Thursday, 22 December 2011

Dog Worming Reminder

Last week we sent a group of lambs to the abattoir in mid Wales as we always do at this time of the year and when the kill sheets came back I was shocked with some of the results.  It turned out that of the 87 lambs delivered the Food Standards Agency condemned 17 (nearly 20%) livers for something called Cysticercus tenuicollis.  In total the weight loss was 11.7Kg, at £4.50/Kg which equates to £52.65 of lost income, but that's not really my point.
The disease stems from the dog adult tapeworm Taenia hydatigena and is transmitted to sheep when infected dogs shed eggs via their faeces onto the pasture.  These eggs can survive on the pasture for up to 6 months.  Another problem with dog faeces is very similar and is called Cystericercus ovis or sheep measles and is ingested almost identically. (Here's a cyst on a liver)
Once in the sheep the larvae develop and penetrate the sheep's intestine, spreading to various tissues including the omentum, mesentry, peritoneum and liver.  As-side from liver condemnations heavy infestation can cause haemorrhages and peritonitis.  Once the sheep has been exposed to tapeworm eggs, it is impossible to prevent the cysts developing so it really is out of our hands.
In order to reduce the risks we ensure that all of our farm dogs are wormed regularly, this is also covered as part of our Farm Assurance.  We must insure that all visiting dogs are also wormed appropriately, using the correct wormer and using the right dose for weight of the dog.  (Please see your vets about specific products)
With over 40Km of footpaths, bridleways and permissive paths on the farm, many of which run through our grazing pastures it is so important for you, the dog walking public, to make sure your dog doesn't contribute to this potential threat to the welfare of our sheep flock.
These two problems in 2009 cost the English sheep industry £7.5 million (EBLEX Lamb briefing 10/07).

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Taking the Right Path

At the moment we feel slightly under siege from night-time mountain bikers. They come hurtling down the hill, with lights so bright, that they are illegal to use on the road, often not slowing down for anybody or any thing.

One of the routes they have been using is actually a footpath, which by the nature of its name (and the law) is for pedestrians (and mobility vehicles) only. We have had to go as far as putting in a chicane to try and slow down these cyclists before our sheep fencing, on a footpath that they're not even supposed to be on!

There is also the disturbance to wildlife and the farm livestock, which ever path they are on. Now I can see the attraction to this sport; speed, mud, danger, but please if you are going to take part, make the right choice and follow the legal pathway.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Pears for your Heirs

Last week we started our programme of fruit tree pruning in the Conderton Orchard under our Higher Level Stewardship Scheme Capital works programme.  The orchard has had little attention for a number of years and the trees are very old and fragile, but really in need of some TLC to preserve their lives (and as a habitat) for as long as possible.  As this orchard is being used by COCO (Conderton and Overbury Community Orchard) I though that we would target those trees that were potentially unsafe and those that were already dead. 
After the dead trees had been re-modelled, the timber that was cut off, was left next to the trees. This meant that it would continue to provide a habitat for bugs, insects, beetles and fungi that were already present in the wood.  This re-modelling was aimed at making the trees more stable in high winds so that they would remain upright as long as possible.  Where wood was removed, say from a branch leaning right over, the stump was trimmed with a 'Coronete' cut to make it easier for insects to access the dead wood, as shown below. 

After the most urgent trees were trimmed up Tim and Simon from Treeessence (who did our pollarding earlier in the year), moved on to some of the living trees.  Again we were targeting those that had lots of top growth making them vulnerable to wind damage.  We have done 50 trees this year and we have the same amount to do for the next 4 years, so we should re-invigorate the orchard over this time scale.  It really is a great project to be involved with.  In the New Year we will be helping COCO plant some Perry Pears to provide fruit and wildlife for all of our heirs.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Cultivating a 'Direct Approach'

