The beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures of May continued all through the month of June…and July and…DROUGHT. Not a drop of rains for weeks. This “Green and Pleasant Land” turned brown. We made sure all the livestock had shade. And this is where they spent their days - in hedges and along the fencing where the trees provided some cover to keep them cooler.
August arrived, and the weather patterns changed. Rain arrived, lovely steady rain, no flooding, and the ground was able to soak it all in. The grass greened up and was growing once again. But the effect of the drought will be felt throughout the winter. In summer grass is cut and baled or moved into silage clamps, all ready to feed cattle throughout the winter months. We were able to bale up about half of the haylage we require. Now with the grass growing again we are getting more cut and will have plenty. But when the grass stopped growing many farmers had to use some of this winter’s feed already so there will be a real shortage of feed in over the coming months. And, of course arable crop yields are also down.
My Portland sheep and the seven Hebrideans stayed here at Lower Brimley Coombe through most of the summer. I did sell a dozen this year, going to two starter flocks. I was happy to sell as they were good sensible people who will take care of the sheep! And these two new flocks, both in Dorset, are thriving. Kingston Lacy, the National Trust property, is an especially good fit for Portlands, along with their Red Devon cattle herd. I also culled a few older barren ewes this summer. It was time, they were old and barren. So I will be putting 30 Portlands to the tup in late October.
We attended the Sherborne Show in the early part of summer, always a great day catching up with other Portland breeders in Dorset. We thought we’d be doing a few other shows until some of my sheep got Orf. It is an infection that looks like cold sores around their mouths and noses. It isn’t deadly, just uncomfortable for the sheep. Antibiotic spray helps, and I found a special mineral lick that seemed to help too. Only ten actually contracted it. I was quite lucky. Orf is highly contagious so all sheep had to stay on the farm, no showing.
Archie has thrown himself into restoring the fields at Stoke Knapp farm. What a huge job. There are less docks and nettles but a long way to go. The grass leys are looking good under his care. He is attacking the drainage systems in some of the very wet fields where land drains had completely broken down. The next big project is getting a proper water supply on the farm. Mr Tolley had only a couple of water troughs on the whole farm and we will expand that system.
The holiday cottage at Lower Brimley have been fully booked since early Spring and continuing right through the summer month. My guests have been lovely, tidy and enjoy the farm and West Dorset’s beauty. There are the occasional exceptions but that comes with the business. It does keep me busy, I am an expert cleaner! But I am really pleased with good reviews and especially love my repeat customers!
Melplash Show at the end of August was a wonderful way to end the summer. Good friends came along, and we had good chat with other breeders showing. Orf cleared up so I was able to bring two sheep, a ewe and her ram lamb. Both won Firsts and the ewe went on to win Breed Reserve champion. My Portland fleece was awarded a First, too.
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.