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Mary's Dairy Diary - December on the Farm

It's the depths of the year.  The sun just creaks above the horizon. The watery light drives plant life underground, conserving resources till that vital energy comes back.  What can hibernate does.  I weed my heathers gingerly, knowing I risk disturbing bumble bees from their protective winter sleep in the cosy brush.  It's easier to see the wildlife, with the undergrowth gone.  We saw a little family of wild boar in the woodland, bold and wary at the same time.  I saw a young fox, and a gorgeous fallow buck, both bursting with life, style and elegance.  I'm seeing a lot of barn owls - lovely to see them fleeting silently from the trees.
 
FARM KITCHEN
In our cafe, Quickes Farm Kitchen, we are serving meat, venison, beef and lamb, from the farm, casseroles and burgers in the week and roasts on Sunday.  I love making that link from the fields you can see out of the window and as you walk and eating its rich produce, both dairy and meat.  I'm complementing them with flowers, herbs and salad from my garden.  Some of the leaves are strong, which I enjoy to give a zing.  For garnish we use the better-tempered, milder leaves. 
We'd love to welcome you to celebrate with a Christmas lunch during December, you'll need to book.  Visit the new website: www.quickesfarmshop.co.uk.

Quickes Farm Kitchen

CROPS
Delicious food takes preparation, and for us that starts by growing the crops and grass.  We've sown most of the crops for next year's harvest. The fields that remain will produce spring crops, leaving stubble to feed overwintering birds.  This year we used our new GPS system: the tractor steered itself to sow the crops.  They've come up in even and unerring rows, that is the first step of good yields.  That evenness saves inputs, as the seed and plant food goes only and exactly on the cropped area with no wasteful overlaps or gaps.  It's very odd when the tractor takes a sudden little kink to deal with a dip in the ground, and then beeps to tell you it's getting to the end of the row.  No complicated working out which bit of the field to do next to cover the whole field, as the computer remembers where you've been and what's left to do.

Automated ploughing using an in-tractor GPS at Quickes Tradtional

 
GRASS
The grass is the key input into the food on your plate in the Kitchen.  It grew well this autumn, and we hope to graze up to Christmas, although the weather turned wet after that very dry September.  Climate change predictions give warm wet winters, which gives grass that the cows, each around half a tonne, can't graze without damaging the soil.  No problem, if that gives long enough grass to feed them in that important first round of grazing in February, feed stored over this trough time of the year till the soil can support the animals.
 
FODDER CROP
We do graze some dry cows and heifers on some fodder beet, where we can mend the soil by ploughing and sowing a crop in the spring.  We are fencing the cows safely away from badgers, who love the sweet roots.  A sick badger last winter caused havoc with our animals, so this year, we are doing everything we can think of to protect them.  Housing cows won’t help: a sick badger can seek out the shelter and food of farm buildings when they are in the last dangerous grip of TB, when they are very unsafe for farm animals.  All we can do is keep them separate from our animals.
 
HEIFERS
Our heifers grow well where we can leave them outside safely, for them and the grass.  It's odd, you would think outdoors in the cold and wet was too harsh for them.  What we measure is that they grow better outside than in.  This year we will try some groups in and some groups out to confirm this result we found last year. It's lovely to go out at Christmas and see lush grass in front of cattle. The lighter, younger animals do less damage than cows would. We move them every day to keep the soil safe and the cattle interested with fresh grass to attack.  After a downpour, the patch they are in looks muddy but soon washes clean, and the earthworms and frost restore the soil structure.

 
COWS
The milking cows are inside from Christmas at the latest.  I love the warm purposeful sense of cows in the barn, eating, resting, growing their calves and making milk.  You do see them wistfully sniffing the grass growing on warm days the other side of the gate.  Patience, girls, not long now.

CHEESE
We pack and send off cheese for Christmas around Britain. We've already sent of cheese to the four corners of the globe from September onwards, as it works its stately way by boat across the oceans.  I love it that the sun, soil and water of this valley finds its way onto thousands of celebration cheese plates across the world.  As I'm enjoying it here, I love the idea that lots of people I don't know (and a good few that I do know) are enjoying grass transmuted, like alchemy, into something as luscious and rich as our cheese.

 

Quickes Coth Wrapped Cheddar

AWARDS
Over the moon to have won gold for our Mature, Extra Mature and Vintage Cheddar at the World Cheese Awards 2014. This wonderful achievement tops off an incredibly fruitful year for cheese awards. This is really all thanks to our hard working team at Home Farm!
 
To finish off my last diary entry of 2014 I would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and magical New Year!