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Thursday, 12 April 2012

By the Barn - April

Each month, we bring you a snippet of country life by Angela Sargent of Baldfields Farm. Angela sends us much more than we can possibly include in the magazine, so we are make her full articles available to read in their entirety online.

April already, how time flies, like straw blowing in the wind and how glad we are to have turned our cattle out. No more bedding and throwing straw around. How glad they were too! They romped around, exploring the fallen branches, pretending not to recognise cows they had been couped up with for the last few months and, generally, acting like young calves. Only Meg will be disappointed, she had great fun trying to catch the straw as we spread it around the sheds.

We are coming to the end of lambing now and will be starting to calve in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this, some of our colleagues are having problems with a new sheep and cattle virus (Scmallenberg) of which we know very little. It appears to be from tropical Africa in origin and has spread up through Europe, possibly carried by the Midge, causing birth defects. How far it has got, we will only know when the lambing and calving season finishes.

Unfortunately, with climate change, this will be one of the problems. New diseases and ones that previously could only survive in warmer climates can now extend their range and this will have consequences for farmers in this country, as we have seen.

All spring planted crops will put in now and we are busy sowing spring Barley and Field beans on some land we left fallow over winter.

The grass is growing, rain permitting and farmers will be busy fertilising and rolling the sward. It is difficult for people to think of grass as a crop, like corn, but it is a very important one. Providing immediate feed for livestock ( for what else eats grass?) and future feed also, in the form of hay and silage, it needs looking after just as carefully. It is at its most productive in the next three months and contains the most nutrients/sugar. Unfortunately, for horse owners it is one of the most worrying times as overindulgence can cause laminitis - a chronic, painful condition affecting the feet of ponies, mainly.

Walking around our boundaries, checking hedgeplants I have planted, I have come across frog spawn in clumps in the running ditches. Toads lay eggs in long strings, but both hatch into tadpoles. After about 10 weeks of feeding on water plants, the froglets are ready to take to land. Newts also lay eggs in water, but in singles.

One of our old brick culverts in a gateway has fallen in and has to be replaced. This was where I saw a stickleback, last year. A main gas pipeline crosses this field and it is regularly inspected by helicopter. We were told we had to notify British Gas if and when we replaced it, as they had spotted the hole and wanted to be sure we didn’t damage the pipe as it could have dire consequences!!!

The tiny Celandines have been flowering for the last couple of weeks and the daffodils and other spring flowers are coming into blossom. Our Bees are getting more active and have been fed on sugar fondant whilst waiting for enough nectar to become available. They are seen drinking from the old trough on warm days and the colonies will be growing in size and in their energy needs.

The clocks have altered, a sure sign that summer is on its way and everyone is out making the most of the longer daylight hours. Most accidents happen on rural roads, so take care as dog-walkers and horse riders may just be around the next sharp bend and half a ton of horse on your car bonnet can cause serious damage.

One thing I have noticed whilst out round the lanes, is the amount of rubbish- cans, crisp packets, pop bottles etc casually chucked out, for what purpose? It’s as bad as fly-tipping!

Angela Sargent,

And now join me on Twitter by following @bythebarn for all things farming!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

By the Barn - March

Each month, we bring you a snippet of country life by Angela Sargent of Baldfields Farm. Angela sends us much more than we can possibly include in the magazine, so we are make her full articles available to read in their entirety online.

Now it’s March and Spring is just around the corner, we’re hurrying to finish planting up the gaps in our newly-laid hedges, before the sap starts rising. We plant four ‘quicks’ (Hawthorn) to the metre and also mix them up with other species to ensure a rich diversity of plants and , consequently, birds and insects in the hedge.

In early March, we count and measure up the gaps and calculate how many plants are needed (incorporating some spares) and then place an order with the company who supplies us. We also order canes to support them and guards to protect them and this can add up to quite a bit, depending on whether or not the original hedge was in good condition or not.

This tends to be my department as hubby is usually busy getting the fields ready to be sown as soon as the ground is warm enough with the spring oats, barley and beans that make up our livestock ration. This means getting any fertilizer, whether in the form of farmyard manure or artificial to the fields in question and spread. 

This is the job for the muckspreader- resembling a tank on wheels, it can have chains and flails which turn round at a high velocity and throw the muck out, over the area you want covering. For artificial fertilizer, it is the job of a vari-spreader (in the shape of a cone or box, with a hole at the bottom and a nozzle that goes from side to side again at high speed). Of course there are basic models of these items and then the more high-tech/larger variations for larger acrerages, but they all need to be regularly maintained and calibrated and noted in the records along with quantities of fertilizer used (in our house, it’s known as the b******t book).

With the cold snowy weather we’ve had recently, we’ve seen lots of birds in our yards, after the corn and the Buzzards have been sitting on the telegraph poles, looking for prey.  Some guests rang me just after they’d left us, to say they had come across two fighting Buzzards on the drive and one had seemed to be quite seriously injured. That is nature- red in tooth and claw. 

We have also noticed three ravens around on occasion- we had heard they were in the area, but hadn’t seen any until now- a very distinctive sound. 

Lots of  grey squirrels are scampering across the fences and branches and their numbers seem to have increased dramatically over the last few years. These were first introduced in the late eighteen hundreds from Canada and are bigger than our native Red Squirrel, which now survives in small areas only. The Hawk man had an incident recently, when his Harris hawk went after a squirrel, presumably in or near its drey and the hawk was injured quite badly with bites to its legs and feet. 

