June and July on the farm

It’s been pretty busy on the farm. The sheep all came in to be sheared which I’m sure they were very thankful for! Adam & Vivian Care sheared this year, bringing their pens and equipment with them.

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It is quite a skillful job to shear a sheep that won’t stay still and very hot work, nevertheless, they were sheared pretty quickly. The fleece that is taken off the sheep is laid out and then has to be rolled and put into a large bag provided by the Wool Marketing Board. The bags have to be packed evenly and are then stitched up and taken to Liskeard for processing.

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We have also introduced two new pedigree Poll Dorset rams to the girls – Unanimous and Uggster. They set to work straight away and hopefully we will see their lambs born in November.

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Our young ewe lambs that were taken off their mothers in April will either be sold on or grown on and used as replacements for our flock. We operate a ‘closed’ flock, apart from the rams which are brought in.

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We sold 40 of our young November lambs to another organic farmer from Gloucestershire for breeding and he travelled down to collect them from Godolphin.

The flies at this time of the year are very irritating for both cattle and sheep and the young stock were moved to fields higher up where the flies aren’t so prevalent.

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The winter wheat is really looking good and will be cut around the middle of August, weather permitting.

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Occasionally, when the Ruby Reds are conservation grazing the hill at Godolphin, we have to walk the hill to locate them. We often sit on top of the hill just admiring the stunning view for 360 degrees. If you haven’t had a chance to get to the top this year you should really make the effort, it is well worth it and you won’t be disappointed.

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On the very last day of June, our ‘white’ heifer gave birth to a healthy bull calf which was a nice surprise as we have been waiting a while for this one!

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Unfortunately, we have again gone down with TB at Godolphin losing another 2 cows, both pedigree Ruby Reds, which is a very disappointing result and means the Ruby Reds, that have grazed the hill at Godolphin so well, are severely depleted.   Both these cows had young calves on them, but have managed to fend for themselves and are coping well.

The first of the silage at Godolphin has been cut.   It is cut with a large mower and then left to wilt in the field for apx. 24 hours.  It was a good crop, boosted by a nice amount of clover.   The headlands were left untouched for the wildlife.    Ideally you don’t want any rain at this stage.

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The silage is drammed up which means it is gathered into wide rows before it enters the baler.

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The bales are about half a ton in weight and, although they look like they could be fun to climb on, are really quite dangerous and can roll very easily.

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The bales are then brought into the yard and placed on a machine that wraps 4-5 layers of plastic tightly around them to preserve them for winter feed.    They are then stacked tidily away using the ‘soft hands’ to ensure they don’t get punctured.

The fields are then left for the grass to grow again for about 10 weeks when a second cut is made and the process is repeated.

Next time ….. hay season and combining .

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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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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

 

New Year and lots of new borns

January has been a very busy month on Mark’s Farm, 2014 began with a flying start with new calves, new lambs and a new baby all on the first of the month.

The New Year's Day calf

The New Year’s Day calf

Mark and his family have had several little surprises over January. This little man arrived on 1 January and, with the exception of one little calf, Flash who we will introduce to you later, all are doing well having made a smooth transition to the world with just the help of their mum.

Gracie and her new lamb

Gracie and her new lamb

Gracie the show sheep, also gave birth on New Year’s Day. She had a good sized, healthy ewe lamb. This ewe lamb will be staying in the flock, and although it is still early days, Mark hopes to take her to a show or two in the upcoming year. Mark’s grandson Brook has named her Sky.

The ewes have been steadily lambing ever since, with Ruth and Jessie taking turns on the 11pm, 3am and 6am night shifts as well as every few hours during the day. It is really important that should the ewe have any difficulties they assist her to get the lamb out as smoothly as possible.

Ideally, they would like all the first time mums to have singles so they get a feel for motherhood, from the second year onwards twins are preferred. Triplets on one ewe are avoided where possible, as it often has negative health implications on the ewe and each of her three lambs.

A third arrival on New Year’s Day was Daniel and Vickie’s third son, Joey. Brother to Brook and Zak who already love tractors, cows and mud, they are sure Joey will be no exception and welcome him in to the Pascoe family.

Daniel and Mark have also been busy researching replacements for their dungspreader and tractor.

The tractor and dungspreader

The tractor and dungspreader

This new tractor will have better fuel economy than its predecessor, and should reduce its carbon foot print. The Fendt tractors also have a good reputation for reliability and the family will have to wait and see if this has been a worthwhile purchase, as Daniel puts the tractor through its paces.

