FOLLOWING all the festivities surrounding Christmas and the arrival of 2018, life goes on as usual, but I do hope that you all spent an enjoyable time. Fortunately, here on Manor Farm, there were no unforeseen problems, so everyone was able to enjoy family time together.

However, the weather was rather unpleasant for most of the week, with plenty of rain and gale force winds, giving us 48.5mm rainfall. In fact, December turned out to be the wettest month of 2017, with a total rainfall of 127mm. September, with 90mm, was the second wettest and close behind was July with 78.5mm. April was our driest month with 1.5mm.

Apart from cattle work, Richard has been helping Kevin with the sheep, currently nibbling off an excess of grass we have in our grazing fields. We have a few hundred wethers (castrated ram lambs born last spring) on our farm, which have to be checked daily; moved to fresh fields and regularly run through a race to find out if any are ready for sale and any lame ones are treated.

Another job which has to be done is to erect sheep fencing around the perimeter of fields to be grazed and taken down once the sheep have been moved. The sheep dogs, Fly, Smudge and Wisper, have been very busy helping to gather and move the wethers, but at the end of each day have been extremely muddy. Melissa has a portable gas shower, which can provide warm water, so the dogs are quite happy to be cleaned before being allowed into a warm outbuilding.

During one of my walks with Richard to check the sheep we passed close to a large buzzard, currently enjoying life close to the farm buildings. Whilst checking the sheep we spotted a very nice looking red fox and on the edge of the wood, which runs along one side of the field. I was fortunate to see a goldcrest, a bird I have only seen once before. The dullish /green goldcrest is, with the firecrest, the UK's smallest bird. The headcrest is yellow in the female, yellow and orange in the male. Their beaks are very thin, well suited to picking insects out from between pine needles, in coniferous woods where they breed.

During the last week two cows that were in the pre-natal section of one of our barns were found not to be in calf. Ian's suspicions had been aroused, as he thought the animals had recently been showing signs of oestrous and their udders were not becoming full of milk as they do just prior to giving birth.

After having pregnancy diagnoses done on the two cows Ian's suspicions were found to be correct, so the two animals have now been sold barren. This is not a situation we like and it is not usual for cows to be found barren when they are expected to be heavily pregnant, but it can occur for a number of reasons following an early pregnancy diagnosis indicating at that time that the animals were in calf.

Recently, on a sunny afternoon, Richard and I decided to go for a walk around Penn Wood, Calne. Penn Wood is one of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's (WWT) reserves and has seen many transformations since it was farmland.

We very much enjoyed our walk around the site with many recently planted young trees, including oak, ash and lime, also Norway spruce and Scots pine that make up the wood.

We also saw a number of oak apples. These are 2-4cm round galls commonly found on many species of oak and are produced by the larvae of a tiny gall wasp. The female lays her eggs in the leaf buds, after which the hatched larvae inject chemicals into the tissue, thus producing the gall on which they feed, before emerging once developed. We spotted a kestrel, heron, mallard on the ponds and a group of roe deer.

The site is also the home of a large number of slow worms, relocated from a building development, with hibernation mounds and heat traps created to enable them to survive. The winter sunshine during the afternoon made the reserve look beautiful and we are looking forward to returning there later this year.

Denise Plummer