On Friday 10th December I was invited by UAP to go and listen to a talk all about Direct Drilling and Minimum Tillage.  The talk was being give by Steve Townsend who runs a company called Soil First Farming.  It was a really interesting and very though provoking, basically challenging us to rethink our philosophy on cultivation strategies across the different soil types on the farm.
The morning started in the classroom exploring soil and what it is made up of, sand, silt, clay with a few rocks thrown in on our hill and how these particles interact with each other and what we do to them when we cultivate.  The best soils, and our best assets as farmers, contain 25% air, 25% water, 5 % organic matter and 45 % minerals (sand, clay and silt).  Much of the morning was talking about carbon and how we can alter and increase the amount in the soil.  Carbon is contained in crop residue and dead soil bacteria, fungi, worms etc and how do we increase those levels in the soil?  We spoke about cover crops, between winter and spring crops, like beans, oats, mustard even peas.  These crops would feed the soil organisms when they die and lock up nutrients, to be stored for later crops.  This seems really logical to me as it will not only increase the soil organic matter but reduce the risks of soil washing off down the hill during periods of heavy rain through the winter.  We'll be trying that next summer!
In the field we looked at soil structure, digging down to find the anaerobic layer (where last years crop residues remain uneaten by the soil microbes.  We looked for evidence of worm activity, worm casts on the surface and worm tubes through the soil.  These are very helpful to farmers as they allow water to seep through the soil profile but also provide routes for roots, heading down in search of water.  We looked at cultivation depth, anything over 4" was too deep, (as long as there is no soil compaction that the roots of the crop can't deal with).  A root can exhort the downward pressure of 200-300 psi when growing through the soil.  Ideally cultivating at no more than 3" will increase the worm population, keep the trash on the surface and speed up cultivations.  Again another point to experiment with next summer.  We talked about weed control and reducing fertiliser applications, about straw incorporation and stale seedbeds, as I said earlier it was a very interesting day.
Finally we headed back to the farm workshop to have a look at Chris's new direct drill.  We have been dipping our toes into different direct drilling techniques this summer so it was good to hear someone Eese's experiences.  I went away with two main targets that I will be putting into practise, firstly, getting more organic matter into the soil and secondly making better use of cover crops where we are growing crops in the spring.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Grasshoppers Attack Christmas Tree

On Tuesday this week we had a visit from Overbury Grasshoppers our local village nursery.  We took them up on a tractor and trailer to our small patch of Christmas trees for them to select one for their nursery.  They wanted a little 4 ft one that was nice and bushy!  Derek wielded the saw and in a flash it was down.  After the tree was loaded up into the trailer, along with the children, we headed off for a ride further up the hill to look at the Elm tree we planted a year ago.
This was the view form the back of the trailer on a rather squally showery day.  The Elm tree was 3m tall and the trunk was 11cm wide at about 1m high.  It still had lots of growing to do.  The children learnt a little about every green trees and deciduous trees.  Then it back to the nursery to warm up and dry out a little.  They all had a great morning, although I think  the highlight was the tractor and trailer ride.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Sainsbury's 'Farm For Life'

Well, on the 23rd November, at the BBC Good Food Show, the stage was set for Salisbury's second Farming Conference.  The event was to show case and demonstrate the commitment by the Salisbury's Supermarket to British Farming and they had asked me to talk about the carbon footprint of our sheep flock and how we are using, the information to make efficiencies.  Well over 1,000 farmers from the dairy, cheese,  pig, poultry, lamb, beef, egg, grain, fruit and vegetable supply sectors were invited and I have to admit to being just ever-so slightly nervous!
First up on stage was Justin King (CEO of Sainsbury's), who gave us a brief introduction and update on the performance of the supermarket, in difficult trading conditions. Judith Batchelar (head of Sainsbury's own brand) was next on stage introducing the 20 by 20 sustainability plan which will be a challenge, and one that will give British farmers opportunities in the future.  Then the farmers took to the stage. First up was Chris Batchelar from Essex who introduced us to his fascinating Strawberry business.  Up next was Vicky and Kate Morgan from Yorkshire who gave us an insight into the future with their concept pig farm, then after a long wait, it was my turn!
After a quick introduction to the farm business I recalled our reasons to work with a strong, sustainable, secure business like Sainsbury's.  Our carbon footprint is made up of various measurements and performance indicators from the sheep enterprise.  Things like numbers of lambs produced per ewe, how much purchased feed we use, our farm cropping, cultivations and soil management.  It includes our fuel and electricity consumption.  The calculation finally gives us a value, a line in the sand, which we can use to compare with other similar farms and then we can start reducing the value.  
The main areas that impact our carbon footprint are,  lambing percentage, grassland management, age of the lambs at slaughter and the lambs daily liveweight gains.  With help through the Sainsbury's Lamb Development Group we've been targeting these areas to make our sheep flock more efficient, therefore producing less carbon.
In addition to the Carbon Footprint we're looking at the Environmental Scorecard, which looks at the impact of the business on the environment.  Topics include, flock health plans, livestock breeding, performance and nutrition, fuel management and our handing facilities. Last year we scored 355 out of 500 and this year we were up to 395, so a good improvement but some way to go.
I really enjoyed the experience of talking to such a large group of farmers about what we are doing at Overbury, even though it was slightly daunting (until I got going).  A big thank you to Purple Patch Events who organised the photographs (with Jonathan Banks ) and put the presentation together and to the Sainsbury's Agriculture team for their help and support.

Monday, 28 November 2011

LEAF Water Management Training

Today we had a really interesting meeting with a select group of people for a follow up meeting on the LEAF Water Management tool.

From January 1st this year we have had about 55% of our annual rainfall on the farm and it is still very dry so the water training comes at a very poinient time.  We know it is a very precious resource and we need to learn how to use it wisely.

Our training today was reviewing the LEAF Water Tool for each of our farms.  This tool was launched at the LEAF Presidents Event earlier this month by Jim Paice  MP (Agriculture and Food Minister), demonstrating the importance of water as an issue.

Then we moved onto how we use our water knowledge to pass onto other farmers to become a 'Water Champion'.  This means using our skills in communication learnt through our LEAF 'Speak Out'
training to encourage other farmers to learn more about water use and it's protection.  There is much to learn about how we use water on the farm, from reducing its use or increasing the quality of the water leaving our farmland.  I will try and keep you updated on how our journey progressess, but to start off with here's a silt trap and bio bed that we have just created on the farm to do just that.  bio bed


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Testing Our Fertiliser Spreader

Last week we had our annual testing session for the two fertiliser spreaders that we use on the farm.  The main spreader that applies the Phosphate, Kieserite and Potash fertiliser is a KRM Bredal.  We bought it in 2006 and it applies about 200 tonnes of fertiliser a year.  This fertiliser has a value of about £66,000 per year so for a very small testing fee (£150) it means that our investment is being evenly and accurately applied to the field.
The first task is to set up the catching trays, these are placed every meter.

Then with each different type of fertiliser being tested, even same brand types vary in their granule size every year, the tractor drives across the field and the fertiliser being spread is caught and viewed in the test tubes as shown below.
Correct fertiliser application is so important, not just for the economics of not wanting to waste money but for environmental reasons.  Using things called boarder discs on the headland (first time around the field) the spread pattern is cut in half to avoid spreading into the field margin or worse still into the ditch or stream.
The correct speed of the spinning disc's is also important, too fast and the granules could be thrown off the field, or even break up  the granules with the impact, leading to uneven application.  Too slow and the fertiliser won't spread far  enough to cover the width of the machine again resulting in uneven application.

So we are now ready to go, weather permitting to start applying the Phosphate fertiliser, evenly and accurately.  We will be applying the fertiliser again this year using variable rate GPS technology using the SOYL sampling technique. I will be updating the blog when we get going!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Pollarding Willows

One of the important roles we have as land managers in the countryside is to look after the trees around the farm.  Willow trees are part of the traditional landscape in this area and grow well in the wetter areas of the farm.  From time to time they require a bit of a hair cut as you can see from the picture above.  This tree is a bit overdue a trim.  Allowing these trees to grow tall can make them unstable when it is very windy, which can cause them to split off and fall down.  That in itself is dangerous, but the tree can then be exposed to disease entering the trunk through the split wood which may kill it.  These trees provide a great habitat with holes in the trunks which make for very good nesting sites and providing very early pollen supplies for emerging insects after hibernating through the winter.
We would usually be able to pollard the smaller trees with our own staff but when they get this big we need to call in the experts.  Here is Tim, suitably dressed with climbing gear bringing down the limbs of the tree one by one until just the two main trunks are left.  Simon and Tim are very skilled and soon safely brought the tree down to it's desired height.  The guys had a great day pollarding several of these massive trees.

Graham was on hand with our JCB loadall to help clear away the brash, ready for burning, and the cord wood (which we will dry out and use in our farm wood burners in a couple of years) . We have to move all of the material away from the stream as it can flood during heavy rain and these would very quickly dam up the stream further down.  The majority of the cord wood will be stacked in the field, away from the stream, to rot down over time to provide food and homes for many insects, fungi and small mammals.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Hare's, Hairstreak's and Harebell's

On the 21st September we organised a farm walk to look at how our Higher level Stewardship options can be used on a modern farming business to increase habitats for our farmland species. The walk was jointly organised by FWAG (Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, the CLA (Country Land and Business Association) and GWCT (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

The title for the invitation was Hare's, Hairstreak's and Harebells, which basically meant, animals/birds, plants and insects.

The tour started with a brief introduction then it was off on the trailers around the farm.  Our first stop was with Peter Thompson from the GWCT who was telling us about the benefits of pollen and nectar strips and wild bird food.  This strip looked great with the pollen and nectar providing insect food which could then be fed on by young birds, especially grey partridge chicks.  We haven't seen grey partridge on the farm for a few a years so I am hopeful that with these areas dotted around the farm we could see their return!  Peter also demonstrated the wild bird mixture planted adjacent to the pollen mix.  This he descibed as a 'bird table ready for winter'.  He's quite correct with the quinoa, millet, triticale present it should really attract the small birds through the winter, when the hedgrows and woodlands have run out of food.  The combination of these two mixes with the hedge and grass verge provide the three crital requirements of our farmland birds, nesting habitat (hedge/tussocky grasses), chick feed (Pollen and nectar) and adult winter food (bird table).
After this stop we headed out up the hill for some fresh air and a leg stretch to learn about beetle banks.  Click HERE to listen to Peter again telling us of the vital role these habitats can play in conservation.  They are also a good way to help friendly beneficials get further into our fields to help control aphids!

After this stop we loaded up again and headed to another area of the farm were we are maintaining species rich limestone grassland.  The sheep are helping to graze this vital habitat where grass and wild flowers have regenerated the fields after being in arable production.  On the way around we managed to spot a brown hare and also some harebells so as Meat Loaf would tell you , 2 out of 3 ain't bad.  A huge thankyou to our speakers, Bob Slater from FWAG, Matt Willmott from Natural England and Peter Thompson from GWCT who made this a real enjoyable farm tour to be a part of and for teaching me something new!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Stewardship Update

I thought that I would just take a quick moment to update you on how the various stewardship options have progressed over the dry summer.  On the whole most seemed to have coped very well although some species have rather taken over!  This first wild bird seed mixture is the Norlands field and was planted with feeding Tree Sparrows through the winter months.  The plants include the wonderful Quinoa whose magnificent autumn colours look a real picture at this time of year.  They will produce a vast amount of small seeds from Christmas onwards.

In this field we have planted a pollen and nectar strip next to a winter bird seed mixture aimed at providing nesting cover and food for corn buntings. The mustard that we planted seems to have overtaken the rest of the seed mix which includes, spring barley, triticale and white millet.  Next year I think I will reduce the mixture from 10 to 5%, although who knows in a different spring 10% might have been the right amount.

This is one of my favourite stewardship margins and one that has already produced a real bounty of winter food.  Both of these mixtures were planted before we entered the Higher Level Stewardship and last year the bird food mix fed lots of small birds, including yellow hammers, dunocks and linnets through the winter period.  What I love about this combination of pollen and nectar and wild bird food is the way that it caters for our farmland wildlife completely.  It provides winter food for adult bird survival, pollen and nectar for insects to live on which then become chick feed and there are nesting sites in the tussocky grass margins and hedge bottom on the right hand side.  It will be fascinating to watch these sights develop over time and hopefully reap the benefits for our farmland wildlife.

Drilling on the Tarmac

Last week we had a strange request and that was: "could we bring a tractor up to Overbury School as they are doing a farming topic?"

We after the rain over the weekend we were unable to go drilling so Gordon took the tractor and the drill (it happened to be attached) up to the school playground.  We talked about the crops that we grow, from wheat being milled into flour and then baked, barley malted for beer and maltesers, and oilseed rape pressed to power our vehicles or cook our eggs.

