With the exception of the last day of the month, when the temperature briefly hit 35.5o, July has seen the return to normal, English, summer weather. A good rain once a week, pleasant temperatures and intermittent cloudy skies, have restored the parched pastures to lush green.
July is traditionally the month for making hay. Most of the wildflowers have set seed and ground nesting birds have reared their first clutch of chicks. Young deer (fawns) and young hare (leverets) no longer sit tight and fall prey to the mower; but move at the first close encounter. Nevertheless, as the pastures are a seething mass of life, great care is needed.
The mower is set to leave sufficient stubble, allowing the blades to pass over the ‘runs’ of small mammals. As the grass lays down behind the mower, a multitude of tiny frogs and grasshoppers adjust to their changed habitat. For those creatures not small enough to pass under or over the mower blades, their fate is down to the vigilance of the tractor driver. Speed is of the essence; but mowing is a job that needs to be done slowly.
Regular halts are needed to allow the occupants of the meadow to move to safety.
A hen pheasant follows her instinct and leads her chicks away from the passing mower but, into the remaining standing grass. As she finally pops out, ten chicks follow… my eyes genuinely ache after several hours of peering into the crop for signs of wildlife.
I leave islands of uncut grass, picking out patches of late flowering bird’s-foot trefoil, clover, wild carrot or devil’s-bit scabious. This allows the pollinating insects an oasis, whilst giving cover to hares and young chicks.
A buzzard, a pair of kites and a lone kestrel position themselves at strategic points around the field… looking for a meal.
Once cut, the grass is left to wilt for a day before spreading it out (tedding) to allow the sun and wind to dry it from grass to hay, the sweet aromatic smell is a delight and, in winter, when the bales are opened, it is an evocative reminder of summer.
A large, male fox saunters along the hedgerow, stopping to delicately pick blackberries. The cows reach over the electric fence with their long tongues, to feed on crab apples and sloes (which are in abundance this year).
Organic farming creates tantalising habitat for wildlife… Modern machinery, however, continues to become bigger and faster, removing or disturbing habitat in the blink of an eye so, field margins, large hedgerows and unharvested areas are essential, to keep the balance. Many of our boundary hedges are ten feet tall and at least as wide.
The spring oats are ripening, and the cows are milking well. Their calves tuck into the garlic licks, which are intended to make the cattle less appealing to flies. I am not convinced it works, but the cattle enjoy the taste!
Brian, the lame bull, has been out of action for five weeks but, is clearly feeling better. The introduction of six maiden heifers (young cows yet to bear their first calf) attracts his attention.
At this moment in time, all is well on the farm as August beckons.