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Farm Diary May 2020 31 May 2020 (Farming with Nature) More like mid-summer than May. It’s wonderful, but I wish it would rain!

The May blossom (hawthorn) has been spectacular on our big hedges - Robert Crocker writes from Glebe Farm.

Calving has gone well with all calves born within an eight-week period. We sadly lost one calf - a detached placenta caused the calf to die during the early stages of labour but then, our last cow to calve (on 3 May) delivered identical twin bull calves.

The mother has a very placid nature and as the first calf staggered to its feet and suckled, she continued to lick it clean whilst standing to deliver the second. Twins can be a mixed blessing as it is better to have one strong calf than two weedier specimens but, in this case, both are strong and will soon work-out how to sneak a top up of milk from another unsuspecting mum.

Farmers are rarely satisfied with the weather and despite the glorious sunshine, for May it has been far too hot, too cold, too windy and too dry. The cows are quickly consuming, not only the grazing pastures, but those normally cut for winter forage. The spring sown cereals have received only one day’s rain since emerging and none at all in May. With no rain forecast for early June, it is looking worrying.

In early May the cuckoo sang his heart out for two weeks before moving on.

Whilst quietly mending a broken section of fence, I was able to observe a Pied Woodpecker feeding her voracious chicks. Alighting upon the trunk of a slim poplar tree, every two minutes or so, with more feed, she puts her head into the hole to a rapturous response from the chicks.

Before cattle can leave the farm to be sold to another farm or market, they have to be tested for TB to ensure they are not carrying the infection. With TB still rife in our area, there is always the possibility of a reactor but happily, the store cattle (last year’s calves) all test negative and so are ready to be transported to their new home at JCB Farms in Shropshire. At just over a year old, these animals will take a further 18 months to fatten as finished organic beef. At this point our beef may well return to the Daylesford Farm Shop at Kingham.

A practical improvement to the farmyard has proved a big hit with the swallows. To intercept any run-off from the yards in winter, we have dug two interconnecting ponds. With an interceptor pit to strain out any solids, the water then passes through reed beds until purified. But, for now, the open expanse of water is perfect for swallows to skim across, catch insects and drink. Their aerial display is mesmerising.

As I check the cows and calves in the early morning, the hedgerows and oak trees are alive with fledglings… blue tits, great tits, nuthatches, hedge sparrows and woodpeckers (to name but a few) The sweet scent from the elderflowers and honeysuckle fills the air and, with humidity so low, it feels more like mid-summer than May. It’s wonderful, but I wish it would rain! I will continue with my rain dance as the longest day draws close.

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