Willow, reed & alder

What was in store for us this week?

What was in store for us this week?

More willow sets

More willow sets

Piles of 'em

Piles of ’em

The last of the willow sets were stuck into the wet

Mowing the trash

Mowing the trash

soil at Cobbs Wood Farm and we had to mow the dead vegetation even in the exceedingly wet areas. (We are hoping that this wet area will be perfect for the willow sets to grow in.) Next job for the day was to plough the buttercup meadow next to the Woodyard.

Ploughing last years wheat stubble

Ploughing last year’s wheat stubble

We had left a few weedy stooks in the field for the wildlife to munch on over the winter but now they were in the way and the best way to get rid of the very coarse vegetation was to burn it.

Burning the old stooks

Burning the old stooks

Ditto

Ditto

Now we could plough the field. It won’t have any arable crops sown into it this spring, instead we’ll plough it a few times  hoping to exhaust the weed seed bank (in days gone by this was called an ‘earth’). The idea is to plough once, let the weed seeds germinate and grow (and let the deep-rooted plants like dock regrow), then plough again; let it do the same, then plough again. Sometimes in between you can harrow too. In this way the ground will be ready for an autumn sowing and be relatively weed free.

Rolling the ruts

Rolling the ruts

Meanwhile, Tom did some rolling up at the Folly to try to get rid of the damage done over the winter by vehicles going up Folly Field during the repair work. Not so easy as the ground had dried up far too quickly and was no longer malleable. Might have to bring up the subsoiler or wait until the ground gets a bit wetter again.

Dead pike, an otters dinner perhaps?

Dead pike, an otters dinner perhaps?

The main job of the week, however, was to cut the reed bed behind the lake and reduce the encroaching woodland and willow carr.

The willow catkins are out

The willow catkins are out

Found a dead pike when we first went into the reed bed- it had been eaten and my best guess was that an otter had caught it for dinner. We occasionally we get otters in the Lakes and some people have been lucky enough to see them. I, on the other hand, have only ever found their footprints in the silt. The pussy willow was out too and will be an important pollen and nectar source for the early spring insects.

Mowing the reed

Mowing the reed

One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow… well actually four men and one women went to mow a reed bed. This reed bed had not been cut for three or four years and was looking a bit rank; we were only going to mow half of it so that the wildlife was not left devoid of reeds and sedge.

Sarah's first time mowing

Sarah’s first time mowing

Tom's first time mowing

Tom’s first time mowing

Tom and Sarah had never mowed before but, with a little tuition, soon had the reeds falling before them. Neil, on the other hand, is an old hand and had soon made headway into the reed bed.

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Neil mowing

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Sarah getting the hang of it

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Tom resorted to stoking the fire

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Not often do you find a person lifting the blade so high off the ground to such effect

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Burning the residue

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Sarah mowing the reed

With limited time to get the clearing work done before we felled the encroaching trees I decided that we should mow fire breaks and then burn the reed, but leaving a thin wall of sedge and reed alongside the lake edge.

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Tom taking it easy 1

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Tom taking it easy 2

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The fire breaks

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Peter stoking the fire

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Red hot

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W for Wimpole

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Look hard and you’ll find the workers

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Missy looking perplexed

So ended the day but not before we made a start on cutting the willow and alder out.

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Island in a sea of reed

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My Norfolk Horn sheep

Day off for me on Thursday- time to take the seven Norfolk Horn hoggetts to Bletsoes livestock market in Thrapston where I sold a lot of my sheep last year (I sold cull ewes and lambs last year). Hoggetts are sheep that are over one year old but are less than three years old… roughly. (Mind you anything over a year old these days are called cull ewes or rams!!!) In fact, five of the sheep were wethers- male castrated sheep and two were young rams that had evaded the ‘rubber band’.

Weigh, measured and found wanting

Weighed, measured and found wanting

Pens full of hogget

Pens full of hogget

Once the sheep are dropped off they get weighed- that is the lambs get weighed but the group generally termed ‘cull ewes and rams’ are not (sold as seen).

