Fifty-Two Weeks Farming - part 2
March: 1st Week
March is the month for cleaning weedy fields, and the opportunity is taken on the orthodox farm to pull out and rake up couch grass (or wicks, twitch, scutch, as it is variously known in different parts of the country). This is usually burnt; but this is an unnecessary waste of good organic matter, and time; it should be carried to the compost heap where no harm will come from mixing it through the heap in thin layers, provided the heap is built lightly enough to admit ample air for the development of heat. The heat, and later the earthworms and soil organisms, will completely change the nature of the small nodules which give rise to the numerous shoots from the underground roots of couch grass, and make it impossible for them to grow again.
Winter-sown wheat should be harrowed after being grazed by the cattle, to break the surface cake which will have formed over the soil as a result of winter rains, followed by drying winds. This should be done with light tooth harrows. The vigorous action of the tooth harrow does no serious damage to the young wheat plants, but is equivalent to earthing up and encourages them to 'tiller' -- that is to put out numerous extra shoots from the base of the plant.
The bull should be having a daily walk. It will do the herdsman good, too. Twenty minutes a day on a hard road will be the best investment you can make for your herd if you value your bull. It will increase his active life by years and keep him sweet-tempered, as well as keeping his feet in good trim. A bull with overgrown toes or weak legs or feet cannot work effectively.
Spread dung droppings on the grass fields whenever possible. This may seem a tedious task, but it well repays every minute spent. For on the average farms tons of grass and clover are lost each year where the rank growth around each dung patch is left ungrazed by the cattle. Even topping off with the mowing machine, though it is good for the rest of the field, does not make the growth around the dung more palatable, for even the fresh growth is left unconsumed until all the dung has completely disappeared -- which will be a matter of two or three years. The reason for the refusal of cattle to eat rank grass is the excess of nitrogen in the dung, indicating how distasteful to the cattle is a crop forced with manure excessively nitrogenous, and also the grazing animals' instinctive defence against parasitic worms.
March: 2nd Week
Where weed-covered stubbles have been used for winter grazing, the young cattle should now be moved out to pastures or winter corn. A good plan is to allow them to follow up the cows. It is surprising how well dry cows and young stock will clear up the coarse grazing left by milking cows.
Every opportunity to prepare land for spring-sown crops should now be taken. Any field that is weedy will now be showing its spring growth of green weeds and should be given frequent working with the disc harrow if the heifers have finished grazing it. All fields will be bare except those that are now being cleared of kale or carry winter crops. Most of them will have been disced during the winter to germinate and kill weed seedlings. (A final working to kill these weeds and leave them on the surface as manure will now be beneficial before sowing the crops.)
Seed-beds will need to be finer at this time of year, as there will be few frosts to crumble the lumps. The finer the seed-bed the quicker the germination, provided there is adequate organic matter on the surface to hold moisture for use at the proper time.
It is worth while spending an extra few days working the land into a fine tilth even if the crops are sown that much later, rather than to sow them in a rough knobbly seed-bed in which a proportion of the seed will not germinate.
Don't be tempted to speed the growth of that late field with artificial nitrogen or superphosphates; a light top dressing from the churned-up weeds on the surface will do far more good and last longer in its nutritional effect on the crop.
March: 3rd Week
Sow spring cereals at the following rates, in the soils indicated, according to fertility:
Soil Barley Oats Wheat Rate cwt. p.a. High Fertility Camton, Pioneer, Abed Kenia Star, Eagle, Sun I Bersee, Atle 1-1/2 Medium Fertility Camton, Spratt Archer, Abed Kenia, Plumage Archer Onward, Marvellous, Yielder, Sun II Bersee, Atle, Fylgia " Low Fertility Spratt Archer Victory, Ardri, Black Tartary Red Marvel, April Bearded 2
The best variety of spring wheat for all soils is Atle, which may be sown at any time from September to March -- the earlier the better. For medium to strong soils, Bersee is the heaviest yielder, though not such a good milling variety.
Wheat should at this time of year be sown at the rate of 1-1/2 cwt. per acre, though more may be sown if the state of fertility and the fineness of seed-bed are not good.
Drill with any kind of corn seed drill, and follow the drill with one stroke of the light tooth harrow. In a very dry time it is a help to capillary action and water retention to roll after the harrow, though, as humus content increases as a result of fertility farming methods, the moisture will take care of itself and rolling will not be necessary.
If a large amount of organic trash remains on the surface soil, the seed will have to be sown broadcast and covered afterwards with the disc harrow offset at a shallow angle. Some old hands can make a quicker and better job by hand broadcasting, though there are few such skilled men on our farms to-day.
