Mark’s May

Early in the month we had our second TB test after being hit particularly hard earlier in the year losing 32 of our cattle to the disease. Unfortunately, we are still seeing the disease, but lost just 4 of the cattle this time.

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Advice sought, after such a severe outbreak, leads to perhaps a dead infected badger on the hill which the cattle came into contact with. We are, therefore, still under restriction, and, hopefully on our next test we will go clear which, after yet another clear test, we can look forward to being able to market our cattle once again.

All of the cattle are out and loving the freedom of being in the fields after a long winter in the sheds.

They continue to calve outside, we are waiting for the arrival of the ‘white’ heifers calf due very shortly.

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This month, after getting water from the natural spring on Godolphin Hill to Calves Meadow, we were able to put 30 young heifers in this field for the first time since we have been on the Estate.

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The ruby reds, although depleted, are back on the hill and gaining the condition that they lost through being out all winter.   These cattle are a traditionally quiet breed and can be outwintered, which makes them perfect for grazing the hills at Godolphin.

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Daniel has been top dressing the winter wheat in the Hill Fields and this crop is showing good signs of a bumper harvest.

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We have been marketing our organic lambs this month and weigh them every two weeks to ensure they are at the optimum weight. The females are taken off their mothers to break them and allow them to now feed off the grass of Godolphin. Sheep will do anything if food is involved and can be moved fairly easily from field to field.   We continue to monitor the ewes for mastitis and creep feed the lambs.

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As the weather warms up we have to keep a sharp look for signs of flystrike. This is when the bluebottle lays eggs in the warm moist wool of the ewe and within days maggots will be hatching out and feeding off the flesh of the ewe. The ewes have all been dagged and the ewe lambs that have been taken off their mothers. We have had a couple of cases of flystrike which have been dealt with. At the end of the month the main flock will be sheared and the bluebottle will have nowhere to lay their eggs.

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Silage has begun on the home farm, but because Godolphin is in higher level stewardship, silage cannot be cut until June. This does, however, enable nesting birds to hatch in peace!   It is very noticeable the amount of swallows in particular skimming the hay fields and a lovely sight. The hay fields are cut in July after, hopefully, a long dry spell.

Next month, alongside silage and the last of the calving for the year, we should see the introduction of our two new rams to our Poll Dorset sheep.

Spring Pastures

This month on the farm at Godolphin is always a happy time when, weather permitting, the cattle are led up to spring pastures after a long winter in the shed.   We all love to watch them as they kick up their heels and start munching on the fresh grass.   Calves continue to be born, but outside now where they are soon up on their feet and suckling their mothers.

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There are a lot less of the Ruby Red cattle because of the severe loss of so many to TB in February.   We are fast approaching another TB test and, fingers crossed, hope to be free of TB so that we can start to re-stock.   If the test is proved to be positive again, we will have to wait another 60 days for yet another test.

Mark has been busy planting spring wheat and spring oats.   A good crop will mean an abundance of straw to be used as bedding for the cattle during the winter months in the sheds.  Mark has also been top dressing the winter wheat with fertiliser to enable a better crop.

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The stewardship headlands are now well grown with grass which is allowing the small animals and birds to nest without disturbance and provide plenty of cover.  Birds can be heard singing all over the Estate.

The lambs that were born in the November/December months are well grown and some have already been marketed.   We had another unfortunate incident when a fully grown ewe was killed by dogs in March, but hopefully, people will take notice of the signs on certain gateways to be responsible and keep their dogs on leads around livestock.

The ewes that have had their lambs removed have to be watched closely for mastitis and this can be deadly if not spotted and attended to.   The lambs are creep fed with an organic pellet to help put weight on them in order they can be marketed at the right time, but mostly they rely on their mothers to provide milk until they can nibble on the grass themselves.

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We market some of our spring lambs as lamb boxes.   They are sold in half or whole lamb boxes at a cost of £75 per half lamb and £140 per whole lamb.   Anyone interested in a lamb box can contact us on 01326 573248, subject to availability.

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We have also been ‘dagging’ the ewes which means shearing them around the tail area as the spring grass sometimes becomes too rich for them and they need to be kept clean in order that they do not attract flies as the weather becomes warmer.    We now have a sheep dagging platform which enables Mark to work behind the sheep more easily and keeps them relatively still, also preventing a lot of pressure on his back.

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The month ahead will continue to be busy with sheds being cleaned out and preparation for the most busy time in the farm calendar ‘silage season’!

Spring is here

Spring is coming very quickly to Godolphin and a very welcome sight it is.

