Last Saturday we sheared the sheep, we had hoped to start at around 7.30am in the morning but a completely unexpected shower at 5am scuppered that plan. You can't shear the wool when it is damp because it won't flow over the cutters and storing damp wool is a bad idea. It's only the ewes we shear. They need to be shorn to stop them getting too hot and to reduce the incidence of fly strike, caused by flies laying their eggs on the animals, which occurs during the summer months. The lambs are now between seven and nine weeks of age and although they are getting quite big they don't need shearing. The first job we have to do is to shed the lambs through a drafting gate to separate them from their mothers which creates a bit of a din as they call for each other. The shearers then arrive and set up their equipment and off they go. Because they are paid per head, the quicker they work the more they earn - in wet weather they earn nothing so when conditions are right they really go for it. The shearers are incredibly skilled and can shear a ewe in less than a minute and a half. Two of the shearers we use shear all around the world for most of the year.
More from David Wilson
Jun '09 26
May '09 18
Since mid April about 650 lambs have been born on the farm. We started with a very big spate of new arrivals but now there are just a few stragglers left. We've had a few sets of triplets as well as one set of quads - which is particularly unusual when you consider that an average ewe has 1.75 lambs. They have certainly provided a lot of the aaah factor around these parts! Watching the lambs at play is very reminiscent of most mammals; sticking together in their little cliques and groups is deeply embedded in their behaviour - rather like humans really. Lambs are considered lambs up to 9-10 months and then they are known as hoggets or 'old season' lambs. We are saying goodbye to Ken the Shepherd (pictured) this week after 11 years with us. He is moving on to another farm to look after beef animals. We are going to sorely miss him and wish him well.
Apr '09 22
Spring planting will go on for weeks here, with carrots, onion sets, radishes and many other vegetables going in. We are slightly all over the place because we're also busy planting the apples at the moment and need to clear the ground ready for them. It is full steam ahead, planting as much as we can of everything while it's fine. The most exciting bit for us is the harvesting of the spring greens which I feel are really emblematic of the start of spring, marking its official arrival and signifying new growth. I think we almost crave them by this time of the year and they taste absolutely delicious.
Apr '09 15
Back in February, on a sunny but frosty Valentine's Day, we held our latest hedgelaying competition, organised by the National Hedgelaying Society. It was a marvellous spectacle, with quite a bit of snow still on the ground, and about 40 competitors taking part, displaying several different styles, including Welsh, Midlands and South of England. We had planted these particular hedges over 10 years ago and the laying signifies the final establishment of the hedge. So many traditional skills have been lost in many ways and running an event such as this helps to attract the younger generation by raising its profile in this way. We are always trying to improve traditional skills and crafts here at Home Farm and hedgelaying is such a great example of this. HRH The Prince of Wales came and did a section of the hedge himself at this latest competition and he provided some of his damson gin for all those taking part! As well as many certificates and prizes being awarded throughout the day, it was topped off with a wonderful woodland lunch served with some of the award-winning Duchy Originals Ale which contains a barley, called Plumage Archer, which we grow here at Home Farm.
Apr '09 14
Turning out is a great spring event and the animals always race around the fields like newborns again. It's a lovely sight to see a sedate dairy cow suddenly gambolling and leaping about like a baby calf again! The cows will be turned out for a few hours at a time in the next week or two to begin with but we do still bring them in at night and ensure their smooth transition by gradually switching their diet from winter silage to summer grass. Much of the beef cows have finished calving and are already turned out because we're always trying to take advantage of any nice dry weather. Although there isn't really much growing outside for them we're still turning them out with their calves to get a bit of sun on their backs. Meanwhile, we are spiking and harrowing the grassland. This gets the pasture all perked up by raking all the dead matter, levelling out last year's cowpats and letting air into the top. We try to do all the grassland - there's about 1,000 acres to do - and it's ongoing work through to the middle of April at least.
Apr '09 7
We are in the throes of spreading well-composted farmyard manure on to the potato grounds. This muck has been regularly turned over the past few months to maximise aeration and to ensure the best quality compost. Our Jack-of-all-trades here, Andrew Baker (who coincidently has the same name as Duchy Originals' CEO), is our Head Tractor Driver but he's also our relief milker and looks after one of our beef cattle herds. He has been helping with the muck spreading and will incorporate it into the top few inches with one pass of the cultivator to mix it in with the soil. While he was doing this the other day no less than 14 buzzards hovered overhead. They seem so much more commonplace these days, yet I well remember when my boys were younger pointing out an occasional buzzard to them when they were such a rare sight. Shortly after the muck has been spread, Andrew will plough it quite deep and then leave it and hope for a bit of weathering (wet, dry, frost), and then we'll probably start on planting the potatoes in about a month's time. The general rule of thumb for us is that if we can get all of our spuds in by Easter that's a good thing.
