The week began cold and frosty, which was followed by a 5cm covering of snow here on Manor Farm. Icy conditions and plenty of welcome sunshine lasted for a few days, but mid-week the temperature suddenly climbed back into double figures, as high as 11.5 C. This brought some more rain, which together with the melted snow equivalent, amounted to another 35 mm. Our growing cereal crops seem to be managing to keep their heads above water, although we now have a few fields with streams that have spilled water into large patches along their edges. Here we are lucky that major flooding incidents are not something we have to deal with, but having watched the news I feel very sorry for those that do and hope the lengthening days will bring a better time for us all in many ways.

There are now, after a lambing lull, only 40 ewes of the early lambing flock waiting to give birth. This has allowed Kevin and his family to take a breather, although all the routine feeding, watering, cleaning and bedding up still has to be done. It is also important for all the livestock on the farm to be checked regularly, especially as the temperature fluctuation and dampness can lead to problems, such as pneumonia. It is vital that early signs are spotted quickly, so that treatment can be given. Unfortunately one or two lambs have needed an antibiotic injection, as have one or two of our Aberdeen Angus x calves. Following medication these animals have recovered well. As part of The Red Tractor Farm Assurance Scheme we have to adhere to a large number of regulations, one being to record the use of all medicines, which includes identification of animals treated, dates treated, batch numbers of medication used and any other relevant information. Particularly with antibiotics, we have to show responsible use. All farmers signed up to The Red Tractor Scheme, such as ourselves, are regularly inspected for animal welfare and full traceability of all livestock.

One job that was recently undertaken was to scan the flock of 500 ewes due to lamb towards the end of March. Unlike the early flock this scanning took place in fields, not under cover, although the person doing the scanning has an adapted vehicle, into which the ewes were guided and restrained. It was not the driest of days, so everyone helping got rather wet but with the help of the collies to gather and pen the animals, the whole operation ran smoothly. The scan revealed a good crop of lambs could be expected, with ewes carrying singles, twins or multiples marked with different coloured spots, so they can be easily identified and sorted when the time comes to bring them back to the barns. In readiness for this the individual pens in the main barn have been dismantled, so that when the remaining early ewes have finished lambing the barn can be given a thorough clean. As these ewes give birth they will be moved to a smaller building containing individual pens, before joining the groups of loose housed ewes and lambs. It will not be long before the last few earlies have lambed.

Although on one of my rambles around Manor Farm the countryside appears to be quite dull, with little going on, I did manage to spot a few signs of life. Flocks of fieldfares darting from field to field, chattering noisily when perched en masse in trees and hedgerows. Fieldfares are a northern species of thrush, arriving in this country in the autumn where the winters are milder. Then a large heron took to the wing from a tree surrounded pond, forming a very distinctive shape in flight with the neck arched, the long legs trailing backwards and the broad wings arched. The next find was an owl pellet, which had been deposited on an old, upturned cattle water trough. I am almost sure it was the fresh regurgitated pellet of a barn owl, especially as it was near a set of farm buildings. Fresh barn owl pellets are often black, about the size of a thumb, containing the indigestible remains of their prey consisting of the bones and fur of small mammals such as voles, shrews, mice and rats. This would be an accurate description of the pellet I found. I have just completed the RSPB Garden Birdwatch, which was very interesting. Over the last few years I have particularly noticed quite an increase in the starling population.