As well as count down to Spring, it’s also countdown to the Olympics and good news for British farming. It has been decided (with lots of lobbying from the NFU) that all food consumed at the sporting venues is to be to Red Tractor, lion mark or fair-trade standard as minimum. This means 17million meals at 31 competition venues and 200,000 base customers (not including visitors) will be supplied by farmers in this country, where possible. This is definitely something to be proud of!

Angela Sargent,

And now join me on twitter @bythebarn for all things farming!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

By The Barn - February

February, the shortest month of the year and when we notice the days getting longer (and the cold getting stronger!).

Well into lambing now, we are tired and looking forward to a short break  in the lambing cycle-a result of when we removed the tups from the flock for a week or two, back in the autumn. It means we can catch up with our sleep and other jobs that need doing, such as finishing laying hedges, repairing fences, muck spreading etc.

As we walk across to where we are working, our old, permanent pasture fields show little grass, but lots of mosses and lichens.

These are primitive plants and the same as you find in your lawns. Small, green and flowerless, they use spores, blown on the wind to colonize. There are approximately 600 species of moss in this country.

ichen is a combination of two plants- a fungus and an alga and is rootless. It is sensitive to pollution and usually is seen on the wetter, darker sides of branches, stones etc.

We can also see the new bird boxes, which have been put up by some Scouts for their Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. These are easily seen at the moment, as there are no leaves obscuring them from view, but as the Spring comes we wont be able to spot them or their inhabitants so easily with the leaf cover. There are owl boxes, blue tit, sparrowhawk and Bat boxes, all put in places where the different species prefer to nest.

Considering the strong winds we had recently, they have held up well. The Scouts will come regularly to monitor any activity in them and well done to them putting them up, as some required climbing tackle to get them into position!

From the 1st of January, the laying hen cage bird directive came into being- this means that more room is given to hens producing eggs. We have spent £400m bringing our cages up to standard, at a cost of £20 plus per bird. Unfortunately, many countries ( France, Spain, Italy and Poland, to name a few) will not be compliant and their eggs, we are told, can still come into this country. These countries have had 12 years to come up to standard and, again, our industry will be undermined by cheaper foreign imports.

At least the electronic individual tagging of our historic sheep flock has been put off for a couple of years and this means that most of the older sheep will be long gone by the time it comes into force- sense at last!

And, of course, Nitrate Vulnerable Zones- from the 1st of January all farmers in an nvz area(a lot of Derbyshire) have to have 6months storage for slurry- affecting mainly dairy farmers and adding to the cost of production.

Yet, we hear of the fertilizing of the uplands for a regeneration project and where does this fertilizer go? Washed down to the lowlands, of course!

Angela Sargent,

And now join me on Twitter, follow @bythebarn for all things farming!

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

By The Barn - January

Each month, we bring you a snippet of country life by Angela Sargent of Baldfields Farm. Angela sends us much more than we can possibly include in the magazine, so we are making her full articles available to read in their entirety online.

Already our animals have been inside for nearly a month and we will be starting lambing again soon! We are in a spell of what seems to be a never-ending feeding/ bedding/ feeding  cycle.

With the shortest day just gone, it will be a little while before we notice any lengthening of the days and so most of our work is done in half-light( or so it seems) and one of the night noises we tend to hear at this time are the foxes mating.

Sounding like little boys shouting to each other in the woods, the noise usually sets off our dogs too, so we get a stereo sound effect! The fox( or Reynard, as he is known) is the only surviving member of the wild dog family and lives off small mammals and birds. Rabbits and game are the usual, but he will take weak lambs if inclined. We’ve had problems with predatory foxes-even big lambs were maimed. Foxes leave a strong smell from their glands when they are out and about and it is a very pungent smell to come across in the morning when out walking our dogs- you can’t mistake it!

With the frosted ground, our ridge(rig) and furrow grass fields show up really well. Cleverly, they were to increase the land area available to cultivation, with the furrow(dips) acting as drainage channels. This is what we call permanent pasture and, obviously, has not been under the plough for many, many years. One of the questions over CAP(common agricultural policy) reform is what exactly is the definition of permanent pasture- some farmers might have a rotation of several years and if the level is set too low, it might jeopardise their farming rotation. Actually, farmers just want to be able to farm, nothing more and nothing less!

We will be taking our Christmas decorations down before twelth night and when I was small we used to decorate our tree with “wessell cups”(xmas tree ornaments) . It wasn’t until I was much older I discovered they were “wassail cups”.

‘Wassail’ means ‘ be well’ in Saxon and wassail is a spice/ale/crab apple and honey drink  given out at this time of year in a ‘loving cup’ to friends and neighbours. Labourers were also paid partly in cider and so ‘wassailling’ was a tradition carried out on old twelth night(17th January) to wake up the sleeping tree spirit by rattling pots and pans and singing, inorder to make the apple trees grow well and produce lots of fruit in the coming year.

Cider was also poured on the roots of the oldest tree and cider-soaked toast hung in its branches to make the nasties feed off that instead of the fruit, thereby ensuring the workers got their cider.

This tradition is still carried out, mainly in Somerset, where the apple orchards still remain- sounds like good fun to me, so if you hear shouting down our way it might not be my husband shouting at the dog or the sheep(or me), it might be me waking up our apple trees!

Angela Sargent,