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Farm Diary March 2020 31 Mar 2020 (Farming with Nature) Arrival of the first calves, the blackthorn... and the frantic activity of birds. Robert Crocker writes from Glebe Farm

The first calf arrived on 8 March. By 28 March, we have 30.

Despite having witnessed countless calves born over the years… it never fails to move me. The first intake of breath and a shake of the head confirms this calf is going to be fine.

The mum wastes no time in licking her new calf clean with her rasping tongue and, in doing so, stimulates the calf’s breathing and circulation. Within minutes of a normal delivery, the calf staggers to its feet, instinctively searching for milk. (The first milk, colostrum, is rich in antibodies).

These docile, domesticated animals are returned to the wild with a rush of hormones which gives the cow the aggression to see of any predator… It is for this reason that cows with calves need the utmost respect. Once the calf has suckled, the cow’s mood relaxes a little but, she is constantly alert and defensive. To a cow with calf a dog, however small or friendly, is a wolf… a potential threat.

Within an hour or so, the calf is ready to follow its mother. The calves soon become playful and, as the cows tuck into their sainfoin hay, the calves’ race around the straw yard.

Clouds of blackthorn flowers in the hedgerows, gleam pure white against a dark sky and everywhere there the frantic activity of birds. The dawn chorus is a delight; the wren is first to rise with a diminutive call signalling to the blackbird and countless great tits that it is time to sing. In a matter of minutes, the air is ringing with a symphony of bird song led by a sole song thrush perched on the highest branch of a cherry tree… its song is complex with several verses, which he repeats. The song thrush, a once common sight and sound in gardens and fields across the country has had its numbers decimated, mostly by the use of slug pellets, removing its food source of snails.

A week of cold March winds are drying the waterlogged fields, allowing ploughing to commence. The furrows roll over, releasing the evocative smell of fresh soil. A pair of red kites immediately appear to feed on the exposed worms. These magnificent birds perch on the furrow and are indifferent to the passing tractor. Wagtails join at a respectful distance and flocks of linnet alight as the tractor approaches.

A pair of hares appear from nowhere and display their powerful back legs as they accelerate across the field. Three roe deer push through the hedge to see who is intruding upon their territory… they turn, showing their white derrieres before bounding off into the distance. What a magical time of year, what an enchanting place.

The plough moves slowly across the fields towards Eynsham, turning the landscape from beige to brown. The last two decades of sensitive farming has seen our skylark population multiply year by year. There are now too many to count and their song fills the air. With the planned housing development imminent I already look at these fields with a sense of nostalgia.

April beckons… will the cuckoo return?

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