At long last, the now familiar pattern of wet autumns has been halted, and we’ve had one of the best back ends to the year that I can remember.
I held off from counting my chickens too soon and didn’t dare say anything in case the spell was broken, and nasty weather came to stay like an unwanted visitor that didn’t know when to leave.
I do think last year was particularly depressing, with dull and wet conditions setting in for months on end. But apart from a very wet spell at the end of October (when it looked like the autumn was over) ground conditions this year have been ideal for a range of farming activities. We’re now into the last week of November, so I can reluctantly accept whatever happens from now on; the winter has already been significantly shortened.
Principal among the advantages has been the extended grazing season, with sheep and cattle benefiting from the combination of heavy grass crops and firm footing. Too often at this time of year, it is impossible to get swards satisfactorily eaten off due to excessive soiling of the pasture.
In particular, the in-calf dairy heifers made a mockery of all those 3am anxieties that I seem to be increasingly prone to.
The plan was always for them to leave here in mid-November, but when Derek was rumbling around the bed in the middle of the night, wide awake with all his agricultural worrying, how could they ever stay outside till that date without destroying at least 20 acres of grass?
In the end, I strip-grazed them behind an electric fence, with supplementary silage being fed from early November.
Admittedly, the telltale signs of the wet October week are easy to spot. To avoid excessive poaching, I shifted the fence twice daily for four days, before a return to drier weather saw ground conditions improve again.
This batch of 33 heifers has been with me since May 2020. In that time, they have been vaccinated for IBR, BVD, lepto, clostridial diseases, and most recently salmonella. They were artificially inseminated in mid-May as part of a synchronised programme, and the only let-up from having needles or arms stuck into them was lungworm and worm control, which was carried out by various pour-on products.
They must be the most forgiving little animals, because despite a yard gathering usually meaning something none too pleasant was about to occur, they wandered in every time as if they were about to get a feed of meal.
These are bred for a New Zealand system (currently operating once-a-day milking) and I don’t know enough (or anything at all really) about dairy genetics to offer too much expertise, but they do seem to be even more docile than other bucket-reared cattle.
I asked a lorry man if they were unusually quiet compared to other dairy types, and he thought they were calm to the point of being a nuisance. Certainly, if they take a notion that the back door of the lorry isn’t too attractive, they just roost on the spot and turn round to look at you quizzically.
Me? Up there? Are you serious? Despite working with these animals for about five years now, the lingering memory of lunatic cattle from the suckler herd ensures I’ll never lose my appreciation of working with quiet cattle.