Having not done a newsletter since May, there is now the whole calendar summer of farm activity to report. I do try not to start with the weather each time, so have resisted till the second sentence ...... it is such a significant factor in influencing what we can do, and when.
In the current heatwave it is easy to forget the dampness of the early summer months. Poppy dog being about the only one enjoying the swollen ditches and standing water. This all delayed hay making as there was rarely a day without rain forecast and no chance of the dry week required. The barley harvest was therefore underway before the hay had been finished. We use the straw for animal bedding and this too needs to stay dry and so mould free or the spores can cause lung problems for the stock during the winter.
Another complication of the delayed hay making was that the grass kept growing so there was a bumper crop which then took even more drying out. This involves many tractor hours spreading the rows out, scattering them again and then rowing together at night to minimise the quantity the dew settles on. When we did finally get round to baling, the baler managed to bale its needles. These thread the strings around the bales. The replacement parts were efficiently flown in from Germany the next day - but not that efficient as they were the wrong size. Fortunately we were able to borrow a baler from our neighbour and get the baling and carting done before the inevitable downpour.
Gone ( thankfully ) are the days of hand stacking onto a trailer and hand unloading and re stacking in the barn. Now the only job done by hand is tying together the 8 bales going on the top of the stack of 56 which the squeezer holds. This is because the hay bales move a bit as they settle down in the barn and the stacks can tumble down for no apparent reason. Straw is more compliant and generally stays where it is put.
There is now a barn full of hay and another stacked with straw in different sized and shaped bales depending on which shed they are destined for.
We have made more silage than usual compared to hay as it only takes 24 - 48 hours to wilt the grass for silage which is then wrapped in plastic to keep the oxygen out and it is preserved by anaerobic fermentation. With the constant rain decisions were made to snatch some silage rather than risk the loss of a hay crop.
Two months later, the grass has stopped growing and we are having to feed the cattle in the field. The mobile hay rack holds 4 big bales and is lasting the 60 cattle 4 days at the moment. The last pregnant cow calved successfully 10 days ago but will be sold in a month's time with the calf at foot since she no longer fits into the system time wise. Stanley the bull has been running with the cows and heifers large enough to be served since the longest day ( June 21st ) and these will hopefully calve from the end of March. We are still expanding the herd and will keep all the heifer calves to hopefully breed from in the future.
We buy wheat straight off the combine from a neighbour who has no on farm storage. The individual grains of wheat are fairly plump this season which means a higher protein content per grain which is good.This will be reflected in a higher bushel weight which is what grain is traded on.
We have an arrangement with a near by arable farming family where we swap our muck which they use as fertilizer on their land in return for straw from their barley and wheat crops. Due to the wet Spring this is the first time we have had to store a whole year's worth of muck and consequently why the open day's car park was smaller than usual. They cart the muck to their farm; 67 trips and we do the spreading. Phil finished today and informs me it was 108 spreader loads taking 5 days. We do the straw baling and carting which if things run smoothly also takes 5 days.
Those of you who look out for Phil's latest concreting project will not be disappointed. Before bale carting season another wall was put in the straw shed; partly solid poured concrete and one section of grain walling which can be lifted out should we need to use this for access in the future.
Another frequently repeated task in the moist and warm growing season has been cutting grass and weeds which grow up to touch the electric wires which fence the cattle in. This has been made much less onerous following the purchase of a lightweight reciprocating blade trimmer.
The contractor who shears our sheep finally turned up on 26th July ( which is an improvement on not turning up at all to pregnancy test the cattle and sheep; sorry Glyn, just had to vent that one ). The experts make it look so easy, it is mainly about positioning the sheep so it is ( relatively ) comfortable and not struggling to escape but knows you are in control. Our newest recruit, Phil 2 had a go on the last one and he discovered how physically demanding it is. The other shearer who came has been shearing for years; part of the year in Australia and New Zealand then moving to the UK for our spring / summer shearing season. It has taken a toll on his back so he now swings around in a harness like a baby bouncer whilst shearing !
