Friday, 18 December 2009

On the 31st December 2009 new EU regulations come into place about the individual identification of sheep and goats. The ultimate aim will be to have, I think, every sheep and goat with an electric identification device (EID) locked about it's person within the next 5 years. Various stages of this legislation are being fazed in over the next 3 years but some batch movements will still be allowed under the system, which ultimately is not s step far enough.

To that end we have decided to go down the fully EID route for all of our breeding sheep starting today. Each and every ewe and ram (they actually are already tagged), will have to have two ear tags, one yellow (with the EID) and the other a colour of our choice, except red and black. The black ear tags are reserved to indicate where a bolus EID is being used and a red tag indicates a replacement tag, where the original one has been lost and the animal is not on the holding (farm) of birth. This all has to be done before the animal is 9 months old or earlier if and when it leaves the farm.

Today we tagged up some ewe lambs that were born earlier this year, they had a yellow tag, with the EID inserted into their right ear and a blue tag (management tag) inserted into their left ear. We then scanned the tag, added their breed details and date of birth (roughly), into the handheld reader and then uploaded the details into the computer program. We will be able to use lots of this information when we are sorting lambs for market, checking on their growth rates, and selecting which ewes to breed from and which ewes to cull out. The equipment has been quite expensive to set up and purchase but it will pay for itself with far more accurate sheep records, providing detailed management information for Tod that can be easily carried around the farm. EID 'ing' the whole flock and lambs will enable all of the killing lambs to have their tags read at the abattoir which will then tell us which rams and ewes are providing the lambs with the best carcases and therefore where our breeding should be going. Right now we don't have enough information to make too many details decisions but over time t hat will change.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Taking it to a Higher Level

As part of the on going investigations as to whether we should be getting involved in the Higher Level Stewardship a team of archaeologists have been looking at the farms archaeology. They have been trialing a system called 'COSMIC' which is based on a risk assessment to the archaeology. The study looks at each of the sights on the farm and tries to work out whether or not the current or past farming practices have or will put the archaeology in danger. The study looks at the field slope, soil depth, passed cropping and passed cultivation techniques to work out the potential risk. It also looks at futures plans for cropping and cultivation. The the system is then taken outside and hand dug test pits are dug to test the theory from the office. So far most of the test pits have come up with plenty of protection for the archaeology and no harm has been done through the farming practices. We will await the final report as the team still have a few sites left to look at. It any of the sites are shown to be at risk we may have to think about putting an HLS option on that land to protect it. These options could include using minimum tillage establishment techniques or grassing the field down in the most at risk cases. We wait to see! The test pit here is in a field of beans where they were looking to find an old roadway and various enclosures. the darker soil is the cultivation depth and the lighter soil is the subsoil, going down further in the top left corner goes even further down to the base rock layer where the archaeology would be found. In this scenario there is plenty of soil to buffer the archaeology from any of our farming operations.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Summit Success

Well at 8.15 on the 1st November a very weary but elated team of four climbers and three guides made it to the summit (Kibo) on Mt Kilimanjaro, standing shrouded in mist at 5895 metres above sea level. The summit assault started at midnight 1,195m below at Kibo huts and was an arduous climb over rocks, scree and slippery, snow covered paths culminating in a breath taking experience as we peered over the craters edge at Gilman's point on the way to the summit.
Get to Gilman's Point and the finish line is only a further 1.5hrs trek away but only another couple of hundred meters! Technology didn't enable us to blog from the summit so apologies for that, but here are a few more shots of the adventure.

Here the porters were doing the traditional singing thanks, after their tips, singing Kilimanjaro! The top team members, Tosha, Elli, Rambo, Frank, Spiderman and Frank were the main guides (team)that took the Comic Relief 'Celeb's' up to the summit earlier in the year. Mawenzi, the lower of the twin peaks is just showing herself in the distance, behind our loo tent

Trekking through the mist and cloud at about 12,000 ft. The cloud came and went, but when it was clear the views into Kenya were absolutely incredible!

This was the view back from Kibo, towards Mawenzi, in the middle is the barren area called the Saddle. Mawenzi was about 5k away at this point and it was the only trek where we could see where the next camp was, even though, from the start of the trek, it was still 9km away, it still took us about 5hrs to get there. Pole' Pole'

Kibo and Mawenzi bow out in the sunshine as the trek leaves the mountain, the views on the way down were the best ones on the mountain, bathed in sunshine and us with satisfied smiles, beaming all the way down.

