Helens Notes From The Farm - Week 14

New Balls Please…

Wimbledon week, but not much time to watch the tennis. Still short staffed… but with some interviews taking place, so fingers crossed… we are bringing in straw, supervising the rogueing gang (they pull out all the docks and wild oats that are growing in our arable crops), clearing pig fields to get turnips planted.

And preparing for Tb (tuberculosis) testing, which will disrupt a full week. On Monday and Tuesday all the cattle have to be rounded up for the inoculation, and then on Thursday and Friday they all have to be brought in again to see whether they have reacted. It’s a huge amount of work, and I’m preparing for disappointment. 

Storm at Helen's text

As with our poppies, we always attempt to turn our challenges into opportunities. In this case, it’s our ever-multiplying badger population. Elliott Neap, our semi-resident wildlife photographer, has some hides next to badger setts, so that people can come to Eastbrook and photograph these rather lovely, if disease-prone, creatures. These hides are at the foot of the downs, next to the strips we have planted to keep the wild birds fed over the winter. 

Badger photo opportunity

Topping thistles 

July is also the month to start topping thistles. You know the saying… ‘Cut them in May, they’ll be back the same day; cut them in June, they’ll be back soon; cut them in July, they’ll surely die’… so we have to wait until they are about to flower before we pounce. Given how much farmers despise thistles, that means being prepared to look a bit messy for quite a while, but it’s worth it. Scythe them now, and they will be gone. I must be getting soft in my old age though, as some of the thistles in the Valley are just so gorgeous, and so well loved by bees, that it seems a shame to cut them. I ought to know what sub species these are, but I don’t; do tell me if you recognise them.


Last week was also the inspection time. It’s two days for us, as there’s so much to cover. I said hello, but otherwise kept out of the way, as it seems a bit compromising to get involved. Seemed to go ok though. The inspection coincided with sheep shearing; the ewes were pleased to get their coats off after all this hot weather. The lambs have grown well, and the first of them went for slaughter last week, so we will have lamb on the menu at the pub again shortly (pic of newly shorn sheep and lambs)

Talking of the pub, it was Fairford airshow last week, so we were packed out. All rooms taken, all requiring early breakfasts, and several senior delegations of military bods requesting quiet dining areas for evening conflabs. Now that we are open seven days a week, staffing is an endless juggling act; you think that you have the team you’ve dreamt of, then it’s all disputed again due to one trauma or another. More on this another day!

This summer’s batch of new boars arrived a few weeks ago, and have spent  time in quarantine. We buy all our Large White boars from the same breeder, but still need to make sure that they are fully fit before introducing them to our precious Saddlebacks. And they are so skitty when they arrive. Sue, our wonderful farm secretary, takes it upon herself to teach them that life around here isn’t so bad. Twice a day she is to be found with quartered apples, getting them lined up before they get their treat. By now, they are over-excited whenever they see humans, longing for cuddles, or possibly just snacks. Their excitement will be rewarded in a few days’ time, when the six boars will be split into pairs, and introduced to their first batch of gilts. Once they have mastered the art, then they will be out in the fields to experience free range life, another first. Getting them onto the farm in the summer gives them the chance to acclimatise before the winter, ready to cope with mud and rain. At this time of year, though, it’s all about keeping them cool. Summer infertility is a perennial challenge in outdoor herds, so plenty of shades and wallows for the boars and their sows. We wouldn’t want the new balls getting over-heated.

New boards at Helen's farm