Most of the fields at Garr House Farm have been drained, this involves digging a trench, lining it with small stones then laying a perforated plastic pipe sloped down to a ditch on the edge of the field. These pipes are laid 2 chain ( 44 yards ) apart which could be handy to know for a quiz night. Mole drains run crossways to the pipes connecting them up. We have clay soil which holds its shape well so when a 'mole' is pulled through the soil - don't worry, no velvet coated gentlemen are harmed in this process - it creates a tunnel. The mole in question is metal and attached to a metal leg pulled along at the back of a tractor. Attached by a chain to the back of the mole is a ceramic expander which makes the tunnel a bit wider and smooths the edges so it is less likely to crumble in. On the surface all you see are parallel slots 8ft apart ( moles are old Imperial fellows ) and clods where the mole is pulled out at the field edge.
As well as being Stanley's favourite day, June 21st was when I collected a new flock of hens. Allegedly point of lay, they only came into full lay this last week - I now have a glut of medium eggs should anyone be inspired by the new series of GBBO ( Selasi to win by the way ). Each flock tends to have its own characteristics. This lot whilst totally lacking the instinct to perch are very bold where human contact is concerned. The hen in the photo was quick to discover the source of the grain rather than scratch on the ground with the others and she has to be fended off with the dustbin lid each time. Customers are welcome to collect their own eggs, which otherwise is done around 10 am, but open toed sandals are not a good idea. Hens have no teeth but manage a pretty serious peck.
One of the jobs on the to do list which was finally completed as hay making was delayed was to install a 10,000 litre water tank to collect roof water from the straw shed. This was actually a stipulation in the granting of planning consent. It has quite a complicated arrangement to actually get the water in the tank, but it is easy to transfer the water to a bowser which we can then take to fill up the cattle tank in the fields round the reservoir where there is no piped water. Phil did make a video of the water being released before the overflow was installed, but I will spare you that and try harder to make him realise he needs to get out more. But then perhaps not - he excitedly announced that he has booked us two nights away next month in Worcestershire ( unusual behaviour alert ) only for me to discover that we are going to a sheep sale. Hey ho.
Anyway, that is a summary of farm activities this summer in between all the routine stock tasks.
Wigborough Traditional Meats
- shop news.
We continue to have fresh pork, bacon, sausages, lamb and chicken from Essex Birds every week with good stocks of frozen beef ( except sirloin steak ) but the next fresh beef will be Wed 5th October. All the beef, lamb, pork and mutton is from animals raised at Garr House Farm - so if you are after known provenance and low food miles you know where to come ! We are also happy to show you round the farm so you can see the high welfare standard we aim to maintain.
While the fine weather continues why not try a BBQ BOX
£25 worth of mixed grill beef, pork and lamb for £20 - all from animals born and reared at Garr House Farm. Boxes vary but will contain 8 burgers, 16 sausages and then a mix of steaks, ribs, belly pork or marinated chunks for kebabs. Frozen boxes in stock while the summer weather lasts.
Particular favourites on the BBQ this season have been lamb leg steaks in garden mint
and pork leg steaks with a Cajun glaze.
Plain pork ribs are very economical at less than £1 for a rack.
As well as selling individual portions it is also possible to buy sides of pork or lamb from us. These can either be butchered to your requirements or for reasons of economy or fun (? ) you can have a whole side and do the butchery yourself. Further details are on the website www.garrhousefarm.co.uk
or give me a call.
We have had a delivery of lambskins
and a new stock of local honey
at £4.50 per jar plus Bob took the top prizes in the vegetable section at the 5 Parishes Show - again. We have a selection freshly picked on a Saturday morning or orders can be placed for free delivery on the local Thursday round ( Friday to Colchester ). Ask to join the email list for a weekly update of what is available if you are tempted.
Finally, any ideas who this impressive fellow is - spotted in long grass during a ragwort pulling session prior to hay making ?
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