Friday, 23 October 2009


Well, here we are 24 hour to go untill we leave for Amsterdam, in 36 hrs we'll be on the plane to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.  Dad and I in conjunction with brother in law James and father in law John are due to start the climb on Tuesday.  Bags are packed, repacked and packed again with everything from longjohns to camel packs to re-hydration sachets (thanks hannah). I'll see if this get to farmer jakes blog so that I can blog from Africa's highest point, also known as the worlds highest free standing mountain, AKA the world highest volcano!!  Let's go!
Jake Freestone
Farm manager Overbury Farms

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Boddington Bean Drill

For the past 4 years we have been hiring the grandly named 'Boddington Bean Drill'. the drill belongs to Boddington Estate and is a Simba Flatliner with a Massey seeder unit stuck to the top of it. It is a great way of planting beans without the need for ploughing. The beans are planted to a depth of 6-8 inches aiming for 18 plants/m3 by the time the spring arrives. We can plant over 50 acres a day much more than previously possible. We have started planting earlier than usual as the soil conditions are so favourable onto some of our heaviest land. The soil is lightly worked after the drill to seal up the slots made by the legs. Derek has been driving the 8530 all summer and is using it to plant the beans. Auto trac is employed to keep the rows arrow straight to avoid over or under laps which will make sure all of the agrochemicals applied by the Bateman RB35 will be accurately applied.

Planting Time Again

With the very dry September drilling (planting) has been a stop start affair but with the wider drill, now 6m, we have been able to cover the ground in record breaking time. Gordon has taken up the drilling mantle from his brother Andrew and has been doing a great job. Working well into the night with the Auto trac guidance system keeping him on the straight and narrow. With only 12mm of rain in September we have had some very dry seedbeds to plant into and germination has been varied depending on the depth on seed into available moisture or not. Winter barley planted on Bredon Hill has shot through the ground, where moisture levels were higher but wheat sown into heavy land has yet to emerge. These heavy fields dig get 12mm of rain last week and so they should soon be emerging. I increased the seed rate looking at an emerge plant population as opposed to a seeding rate. Emergence date was the 20th October when we planted in the last week of September so we'll see how close that is. the clip shows Graham rolling with our 6m Simba rolls and Gordon Drilling with the 7830 and the sprinter 6. Derek is just over the wall rolling with the cousins 12m set of rolls, new this year.

Monday, 28 September 2009

ELS -Food for Thought

Today, with the majority of the wheat drilling completed I was able to turn my attention to our Entry Level Stewardship application. Our current scheme expires in November 2010, was it really four years ago I did the last one? My plans are to have the new scheme, ELS and HLS combined up and running by this current spring, which will allow us the summer months to establish a lot of margins. Currently many of these margins are planted to a width of 2m but with increasing pressure around areas of population and a potential for us to loose certain chemicals it would be prudent to protect our operation for as long as possible and if we can get paid as well then that could be a bonus before legislation might force our hand. Chemical loss, such as Metaldyde will severely impact on our business here at Overbury. Wider margins will help reduce any soil erosion run-off, taking chemical particles with them into the water courses. Coupled with the margins I am also looking at some pollen and nectar mixes to provide feed sources for insects, which in turn will provide feed for small birds. The ELS scheme should provide us with a backbone with which to hang an HLS application on with a lot more options and interesting projects to get involved with.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Fresh Country Air

Last weekend the contractors arrived to spread about 400t of mushroom compost. We would usually hire the spreaders ourselves and do the operation a little later in the summer but the adjacent fields were destined for Oilseed Rape and so a quick turn around was required. I checked all of the NVZ restrictions and the water framework directory and found that there was no problem in spreading this low nutrient, high organic matter and high sinus clearing product at this time of year. As the spreaders started their soil improving task the waft of sweet fresh country air, held up on stiff south westerly carried nicely into the local villages much to the confusion of the natives. Were we spraying some horrible pesticide? Were the drains blocked and was sewage erupting volcanically from the nearest pipe? No I'm afraid it was nothing that exciting, it was just us enhancing the light soils with some well deserved organic matter. Next year I will be investigating some other forms of organic matter to help improve the land and who knows that type might even smell of Chanel No 5!!