We spent a very interesting half and hour looking at the tractor and drill.  The children commented on the lights, the size of wheels and the cleats for getting up the hills.  They were fascinated with the drill and how the seed actually made it from the hopper to the field, so we started the tractor and planted a few seeds on the tarmac to the cheers and delight of the children.
I have a feeling we might be invited back at some point when we are passing with another item of farm machinery to demonstrate.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A little Help From Big Sista!

Our run of good weather has finally come to an end and so allows me to tell you a little about some exciting new machinery.  We have actually cut something every day since the 20th July which in itself is quite a record for the past few summers.  Where have the weeks of sunshine I seem to remember from my youth gone too or am I looking back through rose tinted glasses?  Those 'combine connoisseur's' among you will notice that this is not our usual combine harvester cutting winter barley on Bredon Hill.  John Deere are in the process of launching a new range of combines, built in Europe for the high output combines on larger farms and they wanted an area of crop to check the machine out and to make sure there were no teething problems.  We happened to be cutting our malting barley for Carling, which was going very slowly with our combine so we jumped at the chance to try the new machine and give her a work out!
The output was amazing and showed how technology moves on very quickly.  Our machine is only 4 years old and was easily out performed in a difficult crop to combine.  The forward speed was 5-6kph instead of ours at 3kph.  The header on the new combine was also bigger at a whopping 35 feet with belts presenting the crop to the combine very uniformally.  There were very few losses and much less than our combine in the straw swath.  These losses are grains that can't be shaken from the straw and so are lost back to field.  These are called volunteers in the following crop that need to be sprayed/cultivated out later on.  The grain tank held a full trailer load about 25%  larger than ours.  Fuel efficiency is roughly about the same as ours for the acreage cut.

This model also came with track's in place of the larger front wheels which will help reduce the transport width (3.5m) of the machine and also reduce the compaction of the heavy machine on the soft soil.  Grip would also be helped climbing up and down our hill.  But what is the cost and will that cost be justified?  More harvest updates can be seen at No1FarmerJake where I am uploading a daily video tracking our harvest, as it happens!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Weather to Harvest? That IS The Question

Well, I am a bit late in updating our harvest progress on the blog this year.  We started cutting winter barley on the 12th July on some very light, ex sand and gravel land, according to Tim who drives the combine it was the earliest he can remember starting harvest.  The yield held up well considering the very dry spring that we had.  In the poorest areas of the field the straw was only at 30cm tall!  In a normal year it could be at least 80cm.  The good news is that the people we are growing it for like the sample, it has passed their germination and admixture standards and they are happy to take it away for seed.  It will be cleaned, processed and sold to other farmers as Volume, a winter feed variety.  After the start on barley we had a few days off and then moved into some winter oilseed rape.  The first variety to be harvested was Excalibur and I am staggered with the yield we have been achieving. 
The combine has had the yield monitor calibrated with a weighed load, over a local weighbridge, and I am very pleased, actually gobsmacked with the results!  Some of the best fields seem to be averaging about 5T/Ha.  There will obviously be some losses over the cleaner and then through the drier but considering the year and lack of rainfall it is a pleasing start to harvest.
The current problem we are facing is finding crops that are ready to combine.  All of the crops have been dessicated i.e. sprayed off to kill the stems and the leaves.   There is a very precise timing for this and it usually means that harvest can begin in about 18 days after spraying.  I think the cooler weather (prior to now) has meant that the glyphoste has been slow to work on the crops.  The weather is lovely here at the moment and so there is pressure to be cutting something, we still have a lot of crops ahead of us and you never know when the rain willl return.
After the grain has been separated, from the straw, leaves, pods and stems in the combine the MOG, (Material Other than Grain) is chopped up at the back of the combine.  This organic matter is then spread over the width of the header (9m) before being incorporated.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Orchard Exploration

On Monday the 18th July we held the first group meeting of the Overbury and Conderton Orchard Group.  The idea is to bring together interesed members of the two villages to talk about the conservation of the old traditional orchard and to find out if there was any interest in helping with the restoration.  The turnout was terrific, Denzil counted 50 people present and we had a least 2 families that could not make it!  Penelope introduced the evening then John Clarke spoke about his experience with the Kemerton Orchard Group before I spoke about the wider Higher Level Stewardship options that we are embracing on the farm.  Eventaully, it is hoped that the orchard group could become self sufficient in the management of the orchard (complying with the HLS scheme rules-obviously) interacting with the farm's requirements of the orchard, for grazing. 