As the years of following the methods of this book progress a great saving in seed will be possible. I can grow a heavy crop of wheat on my soil with 1 cwt. of seed -- wheat or oats -- per acre, due to the improved condition of the soil.
See that all machinery is in good order for haymaking and harvesting. Grease and oil all wearing parts and check on every part which is subject to strain. If the implements needing repair were not taken in during the autumn or winter, which is the right time for such repairs, see that they go now or the mechanic will be too busy to do your job when you need the implement.
March: 4th Week
All cereals except barley and linseed should have been sown by now. But barley and linseed may with success be left until April if necessary, though the earlier the sowing the better the yield is likely to be. Barley and linseed both need a very fine seed-bed, especially if they are sown late.
Sow barley at the rate of 1-1/2 to 2 cwt. an acre, according to the fertility of the soil, and choose one of the varieties listed above, under March: 3rd Week.
Linseed varieties used for feeding purposes are Royal and Redwing. Sow with an ordinary corn drill at the rate of 50 to 60 lb. an acre, according to fertility and fineness of seed-bed.
Cover the linseed with the chain harrows or, if it is very dry, a roller.
If the cattle have been grazing winter cereals it will have been a good introduction to the spring grass. But in any case the cows should be introduced to the spring grass now ready in most parts of the country.
Divide the grass into small paddocks and graze alternately.
Cows for winter calving should be served now. This is a good month for turning a young bull out with heifers, which will then calve from December onwards.
If cows are being introduced to a new ley after the winter feeding, a twenty-four-hour fast is valuable before they go to the ley to help clear out residues of winter concentrates which may remain undigested in the stomach to set in motion the fermentation with clover which gives rise to 'Bloat'. If you don't fast the cows, as a precaution, and some get blown, then fast for twenty-four hours as a cure, giving a little charcoal -- or charcoal tablets available from herbal firms. See Chapter 21, Other Diseases -- Blown or Bloat or Hoven -- its prevention and treatment. See Appendix for herbal supplies.
March: 5th Week
Notice the speed with which early-sown cereal crops are germinating and growing on the unploughed fields. They are taking full advantage of being sown shallowly in their natural surroundings of organic matter left on top from the previous crop residues and weeds.
And even at this early stage heavy rains will be more readily absorbed by the topsoil. Walk over ploughed land and land worked only with the disc harrow, and compare the feel.
April: 1st Week
Winter Greens. Kale should now be sown for use in the autumn and land prepared for potatoes. Don't waste time and labour on mangolds.
Kale is best sown on the flat. The rate of seeding will be as follows: kale (drilled) 4 lb. an acre; kale (broadcast) 10 lb. an acre.
Early Potatoes. In the south of England it is a matter of choice whether potatoes are sown before the other roots, or vice versa. In the North late frosts are the governing factor. In any case, early potatoes should be planted now at the rate of 1 ton an acre. Plant them on the surface and well cover with compost or farmyard manure, to be earthed up slightly when the green leaves have grown. See Chapter 5, Soil Management and Cropping Rotation, The Crop Rotation, Soil Preparation.
Otherwise, well-rotted manure or compost should be carted to the kale and potato field as soon as possible, and spread at the rate of 15 tons an acre of well-rotted manure, or 10 tons an acre of compost.
April: 2nd Week
With all spring crops sown, and even between the intervals of preparing land and sowing, especially when weather prevents other work, the spring compost heaps should be built. Manure which has accumulated in the yards, or which has been carted into temporary heaps during the winter, should be carted out in the spring and incorporated with all other dry vegetable waste to produce compost for use in the autumn. Trim hedges, ditches and banks for materials -- now or whenever convenient.
Making Compost. For detailed instructions, see Chapter 10. 'Yard-and-Parlour' Milking and Compost, How to Make Compost without Turning.
If time permits, build the heap where it is to be used. Whenever you go to town with van or lorry, bring back a load of sewage sludge, sawdust or shavings, for use in and on the compost heap; then, not only will the sawdust or sewage sludge be free, but so will the transport.
Scour the town for any other organic waste which may be going -- spent hops, shoddy, old sacks, greengrocers' refuse, etc.
Undersow cereal crops with 8 lb. Italian ryegrass, 4 lb. trefoil, for autumn grazing and subsequent green manuring. Even better results will follow if up to 8 lb. trefoil are used, but be guided by your pocket at this stage -- the thicker the legume sward the better the effect on the cover crop and subsequent soil fertility.
April: 3rd Week
The temporary grass mixtures may be sown this month, as early as possible, though I prefer sowing on stubble after harvest. As the cows finish grazing the winter oats, harrow the field with the fixed tooth harrow and thereby obtain a covering of loose soil. The seed may then be sown at any time; though preferably on a day that is not too windy to cause broadcast seed to fall unevenly.