Nowhere to hide

This shot was taken earlier this week of the combine cutting wheat, although I can't work out which field it was it. Andrew John, my predecessor at Overbury stills flies and is a great asset as the 'eye in the sky' taking photos and checking up on how things are looking, not just here at home but it's a great way to assess the region and how it looks especially in May and June. Invariably things that look great from the truck can be less than impressive from the sky. Maybe I should consider taking up flying microlights so that I can take some pictures of my own and suss out the competition for myself.....

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Harvest Update

We've had a fairly good spell of weather for the past 10 days and been able to make good progress, we even managed to harvest some of the spring barley without having dry it. The Solstice wheat is all but in the barn, 14ha's left, at 500ft, that is not fit yet. We should finish the malting barley on the hill by mid afternoon today and then it's on to the Zebedee and Cordiale on the hill for the weekend, weather (as always) permitting. Straw baling has been moving on apace with 3 balers in the fields yesterday (thanks Brian). These will be planted with Catana Oilseed Rape behind the carrier and biodrill very soon. The wind is proving a mixed blessing at the moment: keeping the showers away or whizzing them through very quickly, but it is also hindering the bean desiccation and slug pellet application on the rape already planted, as always in this job there is a comprise to be made at some point or another. Carling have got their featured growers on their web site now, have a look, you might recognise someone on

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Start of Wheat Harvest

The wheat harvest finally started on the 8th August in very dry and dusty conditions, needless to say that didn't last long. After a great weekend cutting over 220 acres of rape and wheat the damp weather has returned frustrating everyone. Here the last 9m goes into the combine a John Deere S690, equipped with Autotrak, (I can't drive that straight) on Monday morning. Later in the day a heavy shower forced us to stop. Hopefully the forecast will provide a little ray of sunshine or two and we'll be going again soon. The field was Solstice wheat, average moisture was 16.8% and it yielded about 8t/Ha.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Red Clover Sucess

A peacock butterfly enjoying some nectar in the sunshine on a red clover flower head. the new ley was planted in April and is a red clover and perennial rye grass mix aimed at growing a high protein source of feed for the sheep. A first cut of silage will be made and subsequently fed to our ewes in the run up to lambing. Lambs will be used to graze off the aftermath, which should provide a valuable feed on clean grazing for them just after weaning. If the wet summer has been bad for most of the farm then this is one area that enjoyed a regular soaking!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Hill Top-Topdown-Top Job

Between the showers, (incidentally it's been the second wettest July for 58 years at Overbury) we have managed to get our new cultivator and tractor into action. Derek is using the machine after winter barley, straw baled and removed, getting a growth of weeds and volunteers before we plant Oilseed Rape. The field is the same one that we cut on the 28th July late into the night. The fuel usage of the tractor is in the region of 40L/hr depending on whether he's going uphill or down. This equates to about 20l/ha or (£8/ha), which is pretty ecomonical, for doing this sort of operation. Outputs of the 4m topdown on Cotswold brash have been in excess of 35ha/day or 86 acre's, when it dries out hopefully we can get rolling on the heavier land, where the operational costs will undoubtedly be greater.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Grain Drying

Well, this is a very historic moment. I am updating my block from the grain store office on my blackberry device.
I haven't got a photo to show you yet, watch this space. I am drying the winter barley, second time around, on a very wet depressing day,
I can't actually believe that it is the 1st of August and the Ashes Test has been abandoned for the day. It might sound daft but this rain is almost worse for the crops than the very heavy downpours we had earlier in the week.
This rain soaks through eveything, the ears of wheat will be swelling up and taking all of that moisture in. Let's hope the weather picks up soon or it will be another rerun of 2008.
On a positive note we managed to get the new John Deere 8530 working yesterday between the showers, trying out the topdown on barley stubbles and it was doing a great job!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Coors Barley Harvest

