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Farm Diary April 2020 27 Apr 2020 (Farming with Nature) Our cows celebrate release with a lap around the field... and the cuckoo is back

‘If the oak before the ash, then we’ll only have a splash, if the ash before the oak, then we’ll surely have a soak’. If the old saying rings true, we are set for a dry summer… the oak trees are in leaf before the ash.

After praying for a little dry weather, we have enjoyed a month with only one wet day. The spring oats are planted but desperate for rain, as are the grass fields, but I am not complaining, since we were able to turn the cows and calves out to pasture almost a month earlier than last year. It saves so much work and, fresh pastures are a much healthier environment for young calves.

Our cows experience ‘lockdown’ every autumn and initially are happy to be in straw filled yards, quickly settling into winter routine. The spring turnout must feel a long overdue release from their confinement, they celebrate with a lap around the field, tails held high and calves at their heels.

The first swallows returned to us on 14 April and immediately checked out their regular nesting sites in our ancient stone tithe barn. One of the few large stone barns in the parish not converted to a house, it is home to multiple Swallow nests. The Swallows are very vocal with their delightful chattering.

The swifts can now be seen over Pinsley Wood and sand martins have returned to their old nesting sites in a disused gravel-pit bank. House martins alight in the farmyard beside the only damp patch of soil to collect material for their mud nests. Mixed with their saliva as a bonding agent, the nest defies gravity, clinging to the underside of eaves.

The beautiful weather welcomes our fondest summer visitor, the cuckoo. Despite its dubious and parasitic habit of laying its eggs in other birds’ nests, spring would not be complete without the sound of his evocative call. These remarkable birds leave their winter home in the Congo, central Africa and migrate across the Sahara desert, a journey of approximately 4,000 miles. As with so many species, the cuckoo is in decline for a variety of reasons, mostly climate change and habitat loss, resulting in a reduction to only quarter of the breeding pairs that visited our island 25 years ago.

The current, diminished traffic noise allows their call to be heard over a much greater distance. The area to the north of Eynsham, including City Farm, is their favourite haunt.

The current pandemic has brought tragedy and hardship, it has also brought unexpected positives. Nature has, once again, been allowed centre stage with birdsong the predominant sound. The air is cleaner, the sky no longer criss-cross with vapour trails, ponds and birdbaths are devoid of their oily film from aviation. The roads currently carry the volume of traffic they were built for and Sunday mornings are again serene, unspoilt by the scream of high-performance motorcycles.

We are very fortunate living here, where beautiful walks are easily accessed. Cyclists, walkers and runners safely reclaim the country lanes and rediscover the wonders of nature. I continue to self-isolate with my cows, or in my tractor.

The farming year continues unabated… May beckons.

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