RICHARD and I spent the last week on Chuggaton Farm in North Devon, farm sitting for our daughter Adele and her family while they were on a well-earned holiday in Northern Italy.

Apparently the heat there was not so intense, but as you may be aware, here it was relentless. On the Sunday we were showered with a staggering 6mm of rain, which did manage to wash the dust off all the grass, trees and other crops, temporarily making the surrounding countryside look just a little fresher and greener. On another day there was a light cloud cover and cooling breeze, but apart from that the sun shone continuously, with temperatures often close to 30C.

Fortunately Steve and Adele had arranged for their milker Jane to do all the milkings except on two days when Robert, another part-time worker, was available. Richard and I had to check all the other groups of grazing cattle early each morning, the in-calf heifers, the dry cows and the nine-month-old heifer calves. Fortunately there were no problems with these animals.

The only problems we did have were in the milking cows, which could be easily separated from the other cows for closer examination and treatments. Whilst bringing them in for milking one afternoon we noticed that one was lame. The pastern, just above her left back hoof was swollen, indicating that she probably had a foul of the foot, or foot rot as it is known.

This is caused by a bacterial infection, which can occur when the inter-digitated space of the hoof is damaged, which allows the bacteria to gain access. This disease has to be treated with an antibiotic, which has to be properly recorded and the animal's milk not allowed to be sold for a designated number of days.

The other problem was a cow with New Forest Eye, another highly infectious disease spread by flies, of which there were swarms and extremely irritating for all the cattle, as were the horse flies. For this cow we had to get an antibiotic eye ointment from the vet, but she also had a temperature so also needed an antibiotic injection to help her recover. We kept her in a loose box for 24 hours and it was obvious that she felt much better the following morning. We just hope that she retains her sight in the affected eye.

Then following one afternoon milking we had a rather anxious moment. Jane came to the house to tell us one cow was missing. Richard drove to the field the cows had been grazing to check that he had not left one behind. After three circuits he was sure there were no cows there, dead or alive! Then Jane said she could not remember milking a particular cow, so she went to have a look amongst the recently milked cows and sure enough there it was. Fortunately the following morning all the cows were there.

The hot weather, apart from scorching all the grass, has caused the cereal crops to mature quite quickly even though we cannot be sure the quality will be good. Before he went on holiday Steve told us he had bought 100 large bales of barley straw from a neighbour, not realising that the standing crop would be fit to harvest the day after he left. Richard and Michael (Steve's father) were then tasked with collecting some of the bales.

Lastly we had to book a contractor to harvest Steve's wheat being grown for whole crop silage. In recent years Steve has grown a field of wheat for whole crop silage, as it will yield more than three cuts of grass in a dry year. It has increased yield of dry matter and starch, so can increase milk yield. The fermented crop is highly palatable and nutritious.

I have to say that when we were not working, we were well entertained by Michael and Joyce, Steve's parents. It was a good place to take the dog for a walk, and not too far away. They have a beautiful country garden, which was teeming with butterflies, as were the country lanes close to the farm.