 Mark has also purchased a rear discharge dungspreader, which is designed to chop the straw dung up and spread it evenly over the land. The large wheels reduce soil compaction and allow Mark and Daniel to get the organic straw dung out of the shed and on to the fields as soon as possible, so it can start putting nutrients back into the ground completing the cycle for another year.

Defra regularly ask Mark to test the herds on the Godolphin estate for TB. Currently Godolphin has a ‘TB free’ status and is not due another test until April this year, although Defra can ask Mark to test whenever they feel it is necessary.

Cattle rarely show symptoms of TB until it reaches advanced stages. To test for the disease a Defra appointed vet will inject all the cattle. They are then examined three days later by the same vet, who measures their reaction to the original injection making note of any he believes are infected. The vet is looking for a thickening of the skin in the area where he made the original injection. Any infected animals are destroyed and although Defra pay compensation, it is still heartbreaking to see any animal loaded on to the lorry for slaughter. This is an agonising time for any farmer, but a reality they are getting used to.

This month Defra contacted Mark asking him to complete a tracer test at Godolphin. Mark’s own farm has been diagnosed with TB, so he is no longer allowed to move any animals off the farm until he receives a clear status. The three animals he had moved to Godolphin during 2013 were listed as requiring tracer tests.

The weather wasn't great on the day of the 'tracer' tests

The weather wasn’t great on the day of the tracer tests

Supercharge the bull, a cow and a young Ruby Red were tested and all had clear results. The weather was appalling on test day, and Mark was glad it was just the three that needed testing, definitely a day for wet weather overalls!

Flash has had a difficult start to life. Nicknamed because of the flash of brown across her face she is quite the character. Flash is only a week old and doesn’t appear to be getting the important milk she needs from her mother, she has been lethargic and her stomach looks sucked in.Flash’s mother is one of Mark’s older cows, and she has always been a good mother in the past. Year after year of milk production has taken its toll and her udder now hangs low to the floor, her teats also seem too big for Flash to grip.

Flash and her mother

Flash and her mother

Mark had to act quickly once the problem was diagnosed, but he was reluctant to separate the cow and calf unless absolutely necessary. It is vital that Flash gets milk from her mother in the first few stages as it is rich with antibodies. Despite Flash’s and her mother’s best efforts the calf’s health was deteriorating quickly.

 

The next step has been to load the cow into the cattle crush, and use the calf’s suck reflex firstly on the fingers, before moving the calf into position to suck from the cow’s teat. This way Mark knows the calf has had milk that day. It is important to hold the teat in position until the calf has had enough.

 

This is hard work for Mark, and the weather has been horrendous. Matters are made worse by the cow having lost the use of one of her back teats, during a previous mastitis infection. This milking process needs to be repeated twice a day until the calf can begin to drink on its own. Unfortunately, this calf may not make it, the cow is likely to be ear marked for sale. Fingers crossed Flash will get better each day.

The lambs are growing and getting personalities of their own, here is Sky after 20 days.

Sky with her mum

Sky with her mum

Once born the lambs and their mums are put in a 6ft x 6ft pen to bond. Their navals are dipped in an orange, iodine solution to reduce the risk of infection from any bacteria they may come in to contact with.

 

 After a few days they are then put into a nursery pen, a pen of 5-6 ewes and lambs, where the lambs really start to find their feet before joining the older lambs out in the field.

Ruth with a new lamb

Ruth with a new lamb

The lambs are sprayed with the ewe’s identification number on their side, making them easily identifiable during the first month. This allows Ruth to keep an eye on any ewes and lambs which are underperforming and made need separating for some extra attention.The lambs also have a rubber ring placed on their tail, causing the lower section to die and drop off over time. This makes it harder for any foxes to catch the lambs and makes it less likely to snag on fences etc.The male lambs also have a ring placed on their testicles to stop any unwanted pregnancies when they grow older. The lambs quickly lose feeling in these areas and after a few minutes they forget it’s even there.

All the new lambs are given an ear tag, blue for boys and pink for girls, showing their individual number. This is for management purposes and allows Mark to identify each lamb personally. The best girls will be kept in the flock and will be double tagged with an electronic ear tag at a later stage. The other lambs will eventually be sent for slaughter.

A new ram lamb

Below, this little ram lamb is just hours old and well worth getting up for at 3am to ensure he made it into the world safely.

Jess with a ram lamb

Jess with a newborn ram lamb

Next month find out how Flash is getting on, as well as…

  • More baby calves
  • More baby lambs
  • Trimming and management on the upper fields
  • Dung spreading