This hot dry spell goes on and on. The only real rain we have had since March is a few showers in early April and June. Much as we love the warmth and the fact that we don’t need coat, sweater or brolly it is beginning to cause Jethro a few problems.
June and July is traditionally hay and silage time, when we cut and bale forage crops for winter feeding to the cattle and sheep. A lot of our land is in stewardship to protect the flora and fauna so we cannot mow this land until after 15th July, which produces a stalkier and less nourishing feed. In the mean time we have been cutting grass where ever we can, and the yields are so low that the costs are much higher we are using a lot of diesel and labour to get what we can. We are not alone, I heard of a farmer in the New Forest last night, which is currently even drier than we are, who made the grand total of 150 bales of hay in a field he expects to get 1200 from in a normal year. One of our fields gave 22 rounds bales of silage last year and only 11 this year. At least we have plenty of acres and plenty of grazing at present, again we know some farms are already on winter rations.
Last week, for the first time, we cut around the perimeter of the wheat fields and made ‘whole crop’ silage as this is a very environmentally friendly method of weed control for brome and blackgrass whilst also creating a basking area for the birds. The field margins of either 4 or 6 metres remain untouched again preserving the flora and fauna.
Jethro feels like the Chancellor, he is making cuts and savings wherever he can, and the season is so challenging he is making new policies all the time, usually at the breakfast table. Yet despite the efforts of everyone it will still be a tight winter and in the best interest of all the animals a nutritionist has been called in to balance our winter rations to ensure we maintain optimum growth in the youngstock and maintenance for the adult stock as last winter was very hard on them with the intense cold and so much snow and frost. He will analyse the forage crops for dry matter and protein and create a feed ration with our available arable crops: beans wheat, barley and oats and then send a mixer waggon to make up these rations every month. The cost to us over the raw materials which we grow is £20.00 per tonne, plus any additional mineral or ingredients that we may need. We will do this for all the stock: cattle, sheep and pigs.
It certainly offers us peace of mind and regular weighing every month of the youngstock will give good indications of the effectiveness of this new policy, hopefully leading to better returns of increased weight gain, and growth rates. We are an old-fashioned extensive mixed farming system, and our animals are mainly grass reared but in a season like this the very best of modern science needs to be applied.
In the meantime on with the mowing and the baling.