The mixture should include a good proportion of the coarser grasses and herbs, which are in any case natural to the ruminant, but have been absent from her diet since man started to grow grass as a cultivated crop. Such troubles in the dairy herd as bloat and sterility have increased with the development of the ley and the simplification of the mixture. I have almost eliminated bloat since my leys included herbs and coarse grasses, and milk yields have not suffered. See Chapter 5. Soil Management and Cropping Rotation, The Ley, for mixtures.
In undersowing grass and clover seeds broadcast, it is difficult to see where the seed has fallen. It is necessary, therefore, to put sticks up across the field and move them at each crossing of the field to the extent of the width to which the seed fiddle will sow. The same procedure is also necessary with the seed barrow.
As soon as good weather comes the cows may be turned out at nights.
April: 4th Week
The last two weeks in April are considered to be the best time for sowing sugar beet, though a number of farmers have had improving results by sowing earlier than the formerly accepted end of April sowing. It is well, however, to begin sowing if there is any considerable acreage, and extend if necessary until the first week in May. At least there will be a margin of time in case of hold-ups. Soak the seed in water for two nights before sowing. This will speed germination and give a quicker get-away from the weeds. Rate of seeding is 12 to 14 lb. an acre, or more in poor soil.
The livestock farmer should not be without a piece of lucerne for the purpose of making silage or cutting green for cattle food during a period of drought.
Don't worry about weeds -- they will be eliminated after one or two cuts have been taken. This applies to most weeds so long as they are not too thick to prevent proper establishment of the lucerne. Compost should be applied just before, or at the time of sowing, unless it has been applied for one of the two previous crops. Unless the soil has a very high organic content the seed should be dressed with a culture obtainable from the seed supplier.
Seed should be sown not later than the end of April or else left until July.
Sown alone it should be at the rate of 25 lb. an acre, which may be drilled in the ordinary way, though 16 lb. of lucerne with 3 lb. of timothy or cocksfoot will give better results.
May: 1st Week
Few farms will have got all the kale sown and preparation should be made for a further sowing in early May, with the addition of swedes and turnips if they are likely to be needed. It is well to have a succession of various roots and green food to keep the cattle going from September until the cows go out to grass, day and night, next April or May.
Swedes should be sown at the rate of 4 lb. an acre; turnips 3 lb. an acre in drill. Turnips may also be sown broadcast at three times that seeding, for folding on sheep or cattle to eat mainly the green tops. For this purpose turnips may be sown at any time up to the end of August.
Autumn Silage Crop
Sow oats and vetches for cutting green after harvest if you need to make autumn silage. Ideal proportions are 1-1/2 bushels vetches to 1-1/2 bushels oats, though more or less vetches may be sown, according to the price of seed and the bulkiness of crop required. The vetches provide the greatest bulk, so the more vetch seed up to 2 bushels the better. Oats and vetches are the best arable silage mixture, the oats being sown for the purpose of supporting the vetches which have a creeping tendency. Ten to 12 tons of silage should be got from each acre of a 1-1/2 by 1-1/2 mixture.
Cattle should be taken off all autumn-sown cereals, though there has been no harm in grazing them continuously until now. If a dry season seems likely, get them off in the third week of April. In the North too, where recovery is not so quick, mid-April is late enough. Fields that have been grazed should be harrowed with fixed tooth harrows immediately the cattle have left them. Proceed with compost making, particularly in wet weather.
Serve cows and heifers to calve in February.
May: 2nd Week
All except the youngest livestock should now be going out day and night, and grass should be grazed hard, as from now on it will tend to grow away from the cattle. It is almost impossible to overstock grass land during the months of May and June, and full advantage should be taken of this lush growing season during which the cows need no indoor feeding at all. Good ley grazing should provide for up to four gallons of milk daily during May and June.
Opportunities should be taken now to tidy up the accumulations of winter should this not have been done before. The time is rapidly approaching when there will be no time for trimmings, and farming will be a twenty-four hour a day job until after harvest. So clean up the yards; clean out the sheds on wet days; complete the compost heaps that will be needed for use in the autumn; turn compost heaps made in March, if there is a day when other productive work cannot be done. Turning compost will improve its finished quality, though, given normal weather conditions and a carefully made heap, it should not be necessary.
Examine fences around all pasture and ley fields. Straying cattle are a curse during busy summer, and now may be your last chance to make the fences stock-proof. There is usually only time for temporary patching during hay-time and harvest.