The group will then have the opportunity to develop the conservation within the orchard, looking at erecting bird boxes, bird, plant and moss identification and counting, maybe even having some community bee hives.

It is hoped to organise a follow up meeting, within two weeks to establish a name and committee structure to start leading the plans forward.  I think we will be starting up with a fruit collecting day in September, ready for winter supplies of jiuce and cider, before tree prunning and planting weekend days following up in the winter.  Keep up to date with the development of the group through this blog and the farm facebook page 

Monday, 27 June 2011

Keeping H2O Low with LEAF

Last thursday I had a brilliant day with other members of the Carling Wester Growers Group at a special training day organised by LEAF  The training day was to bring to our attention the impact of water on our farms and how much we rely on this precious resource.  The aim of the day was to raise awarness of water and how it impacts our business and what we can do to try and reduce its impact.  In my farming career I have witnessed both ends of the scale when it comes to water impact.  On the 20th July 2007 we had over 140mm of rain in 24 hours and this spring (Mar-May) we only had 53mm of rain.  The discussion, lead by Caroline Drummond, from LEAF, Louise Manning (LJM Associates) and Andrew Galloway (Masstock Arable (UK) Ltd soon had us discussing in depth, the problems of too much or too little water and its effects on our livestock, crops and the environment.  We discussed how to keep water in the fields, by using minimum tillage to keep trash on the surface to slow down the run-off and reduce risk.  Correctly cultivating the fields allows water to slowly seep into the soil, hard compacted layers mean the water can't soak in and rushes off the surface taking fertiliser, soil particles and pesticides with it into the nearest watercourse.  We spoke about ways to reduce these risks, buffer strips to intercept running water, tramline placement, gate placement, stock watering areas and a whole list of other options available.  Some of these options can be put towards Stewardship Schemes or will count towards the Campaign for the Farmed Environment

We looked at weather data, demonstarting how our climate is changing, with reduced sunshine hours and increased volitility in rain fall events.  We listened to Louise talking about her trips to California where they are running out of groundwater and what's left is becoming saline.  Peru and other countries are going to run out of water (in some areas) in the next 30 years or so.  Countries exporting salad crops, potatoes and vegetables are in effect exporting water and what impact will this have in the future?

After a great walk around the farm looking at sprayer technology, machinery, irrigation we ended up with a spade in a barley field.  The idea was to dig down and try and find any problems with the soil structure that might hinder roots or water from getting into the soil, alais we found none. (Well done Ed).

The next stage of our training is to have a go at the LEAF Water Management Tool, an on-line assessment that looks at: water distrubution around the farm, irrigation, crop protection products, cleaning and transport of product, protecting water quality and domestic water facilities.  Following on from this we will be meeting again, after harvest, to find out how we have all got on, and what changes we have made to our business' as a result of the training.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Orchid Identification

Up on the western edge of Bredon Hill there is an area managed under Stewardship. Derek and Gordon have been changing the hunting gates and they spotted hundreds of orchids amongst the grassland. They look absolutely stunning but I don't know what they are called.

Can anybody enlighten me?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, 17 June 2011