The lambs that were born in November have been grazing the fields at Godolphin and are well grown with a few already to weight.   There was an unfortunate incident for one unlucky lamb on Valentine’s Day when it was savaged by a large dog.   After emergency treatment it did survive, although minus an ear, but it is a stark reminder for dog owners to be responsible and keep their dogs on leads around livestock.

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At the beginning of March we had our regular TB test on our Godolphin cattle and nothing prepared us for the consequences.    Unfortunately 25 of our pedigree Ruby Red cattle tested positive for the disease, including our lovely bull, Darwin and one of our favourite cows, ‘Primrose’.   Most of last year’s calves tested positive and some of the cows that have very young calves on them will be taken leaving us to bucket rear their offspring.   Another 8 of the Hereford cross cattle also tested positive.   We will be compensated, but nowhere near the true worth of the cattle.   It also means our bloodlines have been lost and we will now have to rebuild and restart our breeding programme for this lovely traditional breed of cattle.

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We are now under TB restriction at Godolphin Estate Farm and we will have another test in 60 days and again 60 days after that.

Now some good news – in February, Jessica, who usually helps Mark on the farm, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl ‘Annie Rozelle’, a first granddaughter for Mark and Ruth.   Jessie is looking forward to introducing Annie to Godolphin and all the animals as soon as she can.

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Harvest Time

The hot summer has allowed the corn on Mark’s Farm to ripen ready for harvest. The moisture content is critical, as the stored corn will generate heat if it’s too moist and be useless as a winter feed. Also, any grain sold will suffer severe deductions as the buyers have to dry the corn artificially.

Mark and Daniel have regularly been in the fields testing the corn with the traditional ‘bite test’, and then, if they believe it is ripe enough, using a moisture meter to calculate the exact percentage of moisture in the grain. This may seem technical, but any small percentage change is critical when storing.

The straw is baled and will be brought in and stored for winter bedding.

BalingBalesMark’s entries for Stithians Show were picked out the week before the show date. The sheep were halter broken over several days and the washed with the help of Zak, a hose pipe and some fairy liquid. Katherine and Jess took six sheep, all bred by Ruth and Mark, in seven classes and came out with two 5ths, three 4ths, and two 2nds. This was a respectable haul and the judge commented on how the breeding was improving with each successive year.

Stithians show

Brook, Mark’s grandson was introduced to his first sheep class, the ‘Young Handlers’ which is specifically for 10-15 year olds. Brook, although three years underage, was so keen that they were willing to let him compete.

The Young Handlers competition differs from the other classes as it is the handler that is judged, not the sheep. Brook was quizzed on the breed, his sheep and asked to perform some tasks to illustrate how he can control the animal.

A busy time on the farm meant that Brook was left to his own devices. He was given one of this year’s lambs, which had had very little human contact over the past 5 months and told he needed to be ready for the show the following week. Brook named the lamb Harvey and began attempting to halter train the animal. On the first few days Harvey clearly had the better of Brook, but by the end of the week Harvey would be led on a lead, stand to be handled by a judge and was beautifully clean ready for his first show.

Brook also had to do his homework on the Poll Dorset breed and on Harvey in particular, but at last he was ready. In a class of six Brook and Harvey were awarded the first prize. This was a great surprise as he had stiff competition from older handlers, but the judge was impressed with the answers and the way he handled Harvey, even when Harvey had other ideas! Brook now has his sights set on next year’s show and is hoping to join Jess and Katherine in the open adult classes.Along with the hot weather came the risk of fly strike. The flies will land in the sheep and lay their eggs deep in the fleece. The maggots will hatch and begin eating the flesh of the animal. A nice first meal for the maggots but not at all nice for the sheep. As the summer began, Ruth and Jess dagged the sheep around their back ends to avoid any faeces attracting the flies in. Once the heat really picked up the professional shearers were brought in to shear the sheep completely making it less attractive for the flies to lay their eggs.

Vivian and Adam Care were much faster than Ruth and Jess making a difficult job look easy. The fleeces were rolled and placed in a large bags ready to be delivered to the British Wool Marketing Board in Liskeard.

The grass has been cut for silage and is busily growing again to make a second crop before the end of the year. Some farmers will get a third cut from their fields but in an organic system Mark cannot artificially accelerate grass growth, so in most cases two cuts will be it at Godolphin. Sunshine at silage time means the grass can dry out over several days after being cut, before Dan then rakes the spread grass into ‘drams’, a neat column of grass which makes it easier for Mark to bale.