May: 3rd Week
Make a final check up on all the machinery likely to be needed in the summer. Spare parts for the harvest machinery should have been ordered in the winter, but in any case do it now if you don't want to be held up at the busiest time of the year.
On wet days take the opportunity to whitewash the insides of farm buildings now that they are empty.
If mangolds and sugar beet have been sown, they will now need constant hoeing, and as soon as they have reached an individually identifiable size they should be singled out to a distance of about 9 to 12 inches apart. If only a matter of an inch or so separates a weak plant that might be left and a strong one, you would, for the sake of even spacing cut out, always leave the stronger plant rather than attempt to be too exact about spacing.
Land that has not been ploughed this year, and which was cropped after only surface cultivation, particularly if compost and not farmyard manure was used, will not suffer greatly from weeds -- and the few that will remain in the field can be regarded as good companionship for the domestic crop. Don't worry unduly about a few weeds so long as they don't smother out the crop. Just keep them under control. See Chapter 6 on Weeds.
May: 4th Week
Green crops sown in the early autumn for the purpose of silage will now be ready for cutting. At least a start should be made as soon as there is a growth of about a foot in height, otherwise the crop will grow too coarse before the field is finished.
From now on silage making should go on steadily each day, starting with the arable green crop, such as oats and vetches, and going on to the lucerne and the clover ley.
A pit silo dug out of the soil is the most satisfactory, and the green crop may be carted into the pit if sloping ramp-like ends are made, and the tractor or horse drawn over the silage to compact it.
Molasses is not essential in the making of silage, but it does improve the quality of the finished product by assisting the production of the organic acids which ensure the preservation of the crop. There is also considerable nutritive value in the crude molasses, particularly if it is from the sugar-cane and not the sugar beet.
Inorganic acids, such as are advocated in the system known as A.I.V., should on no account be used if the health of the stock is valued.
The object of making silage is to pack the green material so tightly that air is excluded and oxidation and decomposition thus prevented. Excessive soft, wet green material should be avoided, however, and this is best adjusted by ensuring that no water is used with the softer immature greenstuff, and that the temperature rises each day to a heat at which it is just impossible to hold the hand thrust into the silage for more than a few seconds.
Work on two pits or silos on alternate days and fill them as quickly as possible.
If there is likely to be a few days' gap during the filling of a pit or silo, cover and weight the lot, or decomposition will cause much waste on the surface.
Silage preserves all the natural elements of grasses and clovers as nearly as is possible to their original state in a way which is not possible with any other winter food. Unlike dried grass, it calls for no expensive machinery, and what gives it supremacy as a winter food is the fact that cattle of all ages from calfhood prefer it to any other food -- and, what is more, thrive on it, almost better than they do on grass!
11a. Tractor compressing silage in pit at Goosegreen
11b. A seed crop of oats and vetches
12a. A pit silo being dug out by tractor and earth scoop
12b. Visitors watch the making of a silage pit at Goosegreen
Keep a patch of the oats and vetches to be harvested for seed purposes. Vetches are costly to buy, and it is easy to harvest them on tripods.
June: 1st Week
Grass and Clover Silage
When the arable silage crop or lucerne is finished, make an early start on the clover ley. Work away, cutting as much grass each day as can be cleared up and put into the silage pit, and proceed on the assumption that the weather will never be fit for hay-making.
It is surprising what two or three men can get through in the way of silage making, working steadily day after day. It is important these days to manage without the need for augmenting the labour force for seasonal work. Silage making spreads the work for a small staff. Unlike hay, it does not need a large squad of men working at breakneck speed for a few days of fine weather. Rain or fine, the silage can be made each day, and if it is made during rainy weather added water is not needed. If a really fine spell of weather comes, then you may think of haymaking.
Bloat or Hoven and Controlled Grazing
Watch the cows for possible 'blowing'. Divide the grassland into small sections and leave the cows on continuously, rather than taking them into a large field for a short spell of grazing. I used to practise the modern idea of giving them only an hour or so morning and night on a large piece of lush ley; but this encourages the cows to gorge themselves, for they get to know they have only a limited time in which to fill their stomachs.
Left for the day on a good herbal ley, at the rate of about ten cows to the acre, they take their time over the grazing and graze the grass down evenly before passing on to the next paddock. It is possible by this means to keep them on fresh productive grass, and the frequent changes are beneficial to the cows, who are not happy to be in one field for more than two weeks at a time, their natural instinct being to roam to frequent fresh pastures.
The leys may be divided with an electric fence, hung on insulators screwed on to a leg of your haymaking tripods, erected at 10 to 12 yards apart -- particularly if the fence is temporary. They are thus easily moved. This system is excellent for kale grazing where the fence is moved daily and when, of course, you will have plenty of tripods out of a job.
