Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Nature Writing’ Category

My Heart Belongs to Mist and Freetown Klondyke

27th October. The storm of St Jude sweeps in from the west, gathering strength and we view it in satellitic swirls moving across the Atlantic. We batten down the hatches and secure anything that is likely to break free. I move the car away from the potential teetering of our tall pole barn which sways disturbingly in a high wind. It’s been raining all day but the worst of the wind is scheduled for the night.

087

Later, I stand on the step in the dark, and feel the sharp sprays of rain on my cheek, the wind bouncing around in my ears. I can hear a menacing rumble at the horizon and tree branches are shaking and lashing together. I wonder if the cows are in their shelter and I’m tempted to go over there, but the thought of flying sheets of corrugated iron and tumbling ash branches encourages me to stay put in front of the fire. As it turns out, St Jude is a bit of a damp squib in these parts, a big storm but not a colossal one, and he whirls on through, travelling east, tearing up trees as he goes, in Temple Meads, on Hilly Fields.

The pigs in the pictures above belong to a friend who leases a 200 acre organic biodynamic farm not far from here – they have recently benefited from the Natural England Higher Level Stewardship scheme and grant which has made life a lot easier. Last year I went on a trip to a farm in Somerset to see some South Devon cattle she was interested in buying.

Winter temperatures have arrived despite a lone poppy making a brave stand on the brown roof. Water troughs start their seven month brimming. The land has become squelchy and soggy though the pasture still looks fresh. As the leaves fall different views are revealed.

064

We moved the cows back into the Cow Field and there was sadly very little excitement from them…they just got down to their favourite occupation…eating. Which just goes to prove that cows are also stimulated by the new and unexpected in the same way we are. Last time they were far more thrilled by their unfamiliar surroundings. We have started supplementing their diet with some hay which helps them process the wet grass better.

052

081

The time has now come for thinking about putting the the cows into calf. They are just over 2 years old. Regular readers will know that we lost our bull earlier this year so we have been thinking about how they are going to get pregnant. These are their pedigree certificates. I like their names, they are stupidly grand – Lower Eaton Ruby 14th, Lower Eaton Ruby 15th and Lower Eaton Amethyst 5th.

Buying another bull has now been rejected because after reflection it was decided that it would be good to be able to keep any female calves in the herd and we don’t have enough land to keep them separated from a bull. Hence our decision to go down the AI (Artificial Insemination) route. Welcome to the whole new world of The Semen Catalogue

027

What about any of the above? I quite liked the look of Freetown Klondyke  …. until I had a long conversation with the extremely knowledgeable P from the Traditional Hereford Society who seemed to be able to recall the names of all the bulls going back to the 1960’s. He put the names of the girls into his computer and the clever software tells him which would be the most suitable donors…as there are only a relatively small number of the breed it is important to expand the bloodlines. Ours come from the Silver family apparently, the biggest.

Then and now.

Rowington Trump Card (1960’s), Gensyns Lionheart (1960’s), Llandinabo Quirk, Llandinabo Mackie

These are the names of the bulls which we should select from. There are others but they are reserved for breed improvement on a commercial scale.

He also advised that the best time for them to calve is in February because on our rich pasture it is difficult to keep them lean enough to calve easily in the growing season. (What, the girls, fat?!) I had heard this before and it is true that they do get extremely rotund on grass – one of the main reasons they are cherished as a beef breed because they require so little input. So we have decided to wait until next May to do the AI.

The other thing he suggested was that we get a young steer who will let us know when they are in season (bulling) as it is not always easy to tell. We have definitely noticed when they are bulling as they moo plaintively and pace up and down next to the fence, the other side being where the Limousin bull resides. But it doesn’t seem to last long at all – a kind of blink and you miss it scenario. You’d hope a steer would be more attuned to what’s going on…

In the meantime the world around us is changing…October2103 134

October2103 137

I love the softness of the autumn days, misty and strange.

066

059

070078a

And this fine fellow of brown, a South Devon bull belonging to L & J

017

And this fine fellow, also of brown.

Until the next time.

084

Advertisements

Looping the Bounds

A bowl of plums stands on the kitchen table, ripening one at a time. It’s been a good year for fruit.

