Welcome to ‘Autumn on the Farm’, the fourth and final instalment of my Through the Seasons series. I’ve loved writing these and telling you all about what a typical year on the farm looks like, and filling you in on the rather untypical shenanigans which always seem to happen around here!
As I write, I’m looking out of my window at a frost covered landscape bathed in winter sunshine, wondering how we ended up here already, and yet, how far away the rich colours of Autumn seem now.
September was a strange one this year, with weather which swung between sweltering heat and torrential rain. The cows, surprisingly, went an entire month without deciding to change fields of their own accord, although they did have some visitors at one point from a neighbour’s wayward cattle- it’s good to know we’re not the only ones!
The combine was still running for the beginning of the month, with lots of Wheat still standing, including almost all of our own.
Last Autumn, we chose an early maturing variety of Wheat, and sod’s law, it seemed everybody else did too. As contractors, the combine has a lot of fields competing for its time, and when there’s only a small window in the weather, it’s more important to get customers’ home and dry before our own. We were a little worried our grey looking fields might be ruined, as they’d gone passed the brown stage of ripening (where the field looks like lots of hares’ backs, as the heads of the plants bend over slightly) and then been battered around a bit by the weather before we could get to them. Luckily, the Wheat didn’t seem to have come to much harm, and we were able to start and finish harvesting it during the first week of September.
The combine soon parked up for its 10 month hibernation after finishing off in some Spring-sown Linseed. Linseed (also known as Flax) can be a bit of a pain to cut if the conditions aren’t perfect, but it’s by far my favourite crop to see when in flower during early Summer. There’s nothing more eye-catching than a carpet of blues and purples draped across the countryside.
Once the crops are cleared from the field’s, the land begins to be prepared for the next growing season. The Winter Oilseed Rape is the first to be drilled, usually beginning at the end of August and spanning the first half of September, followed by the other Winter varieties of grains and pulses.
October began with some spectacular days of sunshine, but before long ‘mud season’ was in full swing.
Between the showers, it was filled with land work… spraying off stubbles, spreading and incorporating manure into the soil, and creating seedbeds for the following crops. A lot of it was in less than ideal conditions, and once the seeds were in the ground, we struggled to get back onto the saturated soil to help the plants grow away from the pressures of weeds and slugs; there were many days spent cursing the rain and scouring the forecasts for a few dry days.
By the end of the month, our own Oats and a portion of the Wheat had made it into the ground, but it looks like some will need re-drilling come springtime. The only one which went in well and flourished instantly was some Mustard, a cover crop for the land destined for Spring-sown crops, so at least the wildlife will have some good shelter over the colder months.
After saying a fond farewell to Clifford, our Limousin bull, the previous month (who, despite his 12 years, still had some miles left in the tank, so has gone to another, smaller herd to have one last hurrah), there was just Basil the Bazadaise left with the cows. But his season of fun came to an end at the beginning of October, and he was deposited in a field by the house with Pebbles, an in-calf heifer, for company. Well, that was the plan anyway…
It seems, Pebbles wasn’t a fan of that arrangement and decided she’d like a stab at a career as a show jumper. She subsequently soared over 2 fences, crossed the yard, passing my Uncle who tried to recapture her, cleared another gate, and returned to the side of her mother (her foster mother who, although she now has another calf, has never quite lost her bond with Pebbles- the little white calf who, at first, she was adamant she wouldn’t accept…). You can’t really be annoyed at her for wanting her mum though, can you?
Thankfully, Basil wasn’t phased in the slightest; he didn’t really seem to notice she’d gone. Then again, he does seem to think he’s a horse at times (he can often be found letting one wash him), so was happy to have them on the other side of the fence for company. To remind him he was bovine not equine, the following day, when moving the herd to fresh grass, we added a cow, Eeyore, and her calf to his field; knowing that, as an old hand at this musical-fields malarkey, she wouldn’t abandon him anytime soon.
We, like many others, were hoping November might bring with it a change in the weather and chance to get back onto the land and finish the Autumn drilling… but no such luck, although it did bring the first frost, which was a welcomed change. There was a lot of frustration in the air as the weeks passed by, each one wetter than the last. So, all the fields left undrilled will now be Spring cropped.
To try and lessen the poaching in the waterlogged fields, the shed doors were opened at the beginning of November for the cows to begin coming inside, and so, the routine of bedding and feeding-up began again. We allowed them to choose to spend time outside or inside at first, but as the month wore on it was time to shut them in for good and give the fields a chance to recover for next April.
Scanning time arrived again at the end of the month, meaning the procession of cows was directed through the crush for a man to use an ultrasound probe to determine whether they were pregnant. It went relatively smoothly, apart from a bullock or two almost getting scanned, as they’re so hairy you can’t always tell the difference from a quick glance! I’m sure they were very thankful I had a list with tag numbers and their sex for just this problem.
The good news is, 100% of the cows were pregnant, although some are due a little later than we’d have liked, but still during our Spring calving block. The bad news is, some heifer calves were also pregnant… Basil has a lot of explaining to do!
The heifers were booked straight in with the vets to terminate the pregnancies. In the past we’ve had the odd 6-month-old heifer get in-calf by accident and not known until it was too late. If you’re lucky, everything runs smoothly, but a 15-month-old heifer and a slightly larger-than-tiny calf can be a fatal combination. Having seen a couple who really struggled to calve, we made the decision that, for the wellbeing and safety of the heifer, we wouldn’t allow them to go through that again, if we could help it. Thankfully, they were all in the early stages, so an injection of Estrumate, a solution which contains a synthetic hormone which prompts them to cycle, was all that was needed.
And that brings this soggy Autumn to a close, and with it, this series. I’m sure it won’t be the last of the farm updates though, especially with calving 2020 just around the corner… If you’d like to know how Winter looks for us, you can find all four seasons here.
Thank you for reading, and Happy New Year! Let’s see what 2020 has in store; hopefully a lot less destructive weather. My heart goes out to everybody affected by the fires raging in Australia right now, and to those closer to home whose lives have been torn apart by the terrible flooding, if only we could send some of our rain over there.