June: 2nd Week
If you are short of space (and if you aren't, you should grow more or carry more stock), it is well to allow the dry and young stock to follow the cows around, to clear up the rougher grasses left behind by the cows; though, where acreage allows, keep the young stock in separate fields of their own.
Whichever system is practised, as soon as the paddock is grazed right down, spread the dung droppings carefully by hand, then with the chain harrows, otherwise by the time the cows come back to it, coarse, sour patches will have grown up which will not be eaten by any of the stock. The aim should be to spread the droppings as evenly as possible over the field and thereby gain the fullest advantage from it. I have stressed the dung-spreading because if it isn't done carefully I find that on closely folded leys as much as a fifth of the acreage is wasted by the end of a grazing season because of rank growth which nothing will eat. It may seem to be a slow and wasteful business spreading it by hand, but apart from the new weeder attachment for the light integral power-unit tractors, there is no other way of ensuring even spreading. Poultry may be used but they spread only dry dung really effectively, It is nevertheless a good plan to move free range poultry round after the cows. They will collect food and bacteria as well as worms from the cow-dung.
If you have one of these tractors, it is worth getting the weeder solely for this job. Use it after topping off the ley with the mower.
June: 3rd Week
If you are going to make any hay, the grass is now at its optimum nutritional value for this purpose. When the weather seems to be settled for a few days, stop making silage and cut as much grass as you can get on the tripods the same evening, or next morning in case of an exceptionally heavy crop. Use the tedder immediately after the mowing machine, and in a moderate crop build the tripod huts the same evening from the morning's cutting.
If the weather breaks, go on making silage again and don't worry about hay, for the grass is losing even less by being made into silage, no matter how coarse it has grown, than if it is made into hay. I make only enough hay for the very young stock, relying on tripodded oat straw, silage and kale for everything else.
Disc harrow the field from which the arable silage was made and continue throughout the summer if it is weedy and to be sown to a cereal crop in the autumn. Or, if it is really fertile, prepare it for sowing kale. If you can't get sludge or compost, kale cannot be sown on the poor field, so take the chance of a green-manuring crop, such as mustard, to be disced in before sowing the cereal crop.
If kale is intended, and compost was spread in the autumn for the silage crop, the soil will then be in ideal condition for quick preparation of a seed-bed and to receive the kale seed this month.
If the field had no compost get sewage sludge on quickly. Ten tons to the acre is a good dressing, and kale will romp away and laugh at the 'fly' if sown in this sludge after or just before rain, about this time of year.
June: 4th Week
If you have a patch of land on which late kale is to be sown, take every opportunity to 'bastard' fallow it; that is, to work it over with the disc harrow in order to kill any weeds that may grow.
If the field has not been manured, and the compost is in short supply, get on to your nearest local authority and ask permission to dig a few lorry loads of sewage sludge from the sewage works. This is first-class manure, though it may be a little unpleasant to handle. If you haven't a lorry of your own, it should be possible to hire one to do the whole job of carting and dropping it in heaps on the field at a price of about £1 a ton, depending on the distance of your farm from the sewage works.
An alternative source of humus is the dried sewage sludge which is marketed by a number of local authorities, notably Dartford Urban District Council, Leatherhead Rural District Council, Middlesex County Council, and others, as well as a number of commercial concerns, some of whom advertise in the farming Press.
Spread dung droppings in the grazing field.
Don't forget to visit daily any outlying stock. Young stock that are running out on fields away from the farm should never be missed. They are the most important part of the daily routine in the middle of haymaking. Wherever your cattle are, make a point of seeing them at least once a day.
July: 1st Week
This is a good time to sow kale. Kale sown now will need no hoeing and will miss the 'fly'. The field can be worked now and weeds killed by a few hours' strong sun. After a good shower of rain, with the soil warm and moist, the kale will germinate quickly and grow away in the unlikely event of late attacks of fly. Little weeding will be needed for kale sown on land unploughed this year, for if there have been opportunities to kill weeds on the surface there will be little else left to grow. With no thinning, either, the kale will not interfere in any way with the busy harvest that is soon about to begin.
Bulls should be tethered out to grass, preferably some distance from water. You should then insist on them being taken to water twice a day. This will ensure the exercise which is so essential to a working bull. In Cobbett's day, and earlier, the bull turned the cider press or the elevator, and provided a lot of motive power -- now supplied by electricity or stationary engines. Now we pay a man to take it for a walk and for a machine to do its job -- or, rather its spare-time job. The ideal place for a bull is running with the herd, but if you wish to avoid summer calvings, he should be restricted after the end of this month.
Collect from your supplier the binder twine that will be needed for cutting corn.
