MARY’S DAIRY DIARY - APRIL 2012
Our beautiful farm is stepping into its most beautiful garb - light, lacy, luminescent leaves, newly unfurled on the trees. Spring blossom makes dark branches a graceful backdrop. You can see why the Japanese hold cherry blossom festival, and party as the petals drop on their picnics. The hedgerows explode with Queen Anne’s Lace, cow parsley, white umbrella flowers on long stalks that suddenly make the lanes very narrow. After it rains the heavy flowerheads lean in and brush your car, leaving petals on the side. The birds get busy nest building and egg laying: not the peregrine falcon that the pair of goshawks nesting over the hill devoured. The peregrine was being trained, but escaped from the next village, but got no further than here.
CROPS - The spring barley we put in last month is up, leaves like shot silk against the brown earth. We cultivate the last of the overwintered stubble for maize, good to collect summer sun in plant form to feed to cows into the winter - time shifting the summer bounty. Wheat and barley sown last autumn now starts to look like a crop, plants turning into little clumps. Each plantlet will produce an ear so we want enough to make a good crop, but not so many that each ear is poor and each grain will be starved. Now as the ears start running up the stems, the deer grazing starts eating yield; we look hopefully to see if the stalkers’ work over the winter has dented numbers (no).
GRASS - The grass is the centrepiece to feed the cows. It grows faster every week, which is lucky, because the cows get hungrier, needing more to fill their bellies, restored in size now they’ve got them back to themselves after calving. All the green gold fills the milk tank. We obsess over the grass, measuring the growth in each paddock, putting the cows into them at just the right time for them to take good mouthfuls - the heart of getting enough grass into them to fill their bellies and udders.
It’s a brave sight to see the whole herd grazing, companionably spread out across the paddock, each cow harvesting her little area. For the first couple of hours, all heads are down. Each cow takes several mouthfuls for each step, each mouthful a full one - you can audibly hear the grass torn & chewed. They eat the grass as short as they can, leaving the sward clean to grow back again, giving us leafy spring-like grass right through the season. That’s the heart of grass feeding. At the same time, we check to make sure the cows have recovered from calving. Next month, in May, we want to get them into calf, to make sure they calve next year to harvest this glorious rapidly rising green tide.
The calves and youngstock are all now old hands at grazing, no longer nervous, skittish, jumping at shadows. We bring milk to the youngest calves until they are strong enough to do without. The milk bar, hauled along behind the buggy, behaves like an ice cream van to children, magnetically interesting. They will follow it months after they are weaned, trotting eagerly after it, very useful to move groups of animals between fields.
CHEESE - The rising tide of milk hits the cheese dairy. We are making 3 times more cheese a day than in winter. Suddenly the work multiplies - making the cheese today, all those 27kg, 60lb cheese in press for three days, all that young cheese to be turned every week. It needs as much love and attention as each winter cheese, only suddenly there’s a lot more of them. Don’t ask for any extras, don’t ask for long chats, till the tide of milk recedes, but the team will make sure each one is perfect.
DEVON COUNTY SHOW - Amazing to hear the line up for the food. All the menus and all the prices, even of the most humble burger van, is vetted to be good quality produce from the South West wherever possible. I’d always had great food at good value at the Show; I’d thought it was always a lucky chance, or my good choice. It’s because the doughty catering committees make sure it so - that the food at the Show reflects our beautiful county of Devon, and is a joy to everyone who goes - see you there!
RECIPE - Line caught Pollack with Quickes Traditional Cheddar Cheese Sauce. I love all fish, but white fish, even delicious line caught Pollack from Gibsons Plaice, needs a little added cheesy interest. Make a white sauce in your normal way, add a reasonable amount of Quickes Traditional Mature Cheddar and let it melt in. Add a tiny squeeze of lemon juice and some finely chopped tarragon. Stir in a little cream if your waistline can stand it, season, and pour over the Pollack. Put a few breadcrumbs on top. Bake in medium oven for 20 minutes until the fish it just cooked and the topping is just browning.
QUICKES TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE CHEESES
Newton St Cyres
Devon EX5 5AY
Tel: 01392 851222