Though I felt for the cherry farmer who’s crop ripened all at the same time because of the July heatwave. To grow them reliably in this country the trees have to be tented to protect them from … too much rain, too little sun, too much sun… and of course the wind. Gone are the days of thirty foot  trees and tapering high ladders. These cherries are grafted onto a small rootstock. The huge investment has been made and it’s thirty miles of tenting which has to be raised or lowered according to need. The farmer and his workers are lean.

A balloon flying over

A balloon flying over

This September morning I will loop the bounds, walking out around the three and a half acres which encircle us. I step into the front yard and survey the slight devastation which the cows have wreaked on the galvanised trough planted with Black Scabious , Orange Cosmos and Cornflowers.

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Yup, that’d be you

We moved the cows into the field behind the house after the hay was finally cut and baled in August (another 280 bales, distributed between us and others).

This was their first visit and they were suitably excited.

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We put them in here to forage as they were getting a little rotund in the cow field. Now they seem to be lying down a lot, like it’s all a bit exhausting.

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We cleared out the ground floor of the shippen so they have some undercover quarters should it take their fancy, but this entails them traversing the front yard, a cow free zone up til now, and hence the predation on my flowers. But I have always imagined them using the shippen just like our predecessor Mr. Creeper did. His cows used to come in the front door. We’re working on it.

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I carry on. Astonishing worlds of spiders webs are draped in the damp stalks. A wren rat-tat-tats from the front  hedgerow where the young Elms are, descendants of the huge trees which once stood here and gave this place locally the name ‘the Elms’. Let’s hope the Ash doesn’t suffer the same fate. I can hear a plane, our neighbour crunches across the gravel and tinkers with something in the shed and a nuthatch barks from the phone wire, perhaps already staking a claim on a stony hole. The swallows are still here, flying high in the sky, clicking and wheeling. Although some kind of catastrophe befell our only pair I was pleased to catch some young fledglings over at T & N’s place when I went to visit the new calf.

September2013 010a

Swallow Fledglings on Wire www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

New calf? I hear you say.

Yes! Born only a few weeks ago to T & N’s Hollyhock this little heifer was sired by Herald, who, for those that don’t already know, was our shared bull who we had to have culled earlier this year due to Johnes disease. Luckily the disease is not passed onto calves in this way. This is Hollyhock’s first calf and she did splendidly. I missed the actual birth but arrived a couple of hours later and she let us approach quite close and only the next day allowed T to pick the calf up and move her indoors. Well done Hollyhock.

Traditional English Hereford Cow and New Calf www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Two hours old

A wood pigeon is cooing high in the canopy and I can hear the jackdaws calling and cackling, landing and then swooping low over the field. The sun is warming things up and a tortoiseshell butterfly is spread out on the ground on some small stones then moves to a post. The Purple Knapweed has gone over, hard black seed heads silhouetted like little soldiers. A few bees are still buzzing around late flowers and the Goat Willow which has self seeded in the front of the house has been stripped of its leaves by the cows. I go through a gate into the garden, a development project which is still at the thinking stage for the moment.

The apple tree is weighted by both fruit and time, this one planted many years ago, it’s flattened profile telling of an espaliered moment. Bill Mackenzie, a yellow clematis, is curled around the swing seat supplying a nectar filling station for late honeybees. It’s whiskery whorls mingle with the bright sepals. One side of the garden boundary is the stone wall of the barn. In front of this are the collapsing stems of Wild Carrot, Yarrow, Woundwort, Deadnettle, Ragged Robin and Meadow Cranesbill.  Windfalls stud the grass.

SeptemberC2013 085

Leaving the garden I move on into the new orchard, part of the back field. Here we have the compost heap and the polytunnel.  The trees are still young and have been slow to get established because of the wind but they are just beginning to produce a small amount of fruit. Sadly, a flurry of anticipation for a few pears was hijacked by a splitting event and then a wasp feeding frenzy. Empty husks of pears floated to the ground like lanterns. Sigh. The Dahlias did well though and they’re still going strong in the polytunnel.

September2013 068

The hedgebank here is full of Wood Avens, Foxglove and Bramble.  The leathery straps of the Harts Tongue Fern are still green, feet-deep in between the stones and the one time feathery upstanding  grasses; of Foxtail, Bent and Yorkshire Fog, are breaking up and bending down.

Senescence

I can see the cows coming down this way as my footsteps make a squeaky sound on the wet grass. Walking up the field, the hedgerow is a jumble of Bramble, Hawthorn, Hazel, Ladys Bedstraw and Dogrose. A young Ash which we’ve allowed to grow away is now fifteen feet, heavy with ash keys drooping like pea pods. A glossy compact Holly nestles comfortably, belonging in its place, and on the bank a plethora of next years Red Campion seedlings jostle one another in a thick bloom.