Get your petrol, tractor vapourizing, or diesel oil tanks filled with fuel ready for the harvest, so that hold-ups at critical times will be avoided.
If it is possible to book extra labour for the harvest time, make the necessary arrangements now.
July: 2nd Week
Thatch All Haystacks Now
Then take a few days off. Go to a few agricultural shows. Get married -- if you haven't done so already. It is an essential part of successful farming, and now is the traditional time for this event in the farming programme -- between hay-time and harvest. If you just cannot leave the place, and you need some work to pass away the time, trim a few hedges, clean a few ditches; but, above all, be sure you are ready for harvest. A spell of sunny weather will quickly ripen the winter oats now.
Check over all harvesting machinery; see that the binder knotter is in working order and that the knotter knife is sharp and free from rust. Oil round the binder and see that all the leathers and buckles on the canvases are strong and capable of a heavy season's cutting.
If you like to do a neat job in the harvest field you could start opening out, i.e. cutting around the headlands of the cornfields while the crop is still green, and use the greenstuff for silage or feeding green to cattle in case of drought. This can be done with a mowing machine and will save the trouble of tying up sheaves of corn cut by scythe. Most farmers just drive into the field and go right round with the tractor and binder, trampling down a proportion of the crop; but there still are some who feel this wasteful and like to have a way cleared round the field before starting harvesting.
There is still time to sow some kale; the varieties hungry gap kale, thousand-headed kale, or rape kale would be best for late sowings. These varieties are leafy and yet frost resistant, and will give maximum yields in the early part of next year, when Marrow-stem kale would be past its best. Seeding rates are the same as for other small seeded root crops: 4 lb. an acre in drills or 8 to 10 lb. an acre broadcast.
July: 3rd Week
Turn the Compost if it has cooled down without getting crumbly and friable, but if ample air was incorporated when the heaps were built this should not have happened, and good compost will result without turning. But if you wish to have the fine crumbly material upon which many gardeners pride themselves, a turn of the heap will help to achieve this, and if weed seeds or couch grass were plentiful in the original material, turning is a wise precaution anyhow. In the process of turning, the dry outer material should be turned to the centre, and if the heap is too wet, as it well may be in the wetter parts of the West Country and the North, a little dry soil or sawdust incorporated in the mixing will be a good thing. If too dry, the heap should be moistened to the condition of a squeezed-out sponge. If sawdust is used and is not completely decomposed when the heap is used, be sure to keep the compost on top of the soil for best results.
Calves born during the summer may be left out day and night, if possible with their foster mothers. Not only is it more economical to rear calves naturally, for the calf needs less milk from the cow direct than via the bucket, but it is also healthier for the cow and the calf. A good plan is to allow the calf to have one quarter (a different one every day), or from an exceptional milker only a part of a quarter (so long as the calf gets about half a gallon daily from the cow), and milking the other three for purposes of selling. This is simple to work with hand-milked herds, but where a machine is employed it means attaching only three teat cups. However, give the system a trial, if only for the sake of the future health of your herd. Don't worry too much about your herd average. The day is fast coming when herd health will be far more important than excessive herd averages. Watch outlying heifers and dry cows, and examine their udders for summer mastitis. If a case is suspected, bring the animal in and confine it without food until the inflammation is gone or the discharge is completely cleared. See Chapter 20 for instructions for the treatment of mastitis, after the immediate cessation of food. You may say good-bye to mastitis next year if you have got right over to fertility farming, except of course in old cows with a history of bad feeding.
On your Sunday strolls round the farm, compare the fields that have had compost with the rest of the farm. Already the worm population will be greater. Composted potatoes will resist blight -- take a look for your own satisfaction -- and they will be free of it in two or three years' time if you use only compost-grown seed.
July: 4th Week
An opportunity should occur just before the corn is ripe to take a cut of lucerne for silage or tripod hay. It may be necessary at this time of year to cut and cart a little lucerne daily to the cows to keep the milk yields going during a dry time on the grass, though with good herbal leys this problem will disappear as the organic top skin is built year by year.
At this time of year, particularly if the sun is hot, avoid cutting more lucerne than can be carried before it is scorched by the sun.
Continue when the opportunity presents itself to cultivate the 'bastard fallow' -- the field from which the oat and vetch silage was taken, if it was not sown with a green crop, so that it will be weed-free when the time comes to sow wheat.
13. Born in the field in early summer, these calves spend the rest of their lives out of doors
14a. Cows graze Winter wheat at Goosegreen from early March to end of April. Wheat is sown deliberately to provide winter and early spring grazing. (See Chapter 7, Grazing Round the Calendar.)
