May on the Farm (2021)

Richard Fonge writes,

The adage of “Don’t cast a clout until May is out” is certainly true of this May. One of the wettest and coldest I can remember. The other farming saying is “A wet and windy May means plenty of grain and hay”. We shall see. The lambs grow a pace in all the fields around the Parish and on the Stuchbury footpath the sheep are now in the field nearest to the village and have been taken off the field above, which I suspect will now be cut for silage. Two grass fields but different grasses. Nearest the village is a permanent pasture, most like been there from time immemorial and made up of perennial, meadow, fescue, clover and other grasses such as cocksfoot. The top field was sown to grass two years ago, to a long term ley of perennial grasses, with I suspect some Timothy and Meadow fescue along with white clover, which is increasing each year with the tight sheep grazing. But what does the term ley mean? It is the word to explain the economic productive life of that seeding. So we have two, three, four long term leys etc. But whatever the length it still has to be managed, as do all crops. A similar long term ley was planted two fields across on the way back to the village.

Wheat is being grown above the electric fence, and on Barrow hill field linseed is just emerging.

In my farming career on more than one occasion I have been rung to say my cows were out, only to find they were someone else’s bullocks. So let me explain. The collective term for bovines is cattle. Cows are lactating females and therefore have an udder. A heifer is a female bovine until she gives birth, gives milk, and becomes a cow. The average age of the first calving is around 27 months. A male calf or bull calf, is castrated soon after birth and once relieved of this responsibility is known as a steer, stirk if you live in the north or as he gets older a bullock. The cattle in the fields in Sulgrave are all bullocks or steers. We have various beef bulls kept to breed with beef cows, and they are in general fairly placid but never to be trusted. The dairy cow producing the milk we require every day is bred by Artificial insemination, with North American genetics having a great influence over the past decades. Genetics have played a tremendous part in improving our livestock confirmation and performance and is a subject on its own. The inseminator was originally a Ministry of Agriculture employee back in the fifties. Arriving on the farm with his flask of semen straws, he was often greeted thus. “Here comes the bull in the bowler hat”

Richard Fonge



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