Mar '09 25
There is an awful lot going on at the farm at the moment now that the days are lengthening. The last few days have been absolutely glorious, with warm sunshine and not too cold nights. It really does feel that spring is well and truly on its way now, which is fantastic for us, although there will always be a whiff of winter around the corner for at least the next six weeks or so. We are working long days to make the most of the almost perfect conditions when they do present themselves and I suppose the most important operation to begin with is spring drilling. We are very busy planting spring oats at the moment which will be used for the Duchy Originals biscuits, as well as barley for the Duchy Originals ale and plenty of vegetables. As soon as Nick, the Assistant Farm Manager, has finished planting one field, we roll the seed bed down to conserve the moisture and make sure that there is good soil to seed contact. The rooks appear to recognise a seed drill instantly and within the first few minutes they are desperately trying to pitch into the crop, determined to eat as much as they can before we are on to them.
Mar '09 2
We have a very appealing flock of Hebridean rare-breed sheep which are almost jet black and very fine-boned, with pretty features, as well as our Lleyn ewes. The Hebrideans produce very tasty, low-cholesterol meat. Normally they would be grazing on stubble turnip and mustard crops but it was simply not possible to plant them last year with the unbelievably wet summer we had so we will have to buy extra feed in for them, which is more money off the bottom line.
Feb '09 24
Rabbits are the bain of any farm's life and Home Farm is no exception. There are certain areas we have to make 100% rabbit-proof using netting dug 9 inches into the ground and 3 foot above. If we don't, the rabbits can destroy tender young salad crops - they never seem content with eating 1 or 2 plants preferring to nibble and damage a large number. It is important to keep a close eye on the fence for any damage because rabbits are persistent little creatures capable of exploiting the smallest of holes! There are times here when we can strongly identify with Mr McGregor in Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit!
Feb '09 20
Of the 1900 acres we farm here, over 50 acres is used solely for vegetable growing. We are currently working hard preparing for the relocation of the The Veg Shed operation in time for Spring. We're moving it over to larger premises by the main vegetable area and the decision to move it makes a lot of sense because it will provide far more space and is much more practical, not least because our 350 tonne cold store is right next door. This will undoubtedly make life even easier for our busy team of packers who turn around about 150 organic produce boxes for delivery to local residents every week.
Feb '09 16
We muck out the cows every eight weeks or so because, as the straw bedding builds up, it starts to heat. This extra warmth increases the risk of mastitis because more bugs breed on the bedding. Nick and Andrew will start work at 5.30am so that as soon as Stewart starts milking, they can begin mucking out. We normally clean out one side per morning which takes about three hours and doesn't disrupt the cows' routine as most of the action takes place while they are being milked. The cows are shut out in the feed passage to keep them out of the way and once we have finished, fresh straw is used to bed them up. They absolutely love it and go a bit loopy when they first get back on to their beds, rather like having fresh linen sheets at home I suppose!
Feb '09 6
There's something about the soft winter sun that is very special and unique to the period between mid November and February. It's very hard to capture its beauty but it really is rather breathtaking. There were some days last week that were especially lovely, with an almost smoky sunlight over the gently rolling Gloucestershire slopes. With the heavy snowfall down here this week most of the animals are sheltering inside. Cow rubbing is a very popular pastime in the pens and it always makes them go a bit gaga. There are two scratching brushes in the cowshed and each one has a horizontal and vertical set of bristles. It's a natural activity for the cows who are partly woodland animals anyway and so by nature would rub on trees and branches when outside. A friend on his farm has an electric motorised scratcher and it's an hilarious sight when it activates to the touch. The cows get a lot of pleasure from it, becoming incredible contortionists as they wriggle and writhe to scratch those parts that are hard to reach!
Jan '09 20
It's been very cold on the farm, like everywhere else in the country, and the weather tends to dictate everything that happens here. There are always pros and cons to these frosty conditions and the trick for us is trying to turn it to our advantage, where we can, particularly as the days are much shorter so we are kept very busy. On the upside it's given us the chance to give some of the yards and cattle beds a good clear out of manure and tip it, although we can't spread it just yet. It was a beautiful sight when there was a flurry of snow earlier in the month and a hoar frost which left a coating on the trees for a while, particularly in the early mornings, but it meant the ground has been very solid for digging up some of the vegetables. Parsnips in particular need to be dug up fresh and are best stored in the ground, so we've had to pick our moments for this job, aiming for around two in the afternoon before the ground starts to ice up again. And celeriac needs to be handled very gently so that it doesn't snap off when it's picked.