14b. Silage being used from the pit, the filling of which is illustrated on Plate 11a. Note absence of waste on top and sides in spite of incessant rain while in the pit 1950-51, though the pit was not covered in any way. Photograph taken January 1951
Breaking a Ley
If you wish to break a ley this summer, now is the time to plough it so that the grass sod can be turned under to commence decomposition. You may later, if you wish, plough again to bring the organic matter back to the surface where it will most benefit the subsequent crop.
The cows should be grazed hard for the weeks preceding ploughing, on the ley that is to be broken. This will simplify the process of turning the turf under, without the need to plough so deep that the sod will putrefy. If left as near the surface as possible it will be broken down by oxygen-loving soil organisms.
If the field is an old thistly or nettly pasture, run the mower over before ploughing -- and carry the material to the silage pit or the compost heap. It is well worth the trouble for either purpose -- and will ease the task of preparing the seed-bed. In any case, these weeds are almost certain to have gone to seed and they are better carried away than left to seed in the first crop after the ley.
Give the root fields a final clean up before starting harvest. Hoe out any persistent thistles and hand-pull the docks.
August: 1st Week
Oats should be cut a little on the green side. The seed will not suffer and a greenish oat straw at the time of cutting will have a nutritional value approaching that of much of the hay that is made in England to-day.
If your staff is big enough you can keep the tractor and binder cutting one field after another while the rest of the staff follows on tripodding the corn as it is cut. Alternatively, it is better to cut one field at a time and get it tripodded before passing on to the next field.
The corn may be put on the tripods a few hours after cutting. If you are tripodding the cereals, the main aim should be to keep the sheaves as upright as possible around the tripod air vent and wires in building, and, as with the hay, keep the whole hut narrow and vertical sided.
The usual mistake in tripodding is to build the huts too big -- with too many sheaves to each hut -- about 100 average-sized sheaves is ideal. The old handstack method should not be imitated in making tripods. The technique is quite different and, as with hay, the aim should be to construct a narrow conical funnel, though the more like a tubular shell it is the better, to ensure rain 'run-off'.
The combine has its uses in a catchy season, like 1950, for harvesting a field on the one day that it is dry; but in a normal year I would prefer tripods, and if I owned or could hire a combine cheaply I would use it for threshing in the field from the tripods. I value the straw far too much to allow it to get overripe or wasted, as is the tendency with the combine -- to say nothing of the criminal practice of burning straw after the combine.
August: 2nd Week
Once the corn is on tripods it is perfectly safe for the rest of the winter. All it needs if it is to be left out for more than a few weeks is a topping of straw and a piece of string to hold it down in case of high winds. I have threshed for seed purposes linseed that has been out all the winter without a grain of waste. Others have done the same with oats and barley on a large scale.
If you use tripods for your hay and cereals, and make silage of the rest, you can count your weather worrying days over, as far as harvesting winter fodder is concerned. And if you are going to crop your land this coming autumn without ploughing it, you will have your land cropped and growing before your less enlightened neighbour has found a suitable day on which to work his land.
With your corn on tripods you can go for a few trips to summer shows without worrying about the fact that your corn is still out. If the field is undersown don't worry about damage to the clover. I have left tripod huts on a ley for a month without damage, and if the building has been properly carried out the main weight will be carried by the tripod wires.
Don't neglect the cows because you are in the midst of harvest. See that they are being moved on to a new grazing paddock as soon as they have taken off the best of the one now in use. If the dry weather has stopped the growth of grass, make a point of cutting some green crop for them. If the lucerne is not at the cutting stage there should be good growth on the autumn silage crop of oats and vetches sown in April. You score now if you have made early silage, for if you have already made enough for your winter requirements you can be lavish with the green crop now at a time when milk yields often drop badly for want of good green food.
Judge the ripeness of your cereal crop as follows:
Before the straw is yellow all the way up, while there is still a good amount of green in it, take one of the grains from the ear and squeeze it. If it has a firm husk and a clotted cream centre it is fit to cut. Another test is to see the oat grain beginning to show from the chaff in the head of the oat. But this stage should be anticipated by a few days if you wish to get the fullest value from the straw.
When squeezed the grain should be the consistency of cream cheese. If left much beyond this the grain will fall out of the ear during stocking and carrying. It does not matter if the straw has a slightly green tinge in patches. These will ripen off as soon as the wheat is in a stook.
August: 3rd Week
Wheat does not suffer from the ill effects of rain like the other cereal crops, and if you haven't enough tripods wheat is the crop for which they are not so essential. Even during showery weather, provided the soil is not too wet to enable the binder to travel, wheat may be cut soon after rain stops, and a gentle breeze blows off the superficial moisture from the straw. Also, unless continuous pouring rains are experienced for days on end, there will be no appreciable damage from leaving the wheat out in the stook. The stiff straw allows the rain to run off quickly, which makes it possible to carry wheat to the stack, if necessary, very soon after a shower.
If you have grown Holdfast wheat, however, because it is one of the best milling varieties, it is also the quickest to sprout in the stook. Care should be taken, therefore, to get this cut and carried as quickly as possible. It is even better to cut it a little on the unripe side if the weather is really good and get it safely under cover as soon as the grain is hard and the straw is dry.
When wheat is dead ripe and the weather is settled, at any rate in the south of England, and often in the north, it is possible to carry it to the stack without stooking or tripodding. But it needs a very good judge of weather and the condition of the wheat to do this.
Oats, on the other hand, should be left out to mature in the tripod for a couple of weeks. The 'old-timers' tell us to leave it in stook for three Sundays to be on the safe side.
(Assuming you have not threshed from tripods in the field.)
The test of the readiness for grain crops to be stacked is to thrust your hand down into the middle of the sheaf into the part where the sheaf is tied. If the straw is brittle, and quite dry inside, it is safe to carry it, assuming at the same time that the heads of grain are perfectly dry. A little surface dampness resulting from a slight shower need not deter you from getting on with the carrying, especially in a busy time.
August: 4th Week
It will not be possible to thresh every field without stacking some of the crop -- even from the tripod, as the field will be needed for cultivation or grazing -- so some stacking is generally necessary.
It is surprising how few experienced farmers are really expert stackers -- capable of building stacks that will withstand all weathers -- even without thatching.
In building a stack, start by building a stook in the middle and encircle the stook with sheaves of corn each covered by the other up to the tying string in the middle of the sheaf, fanwise, heads towards the centre, until the previously marked-out perimeter of the stack is reached. Then place the sheaves round and round the stack, butt outwards, placing each course up to the string of the previous course of sheaves. When the middle is reached each time, fill it in above the level of the rest of the stack and keep the middle always slightly higher, so that all sheaves are sloping very slightly downwards. This will mean that any rain falling on the outside of the stack will tend to run off rather than to run down the straw into the stack, as would happen if the sheaves were tilted inwards.
If thatching seems to be out of pace with the times, and you wish to effect a quick coverage of corn stacks not already under the barn, sheaves of wheat straw may be pinned on the stack to form a rain-proof roof. Thatching spars, or any kind of sharp, pointed stick, may be used for this purpose.
Thatching, which is still the best way of achieving rain-proof stacks, if they are not to be threshed for a long time, cannot be taught on paper. Spend a day on the stack with one of the few remaining 'old-timers' -- if you wish to learn thatching.
Now is a good time to sow down a ley on the disced stubble without ploughing. If at all acid spread ground limestone. Sow the mixture in Chapter 5. Soil Management and Cropping Rotation, The Ley, see Appendix 2 for suppliers. Drag afterwards with light drag harrows or disc again if rough, but very lightly or the discs will put the seed too deep.
Leys may be sown from now until the third week of September.
August: 5th Week
Barley and linseed are usually ready for cutting after the oats and wheat are finished. Barley is left until it is dead ripe and the ears are drooping. Linseed is ready to cut when the seed inside the boll turns pale brown in colour and the straw is nearly changed from green to golden. The cutting of barley is straightforward, but the linseed will need a little special application to the work if it is to run smoothly.
The binder knife should be razor sharp, and a sharpened knife should be kept in readiness for frequent changes if any considerable acreage of linseed is to be cut. The new serrated-edged knife is the ideal for cutting linseed. If any difficulty is experienced in cutting examine the straw of the linseed to see which is the toughest part of its stem and adjust your knife accordingly. The part nearest the root, just above the ground level, is usually the toughest portion, and improved cutting may be obtained by raising the bed of the binder slightly to a more tender part of the stem.
Linseed in stook or tripod suffers very little from the rain. So get on with carrying the other grain crops and leave the linseed until last.
Likewise with beans, which should be cut when the scar on the end of the bean, where it joins the pod, is black in colour. Once in stook, occasional rain does no serious harm because of the 'run-off' from the hard straw or haulm.
If there is any hold-up in carrying the grain crop, have the discs or cultivator ready to go into any field which has been cleared, and work the surface in order to germinate any weed seeds which may have fallen. You may even work between the rows of stooks in fields that have not been cleared if there appears to be a threat of long delays due to bad weather. The sooner weed seeds can be encouraged to germinate the sooner may the field be sown to autumn crops after harvest or be available for autumn grazing.
Next: 15. Which Breed?
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