Our Countryside Comes to Life

Yesterday the Estate held it's bi-annual Countryside Foundation For Education day.  It is a great day out for our local schools getting their children out onto a real farm to see exactly what happens.  The groups of about 20 children had 8 different 'stands' to look at.  The groups rotated around the stands having about 20 minutes at each one.  I was looking after the farm machinery section where we told the children how we grow, feed, look after and then harvest our crops.  We started with the Topdown, followed by the drill, fertiliser, sprayer combine and finally the grain cart.  After my stand the children moved on the visit Paul, Rod and Tom, (our keepering team) where they got a taste of the good, the bad and the ugly in the countryside.  Many frozen animals that had been trapped over the past year came out of the freezer to play their part in the tale.  the highlight being the unveiling of a newly hatched pheasant!  The kitchen gardens handled the next stand looking at growing vegetables, and why they are good for us, how they are grown and what pests can attache the unaware gardener.  The final stop off was to visit the stable where we had a couple of sheep with their (not so small) lambs and Suzanne who was spinning wool.  This was a real hit with the children to actually see the fleece being spun in to a usable fibre.
After a well deserved lunch break under the watchful eye of the combine the children headed off for another round of stands.  First up was William from Frontier Agriculture who was talking about the crops grown on the farm and what they were turned into after they had been sold.  He had a helper making pancakes with some of the wheat grown on the farm. Toff Millway followed William throwing clay pots and talking about his favourite subject 'Food'!  This linked in well with the whole story of the day, how our food is grown where our food comes from and how we look after the countryside.  After Toff, Martyn and Alan did a talk about the estate woodland, how trees are managed and what our timber is used for on the Estate.  The final stand was with Roger Umpleby, known locally as 'The Bug Man' who had a collection of creepy crawlies that he had gathered under some logs in the wood over a few days prior to the event.
All in all the children had a great day, we just about remained dry, most of us kept our voices and the day was a great success.

Monday, 13 June 2011

A Successful Day, Dispite The Weather

Our first visitor for this years Open Farm Sunday event arrived in the drizzle just before 9am.  The tractors were polished, the trailers swept and the fields nicely mown.  After a slightly delayed start we headed off to The Overbury Stud where Simon Sweeting gave us a talk about the workings of a stud farm.  It was fascinating hearing about scanning mares to check for a pregnancy at 16 days.  We also saw a Brown Hare running across one of the fields, a great start to the trip.

Following on from Simon we had a talk from Dominc Swainson about the sprayer that we use to apply the pesticides and fertiliser to the fields.  We spoke about Integrated Farm Management and gave some exampled of how we use the philosophy at Overbury Farms to help with our decision making processes.  We learnt about the annual requirement to have an MOT type certificate through NSTS for each sprayer and the fact that the sprayer operators all had to be trained through NRoSO We also spoke about the amount of planning we need to complete before fertiliser is applied to each individual field and the records that are kept of each application.  This also contributed toward the farms accreditation to LEAF Marque of which we are very proud.
Our next station was to hear all about Bumble Bees and how they can help us with pollination of our crops.  Stuart Veall works for Syngenta and he came out with a small hive of bees which everyone found amazing.  It is hoped that another year we can have a couple of hives to help with our crop and margin pollination.  We parked next to a beetle bank with pollen and nectar strips adjacent to each other and explained further about the farms conservation plans and how we are increasing food and habitat for farmland birds, including Corn Buntings and Tree Sparrows.

William Fox (Frontier Agriculture) was on hand to complete the story about what happens to our crops when they leave the farm.  He told us about biofuels created from wheat and rape, Carling Beer made from our malting barley and even how beans are used in fish food as a protein source.  Apparently when crushed the beans are sticky and can hold minerals and other constituents of a ration together in the water for feeding to fish.  (Even Farmer Jake learnt something as well!).  After the last stop we came back down from the hill and thawed out a little before unloading a repeating the process again. 
We had such a lot of help on the day from Derek, Gordon, Graham and Tim for driving the tractors and getting the farm machinery in place; Tod, James and Harry, who looked after the livestock (sheep, chickens and a duck) and from Suzie and Kieren for setting up the gazebo and organising the lists and putting the packs together on the day.  Obviously a huge thanks to our speakers on the day and to those that braved the weather to show up and listen to what I believe makes British food the safest in the world, being produced sympathetically to our environment, by the best farmers in the world.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Getting The Job Wrapped Up

So far this year our silage making has been well timed and the sun and wind has helped dry out the cut grass nicely.  For the last two years I have been using a local contractor to come and do the baling and the wrapping.  Our old equipment means the whole team has to be turned out in order to get the job done.  Derek would be baling, a couple of people carting the bales back to the yard where they would be wrapped and then stacked.  Now with a little planning we can get Nigel to bale and wrap in one pass. 

