First barbecue of the year as the sun finally arrives

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A dry week with sunshine, culminating in a warm spring weekend was so welcomed after the wettest winter on record that not only was the mountain the bike out of the shed and in use, but we had our first barbecue of the season with friends on Sunday!

A little early perhaps, but these days you have to seize your opportunities whether farming or enjoying yourself given the unpredictability of the weather.

I believe that the dry weather will continue and that will enable us to carry on with preparations of the maize ground, some more fertilizing of grass at Tillington, and the beginning of a big clean-up operation on the site at Crouchlands whilst we wait for the clay soil to slowly dry out.

Not all the grass looks great after such a wet winter and I can also see quite a lot of evidence of leather-jacket activity, which I thought might have been avoided with all the water around.

We just need things to dry out so I can drill some grass seed into these areas as well as the rather larger areas spoilt by builder traffic! If we can then get some fertilizer applied, things will improve very rapidly.

These sunny days often come hand in hand with an overnight frost which slows things up a bit, but now that we have 12 hours of daylight, things are going to change very quickly indeed.

We still need to be mindful of how close the winterish weather in Scotland is and we are not totally out of the woods yet – but it’s looking good. A really nice early spring would be fair reward for what has gone before, and it would set us all up for the summer ahead.

The cows are very relaxed about all of this, enjoying the sunshine on their backs in the loafing areas and where the sun shines into the sheds. They are certainly eating a great deal, and we are not all that far from finishing our second cut grass silage.

We had to move our first cut silage from the silage clamps last autumn and re-pack it into Ag-Bags. These 100 meter plastic sausages hold around 450 tonnes each and are totally sealed, but I was concerned about the quality of silage once made, and then dug out and moved.

I needn’t have worried; I sampled the bags a week ago and the analysis shows that the silage has retained its values and is still very good high protein grass silage, better quality than the second cut being fed at present.

We are now looking at the coming season and how best to feed the cows over the next eight months. With many of the grazing fields bearing the scars of trenches, ruts from machines and builder tracks all over the place, fences down and the cow tracks in no fit state for animals, it will not be feasible to turn cattle out to graze this spring as we simply cannot get all the work done in time.

It will be late April before the construction work is finished and we face several weeks work getting everything back in order after that, so the cows will need to stay in to begin with.

I have been investigating a machine that will directly cut grass and load itself as it is pulled along by the tractor, which would enable us to feed the cows with fresh grass in the sheds, giving them the best of all worlds as they have their straw yards and loafing area to lounge around in, and freshly cut grass to eat.

This would be put in front of them ad-lib, and a carefully made up load of chopped straw, maize silage and maybe some rolled wheat to feed them overnight, so that the excess protein in the grass can be utilised and the cows will not be so loose as to muck up their beds too much.

If this was done properly, fresh grass intakes will be high as the cows will get clean grass, and they will not have to graze, which is hard work, filling themselves very easily from the trough.

We would also have a very efficient grazing rotation as the machine would cut all the grass to the same height each day. We still have quite a lot of figures to do on this as it will not be a cheap option, but it will give us farm yard dung for the bio-digester, which is a bonus.

We are planning to change our water system in the sheds, using smaller water troughs which tip out the water for easy cleaning. Bedding cows with straw means that the water troughs get covered despite one’s best efforts, although scooping the straw off the water helps, regular cleaning is necessary which is not easy with large 500 gallon tanks.

The small tanks will be cleaned every day, and pumped full of warm water under pressure which will keep them full at all times.

As retailers discount milk again causing dairy farmers to worry, the NFU retailer ‘report cards’ show a big gap in supermarket sourcing, and some of the detail is very interesting and surprising.

Tesco and Asda, our two biggest retailers stocked 100% British across fewer categories than Sainsbury’s and Morrison, they also had fewer British lines than the smaller retailers. Morrison’s has more commitment to British categories than any other supermarket, stocking 100% British milk, eggs, fresh chicken beef and pork; it is also the only supermarket to stock British lamb all year.

Aldi and Lidl the discounters which have been taking customers from the big four, show good commitment to British food. Aldi stocks 45% of its food from British suppliers and 100% British chicken, beef, pork and milk.

Lidl is not far behind and a keen promoter of Red Tractor, with NFU commenting that little negative comments had been heard from farmers dealing with Aldi and Lidl. Morrison’s, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer had the most positive producer relationships, Morrison’s having invested heavily, whilst Waitrose forged long-standing relations with farmers. What is needed is more commitment from Tesco on British chicken and all retailers need to show more commitment to British lamb and increased transparency according to the report.

I see a lot of chatter by those who oppose the badger cull trials following a leaked document, which is said to contain the conclusions of the Independent Expert Panel study for the operations in Somerset and Gloucestershire. No one has seen the full report as yet, not even the Minister we are told. Professional organisations have not therefore commented as the full facts are not known. There is no doubt that this report is going to be important, no doubt that there will be lessons to learn and no doubt that things can always be done better. We await the full report which will appear in due course.