Dreary days in early spring include moments when we reminisce of warmer summer weather with our cows joyfully grazing in the paddocks. We're sure they too have similar thoughts, in a bovine way. However, the cows are also grateful for the easy feed and warmth of the deep straw sheds we use in Freston over the winter.
We bring in the 200+ cattle in November or December when winter hits properly. Recent autumn calves and their mothers have one big yard to themselves; the fattening stock and spring calving mob also have their own separate yards. Depending on the group, they're on a diet of maize silage, hay, barley straw and compound nuts. We bed the sheds three or four times a week with wheat straw, which we don't spread out as we've found that they like to eat a lot of it (the roughage keeps their ruminant healthy), and they enjoy bashing it about themselves. By not spreading the straw about too much, the dust levels are also lower, reducing the risk of coughing and eye infections.
There's an old adage that we "don't keep cows, they keep us!" In reality, whilst we care for them, they still need to work for their keep. Therefore, the autumn calvers go back to the bull between Christmas Day and Valentine's Day! Similarly, the spring calvers are on reduced rations before calving (so the calf isn't too fat before it's born) and then get as much food as they want so the calves grow on quickly.
Our specific farming system progresses; Maintaining the pure breed herd of Red Poll cows (for their placid nature, milk qualities and ease of calving) and crossing them with a slightly more beefy but still naturally polled (hornless) Aberdeen Angus bull. Our hope for cross-breed vigour has been successful as the RedGus calves (as we call them) are full of life with a love for food. You'll see them gallivanting round the paddocks over the summer, looking that bit bigger, chunkier and blacker than their Red Poll compatriots.
So, many of you may not know we also have a working farm over at Broxtead, which is near Sutton just outside of Woodbridge. The next few months are particularly busy over at the farm, the team are preparing the land ready for the crop to be planted. This means trimming hedges, ploughing and cultivating the soil to ensure the crop has the best chance to prosper. One of our biggest operations is potato growing, so once all preparations are complete and the fields are ready and welcoming, it's all hands to the pump, jackets off (pardon the pun) and planting.
We have seven different varieties to get happily buried. We will also begin drilling for our other crops, onions, sugar beet and spring barley. This is only the start, it's then a case of looking ahead and protecting the crop. The fields will be fleeced and more than likely subjected to a first spray to offer the crops a helping hand. It's then a case of top dressing and looking at the levels of water to plan any irrigation works moving forwards.