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.
More stories on Farming Techniques
Apr '09 7
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!
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 15
Looking ahead to sunnier days, we'll start harvesting as soon as the dew is off the crops and the combine has had its daily service, which involves cleaning air filters, checking oil and greasing all the bearings. Then we'll continue harvesting until at least 10 pm, sometimes working into the early hours.
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 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 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 10