Jacobs sheep

Jacob’s sheep

Jacob brought along his South African lambs which were in great condition after grazing off the clover leys on the Wimpole Estate- these should fetch a tidy sum. Most of the other lambs were Texels, Mules, Suffolks and mixtures thereof.

Texel

Texel

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Looks like a crossbreed to me

So, the auction started at 10.30am and a brisk start ensued. Alarmingly the prices were somewhat low … or were the first batch of Eastcare sheep not up to standard? No, the next batch of excellent quality lambs only fetched £86 per head. Damn! The prices had fallen since last week and they had fallen quite significantly, I wonder why? Last week quality lambs were selling for well over a £100 each and prices for cull ewes were even better… oh I do hope the market hasn’t dropped for these too!

Suffolk

Suffolk

After the lambs it was time for the cull ewes and rams plus my hoggetts. 40 quid was the starting price (blimey, a year’s work for £280, oh my god why do I do it?!!!!!!!!!!). Hello, someone else was bidding on them… slowly the price crept up. “How old are they?” someone shouted out. “Two-year old” was my reply which sparked a bit more interest… the hammer went down at £60 per head (£420 less commission and the agricultural levy). A£398  cheque would be on its way within the week. (Bletsoes don’t take a huge commission unlike some). Sounds like a lot of money but, when you think of all those hours looking after the sheep- the wormers (over £100 per year), the fly strike chemicals (another £100), some feed and the mileage… I am probably well out of pocket. Livestock farming is an incredibly rewarding experience but, when the figures don’t add up, you begin to wonder why you do it.

The auction

The auction

It gives you a sinking feeling to think that, after a dozen or so years breeding a nice flock of sheep, you have to resign yourself to sending them all off to market and forgetting the whole sorry business. I don’t make my living from farming, but my heart goes out to all those small farmers who struggle to survive, and I do wonder what will happen to the rural countryside if we as a country don’t support the small producer. It’ll be just one great big field of wheat- no trees, no hedges, no grassland, no birds singing, no butterflies, no animals… nothing. As it turned out the market had been flooded by imported New Zealand lamb- it’s autumn over there so their lambs have been sent to market and then slaughtered and shipped over here where the supermarkets are selling it for £4/kg while British lamb is selling for roughly £7.50/kg in the supermarkets so… most people are probably buying New Zealand lamb. How on earth can it be so cheap? And  it has to come halfway around the world to boot!

John cleaning the scythe blades

John cleaning the scythe blades

Neumatic sander

Pneumatic sander

Friday was a better day and was nice and sunny. John came in but asked to be excused from heavy manual work. What job could he do to best advantage? Ah, we needed to clean the scythe blades up- they had acquired a sheen of rust and would probably need peening. Normally we just use a bit of emery paper to get the rust off… but John had brought in his pneumatic thingy (got to get one of these) which made the job a lot easier.

Layering

Layering

Now that the reed bed had been cut it was time to start felling the trees that had encroached onto the reeds. Over the years some of the bigger limbs from the outside trees slowly subsided into the wet ground. These then re-rooted and grew even further into the reed bed thereby diminishing it in size. These were earmarked to be felled and dragged out of the reed bed… but how? It would take ages to do by hand.

Log jam

Log jam

A secret weapon was required in the form of a winch- we put our Igland 6 ton winch onto the Ford 5000 and drove it to the reed bed. Tricky thing was, the only place we could pull the timber and brash to was an island within the reed bed. Had to navigate the marshy bits in the woods but managed to get the tractor and winch to the island. Once set up we started to winch the felled willow, alder and ash back to the island.

Dragging the winch line out

Dragging the winch line out

Sarah dragging the winch line out

Sarah dragging the winch line out

The first lot of felled trees were easy to get at as they were close to the island. After that we had to run the cable out across the reed bed to the willow that had been felled- messy job this one as it involved trudging through sloppy, silty mud.

