Farming in Littondale.( spring, early summer) It’s either too wet, or too dry. Then it’s too cold and now it’s a scorcher. We’re never happy, but the weather has such an impact on us, our animals and on the grass that we grow. Lambing time has been and gone, the weather made it a ‘good un’. The ewes and their lambs enjoyed relatively dry and kind conditions.
This makes our shepherding duties easier with less mismotherings and problems to sort out. Sheep dont like wet conditions. Spring eventually sprung in May. Cattle were let out for summer grazing. Sheep duties included ‘marking the lambs’. This is basically bringing the ewes and lambs from the meadows and giving them an ‘mot’ with vaccinations, tagging, ringing tails, and checking the ewes feet and udders.
They are then moved onto the pastures, or on some farms onto their upland fells or moors until clipping time. This allows a rest period for the meadows to grow crops of either grass silage, haylage or hay for conserving for winter feed. The difference between the three is basically how dry it is. Silage would be mown today and baled tomorrow, whereas haylage would be left and extra day to wilt and became drier.
The conservation requires a fermentation which excludes air, and therefore the round bales are wrapped in plastic film. You may have noticed some colourful plastic being used on some farms. There were pink bales where the manufacurer donated to breast cancer charities and purple bales where donations made to childrens charities.
We keep the used plastic film and send it on wagons to be recycled. When the weather is settled with a good forecast of a hot and sunny spell, some farmers make hay bales, otherwise known as ‘idiot bricks!’ The grass gets tedded ( turned or shaken)and dried for 3-4 days so that there is no moisture left which allows it to be kept indoors in barns with no plastic required.
Not only is this a physically challenging excercise, it is also a test of patience and anger management when the weatherman changes his mind and forecasts a shower on day 2 and ruins your dreams of having the ‘best hay in the dale’ ! Many meadows in the dale are in environmental countryside stewardship schemes.
These are managed by the farmers in conjunction with Natural England to bring benefits to the birds, bees, insects and butterflies. There are rules to follow which encourage wild flowers amongst the grass. Sheep must be moved out before the end of May and it can’t be mown before July 15th. One of the essential key species in a wildflower meadow is Yellow rattle.
This plant is semi parasitic and steals the nutrients from the grass, which reduces grass growth, thereby allowing sunlight and space for the other wildflowers to flourish. Yellow rattle is an annual plant. It never regrows. The late cutting date of July 15th ensures that it has set it’s seed for next year.
We had a really hot week of great haymaking weather mid June which allowed some fields, not in agreements, to be cut for hay, but most meadows in the dale are still to be cut. The next date in the farmers diary is St Swithens day, July 15th and we hope we dont get 108 mm of rain as we have had in the last 4 days.