Water also offer part sponsorship of equipment which will reduce the use of slug pellets. Hence the arrival of two new toys .......
The first machine is for accurately spreading the slug pellets at low rates, the second ( currently ) shiny red machine is a straw rake for splitting up clumps of straw left after baling which can harbor slug populations. Let battle commence.
The cattle were having to be fed silage and hay outside since September as due to lack of rain, the grass didn't grow. Hopefully it won't be a late Spring and they don't need to be indoors too long as they have eaten into their winter food supply. One advantage to this is that they learned to recognise the tractor and follow the bale unroller. Limited photographic evidence as everyone was too involved in the manoeuvre for photography but as our fields now join up, the young stock were able to walk home rather than be loaded into a trailer 4 at a time. Last year this was a very tedious and hairy operation and one of the days Phil 2 ( newest stockman ) came to see if he would like to work with us. Unco-operative cattle breaking through the fencing, mobiles running out of battery and impending dusk made cattle housing in 2015 memorable for all the wrong reasons. Fortunately Phil 2 was not put off and started full time in January. Cattle housing in 2016 consisted of Phil 1 driving the tractor and bale unroller while occasionally letting the following young stock have a bite to eat to keep them interested. Bob and Phil 2 followed behind in the truck occasionally needing to get out and wave the essential piece of stockman's kit, the alkathene pipe, to encourage the stragglers. They walked straight into the barn and were very pleased to be in sheltered accommodation - a lot less stressful on man and beast.
View out of the tractor rear window as the young stock follow the bale.
It has been a bonus to have had the cows and heifers pregnancy tested early on. The idea being to sell any not in calf to leave more space indoors. According to the scanner, all are in calf except a heifer who we will give another chance anyway, and one is expecting twins. The only way they are going to get more space now, is when the new shed is completed and progress has been made.
The footings were completed a month ago and the actual frame erected by two people over 6 days finishing on Saturday. There is some snagging to do as the gutters flow the wrong way but otherwise it is up to us to get the walls built - yes, regular readers should get a concrete fix next month.
As stated at the top, fresh beef is back on Wed 30th November and I need orders in by 6pm this Sunday please.
Son-in-law Dave has been commissioned to make all the gates and associated hinges and fixings which saves Phil from spending EVERY evening in the workshop until February. On completion it will mean we have room to house all the cows and their new calves due at the end of March.
Phil had already designed the shed before we went on a farm visit, followed by a talk and meal provided by our vets on the topic of calf pneumonia. Information gained confirmed that a hard core floor is better than concrete for drainage and an open ridge best for ventilation. What better way to spend your 31st wedding anniversary ........... yes, you may note that he didn't even need to pay for a meal out.
Also due at the end of March should be some lambs from our decreasing flock of Welsh Mules. We put in 3 rams to the 67 ewes. It is best to have an odd number so while two are fighting, one can go and get on with the job. The older Suffolk ram is leading the two younger Charolais cross ram lambs. The ewes soon clocked their arrival and the first one was served 90 seconds after the rams came off the trailer, fore play not required.
The ewes and rams are still outside as they are on some thick grass which drains well, the lambs have the option of coming indoors. All the cattle are indoors so winter preparations are under way and time has to be allowed for routine bedding down and silage distribution. We only have 30 suckler cows and their calves ( currently 80 cattle in total ) but it is still 10 silage bales every 3 days and regular strawing up. Both are jobs which need doing in daylight - a precious commodity this time of year.
Right, onto WTM Shop News and Christmas ordering deadlines.
Does anyone need a larger than usual roast joint for Christmas ? Sausages and burgers can be made to order ( see website for flavours ) but we will be concentrating on joints, steaks, casserole meat and mince. If you spend over £50 on beef there is a 10% discount, or we can make you up a mixture in a mini Beef Box which is £50 worth for £45. This usually includes two joints, two steaks and equal quantities of casserole meat ( choice of skirt, braising, shin or diced rolled rib ) and mince - just let me know your requirements and we will individually tailor the box.
Seasonal fare will include the usual favourites ;
PORK & APRICOT SAUSAGES
PORK & CRANBERRY SAUSAGES
These are whole, rolled gammons. One smoked and the other unsmoked or 'green'. They weigh between 5 and 6 kg, smaller gammons are available starting from just under 1kg or there are individual slices.
Please order ham lumps by Dec 4th and gammons by Dec 11th. There will be frozen gammons available after this date. Prices are available on the website - they remain the same as last year.
WTM once again has pleasure in offering white, barn reared turkeys produced by our neighbours C.C.Roots and Sons for collection from us, up to and including Christmas Eve.
Retail prices for the oven ready weights are :
Under 5 kg ( order weight under 13 lbs ) = £7.70 / kg ......... 4.5 kg would be £34.65
5 - 6 kg ( order weight 13 - 15 lb ) = £7.51 / kg ..................... 5.5 kg would be £41.30
6 - 7 kg ( order weight 15 - 18 lbs ) = £6.87 / kg .....................6.5 kg would be £44.65
7 - 8 kg ( order weight 18 - 21 lbs ) = £6.19 / kg .................... 7.5 kg would be £46.42
8 - 9 kg ( order weight 21 - 24 lbs ) = £5.56 / kg ...................... 8.5 kg would be £47.26
Over 9 kg ( order weight over 24 lbs ) = £5.00 / kg
Turkeys need to be ordered by December 10th please.
WTM looks forward to sorting your Christmas meat requirements.
Finally, think carefully before mentioning leaf clearance seems a bigger job this year - the pruning gang may be round when you are out. They did an excellent clearing up job though :-)
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