The bales are wrapped and stacked ready for winter. Once second cut silage has also been done a nutrient test will reveal the quality of the silage and compare it to previous years, to give Mark and Daniel an idea of the supplementary feed requirements of the cattle. Poor quality silage could result in costly winter buying in feed to make up the balanced diet the animals need.

The rams, after being separated from the girls since last autumn have been reunited with the ewes ready for another breeding season. The rams were given groups of ewes which best suited their characteristics and boosted the confirmation of their off spring. It was a job worthy of the x factor judges deciding which ewes should go with which rams but finally Ruth had four bunches; the first, whose off spring she will choose her replacements from, with a further three bunches having their ewe lambs sold as breeding ewes and ram lambs sold as fat lambs.

The rams have already been in with the first and second groups, and removed again after two cycles. This should mean that the lambs will arrive from the start of November to mid December, referred to as ‘the November lambers’. The rams are currently in with bunches three and four and after a break for Christmas, the second set of lambs should arrive between the New Year and mid February referred to as ‘the January lambers’.

RamsMark and Ruth have bought two new rams for the occasion, Scorpion, a well-bred ram at his peak, and Titan, a younger ram experiencing his first year with the ewes. Ruth is also planning to pregnancy scan the ewes this year to determine how many lambs to expect. This will enable her to then feed the expectant mothers accordingly. The November lambers are due to be scanned soon.

 

Ruby’s here to stay

This month has been tense at Mark’s Farm, after another TB test. The vet checked each of the cattle individually and announced there were no reactions to their initial injections and it was another ‘clear test’. This means Mark’s farm is officially ‘TB free’ for another year, and it will now be possible to sell cattle at a good price, although the beef price has dropped in the UK following the horse meat scandal. 

TB Testing

Mark had hoped that the price would increase as consumers put pressure on the supermarkets to supply genuine British beef. It would appear that the supermarkets have already found another way to supply beef without paying fair prices to the British farmer. Farmers Weekly magazine reads “In March, there was a 22% increase in total UK imports for the month – the bulk of which are from Ireland”. This is another blow for the British beef farmer.

Ruby’s here to stay! All the puppies are now happy in their new homes. One of puppies had to stay a little longer as her new owner, due to unforeseen circumstances, couldn’t commit to a puppy at this moment in time. This was great news as Ruth has said she can stay long-term and called her Ruby. Ruby begins her puppy training on Thursday and Mark and his family hope to see her out and about on the estate with Belle soon.

Jess with Ruby

The oats and spring barley seeded in April have shot up and are growing nicely. We hope more corn will shoot to thicken the crop. Mark needs to keep an eye on its progress as this feed and bedding will be vital for the cattle in the winter.

One of the older cows, Vic, had developed a lump in her eye which began weeping. The vet came to look at her and diagnosed it as cancer. This was upsetting to hear especially as she was heavily pregnant and may have to have been put down. Mark and the vet discussed the operation needed to remove the tumour and decided to go ahead. Within no time she was back out in the field again and a few days later had her healthy newborn calf.

Vic's eye

Vic and her calf

The Ruby Reds are back up on the hill doing what they do best, eating, eating, sunbathing, and eating. The Ruby Reds are particularly good at reclaiming areas of bracken and gorse and reinstating it as grassland, naturally through grazing. This is really important to the eco system and takes many years to achieve. Hopefully, whilst using the hill, you can see the benefits of where the Ruby Reds have been grazing and the difference they are making.

The Ruby Reds on Godolphin Hill

What a beautiful sight!

Easter at Mark’s Farm

A belated happy Easter to all our Mark’s Farm readers. This month we’ll be trying something different, with a couple of short blog posts, rather than one longer post. Let us know what you think.

This month Daniel and Mark have continued preparing the ground for drilling corn. The good weather has meant that lots of jobs need to be done at once. They have had to put in a lot of hours to get everything in the ground, ready and waiting for the first shower of rain to kick-start their growth.Drilling corn

Here Daniel is rolling the ground after Mark has drilled the corn. This pushes the seed down further into the ground as well as breaking down any clumps of soil ensuring that the corn has the best possible chance.

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The sheep health checks…

The time has come to split the older ewes from their lambs, partly to give the ewes a rest and to encourage the lambs to become more independent from their mums. The sheep made their way across the estate in batches before being sorted in the shed into lambs and ewes.

The sheep make their way to be sorted

This seemed an ideal opportunity to give the ewes a pedicure and ensure they were in tip-top condition before turning them back out to the field. A race was set up in the shed to funnel the sheep through. When the ewes reach the ‘turnover crate’ they are clamped in and turned upside down. This stops the ewes from struggling and it is their natural reflex to put all four feet in the air.