On Tuesday 28th July we started harvesting our winter barley crop, destined for the malt houses in Burton on Trent, grown under contract to Coors, which should end up being turned into Carling The harvest was the first harvest in memory to actually have started on Bredon Hill as opposed to starting in the Vale of Evesham. The crop came off between and through some light showers but the strong wind enabled us to carry on until 1.30 am to finish the field before the predicted rain arrived yesterday. We harvest about 25 ha with moisture's ranging from between 18-21%. It will mean having to be dried, slowly through our drying plant twice. Drying will be slow and gentle, with not too much heat, to avoid damaging the germination, as this would make it useless for malting. Hopefully it should be OK and the premium should cover the extra drying costs. Samples have been sent off so see what the quality is like, we will soon know if the man from Frontier say YES!!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Soil Management Plan

Having reviewed our Soil Management Plan, which we undertook as part of our Entry Level Stewardship Scheme Agreement, we have needed to change a gateway to reduce the identified risk of soil erosion and run off. the field is of light soil (Cotswold Brash) is sloping between 3 and 7 degrees and is sometimes left as overwintered stubble's and summer fallow. This has put the field in the High Risk Category. The field also has a 6m grass margin a road and a gateway located at the bottom of it. (See above). In order to try and reduce the run off risk I have decided to move the gateway and bund up the soil, then grass it down, to join up the grass margin. The gateway has now been moved to the side of the field, located in the corner where the chance of run off is greatly reduced. The only problem now could be cars parking in the entrance to the gateway, as its on part of a 'T' junction so I'm off to put a sign up to 'discourage' them. Failure to keep the gateway clear, for farm machinery, will mean I will have to put a couple of removable bollards (concreted in) up to stop cars parking there altogether.

Never Rains - It Pours

Have we been here before? This wet spell of weather stink's profoundly of harvest 2008, which was the wettest ever on record. Damp dewy mornings are superseeded with gushing downpours, wetting crops, livestock and wild birds to their shivering bones. Can this be another wet muddy, tractor sticking harvest to spoil our crops potential? We need a cheap dry harvest as the crop prices have fallen nearly 20% since mid June and the quality, which we all need, will start to spoil in the fields very quickly!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Tillage Event

On Thursday the 9th July the Gloucestershire Root Fruit and Grain Society held a cultivation event just down the road from us at Middle Farm Oxenton. We were treated to over 100 acres of working machinery demonstrations. There were 10 local farm machinery dealers present to demonstrate the latest farm machinery. It is really a great event to actually see these machines and tractors working in very similar soil types and conditions to those that we deal with at Overbury. There were also static displays from many other local and national firms all connected with the farming industry from grain traders to local colleges. The society has had to cancel this event for the past two summers due to terrible weather, but this year it all ran very smoothly and it was a credit to everyone who made it possible, looking forward to next years event!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Open farm Sunday

Right here it is, no pictures, no funny clips just the facts! Open Farm Sunday is nearly upon us, don't worry about the weather come rain or shine we will be at Manor Farm, Conderton hosting our event from 10am until 4pm. There will be so much to see; we have for your entertainment and improved knowledge of the countryside, food and farming;-
a falonry display, ferret racing, tractor rides, cows, pigs, sheep and sheep shearing, chickens, ducks, stone walling, machinery display, john deere 'auto trac' demonstration, icecream sales and a pig roast (thank's Mick, Anne and James Meadows(Meadows Farm Shop, Bredons Norton)) a nature trail and a farm walk, organised by WCC. I think that is it but there might be more, you'll have to turn up and find out. Don't forget whatever the weather the event carries on. See you there!!!!!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Testing The New Irrigation Mains

A very exciting day today as we test fired our new underground mains irrigation system extension, having put half in 2 years ago. Here is the momentous moment when the water finally appeared some 2.2km's way from the reservoir.

Friday, 15 May 2009

EBLEX Sheep Farmers Meeting

On Thursday the 14th May we hosted a sheep group meeting organised through EBLEX (English Beef and Lamb Executive) and the NSA (National Sheep Association) to look at sheep handling, grassland management and feeding sheep more effectively. We had nearly 100 people turn up, the weather stayed dry all through the afternoon and a good time was had by all. I think everyone, no matter how experienced, would have learnt something from the event. They were all treated to a Subway sandwich, cookie and crisps for their supper, which rounded the evening off well and for many a very new experience!

