Time again to call the cows and calves into the holding pen. We separated Primrose and her heifer calf and the six bull calves, and released the other mums. I dread the autumn task of castrating bull calves. And I have sold Primrose and her calf. It is a legal requirement to get cattle TB tested before they can be moved off a farm. I also wanted to be sure she was in-calf so needed her scanned. The vet came on Monday and would return on Thursday to check TB results.
They six calves each entered the crush as a Bull and departed as a Steer! Never an easy job for the vet or us. The calves are very frisky and can nail you with a back kick right in the shin. The vet must get behind, the tail is pulled up, she injects painkiller and then with a quick slice she cuts out the testicles. Archie was a huge help this time, and Pam, the vet, was brilliant. We ended up sedating a few, calming them down, and it made the procedure much less painful for all of us.
It is possible to ring them within a week of birth, a tight rubber band goes over and around and slowly squeezes the life out. It is quite tricky to catch the little balls as they pop up inside the body while holding down a strong young calf, and I’m not confident that we can do it correctly. Maybe next year I’ll ask for assistance from a fellow cattle farmer.
Pam scanned Primrose, with a positive result, and TB test results were negative, so Primrose and the calf were ready for collection. Yesterday we called them back into the holding pen with the usual bucket shaking, and the buyer arrived to collect them. Off they went to a new home in Devon.
A new Portland ram arrived last week, very late in an evening. Archie got a late start, had a three hour drive to West Sussex which turned into a traffic jam on the M25 and a 5 hour drive. Southover Sirius arrived in good form and in the morning was busy grazing and getting used to his new home. It is good practice to isolate a new arrival on the farm so he will be on his own for a couple of weeks, then straight to the ewes to ‘work’, a job rams clearly enjoy!
Yesterday my ram, Bemborough, departed for a new home. He is a good Portland ram and has produced a good number of Portland offspring. He will now service some bigger ewes, not Portlands, Size doesn't matter too much with rams, I'm sure he will be up for the task. He is going to be used by two smallholders, in the hope of producing slightly smaller lambs.
And the final departure is a little sad, but part of farming life. My oldest ewe, age 9, was ‘dispatched’ a couple of days ago by Archie and his good friend, George. George is fully licensed and very experienced, and the ewe was killed humanely. It is legal to do this on the farm as long as we consume the meat ourselves, not sell it to the general public. (Usually I send them off to the abattoir and they are butchered there). I caught her in the evening, we popped her in the shed and then very quickly she was dispatched. We are not being cruel or heartless but have raised this animal and she has had a good life. The carcass will hang in our cool room for about eight days, and then we’ll be sausage making next week, all about that in the next blog.
It has been a busy time since the little white calf was born. I flew to New York for a much planned reunion - 60th birthday year - with my best friends from university days. We spent our time together in the Hamptons on Long Island, visiting wineries, eating, drinking and laughing. We are now planning to reunite much more often!
While I was away the calf got Flystrike. This is very nasty, sometimes occurring in sheep, but we have always treated in the early summer to prevent it happening. The weather turned quite warm in mid September, blowflies hatched and became attracted to my calf. The flies lay eggs near the back end of the animal by any poo bits, the eggs hatch and the maggots hatch and eat into the flesh. Horrible. Dan noticed it right away, as the calf was flicking his tail constantly at the irritation. Treatment was applied and maggots are gone. His back end has been covered in Iodine so the calf is now white with a yellowish rear. I am calling him ‘Fried Egg’. He is happy and healthy and we have learned a valuable lesson.
My biggest steer was set off to the abattoir last week. He was 3 and a half years old, with the longest horns ever. The horns on a steer grow any which way after they are castrated. Sometimes they turn up and look like a cow’s horns, very symmetrical. Other times they shoot off in different directions, one up, one down. When we were in Scotland the abattoirs refused to accept horned animals so we had to dehorn them when young. I did not like doing this as their horns are very much part of their character. Our abattoir is local and small and we are grateful they have no such policy. The carcass will hang for about 25 days, so we’ll have beef to sell in a few weeks.
There has been much to and fro-ing with the cattle and the sheep in the last couple of weeks. The bridleway has been a cattle highway, to the surprise of a few walkers. We have to block their path temporarily but they usually enjoy seeing the cattle saunter down the lane. I have to think about where the livestock will be for winter grazing, making sure of course that the bull is kept away from the heifers.
The rams will join the ewes in early November for ‘tupping’, and the ewes are in ‘flushing’ stage, that is, getting them in tip top condition on best grass to promote fertility. We moved the two ram lambs into the field with my four other rams and thankfully they were not bullied.
On top of all the farming activity, our holiday cottage building project is now underway. I’m the reluctant project manager. More about that next time.
Jo Stover has daily adventures on her small farm, together with her Highland cattle and Portland sheep, bees, a few hens, dogs, and some two-legged family and friends.