Over the past few months as the fields have come alive and the butterflies are on the wing, I have been missing home. Back in May my mum went on holiday and the joy of returning home to check her sheep brought a real ache to my heart, I wandered around the fields, where beautiful pollen scents lifted, skylarks were singing and where the hedgerows have been brimming with campions, cow parsley, bluebells and stitchwort.
Horner however at times feels like a desert, devoid of any great character or life with the phosphorus rich soils causing nettles to dominate at our Hedgerows feet, I feel like we missed out on that beautiful early June colour and life that I love.
Hedgerow at my Mums
Hedgerow at Horner
It hasn’t helped with the fact the new grasslays are taking a long time to establish and production levels are extremely low on these fields, although I try to maintain my usual positive mindset, truly believing that they will improve given time, it is hard when you are faced with the reality that as you walk across the new lays the soil cracks under your feet, the grass never having really reached that beautiful vibrant green, browning in the scorching heat, with pineapple weed dominating symbolising the compacted nature of the soils.
Even for me the much anticipated break crop of Phacelia and Clover designed to help condition the soil in a further two fields has grown in a patchy and haphazard manner with no rhyme or reason to the areas of bare earth that have developed.
We have had to contend with a mysterious or maybe multiple visitors who have been opening and closing gates causing me great headaches as I race around early in the morning before heading off to work trying to collect errant sheep or cattle. This causes me such frustration when I find the cattle and sheep mixed up or the sheep happily grazing an area fenced out of production that we are limited to grazing every 5 years within our stewardship. The worst was when mark found a sheep in the wrong field and hung up in a fence with a chunk missing from her leg, I am convinced this must have been a dog, why would a ewe leave her lamb and flock to jump over a fence, through a hedgerow, and then get entangled in a fence the other side unless she was under pressure. Mark maybe in a more positive mind set just blamed her slightly loopy nature and put it down as a freak accident.
We have also had Wessex water digging in a new water main across the farm, which just feels like another step away from us getting our own hands into Horner, my sheep move around according to where the diggers are next travelling to rather than where we maybe wish for them to be, soils are being further compacted due to the fact it appears necessary for every operative to drive their own vehicle to site, and our grass is being turned over or crushed through the fields as the new pipe is laid through the land.
One of our new lays of phacelia and clover - seemingly specialising in yet another crop of pineapple weed!
Wessex Waters path through the new orchard
Our first rent payment is also due on the 1st of August which we knew would be tough to meet, due to the fact we are paying half our annual rent with only 6 months of our new business having been up and running and with no income from the farm having come in it is tight. With a farm business a huge proportion of your income comes in the second half of the year with single farm payment in December and the lamb sales from September time. Our rent value was also increased from our tendered rent due to the fact we are now entered into a countryside stewardship scheme, the National Trust had always been open that this would need to be looked at and it was agreed after completion that the value of 20% of the Stewardship would be added onto the rent value, however again we do not receive this payment until December/January time yet we have to essentially pay 10% of the value in August due to the fact it is split between the 6 months. So with this weighing down upon us we recently cancelled our holiday to France due to the need to ensure we were working. This is very much the reality of being a tenant farmer and we know it will be easier once we have been operating as a business for a full year and our farm income has started coming in rather than just expenditure!
It has also meant Mark has been working every working day he can and I also work two days a week now off the farm for the summer, which means we are very grateful for the light evenings we have been having of late, allowing us to work later into the evening for the farm work.
However amongst this low ebb of feeling are little fractures of light breaking through, our empty goats have been grazing one of the new lays and interestingly without any hard feed are putting flesh on and growing well, what the reason is I am yet to pinpoint, but it is so great to see them playfully climbing the ancient oak skeleton with a beautiful shine on their coats knowing this has been achieved on grass and browse alone.
Our Boer nannies playing on the ancient oak
I am also incredibly excited at the prospect of the new cattle housing and fodder shed that is hopefully now all agreed, we are just getting the designs drawn up and then we can put in the planning, so hopefully our new shed will be standing by the winter, which is most definitely a joy of being a tenant farmer.
Ferg is also growing constantly with the space that Horner offers, excelling at escape methods having been shown recently by his cousin how to crawl under gates. There are days when he is dragged around on my back, in the truck and around the house and farm trying to keep on top of the jobs causing the dreaded parental guilt that I am not giving him my time and I certainly do not feel that I am nurturing him, however the joy he approaches most outside tasks with certainly help keep my spirits up but alongside this is his ever gaining independence to do his own thing, which seems to now cause daily struggles particularly when we are indoors, it recently took me 20 minutes to vacuum a bed and breakfast room due to his constant desire to pull the cord causing the vacuum to turn on and off as I went round the room, and the battle of wills most definitely was won by him, as I eventually gave up and lay on the floor, to which he gleefully jumped up and down on my stomach.
We are looking forward to August when hopefully the long awaited rain will come, our first rent will have been paid and we can start to feel rejuvenated and look forward to the changes that are to come and hopefully Floss and I can work again during day time hours without feeling like we need a siesta between 1 and 4pm!
Floss hiding in the stream!
Calling to the Wild!