So many of our guests ask about our farming life and are interested to know what we’re doing, what we do each month or season and why. So here it is, our year in brief at St Oswald’s Farm.
A farming year could probably be described as none stop, each month brings new tasks and inevitably new challenges and with the annual to do list on top of the usual daily farming routine. Each day begins with all stock being checked and fed, any that aren’t well are attended to or if there are any animals not accounted for then they need to be found. Sheep and cattle love to find out if the grass really is greener on the other side of a fence or wall! We ensure there is a water supply for all animals and if in the winter troughs are frozen they need to be defrosted. From October to May when cattle are housed indoors then they require clean bedding every couple of days and that in turn means mucking out the sheds too.
The year begins in earnest and January sees the start of calving time, the cows and heifers are checked continually each day and we’re always looking for those who we think will calve today. Some deliver on their own and others will need assistance, day or night, and then like any newborn we are checking to ensure they are feeding and Mum is happy with her baby. If not it could mean bottle feeding and trying to keep them warm until Mum steps up.
During January our flock of sheep are scanned to let us know how many lambs each one is having and throughout the month we are also selling the last of the lambs from the previous year and buying store cattle. Through February calving and buying store cattle continues and we begin vaccinating the sheep in preparation for lambing. Fields are ploughed for Spring crops and we’re starting to prep the sheds for lambing time.
March and April is all about lambing which is the busiest time of year with the livestock, lambing time is hectic and depending on the weather can be particularly stressful, and I’ve dedicated a whole blog post to this important event in the farming calendar. Fertilizer and muck are spread in March and April and Spring crops are sown. Any cattle we have bought are wormed and the bulls go out to the cows and heifers.
During May we hope that cattle can be turned out, and it’s always fabulous to see them kicking their heels in the fields after being indoors all winter. As the grass begins to grow so do the weeds and that means treating the fields to eliminate them. Our arable fields are ploughed and sown for our forage crops whilst other fields may be topped (cutting off rough grass to promote new growth) and if possible our first cut of silage is made.
Summer is mainly about silage and hay making, we have to ensure we have enough fodder to feed our animals through the coming winter. In July our sheep are clipped and we’re still topping fields and then during August we’re beginning to wean the lambs from their mothers, to enable us to begin selling our new season lamb at the local mart which we continue to do right through until January. If you’re wondering how we know when to sell them, they are weighed each week to ensure we sell them at the correct weight. Winter barley is also harvested, grain stored and straw baled.
In September we’re spreading muck, weaning the calves and harvesting our Spring barley and it’s this time of year when we buy any replacement sheep that we need, buy any new tups and we begin to prepare all 1000 of our ewes for tupping time. We’re ploughing and sowing our next crops and buying in the additional straw that we’ll need for winter bedding.
Our calves are sold during October and our tups are put out with the ewes, cattle are clipped in preparation for being sold in November and the cows are brought in for the winter months. During December we continue to sell our lambs and our store cattle are sold and we’re looking after our heavily pregnant cows and heifers who will begin to calve in January.
After all that is done and dusted then the maintenance of sheds, fixing fences, repairing stone walls, clearing fallen trees, digging ditches, vermin control, paperwork, movement licences, registration of animals, passports, book-keeping, Countryside Stewardship and SFI applications, medicine records and mandatory records for Red Tractor Assurance are all done too.
Farming life is so dependent on weather and very often the annual timetable is stopped, paused or even destroyed by what the weather throws at us, each year brings different challenges and as farmers we have to be adaptable and be ready for whatever the weather decides to do. Farmers are eternal optimists as we always think next year will be better or as John says “next year will be different”. Farming life is all consuming, it’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year, it’s about loving your animals, being a caretaker of your land and taking pride in what you produce. We get to live in a beautiful place working alongside nature and get to enjoy the most amazing views every day. We could say that’s it’s the best job in the world but farming isn’t a job, it’s a way of life and I have to say it’s a way of life that we love!