APART from a rather miserable, dark, wet day towards the end of the week, most days have had appreciable amounts of warm sunshine. However, the chilly mornings remind us that autumn is with us and with the passing of the equinox winter not far away.

Here on Manor Farm we are waiting for the ground to dry just a little more, so that we can begin to plant our winter cereals. During the week Ian has managed to apply some phosphate and potash fertiliser to two fields due to be planted. The results of a recent soil analysis had shown these fields to be a little low in both of these essential plant nutrients.

Harry, one of our neighbours, has managed to harvest the last of his oilseed rape crops grown here on Manor Farm. Harry's oilseed rape provides us with a break crop in our arable rotation, but one of the three fields of winter rape he planted last autumn failed to grow, so he re-planted the field with a crop of spring rape. Although this crop grew better, the yield was not very good.

Our crop of forage maize has grown very well this year, obviously enjoying the weather conditions which have prevailed since planting. It will not be long before the crop is ready to harvest for silage, which is decided by cob ripeness. When a maize crop is ready to harvest the cobs will feel firm, with only a drop of moisture able to be squeezed out of the grain. The plant should also have some green leaf present. At this stage the crop will contain about 30 per cent moisture, which is ideal for the making of good silage. Harvesting a crop that is too wet will not easily allow the correct fermentation to take place and with a crop that is too dry it will be difficult to compact the harvested maize to exclude air producing poor quality silage.

During the week it was decided that the time had arrived to bring the milking cows under cover. The quality of the grass, even if it is still growing, tends to fall quite rapidly at this time of year and the chillier, often damp, days are not enjoyed by the cows.

Another problem in wet weather is that with shorter day length the ground never dries out properly so the fields tend to become muddy, which can lead to more foot problems. The cows look very happy in their winter accommodation, have plenty of room to move around and easy access to regularly supplied high-quality fodder. They also have rubber-matted cubicle beds, cleaned twice a day and bedded up with fresh, chopped straw.

Recently Richard and I were invited to Andy Rumming's farm near Swindon for a farm walk. Waterhay Farm is very wet, with many fields liable to flooding from the River Thames which runs through it. All the fields on the farm are permanent pasture, with some of these being flooded for weeks or even months. Therefore the farm has to be managed very sensitively. Andy has a herd of beef suckler cows on his farm which is split into two groups. One of these groups give birth to their calves in the spring, the other in the autumn. Once weaned the calves are sold to another farmer who will rear them until they are about two years of age. Up until now the cows have run with a Hereford bull producing Hereford x calves. Recently the farm has bought a new bull which has 3/5 of its genes from UK native breeds and 2/5 from continental breeds. It is hoped this 'stabiliser bull' will produce quality beef cattle. The farm is also in a environmental stewardship scheme, with flowers such as snake's head fritillary, pepper-saxifrage and great burnet growing in the fields of grass.

During the week I spent two days at Roves Farm helping to show two classes of Year 3 schoolchildren around the farm. The children from Ivy Lane Primary School in Chippenham are studying using the theme Tractors and Turnips. The weather was pleasant and particularly kind to us, making the tractor and trailer ride to see the cattle, sheep, pigs, hens and crops most enjoyable, with the children keen to learn more about farming.