Jan '09 9
Organic standards mean we stock fewer animals on a given area compared to conventional farming - whether it is in a building in the winter or on a field in the summer. Our cows walk out to their grazing and we don't push them too hard for their milk.
Dec '08 28
On one of my first days at the Berkshire College of Agriculture we had a memorable pig lecture. The lecturer, Mr Ferguson, walked into the lecture theatre and wrote in large letters on the blackboard: food, water, warm dry bed. He said, 'That's all you need to know about looking after pigs. If you get these things right then the rest will take care of itself'...
Dec '08 15
Christmas at Home Farm is very much like any other December day on this busy working organic farm. The main difference is that we try to get the jobs done extra early on Christmas Day itself so that we can get home to our families sooner rather than later. For us Christmas day starts early, with milking at around 5 o'clock in the morning followed by feeding and bedding of the livestock at about 7am which goes on until 9.30 or 10ish. These are the priority jobs before we can start on other things, such as packing the organic vegetables for our box delivery scheme and our farm shop, The Veg Shed.
Nov '08 14
I've been the Duchy Home Farm dairy herd manager for two years. It's my job is to make sure we're producing the best quality for our Duchy Originals Milk and to ensure that our Ayrshire cows and calves are looked after to the highest possible standards. The average life of a conventional dairy cow is less than five years while the average age of our Ayrshire dairy cows is nearly twice that. This is because our cows produce about half as much milk as Holsteins and so are put under a lot less stress. Cows are not machines! Each of our cows has a name which starts with the prefix Duchy so, for example, we have Duchy Buttermilk, Duchy Daisy. Each cow also has a pedigree certificate and passport with a number which must correlate to the cow's ear tag number - this means that we have complete traceability of all our animals. Click on read more to hear about Mark's typical day...
Sep '08 5
With all this rain our milling grains, such as wheat and rye which are largely used for bread making, can be affected and in particular the quality of the starch, which forms most of the flour. The quality of the grain is checked using a Hagberg test which measures the potential quality of the dough. In a dry sunny harvest the Hagberg number is high which means the grain has the potential to produce a good elastic dough, but when it's wet like this it starts to think it's back in the ground as a seed again and results in inferior dough....and bread.
Aug '08 29
This year we've had the latest harvest since I started working at Home Farm in 1985. Normally by the August Bank Holiday Monday we've either finished or are close to finishing harvest and looking forward to a day off but due to all the rain this year this has not been the case. So far we've only completed about a third of the harvest. There are 750 acres of crops to harvest on Home Farm. These include 160 acres of oats which go into Duchy Originals Biscuits, 100 acres of malting barley which go into Duchy Originals Ale, 200 acres of wheat, most of which goes into the Duchy Originals Biscuits, 25 acres of mustard, which goes into the Duchy Originals Wholegrain Mustard and 63 acres of rye.
Jul '08 31
The other day one of our young Tamworth boars (a male pig) thought he'd jump over a fence and get in with one of our older boars. Sadly the older boar, four years old, twice the size of the younger boar and with tusks, was not happy to receive an unexpected visitor.
Jul '08 23
(Left to right: Catherine, Hannah, Ames, Emily) My name is Catherine and I run the Organic Vegetable Box Scheme at Home Farm. We distribute about 250 boxes a week within a ten to twelve mile radius of Home Farm. People don't know what they're getting in the box so it's a surprise for them which they tell us they love!
Jul '08 22
I do a few guided farm walks throughout the summer. Recently the Soil Association and a group which included people from different walks of life ranging from policy makers to food writers, authors and farmers joined me. I took them around the farm and we had some interesting discussions about the amount of energy used in the present food system.
Jul '08 11
We've had a lot of rain in the last week which was needed, but now we've had enough! So far in July we've had three inches which is quite a lot for this time of year (but not last year which we prefer to forget!). Because of the rain we can't make hay which is annoying as we've still got another 60 acres to make.
Jul '08 9
The other day Guy Tullberg and some members of his family and staff came and had a picnic on the edge of our mustard crop. Guy is the MD of Tracklements, the company which produces the Duchy Originals Wholegrain Mustard. Not surprisingly, they brought along a selection of their delicious mustards to accompany the cold snacks. It was rather nice to have a picnic all together and it's always interesting to taste some of Guy's new mustards. Tracklements are always coming up with some great tastes and it's nice as a farmer to see the end product.
