The in-calf heifers kept breaking out into the woods to eat acorns

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RAIN, rain, rain. my goodness has it rained. The ground was as dry as a bone, with cracks in the clay, but no more; we are well on the way to winter conditions unless it stops very soon, and there is no sign of that.

The wonderful autumn colours are taking a real bashing from this heavy rain and wind, but the oaks are still quite green, and one fears for them if we get stormy weather and they are in full leaf.

I have been waking up even earlier than usual, which is a real bore actually.

Do I stay in bed and waste time or get up and be tired before we get very far into the evening?

Lying awake in bed window open, between three and four in the morning I hear tawny owls. They are very vocal, many of them hooting and calling.

This goes on for an hour or so. Why are they doing this in early November? Maybe ‘Foxglove’ can tell us?

We have many deer on the farm grazing the cow paddocks now, and the youngsters are almost full size and very strong. The wildlife looks very healthy again this autumn and it seems to have had a good year.

By the time you read this, we will have had approximately 70 European farmers on the farm.

This is part of a trip organised by our vets, and I was asked if I would show them the dairy cattle and the bio-digester.

‘There will only be around 15’ said Matt Dobbs my vet, ‘and you might care to join us the night before for dinner and could maybe say a few words?’

It mushroomed over the weeks, and he sheepishly (if a vet can find it within himself to be sheepish) informed me that the number had ‘grown’ to 70.

The only snag is (and I will make all my excuses now!) that the farm has turned from a dust-bowl (good) to a quagmire (very bad) in a week or so.

The drive now has pot-holes which appear as soon as the rain falls, and the surfaces around the bio-digester which were fine in the dry, are now muddy.

We must have had almost three inches of rain, and it keeps coming.

We then had a bolt of lightning hit the slurry separators and all the motors burnt out, which are now being re-wound.’

We are also still working on the cattle shed which is under conversion from cubicles to straw yards, with one half of it finished and the other half looking rather akin to a bomb-site.

On Tuesday morning (yesterday) therefore, they will find mud, diggers, concrete crusher and various other bits of equipment, all roaring away and it will not be the visit it might have been two weeks ago.

Never mind, if they are anything like me, there is nothing more satisfying than visiting a farm that is in a worse state than yours, with the accompanying levels of stress to be seen on people’s faces.

It gives you that inner warmth; things are not all that bad at home after all.

Now you may ask justifiably why were we not better prepared.

A mixture of reasons and excuses here I’m afraid. It has rained pretty solidly for a week, and it is difficult to get things done when it is paling it down!

Then there are the contractors. They turn up as they see fit, fitting our work with other commitments, which I normally agree to in July when it’s lovely and warm and I have not a care in the world (as it were).

But they always take advantage, and now that it is November and the rainy season has arrived, I am in ‘falling out’ mode, akin to Alex Ferguson (that sort of blood vessel altering rage on the touch line).

To increase the pressure on that interesting medical condition (varicose veins on one’s temple), the in-calf heifers which were grazing, decided that they were bored with their paddock, although it had plenty of grass in it, breaking out into the woods to eat acorns.

Having had a taste for freedom (and acorns), they then broke out again, and again during the week.

This was getting extremely boring, and I was all for bringing them in, as the prospect of 70 marauding heifers in the village was now keeping me awake at night (which at least cured temporarily the condition of waking up too early!), but the lads wanted to keep them out grazing.

On Saturday morning, I received a call from my neighbour, informing me that the heifers were charging down the green lane towards the village.

I was in Tillington at the time, feeding Gwenan’s cattle with some difficulty as it was raining, and the cake had stuck to the side of the 10t feed bin, which means you have to whack it with a fencing stake to try to get the cake to fall down.

Having rung both Tim (who was in charge for the weekend at home) and the contractor (who could lend a hand), so enraged was I by the news about the heifers that I grabbed the bin from my perch on top of the silage clamp wall, and shook it.

Much to my surprise I could actually make it move a fraction in a twisting motion; enough give in the steel legs to allow it to gently rock and all the feed fell down effortlessly.

What a discovery! I can’t tell you what a bore it is to be whacking a feed bin trying to get another bag of cake out of the chute.

This is a seriously good discovery, and I would not have thought it possible.

I was soon brought back to earth though, when having cut the strings on the new bale of straw (the first in a new load) I discovered that it fell to pieces off my hand-fork, and I could only carry a tea-spoon full at a time to the calf pens.

This took all the time I had saved not banging the bin.

When I got home, the heifers were in the cubicle shed as I had instructed ,and I shouted at them over the gate- threatening them with no food or water for a month.

They looked at me in that pitying way, those doleful eyes full of pity, in a way that only cows can. I went away to have my nervous breakdown quietly in the silage clamp, whilst they tucked into some rather good silage.

In the afternoon, I moved the other lot of heifers who have been far better behaved; 62 of them and a rather handsome Aberdeen Angus bull.

I did this effortlessly, telling them how lucky they were to be outside with such splendid grass to eat.

They rushed past almost knocking me over, into the field, knocking the gate as they charged through; galloped all over my grass and settled under the trees on the headland, eating acorns.

Acorns are of course poisonous to cattle, and we have lost a few individuals over the years when a sudden fall occurs after poor weather (which you may have noticed we have had), bringing down green acorns, which the cattle find very palatable.

As long as there is plenty of grass, they are usually fine; but I still worry.