Monday, 16 March 2009

Autotrac on 6930

This is the John Deere autotrac system working on our 6930 drilling spring barley last week. The tractor is GPS guided pulling the drill at 4m intervals across the field (we hope) The system was added to the tractor last summer to help reduce the costs of further chemical applications by not overlapping the passes and thus the fertiliser or pesticides subsequently applied. Once set up the system is fairly accurate. This should then make sure that the tramlines for the sprayer are exactly 36meters apart. A small inaccuracy of say 10cm, over 9 passes (9x4=36) equates to the tramlines being 90 out in either direction, which is quite a lot.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Spring Ploughing

With the dry weather returning we employed Phil Odam Farm Contractors to spread some organic mushroom compost ahead of spring barley on some light land. The compost is great stuff for increasing the soils organic matter, which will help retain moisture in a dry year (not required for the last two!) and make it easier to cultivate in the future, oh and great food for worms as well! It has a few nutrients in it as well to help the crop get established and to feed it when it starts warming up and the nutrients are released by microbial activity. Having ploughed the field, we'll wait a few days for the top to dry out and then drill more 'Tipple' spring barley.

Derek was loading the compost yesterday and today he was ploughing it all in, to reduce the risk of air pollution to our neighbours (wouldn't want the air to smell like the countryside now would we)! It also helps to lock up any nitrogen, stopping it from being released into the atmosphere.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Spring Planting Apace

With the recent dry weather, yes it's been dry for at least 2 weeks, last time that happened was in 2003, or so it seems, the land has been dry enough to travel on. Gordon here > is drilling Tipple Spring Malting Barley on Bredon Hill. This is under contact to Coors, via Frontier Agriculture, to go to Burton-on-Trent to be made into Carling lager next year. The dry weather following the frost has given us lots of frost tilth and the seed bed is nice and fine. We put some nitrogen fertiliser into the seed bed before we cultivated it so that it was worked into the soil to surround the seedlings as they germinate to hopefully get them off to a really good start. Gordon is hoping to finish the field tonight before it rains, tomorrow.

On the 11th April we are having our annual Farm Lambing Day. Tractors and trailers will be leaving Overbury village hall, from 10am until 3pm, to take you up to Park Farm to see the lambing for yourselves. The game keeping dept, of Paul, Greg and Rod will also be there to uncover a few of the myths behind the dark and shady underground world of game keeping, accompanied by the stuffed or frozen usual suspects, friends or foe! Lunch will be available to purchase at the village hall from 12 am until 2pm, tea and coffee will be available all day. There is a small charge of only £5 for adults and children will travel free. It is a really super day out for all of the family, so bring them along, no matter what the weather is doing, and we'll be pleased to show you all about the lambing and sheep production here at Overbury. It got very busy last year between 11 and 1, so if you can try and get there early.

Friday, 20 February 2009

First One's Out

At last spring must be nearly here. we started lambing on the 9th on February, in the middle of the snow period and had to keep the lambs and ewes inside for 10 days before they could be turned

out into much sunnier weather. These lambs are down in Conderton and will soon be moved up into the plum orchard, when the grass starts to grow a little. If you want a closer first hand experience of lambing sheep our Farm Lambing Day is on the 11th April this year. Tractors and trailers will be departing from Overbury Village Hall from 10 am until 3pm to take you to the sheep pens.

Monday, 2 February 2009

All Weather Wallers

The annual purge on farm maintenance begins again, this year, with Andrew off sick (who usually maintains the stone walls), Matthew and Steve have been employed to continue all the good work. This scene was this morning, when half of the country couldn't get to work because of the snow fall, Matthew and Steve were already hard at work, with Jed, Matthew's dog. Here they are at Lalu, straightening up a collapsed wall before starting the re-building process. Most of the stone can be re-used but we will have to get some extra supplies to finish the job. We think there is about 3 weeks work this winter for the two of them. The walls fall down when animals try to jump over them, or because of frosty or wet weather degrading the wall. Other winter maintenance jobs include willow coppicing or pollarding depending on where you were brought up. This is Derek and Gordon pollarding the willow on Manor Farm on the main road from Conderton to Beckford. The tree limbs that were cut down were used to make 'Scotch' Fencing further down the road where a car went off the road straight through a hedge! This year we have had 4 cars drive through various hedges causing lots of damage. Most of the time the car drivers manage to get out and escape but with the fields being so wet we have managed to catch the last one before they could escape!