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Winter is coming (finally)

After an incredibly warm & dry summer and early Autumn, we’re now getting some rain, but it’s still unseasonably warm – a couple of days ago, at almost the end of October it was 16˚C. Whilst this is a bonus in terms of how the grass is still going, its yet another concerning sign of a changing climate.

Now the weather has turned, we’ve started feeding the cattle in our covered yard, next to a strawed up barn they can rest up or shelter in – or as the gate is almost always open, if it’s not too wet or cold they can choose to go out in the fields. This time of year, we wean and sell off most of our 6 – 12 months old calves. This is to ensure we have enough fodder harvested during the Summer from our hay meadows to feed the cows until the Spring and to make sure they have plenty of space, After being TB tested, the calves have gone to a nearby organic farmer who being lower has more grass than us, and he will grow them on and they will end up with Riverford.

Calves enjoying the Autumn sunshine
Calves enjoying the Autumn sunshine

Wet and cold weather is also no good for pigs, and so the ones we reared over the summer are now in the freezer – please get in touch if you’d like any joints, sausages or bacon.

Pigs enjoying windfall apples
One of our pigs enjoying windfall apples

Claire, Adam and their team at Papillion Gin spent a grey day with us planting Devil’s Bit Scabious plugs in the area where back In August I dug a new pond and blocked ditches to make it wetter. The plugs were grown from seed I harvested last year from the neighbouring bit of bog, and have been carefully grown by the volunteers at the nearby Shallowford Trust. All being well, these plugs should big enough next year to provide food for a new generation of Marsh Fritillary caterpillars.

Planting Devil's Bit Scabious seedlings
Planting Devil's Bit Scabious seedlings

The other way we maintain our Rhos pastures is through careful grazing, and to help with this, now flowers have finished seeding, we’ve borrowed a small herd of Dartmoor ponies. Unlike sheep, they will eat the coarse purple moor grass, which would otherwise smother most of the other plants and nibble any saplings trying to grow in the bog.

Dartmoor ponies grazing rhos pasture
Dartmoor ponies grazing rhos pasture

It’s proving to be a good year for fungi, and the grass fields which are tightly grazed by sheep to expose the medieval strip lynchets and other archaeology are full of waxcaps - brightly-coloured fungi with a waxy or slippery-looking cap which are only found on unimproved and undisturbed pastures. Our friend Richard who is an enthusiast on waxcaps, has found 16 different types so far.

Colourful waxcap fungi
An afternoon's haul of waxcaps

Looking ahead, the next few months are fairly quiet and routine. Each day we’ll top up the hay feeders, scrape up the muck around them, and top up the straw in the cattle barn, and have a check around the sheep. If the weather is reasonable, there’s always bits of fencing, gates and walls to repair and hedging and bits of tree planting to be done. On wetter days, I’ll be catching up on paperwork, or ‘hiding’ in the shed making bird boxes and other bits and bobs. Towards the end of the month we’ll be sorting through the ewes to decide which ones we want to breed from and putting them in with the rams.

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