Jill asked me if I would give a brief run through of our life on the farm, and in a moment of weakness I said “yes”, I just cant say NO to Jill !
No two days are ever the same, there are good days and bad days, so here is just an insight into our small traditional family farm.
We have a herd of 120 pedigree Ayrshire cows which are bred and reared on the farm alongside 180 young stock – some dairy, some beef cattle. On average each cow produces 7000 litre of milk every year, but for a cow to milk she has to calve every year. Cows love nothing more than to calve in the early hours of the morning. Fortunately my husband Andrew has perfected the art of getting in and out of bed without disturbing me but occasionally he needs extra help. Seeing the birth of a new life is one of the greatest joys – one of which I don’t think I will ever tire.
Milking cows happens twice a days, 5am and half past 3 in the afternoon. It can be a quiet, calm atmosphere with only the beat of the milking machine, but during the summer months with the introduction of freshly calved heifers, irritated by flies and the heat, it does feel much more chaotic with cows kicking and newbies jumping as they are first introduced to their new regime. Fortunately, they settle in quite quickly and a calmness resumes.
Once milking, which takes about 2.5 hours is over the cows return to the comfort of a deep straw bedded yard and an unlimited amount of forage to eat. However, unlike some herds, ours graze the grassland pastures as soon as the weather permits. Delighted to be free from the confines of their shed they frolic in the sunshine and graze the fresh spring grass.
With the workload easing as the cows go out, it is time to catch up with seasonal jobs whilst continuing to feed and care for the beef cattle. The early summer months can be stressful as we watch the forecast, constantly trying to predict the best time to cut the grass for silage. It is critical that the grass is cut at its optimum stage in growth in order to produce the best silage – our winter feed for the cattle. Dodging the showers can be difficult – every year is different and the weather can be our friend or enemy. There's always a sigh of relief when the silage clamp is full and sheeted up, but then there is the straw to cart – the winter bedding for the cattle, followed by maize to harvest as more winter forage. Maize is an expensive crop to grow, and more sensitive to British climate than grass, so mistake can’t be made.
Together with the seasonal jobs of sowing and harvesting come the more mundane maintenance jobs such as weed spraying, fencing and deep cleaning of the parlour, whilst continuing to keep on top of the every increasing paperwork and the 6 monthly Bovine Tuberculosis test.
As I said in the beginning, there are good days and bad days. The safe delivery of a heifer calf from one of our favourite cows inevitably makes the hard work worthwhile but an old saying which I learned from a very young age was “where you have livestock you have deadstock”. As farmers we care passionately about our animas, administering medicines and preventative treatments when necessary. But despite our best efforts, we have to accept losses, but this doesn’t get any easier despite the number of years of experience we have had.
Life on our farm is at times tiring and stressful and we like many other small dairy farmers feel undervalued by our milk processors who continue to cut the price of our quality product whilst our overheads of feed, bedding, water, fuel and electricity continue to escalate!
BUT, we love our farming life, I couldn’t imagine living without our livestock. They enable us to live in the countryside and as a family farm, we work together, 3 generations – my 80 year old in-laws, ourselves, and 17 & 12 year old children. Despite its challenges we are grateful to those of who support British Farmers and I hope and pray that God will continue to give us the strength to continue to do the job we so love to do.
Libby Hall, local farmers