September on the farm (2022)

Swallows photographed by John Sheppard

Richard Fonge writes:

September has brought some welcome rain. Our lawns like the grass fields around us are greening up. Grass at this time of the year, has little nutritional value to livestock, compared to the spring when it is high in protein. It satisfies the appetite hence the farming term for it of (fill belly). Cattle and sheep still grow and mature on it but not to the same extent as on spring grass. The most notable example is in the dairy cow’s production of milk. In spring grass she would produce up to 25 litres of milk a day from grass whereas in the autumn it would only maintain the cow with supplementary feed needed to produce the same amount of milk.

The arable fields on the Barrow hill walk have been sown back to grass, as part of a new government conservation scheme. It is also worth noting how quickly the hedge along the Banbury lane to Weston has re-grown in one summer, along with the new planting. Hard cutbacks look vicious at the time, but nature soon re-establishes itself.

On the Stuchbury footpath the rams have gone in to mate with the mule ewes on the 15th September, making the first lambs due on the 7th of February, but there is one interloper amongst them. A Zwartable ewe. These sheep with their distinctive black body, white blaze down the face and four white socks and white tail tip originate from Friesland in Northern Holland, and have become increasingly more popular in recent years as breeding sheep, and can also be farmed for milk production. A friend of mine’s late wife built up a flock some ten years ago with great success. It is always good to see another breed or option to your enterprise being tried out. This may be just a single ewe, with others in another flock, but Farmers are generally open to new ideas of production and management to take their business forward. As my old owner used to say to me, never be afraid to try something new after costing and research, but if it fails, don’t go a second time.

The swallows have now gone to South Africa, and what an amazing migratory bird they are. They arrive around the 10th of April, nest in the same barns (providing they haven’t been converted into houses), and then in late August they start to gather on the telephone lines before flying off to South Africa. This year on my morning walk a dozen or so gathered on the lines up the Moreton rd, to begin with and by the 9th of September they had increased to over eighty. They were there at 8.15 on my way out, and had flown off when I came back twenty minutes later. Who gave the call to go?

Now here’s a likely story. In the fifties a Greatworth man of doubtful integrity was called the “Bird Man”. It was said he caught small birds, coloured them yellow and sold them as canaries!

Richard Fonge



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