SeptemberC2013 078

I duck under the electric fence which divides the field from the orchard and behind the birdsong I hear the rumble of traffic up on the top road a mile away. Rabbits have been making new holes as this years’ youngsters claim new territory. The blackberries are fat, dark and shiny, really black. They remind me of my grandparents in Kent and how we used to go out blackberrying and my grandmother would make blackberry and apple pudding or crumble. They loved their damsons too and told us stories of picking fruit during the war years. We are not the only ones who like the berries, flies are also fond. Bluebottle, Greenbottle, Horsefly, Dungfly, Biteyfly and a black one with tawny down trousers. A crow caws from neighbouring airspace, the woodpigeon coos again. On the reddy-orange hips of the Dogrose I find a peculiar growth.

SeptemberC2013 067

Ivy wraps itself closely around the branches of a leaning hawthorn, a twiny embrace. Tiny green nodules are just beginning to show in clusters, when they turn black it will be a winter feast for the birds. Bramble leaves are just going over; red,orange, bright green and yellow. I walk up the finger of land, rising all the time. I look back to the moor, there is a heavy grey cloud squatting on top of a misty tor, while in the foreground small sloping fields criss crossed with hedges hug the contours of the land. A flock of sheep pour into a waist thinning gateway, then spill out again, like an egg timer.

As part of the ongoing hedgerow restoration project we released a Holly from the thickets of Hazel a couple of winters ago. It is now is shooting strongly from the trunk where the light has been let in while some young Oaks have a chance to get away. The idea is to have mostly hedge, with larger trees at intervals. Hedgerows are invaluable for wildlife and it is part of the conservation here on the farm. It’s one of the reasons we get the Environmental Stewardship subsidy.

I reach the top of the finger and beyond the gate is a bright green field with black and white dairy cows lying down. It looks attractive in a clean kind of way but this kind of pasture is what conservationists might call a ‘green desert’, a monoculture landscape devoid of biodiversity. The cows look young; this is the less intensive part of their lives, before they are pressed into service to provide us with a constant source of cheap milk. This demand makes dairy cows the hardest working animals in farming with the squeezed farmers needing to monopolise every square inch of land into production. No such luck for a dairy cow to enjoy her calf like Hollyhock. They will be separated when they are only two days old. When I start to think about it, it doesn’t sound good. Apparently, in the UK, the average working lifespan of a dairy cow is around four lactations (milk-producing periods), and hence many dairy cows are culled when they are relatively young. On the plus side, at least the RSPCA, along with some other organisations are working together to campaign for higher welfare standards for European dairy cows and we as consumers can help by looking for either the Freedom Foods labelling, or failing that, organic.

I then experience what a lot of people do – a concern which is ignited and then changes into a feeling of general overwhelm at the enormity of the task. So, as I pass a beautiful mature Ash, I look up into its branches and get lost. But I will do what I can. It’s an ongoing process.

I come to the outward facing corner on the east of the finger and here is a large Oak with a really nice big bulbous base which a strand of rusty barbed wire running through it which the bark has swallowed in a ripple. The acorns have begun to fall, they are fresh green at the moment, cupped in knobbly cradles with a perky stalk. From here the big Sycamore behind the house is just getting a coating of rust.

I turn into the last stretch back down towards the house. I sit down by Lucy who doesn’t mind me at all and see a tiny ladybird crawling along a stem of grass. The cows are lounging by what we hope one day will be a pasture woodland – not in our lifetime of course, but in a hundred years it might look pretty good. The thicket of Holly and Hazel at the gate is full of chirping birds. The Nightshade is heavy with berries and the Hazel is already forming catkins. This is the spot where we had our temporary home, the straw bale house with caravan attached. You’d never know anything was ever there now, just a few months and the only sign is the blue plastic standpipe now lying in the grass.

My last stop is the upper floor of the shippen, now satisfyingly full of the straw we saved from the balehouse which now gives the cows their bedding (which they also sometimes eat, incomprehensibly). Oh and all those things destined for a car boot sale.

One day.

September is also a month of beautiful skies. Here are some of them.

Until the next time…

SeptemberC2013 100

%d bloggers like this: