News from the Farmgate by Milly Fyfe

It’s been a very dry Autumn which we have been very thankful for. The cows are still out at grass and we will keep them out so long as the ground remains firm and they still have plenty to eat. Last week the tups (male sheep) went out to start mating with the ewes. Between 7 tups we hope that they will do the deed and ensure that our 275 sheep fall pregnant within the next few weeks. The gestation period of a sheep is 145 days (5 months) and so by our working we will be lambing at  the end of March 2017. 

Each tup has a raddle attached to his front end. It’s basically like a neon crayon that produces a mark when he gets friendly with one of the ewes and helps us to manage how many sheep have been ‘tupped’. 

We have also had the heifers and cows scanned to see if they are in calf. A scanning technician arrived on the farm to undertake an ultrasound on all the animals that we thought would be in calf. My husband Andrew has been busy undertaking artificial insemination on all the cows and due to his handy work, we have had an 80% success rate. We no longer have a stock bull on the farm so it’s down to Andrew to get his timings right and ensure he inseminates the cows when the time is right. The gestation period of a cow is 280 days (9 months) and we anticipate that March 2017 is going to be busy, as that is when the cows are due too! 

Our last lot of Oxford sandy and black weaners went to the butchers a few weeks ago and we now have a freezer brimming full of pork and sausages. We are set for the colder months and I am looking forward to cooking plenty of stews and hearty meals. I am also going to have another go at curing some ham ready for Christmas. 

It is so satisfying to produce you own food on a small or large scale. Each year I become more and more ambitious and am now starting to plan my 2017 crops. I recently planted some garlic bulbs in the garden which traditionally is completed on Halloween. This year I have gone for a variety called Red Duke which I hope has quite a tangy flavour. In the past I have grown quite mild tasting garlic which doesn’t seem to enhance a dish as I would have hoped. I am therefore hoping that with the change in variety I will get the results I am hoping for. 

I have closed the polytunnel door for the last time this year. I have harvested the last of my tomatoes and made some chutney to see us through the winter. We have an abundance of manure which has been used to spread over the raised beds in the polytunnel and fertilise the soil for next year’s growing season. As we have an aga in the kitchen I have also found a good recipe for preserving tomatoes similar to a sun drying technique. Having left the tomatoes in the bottom draw of the aga for 8 hours has dried them out slowly and made the sweetest preserved tomatoes which I have jarred up with olive oil. 

This year I have vowed to cooked Christmas dinner for the family. I think we might have 14 people over for lunch or dinner and I am planning what to cook. I am hoping to keep things simple and use a lot of homegrown produce with pork and vegetables on the menu. I am also a fan of turkey but will probably order a rolled turkey crown rather than a whole bird which will be quicker to cook and easier to calve. 

My job with the Shorthorn society is keeping me very busy. I have travelled up to Scotland a few times over the last few months, including a trip up to Stirling for the bull sales. The event is a mecca for farmers looking for a new bull or to replenish their breeding stock. It was my first visit up to the sales and I was blown away by the sheer size of the livestock market and the number of people that attend to buy or simply to come along for the social. 

The trade was especially good for the Shorthorns. The top price female went for 11,000 guineas and secured the society a new breed average. My members were over the moon. The next sale is in February which is when traditionally farmers come to buy a bull.  

Once again this year has flown by and I can’t believe I am signing off my article for 2016. Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing what 2017 may bring. It’s been an incredibly fun year with lots happening... Andrew and I moved up to the farm, I started a new job and we also had a trip of a lifetime to Thailand!