Fixing the winch line to more trees

Fixing the winch line to more trees

Great thing about the winch was that it also ripped quite a lot of the willow roots out of the reed bed. Managed to clear loads of willow but we did leave the inner core as willow carr is also quite a rare habitat locally.

Muntjac have been here

Muntjac have been here

As we pulled the willow out I found some evidence of Muntjac- the males will use their two sharp teeth to rip the bark off young trees to mark their territory (you can see what they do in the photo on the right). Got a third of the job done so we’ll finish it next week.

Harrowing the oat fields

Harrowing the oat fields

Meanwhile, on the farm, everyone is furiously cultivating the ground in preparation for sowing the oats and barley.

About Sadeik

You may ask why "Sadeik" well it means friend in arabic. Worked in Jordan a lot doing tree surgery you see. I have worked in forestry since I left school with a two years in Telecom. Went back to forestry and tree surgery as it may not have paid as much but was far more interesting and dangerous. Spent a lot of years mountaineering, caving and canoeing too. At 29 I went to Bangor University to study Forestry and soil science then did an MSc in Water engineering all very interesting. By a quirk of fate in 1995 ended up helping sort out the woodland and park at Wimpole, funny thing was then I only intended to stay six months or so, but 18 years later I'm still here learning all the time. That's the best bit, if I wasn't able to learn something new every year I would not have stayed and as you get older you realise that the grass is not so green in the next field after all. In fact my patch is getting greener while much of the rest is getting browner.
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6 Responses to Willow, reed & alder

  1. graemeu says:

    It’s the drought Simon. A lot of farms have had to destock including selling off their lambs early, on the positive side (for you), as a result NZ lamb will be in short supply next season. Your price by the way, is on a par with what I got last time we sold hoggett’s $123. The cost is I think about economies of scale, a 400 acre sheep farm would be considered small around here, 1000 acres is nearer the mark and even the big stations (10,000 acres plus) are now so well fenced and mechanised that they don’t need much in the way of extra staff except for shearing. Also we’re at 10 degrees lower latitude so we don’t need to house livestock in winter or provide as much supplementary feed. As for shipping around the world, as I understand it, it is more efficient to send produce from a port here to a port in Europe than it is to transport it overland from one end of the country(NZ or UK) to the other. I’m all for the idea of Food Miles but Food Watts might be a better concept, buy local produce from a local family run business if you can afford to.
    What do you know about buttercup poisoning? I’m off now to put “Son of Clover” down the offal pit, one less hoggett for the UK market.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sadeik says:

      Blimey that’s nearly £70 a lamb and at it’s best here it reached £100 a few weeks ago, now about 80-90, £4/kg (NZ) against £7.50/kg (UK) in the supermarket! You’re right about food miles and watts, sometimes bigger is better but it’s good to retain a local concept. Best of both worlds. All I know about buttercups and grazing is the problem with tainted milk, makes it less palatable apparently. What happened to poor old ‘Son of clover’? Guess what we have to pay to dispose of our sheep and it’s not cheap either, no offal pit for us.

      Like

      • graemeu says:

        ‘£4/kg (NZ)’
        You’re kidding! $12 to $18/kg here. The exchange rate has been hovering around NZ$2 per GBP for some time now.
        buttercup – I might do a post, there’s been a bit on of late. Whaaat, no pit! is that do to with mad-cow? We have rules about covering, distance off boundary, depth to watertable and not bringing in animals from off the property. There are also studies that these are based on showing that neither contaminants nor nutrients move that far from the pit if the rules are followed.

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      • Sadeik says:

        Not kidding that’s right 8 dollars a kilo that’s why I can’t work out how it’s done but it is frozen leg maybe old stock even so that’s cheap and we can’t compete with that. Bloody EU no common sense and may be some element of greed by certain people who don’t care for the environment

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