Jul '08 7
Although we're not logging yet we are starting to get our two horses, Emperor and Duke, fit enough to mow. We're doing a little bit of mowing with them a few times a week to build their strength up.
Jul '08 4
We try to muck spread just before or during the growing season so it can be utilised by the clover and grass. Why do we muck spread? Well, it feeds the soil, particularly the composted manure. In a nutshell, it's the law of return and forms part of the nutrient cycle.
Jul '08 2
We've mown some grass and started tedding it (spreading it around to get the sun on it). Although the weather is not completely settled it's good enough to risk knocking some grass down. We mow it with the doors on the mower open which means the grass lies flat on the ground, then you give it a day or two and you turn it once or twice a day until you've got hay.
Jun '08 25
We currently open the 'Veg Shed' on a Wednesday morning where people can come and buy our fresh produce. This week, to make it more available, we are planning to increase our opening days to Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, when we sell everything from potatoes to carrots and salad.
Jun '08 22
We've recently seen the arrival of nine piglets which are adorable! They shriek like mad and you just want to pick them up, but they are very fast. The sow has had a couple of litters and nine piglets is about the average number, although we have had 14 piglets in the past.
Jun '08 20
We are doing a lot of weeding at the moment. We've got our motorised hoes going up and down the vegetable beds to try to reduce the weed population.
Jun '08 13
The last few late spring calves have been born in the dairy herd. There will be no more now until late summer. Every cow has to have a calf each year in order to produce milk, and we have 180 dairy cows in the herd. The reality of life on the farm means sometimes cows are ill. A few days ago we had one cow with Milk Fever. This happens around calving time when a cow gets very low blood calcium and can become comatose.
Jun '08 10
Jun '08 8
The cows are outside 24 hours a day now because the grass has starting growing and it's milder at night. They look an absolute picture grazing in the fields. It's always a difficult juggling act to keep the grass at the right height. At this time of year, grass is trying its hardest to produce seed heads. As it reaches this stage it becomes less nutritious so we try to maintain the grass sward a few inches high.
Jun '08 5
When I see a forecast for heavy rain my heart sinks. It affects us hugely because it dictates what we can and can't do on the farm. The main problem is the ground becomes waterlogged and tends to slow growth down. Given all the rain we've been keeping busy doing dry jobs around the farm like clearing up the vegetable line in the shed where we do all the grading.
Jun '08 4
We're grading last year's carrots which came out of the earth in October/November. They've been stored at 3 degrees in a refrigerated vegetable store. They go into our vegetable boxes and we also sell them to other box schemes. The carrots are also used in the Duchy Originals vegetable crisps. We planted most of our potatoes three weeks ago. We have five varieties: Cara, Cosmos, Robinta, Sarpo Mira and Remarka. The reason we grow so many varieties is that it never pays to have all your eggs in one basket. Some varieties will do better than others in a given year.
May '08 28
We've almost finished lambing now and luckily haven't lost any lambs to foxes which I'm pleased about. We normally lose a few each year but this lambing season, for the first time, we borrowed two Alpaca (which look like mini Llamas) from a neighbour to deter foxes. They are intimidating animals and if you go into the field with a dog they are very defensive in the way they strut around.
May '08 16
In the last week 400 lambs have been born! It's a very symbolic Spring picture. Ken, the shepherd, gets tired at this time of year as he checks up on the lambs first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
May '08 14
Crops in the Spring are affected by two things: temperature and day length. We started sowing the Spring crops the first few days in March. The malting barley (Plumage Archer and Westminster) went in first followed by the Spring oats. The last crop we planted was the mustard in mid-April. The rye is the most advanced crop, about nine inches high; with the long days it grows quickly and will go up to 6 ft. We start harvesting the rye in late July, early August, and we go straight through with the wheat and malting barley. It's always a frantic time. No lying on the beach for me.
May '08 9
People often want to know what a typical morning is like on the farm. You could say no two mornings are the same, but generally I get up at about 6 am, have a pot of tea and then think about what I'm doing that day. I regularly bake my own bread with the wheat from the farm and enjoy giving the dough a good knead. I look on my laptop at the BBC world weather site to check the rainfall and pressure charts on the Atlantic and then I read. My current book is Jules Pretty's, The Earth Only Endures. Mornings are the best time for me to read because there is no-one else around.
May '08 8
Animal welfare rates very highly with an organic system. The pigs, for example, have to be kept outside and here at Home Farm they are given plenty of space for grazing. On a sunny day they really enjoy lying out in the sunshine and sunbathing. Pigs are intelligent animals and if they are not able to fulfil their instinctive desires then they tend to go stir-crazy!