The late spring means everything is now happening at once – spring flowers are late, and the summer ones come at their normal time. The leaves are turning from their spring variety of colour and rapid changes to their summer richness, flouncy like a prom dress. The birds seem to sing the louder: the house martens in the nest above my window are particularly chatty, even quarrelsome, by the noise. One chick or another seems always racketing about something. The hen pheasants, so courted and sought after by the cocks, disappear into the hedge to lay eggs, then disappear into the fox. The fox played a clever game. Tom saw him strolling past them quietly and carefully when they were out and about. Then when they sat, he could just pick them off and their eggs, at his leisure.
The crops are just getting going – we re-drilled about half the crops after the winter, so the fields looked bare late, then slowly cover the field, ears emerging, that beautiful sight of the pale green barley beards making the wind visible across the field. We watch for the late-drilled maize to emerge: the spring has been cooler than it likes: the bare soil wastes the sunlight, so I will the leaves up, so the sunlight is captured: only when the leaves meet in the rows do they start to motor away, then producing more leaves until the soil is almost all in shade.
The grass was slow too, to get going – so maybe its peak growth will stretch into June. We will make silage this month, capturing the growth the cows can’t eat and shifting it to the winter. It’s late – normally we would cut last month. We anxiously watch the grass and the weather, waiting for five days or so of fine weather. Then we mow the grass, spread it with a tedder, its long whirling fingers looking like a mad contraption, spreading then rowing up the next day. Then the forage harvester, the great beast, roars down the rows consuming them and throwing them into its attendant trailers, hauled by tractors dwarfed by the harvester. The tractors are in a stately dance into the field, wait to be filled, along the lane and tip at the silage pit, knowing where the other ones are to pass them seamlessly. The loader at the pit drives up onto the heap while the trailer disgorges its green gold. Up the trailer tips, up the gate goes, trailer nearly vertical before the gob of grass moves slowly, then the tractor pulls forward to let all the grass out in a whoosh. The loader brings the grass to the top of the heap, rolling it to squeeze all the air out. When all the grass is in, we sheet it let the fermentation turn the sugar into acid to pickle the grass.
We had a long low peak of milk as the cows took longer to get going, with less grass early, but they’ve carried on producing more. Just now, in June, the milk is reducing a little. The cows are in the middle of bulling, the urgent desire to get in calf fulfilled as we watch and select out the hot from the not. We pull out the cows who were at peak bulling yesterday, standing rock steady while another cow mounts them, and serve them today. We select which cow gets which bull – if your sire was a Friesian, you’ll get a Swedish Red; if a Swedish Red, a Holstein whose daughters graze well or Montbeliard depending on how stocky or delicately boned you are. We are happy with the milk our cross bred cows produce – good ratio of fat and protein, good strong protein for good bodied cheese, and cows happy to graze outside all year, fertile, long lived and good feet and legs to walk to the pasture.
We get the teenagers pregnant, too; we were worried they were too small after the difficult season and poorer silage, but we topped them up with a little cake and the grass magically grew and most of the group made the weight they needed to safely carry a calf. We are choosing very gorgeous and beautiful young bulls to play with them once we’d given them all a chance for a dairy calf. The girls look very happy and adoring, and I think they look tasty too. We plan to have beef from the progeny in the shop in good time, so you can share in the pleasure.
We are weighing calves as they grow to get a better handle on growth as they go on; that allows us to think about what they need to keep them growing on. Tina is now responsible for making sure they grow on: it’s easier when someone is championing their cause.
The long peak kept the cheesemakers busy longer. The nursery stores look very full with beautiful even cheese – we now weigh each cheese as we make it, and it is surprising how additionally lovely it looks that they are all the same size. We’ve just got some new moulds, so the cheeses all look smooth and perfect. I check all the stores on Saturday mornings, and I found myself gazing at their gorgeousness.
Great start to the year.
Devon County Show
Reserve Show Champion – Vintage
Best Dressed Cheese
1st Extra Mature
1st Oak Smoked Cheddar
Bath and West Show
Best Traditional Cheese - Mature
Gold - Mature
Gold – Mild
Bronze – Vintage
RECIPE - Wild Garlic Pesto
My son Mikey sent me this recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto.
‘Stinking Lily’ grows in Devon’s moist woodland valley bottoms, and leaves, flowers and bulbs give a gentle garlic flavour. The season is a bit late, so the leaves will still be around. Later on, the bulbs are underground if you know where the wild garlic grew.
- 100g (3½ oz) Wild garlic
- 100g (3½ oz) Quickes Traditional Vintage Cheddar cubes
- 100g (3½ oz) Roasted cashew nuts
- Ground black pepper
- 100ml Extra virgin olive oil
Blend it together, use on pasta or as a sauce for meat dishes, delicious as a canapé on toast.