He's actually using the same amount of fuel doing the two jobs at once than he was just doing the baling.  It helps our carbon footprint as farmers.  Tomorrow we will get the trailers out and carefully carry the bales back to the farm and stack them up.  We will treat them as eggs so that the plastic does not get ripped.  The plastic seals in the bale which turns anaerobic pickling the grass into silage or a slightly drier product more suited to sheep called hayledge.  The plastic will remain on the bales until they are used in the winter to feed the sheep.  Once removed the plastic is stored and then sent for re-cycling as part of our commitment to the environment as per the requirements for the LEAF Marque  Using two different colours of wrap the bales look like one of my favourite sweets, can you guess which ones?

Click HERE to the link of the baler/wrapper combo in operation, it really is an amazing bit of farm machinery

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Is The Grass Greener with Sainsbury's?

On Thursday the 19th May we hosted the Sainsbury's Lamb Steering Group Meeting at Overbury.  The group started about a year ago and this was the first on-farm meeting which was a real pleasure to host.  There were about 9 others farmers from all corners of the UK and even Northern Ireland, all farming different systems and producing lamb in different ways, all dedicated to supplying Sainsbury's.  In addition there were people from Randall Parker Foods and Dunbia who are the processors for the producers lamb (We supply RPF- via the Mayhill Lamb Group).  The day started with an update on JS lamb sales over the past year, then we moved onto an update of the Carbon Footprint assessment.  This is the largest study ever conducted assessing the carbon involved with producing lamb.  More about that another day.  After that I did a presentation about Overbury Farms, what we do, how we do it and why.  I talked about our crops, conservation, staff, machinery and then our sheep.

Following on from me was Bob Bevan from AB Sustain who was teaching us about grassland management. 

One of the interesting things learnt from the JS Dairy Group was the attention to detail of grassland management and how carbon emissions and therefore cost can be reduced by better grassland management.  This conversation carried on over a working lunch before heading out to the field for a tractor and trailer ride around the farm.  We looked at 8 fields in total, starting with a hay field, then a silage fields then various permanent pasture fields ending up on the top of Bredon Hill, where Alice and Annie had their photograph taken as shown here!
It was a really good meeting, I felt that a lot had been achieved and there was plenty of conversation within the group.  There is a definite opportunity to explore the grassland management here at Overbury, starting this summer with some over-seeding in a couple of fields.

Following the meeting we did a short bit of filming for the JS website all about the Carbon Footprinting and how we are benefiting by working together.  That should be on the website under the Coorporate Responsibility tab on the 7th June.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Farm Update

The last couple of months have been a difficult time on the farm with unprecidented low levels of rainfall during two important months.  At the start of March we were all very delighted with the dry spell of weather, great for spring barley drilling, potato planting and of course for lambing.  As the weeks rolled on and the temperatures rose the light arable land really started the run out of water.  Fertiliser that we had applied just sat on the surface so crops were unable to use the nitrogen and insect pests were multiplying in the warm spring sunshine.  Our newly planted trees, both in the orchards and the elm trees, required watering in order to keep them alive!  Once started this job will need to carry on but with the investment in the trees we have to keep the going.  Irrigation has been intense on the salad onion crops and today we have started on the potatoes.  Our rainfall for March was only 8.6mm (driest in 60yrs) and April was even less at 5.4mm (long term average for April is 49.5mm)

The large cracks opening up in the fields are usually only seen in the summer months and this photograph was taken in mid April!  It just goes to show how the weathers unpredictability impacts on our farming systems.  As a rule our climate is not used to weather changes like this.  Other areas of the world, like Australia and America, would expect these droughts much more often than us.  It will be a very interesting season as it progresses, just what will the effects be on yields and quality be?  It is still a long way to go but with the final leaves out in wheat crops (visible in April) 3 weeks ahead of usual there must be an affect, at the very least an early harvest.
Last weekend the rain arrived giving a very welcome 24mm.  This rain was the right kind of rain, silly statement you all scream but it was gentle and warm.  This gave it time to actually soak into the ground rather than run-off taking fertiliser with it into the nearest water course.  The situation had eased slightly but more rain will be required to get these crops to harvest, and it might even have come too late for our malting barley, which is looking thinner and thinner.