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’!

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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.

 

Cattle at Christmas

The cows are now settled in the shed and have their feeding and bedding down regime mastered. Their whole lives are fairly routine at this time of year, so to spice things up Mark and his family arranged for them to have pedicures.

The cows’ feet will grow in the same way that ours do, if you don’t keep them trimmed their toe nails can get a little out of hand. Some farmers believe that feeding the cattle a high protein diet can make this worse. Others feel that being unable to stand on a hard surface like concrete can contribute or that foot growth is due to the actual breeding of the animal. Sometimes it can be a combination of all three. 

What ever the cause of the growth, the cows need to have their feet trimmed to ensure they remain in good physical condition. Having them housed during the winter provides an ideal opportunity for this to happen. In previous years Daniel has trimmed their feet using a specialised cattle crush and equipment to hold the cow in place, with its foot elevated whilst he trims each foot by hand. This year, however, the family have decided to work with a relatively new design in the way foot trimming is done. They asked James from C.H.D Foot Care, to come down to the estate and do some foot trimming.

 The process works like this:

Each cow walks down the race and into this crush, much like it does with any other crush.

The cow is then secured into the crush and gently hoisted off its feet. It is quite unusual to see but the cows seem to take it all in their stride.

The crush is lifted and turned leaving the cow resting on its side. Each of the four feet are strapped so that both James and the cow cannot get hurt. The cows seemed very calm throughout this whole process and even the livelier members of the herd lay back to enjoy the pedicure.

James can examine each foot quickly and safely, trimming away any excess without the fear of a kick in the face. The cow is not at all stressed and the process is pain-free.

On a routine trimming, the whole process may take a matter of minutes from the cow walking into the crush to it walking out again. This makes the job much more efficient and is great if you choose to do a large number of animals. It works well on an individual basis too as an older cow ‘Vic’ found out.

Vic

Vic had recently developed a limp caused by a stone getting stuck in the sole of her foot, becoming infected. Mark and Jess asked James to put her in the crush so they could get a closer look. James dealt with the problem area, bandaged her foot and glued a wooden block to the good side of her foot allowing the wound to be elevated off the ground, giving it time to heal. Vic walked out of the crush with her new high heels and was immediately moving better. The wooden block will wear down over time and eventually fall off.

The new calving season has begun, and with ear tags and castration bands at the ready, the first calves have arrived. Here are just a few of the calves that arrived this month…

Mark and his family have to be extremely careful with the new-born calves, and ensure that the environment they are born into is as clean and germ free as possible. Contamination and infections are all too easily spread in such a confined area.

The Ruby Red cattle remain outside during the winter. Their hardy breed allows them to withstand weather conditions that the Herefords and crosses would struggle with. Their calving has also begun and the young calves are running around and looking healthy. This is slightly problematic when it comes to giving them an ear tag and recording their gender so they can be registered. The calves are fast and energetic and in an open space Mark and Daniel have to come up with new ways of persuading them to have their vital statistics taken.

Earlier in the year, the summer calvers were featured on the blog. The Miss Marples have always been good mothers, and the growth of their calves illustrates this. Take a look at this photo from a couple of days ago, you can see the difference a couple of months makes!

There are lots of things to look forward to in January:

  • More calves
  • The first of the lambs are born from the Godolphin sheep
  • The new tractor arrives

Although everyone is celebrating the festive season, work does not stop for Christmas on the farm. The animals are looked after each and every day including Christmas Day, but Mark makes sure they get an extra big portion of silage to celebrate.

Mark and Jess on Christmas Day 2012

Mark and Jess on Christmas Day 2012

Everyone at Mark’s Farm would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a very merry Christmas, and a big thank you for taking an interest in the farming we do here on the Godolphin estate. See you in the New Year!

Housing the cattle

The wintry weather has arrived here at Godolphin, and the time has come to bring in the herds of cattle. Mark hopes that he has enough feed and bedding to get through the winter, no matter how unpredictable it may be.

The animals will now be housed until the spring. Each day Mark and Jess will need to check the cattle, bed them down with fresh straw and give them hay and silage to eat. The bales are broken down with the tractor and then spread out across the shed by hand-held fork.

The tractor breaks up the bales in the barn.

The tractor breaks up the bales in the barn

At Godolphin, shed room has always been an issue, and with winter here Mark has had to clear out the shed to make space for the cattle, as the temperature falls. This means the yard is now stacked full of straw, silage and hay. All the feed and bedding has to be sheeted down, and Mark hopes that it is not too badly damaged by being exposed to the weather.

