Calving season not yet over

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: some of the recently weaned calves in their barn some of the recently weaned calves in their barn

THE time of year has arrived once again when I spend most of the days dressed as an elf at Roves Farm near Swindon.

Here on Manor Farm most of the work is still milking, feeding, mucking out and bedding up. While all the cattle, apart from a few freemartins and the bull, are housed, these chores take up most of the day.

There are still cows calving and more have been dried off for their annual holiday, having their hooves trimmed before being taken to a cubicle barn where they will spend about six weeks.

They will then be transferred to a covered yard, where they will receive an altered diet in the two weeks prior to giving birth.

Last week the milking cow diet was altered to include less grass but more maize silage. Now the dry cow diet has also been adjusted in the same way.

Richard went to a feed merchant to fetch a few bags of milk powder, which will be used as a milk substitute for the remaining newborn calves not yet weaned.

Ian and David did some serious mucking out of the bulling heifer and dry cow yard at the end of the week.

First of all the cattle were penned so they could clean out all the soiled bedding using a loader and trailer.

The manure was then taken to a muck lump ready for spreading in the spring.

Unfortunately we had a very sick cow during the week, which needed two visits from our vet.

He prescribed an antibiotic but also gave it some fluids and a specially balanced feed supplement to help it recover. It is now much better and we hope it will soon make a full recovery.

Richard did make a final attempt at planting the last field with wheat, but the contractor brought in once again to use his combination drill was not successful.

Now the whole idea has finally been abandoned in favour of planting a spring cereal next year. Fortunately we have managed to sell the seed wheat to another farmer, so all is not lost.

Kevin and Mark, with help from the rest of the family, have been checking and moving sheep, grading more for sale and treating lame ones, while finishing the preparation of the barns, which will soon be housing the pregnant ewes.

Kevin has also applied a fungicide and herbicide to the oilseed rape to kill the blackgrass and protect the crop against phoma.

Phoma are a genus of common soil-born fungi, which attach to the roots of plants, colonising from there.

They spread rapidly in the right conditions, causing a blight where the plant leaves wither and fade, eventually killing the plant.

The wheat has also been sprayed with a herbicide, to try to control the blackgrass, but one field of wheat has been destroyed by frit fly.

The field had just been cropped with peas but unfortunately the stubble, post-harvest, contained a large number of grass weeds.

The frit fly, the member of a family known as Chloro-pidae, of which species can be found worldwide, is a particular pest of spring oats and winter-sown cereals.

It produces three generations per year, so can cause damage at different times, as well as damage to both shoots and grains.

In Kevin’s field the yellowish-white frit fly larvae would have arisen from eggs laid on grasses and cereals in late summer. When the infected grass stubble was ploughed, the grubs left the buried grass to invade the shoots of wheat, tunnelling into the centre of the plants and causing dead hearts.

Spraying with a herbicide before planting to kill the grass weeds would take the food source from the grubs – they would die of starvation. Next year Kevin will plant the field with spring barley.

I am glad to be able to tell you that after a failed attempt to stop a water leak, a good length of the troublesome water main has been exposed by a contractor with a digger, then replaced, and is leaking no more.

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