There is a pleasing pause after the excitement of Halloween and Bonfire night and before the start of the Christmas rush. A time to take stock and plan for the deluge of activity to come. I use this time to prepare Christmas gifts from the kitchen that should be made in advance. This year I am making chutneys, mincemeat and gingerbread biscuits which will all benefit from a little time to mature, watch this space.
On the farm, our new flock of blackface sheep have been turned out to the grass for the winter and this year’s calves are weaned from their mothers, who are now expecting new calves, to be born in the Spring. To keep the animals warm and healthy over the winter we are bolstering their usual feed with bucketfuls of barley, and sticky molasses licks that provide them with extra vitamins and minerals. And there is similar food produced in the kitchen, things to provide a warmth and extra vitamins to keep winter bugs at bay. I keep meals simple and filling, and love a dish that provides leftovers for the freezer, perfect for one of those busy evenings that I know we have ahead of us between now and the end of December.
We have dug out and filled our bird feeders for the garden visitors we get each year, which it seems was just in time, as we had our first flurry of snow this week. Now that the natural supply of berries and nuts is diminishing, we try not forget these little beauties. They bring much pleasure to the kids who watch them hopping and prancing around the garden. We are lucky enough to be visited by a greater spotted woodpecker and are always impressed by his efficiency at removing the peanuts from the peanut feeder.
We invested in a new set of clippers on the farm, which have been very well used over the last few weeks. Before releasing the sheep to the rich green grass, we clipped their rear ends – to prevent ‘clogging’ at the back end. We have also put these to use on our cattle for the first time. Whilst I have been standing freezing next to our cattle shed, the cattle inside have been sweating, and whilst I find myself wondering how this can be possible, I know that the environment inside the shed is much warmer and that there is much less air circulation than when the cows and calves are out in the fields. For the last couple of years, we have pondered the idea of shaving their backs to reduce this problem. A recent talk we attended from our vet practice about looking for and treating pneumonia in cattle suggested that ensuring that the beasts aren’t sweating would be a significant advantage in preventing the infection, so this was the impetus we needed.
Having completed the task, the kids are very impressed with the cattle’s swish, neat stripes on their backs; and we have already noticed a difference in how damp their coats are. We are keeping our fingers crossed this helps to prevent them developing any health issues.
Now that the sheep are out in the field, we have created some extra space in the cattle shed. This will enable us to bring in the last of the cattle that are still out in the field, which will happen over the next few weeks, depending a bit on the weather. In order to help us when this happens, we have started to create an expectation in the cattle that they will be fed barley at their trough at a similar time of day, every day. Our aim is to have the cattle regularly visiting their trough so that if we need to, we can shake the barley bucket and they should, in theory, gather themselves in to the trough. Let’s hope this works out as planned.