The sheep have their feet looked at

This is ideal for Mark, who gains access to all four feet which he can then trim with large toenail clippers. Sheep’s feet grow tremendously quickly and in all sorts of odd directions so its important to keep on top of the problem. It also provides an opportunity for Jess and Ruth to check udders and eyes for any problems and make a note of any missing ear tags. The sheep are marked with their ear tag number across their side using a coloured spray. This helps them to identify the sheep from a distance.

The sheep are checked every morning and sometimes twice a day. Mark was shocked one morning to find this ewe. Her swollen face meant she could no longer see out of her eyes and despite being her usual self on the inside, this clearly wasn’t the case on the outside.

This sheep's face was very swollen

The ewe and the lamb was separated and the vet was called. She was given a course of injections to help bring down the swelling and this had amazing results. The ewe could see again after day one and after a week was heading out to pasture. It is possible that this was an allergic reaction to a bee sting or perhaps she had managed to eat a poisonous plant lurking in the undergrowth.

The sheep's face looks much better

Here she is just two weeks later, the ewe and lamb are now happily back out in the field with the only sign of her ordeal being the pink patches around her eyes and mouth showing where the scabs had fallen off. Fingers crossed, Mark will never experience anything like this again.

Hear more from Mark’s farm in another update soon.

Off to market

On the first Thursday of month, Kivells auctioneers hold an organic market at Hallworthy. The young stock Mark had separated in the winter have recently become large enough to be sold at market. They were sold as store cattle, this means they will be ‘stored’ by the next farmer and fattened so that they can eventually be sold on again as finished beef to the butcher/supermarket. Selling the animals as store cattle removes the costly feed bill, and also the risk involved with the strict carcass grading linked to a pay scale.

 It’s an early job loading livestock, as they need to be at the market in time to be unloaded and studied by potential buyers. 

 

Mark at the market

Mark at the market

The livestock are kept in holding pens at the back of the market, and when ready they are run down a race and into the ring. In the ring an auctioneer will explain a little about the animals age, breed, temperament etc and the bidding will begin.

 

 It’s Mark’s chance to show the cattle off at their best by walking them around the ring, and he was pleased with the top price the males got. However the trade for the females was not as good, and this could be for a number of reasons. The weather is the most likely cause, with buyers cherry picking the best animals and limiting their purchases whilst the future grass supply is still uncertain.

The improved weather has meant the cattle and sheep can now head out into the fields. They are pleased to be out roaming around in the fresh air and eating the new grass.

The cattle enjoy being back outdoors

The cattle enjoy being back outdoors

Currently there are three different batches of cows, the Ruby Reds, the Herefords and the remainder of last years calves fattening up for market, and these are spread out across the estate.

The sheep are split into two batches as well, depending on which lambing group they belong to. The animals being out on the land cuts the work load down dramatically and allows Mark and Daniel to get on with other important jobs like drilling corn.

As soon as the sunshine comes out, thoughts turn to drilling corn. It is this crop which will be harvested in the autumn and in winter months used as feed and bedding for the livestock. In the mean time there is a lot of work to be done to get the ground ready.

The first step is to plough the ground by turning the soil over, this encourages the grass to breakdown and put its goodness back into the soil. The soil is also tested and analysed to see if its needs a top up of any of the vital nutrients such as nitrates, potash and phosphate. All the dung spreading Daniel has been doing will help naturally restore the balance of the ground. Mark then rotivates the ground breaking down any larger clumps of soil before drilling the corn straight into the ground.

 Large field margins are left to comply with the stewardship scheme, which allows a corridor around the fields for the birds, small mammals, butterflies and insects to exist with modern-day farming.

 

The puppies are now five weeks old and all nine are thriving. Each have developed their own character and are already part of the family. Belle has done really well to rear all the little ones and even coped through a bout of mastitis.

It is hard to believe, but the puppies will be ready for sale in three weeks and Belle will be back to her old duties. Mark and Ruth have decided not to keep any from this litter as they already have three dogs. They hope Belle will have puppies again in a few years and would like to keep one of those.

Mark and Ruth have specified that each of the dogs should go to working homes, so they can get plenty of exercise and training. Hopefully some of the puppies will stay in the area and Belle can keep track of how her little ones are getting on.

Next month, look out for…

  • TB testing of cattle
  • Sheep health checks
  • Fat lambs are sent for slaughter
  • More working ground for spring oats