THE weather over the past week has been pleasant, with a mixture of prolonged sunny spells, some periods of cloud cover and often a chilly breeze. We did have a mere 6 mm of rainfall and I have to say there is an autumnal feel in the air, as the sun sinks lower in the sky and day length decreases.

At the beginning of the week Kevin and Ian spent time putting the new part in the header of our combine harvester , which had developed a bad oil leak . Once repaired the combine was able to be put into work again and the spring barley and peas were soon gathered . The moisture of the crops was below the required 15 % before drying is needed , with the only problem being that the peas had gone rather flat . Last year many of the pods had shattered , which greatly affected the overall yield , but this season the pods remained intact . We have found that the yields of all our harvested crops this year are about a 1/3 down on what we would normally expect . The weather earlier in the year also affected the yield of straw , but at least we have been able to bale what we had and it is now safely in store.

A crop that is looking really well is our small acreage of maize. Despite the fact that it did not get off to a very good start it is now over 7 feet tall, with each plant carrying one or two cobs. The cobs are where the goodness is, so these need to be well developed at harvest. Maize silage makes an excellent forage crop as it is high in energy and starch. It is a very good addition to grass silage based diets, which are high in protein. Maize is a sub-tropical crop , with varieties developed more suited to our climate, although the crop still needs to be grown on good soil in the best sites. It produces very high yields per hectare and per cubic metre of biogas in anaerobic digestion ( AD ) plants. Maize is usually planted in mid-April, but it is quite sensitive to frost , thriving in warmer temperatures. However, stubble fields due to be planted with maize provide an area for the spreading of manure when there is little opportunity to spread it on grass. Maize is usually harvested September onwards.

On both farms cultivating the fields to prepare for autumn planting continues. This will encourage weed seeds and volunteers (cereal plants that grow as a result of grain lost before and at harvest) to germinate. These plants are usually got rid of with a mixture of cultivating and if needed the application of a herbicide. Kevin has also cultivated 30 acres, which is now ready to drill with grass seeds.

Some of the sheep have been moved to fresh pasture during the week. One group moved were the ewe lambs, born in the early spring this year. They were in a field needing to be accessed by the combine harvester, in order for it to get to the field of peas waiting to be harvested. The ewe lambs needed fresh grass so the move to a neighbouring field was made. Unfortunately they had not spent time behind an electric fence before, so a few of them escaped after breaking the wire. The trouble was they then had access to the river The escapees were found when they were checked later but one had fallen into the river and another was stuck in a ditch. Francis called for help from his family who were soon at the scene. It was rather a deep stretch of the river and Kevin ended up waist high in water. He managed to put a lasso around the belly of the sheep, so that Melissa and Francis could haul it back onto dry land and then he was helped back onto dry land himself. Then the ewe lamb in the ditch was recovered. After the ewe lambs were returned to their field they were kept a very close eye on. Fortunately, they now respect the electric fence, so no more rescues had to be made.

Another job we have been able to start tackling is hedge-cutting. The closed period under cross compliance in the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) for farmers is from March 1 to August 31, as this is the season when birds are nesting. Ian has begun to tidy the hedges on Manor Farm, starting with the inside of hedges in fields due to be planted with autumn crops. Trimming hedges prevents them from getting thin and woody in the bottom. Laying hedges also fulfils this outcome, but requires a great deal of time and effort. We do try to lay some lengths of hedge when necessary and now we do not have a dairy herd there has been more time to spend sorting out hedges and fences.