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 stories on Livestock
Jun '09 26
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.
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!
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 10
The farm animals tend to react to the rain in different ways. For example, the lambs have been wandering up and down the hedgerows with their heads down, bottoms to the wind, trying to get some shelter. They are not putting on as much weight as they usually do at this time of year but this will change when the sun comes out. The cows have been collecting quite a lot of mud on their feet which means more cleaning in the milking parlour for us! And the pigs simply take shelter when it rains and come out again when it stops - which seems quite sensible really!
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 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.