The Herefords are much happier being housed in the shed with the ‘Miss Marples’ in particular hating the wet weather. It has become impossible not to laugh at them stood by the hedge with their ears drooping when they sense poor weather is on the way!

The cattle enjoy a snack in the shed

The cattle enjoy a snack in the shed

This month Mark and his family separated the cows and calves. Each of the animals had to pass through the race and be separated depending on the age of their calves. Whilst some cows and calves had naturally grown apart and were happy to be separated, others made a lot of noise during the whole process and for many days afterwards (apologies to anyone in the local vicinity). The design of the shed means that the cows and calves can call to each other across the feeding passage. Mark believes this makes the separation process less stressful for the cows and calves as they realise their independence.

The cows feed in the shed

Feeding in the shed

The calves, which are equivalent to teenagers, are fed up to help build their size and condition, with a view to being sold as store cattle in the spring.

On Monday 18 November, Mr Bob Cowell of Franchis Farm, Helston hosted the annual Fatstock Show. This is a small show of cattle, sheep, forage and vegetables with a domestic section for cookery, photography and floristry.

Sheep at Helston Fatstock Show

Sheep at Helston Fatstock Show

Jess is presented with a rosette at Helston Fatstock Show

Jess is presented with a rosette at Helston Fatstock Show

Three of the Godolphin sheep were selected for entry. Numbers 40 and 42 were entered in a ‘pair of breeding ewes’ and Number 37 as a ‘single breeding ewe’. Mark and his family came home with two rosettes from the two classes, with a 2nd in the pair of breeding ewes and a 3rd in the single ewe. Ruth made her debut at the show helping to lead the sheep in the first class, and despite her initial resistance, she enjoyed it!

Jess with the winning ewes

Jess with the winning ewes

It was a big rush to get them ready and halter trained for the big day, but overall it was worth it. Mark and his family had brilliant feedback from the judge. It’s a great opportunity to meet people and learn some tricks of the trade, as well as a chance to laugh and joke with the other competitors.

In other news…

The new calving season begins any day.

Mark has finally found a new bull, which he is hoping will join the Ruby Reds up on Godolphin Hill. He has some more work to do with his current herd and will hopefully arrive in January, so keep an eye out for his arrival in the new year.

Baling and nutrient analysis

This month saw the last of the farm’s silage for 2013. The grass is at its best in the spring and early summer, and although it regrows each time it’s cut, it always has a little less quality and volume than the previous crop.

Mark in the field with Belle

Mark in the field with Belle

Once the decision comes to cut, Mark has to play a gambling game with the weather. He needs to give the grass a chance to dry whilst its laid out on the floor, but still give himself enough time to get the grass kicked out, baled, wrapped and stacked before any rainfall which could potentially ruin the crop.

Mark kicks out the grass to help any damp grass at the bottom of the pile dry in the sun.

Mark kicks out the grass to help any damp grass at the bottom of the pile dry in the sun.

Daniel then rakes the grass into larger ranks ready for Mark to bale the silage.

Daniel then rakes the grass into larger ranks ready for Mark to bale.

The bales are spread out across the fields and it’s Jess’s job to bring them in to Daniel who wraps and stacks them.

Jess moves the bales with the tractor.

Jess moves the bales with the tractor.

The whole family works together when they’re on silage, as each process leads into the next. It makes the tea break even more rewarding!

A well earned tea break.

A well-earned tea break.

The straw bales need to be protected so they stay dry and make good, clean bedding during the winter. The straw bales will shed any water which hits the bale on its edge, however, by stacking the bales one on top of another and laying sheeting over the top, Mark is able to stop water from penetrating the core of the bale. 

The bales are stacked and protected with sheeting.

The bales are stacked and protected with sheeting.

 Last year the sheet was caught in the high winds and blew away from the bales, but hopefully this year the sheet will be stopped from breaking free, by weighing it down with more bales.

Now the silage has been completed, Mark can have it analysed to examine its nutrient content. The first cut silage is usually the richest and the third the poorest grade. This is then also affected by the type of land, exposure to the elements and even the time of day it was baled.

Mark takes samples from the bales.

Mark takes samples from the bales.

 This nutrient analysis allows Mark to feed the right feed to the right cattle at the right time. For example, the Ruby Red cows will benefit from a lower grade silage than some of the Hereford crosses such as the Miss Marples, and this is also affected by the type of winter we have. If Mark makes a mistake, it may mean that the cows and sheep lose condition or become excessively fat. Ideally, each feed should be used as efficiently as possible by the spring. During November Mark will be concentrating on the start of calving, and getting the cattle housed for winter. He will also be selecting two breeding ewes to attend the local Helston Fatstock Show; follow next month’s blog to see how they get on.