Tag Archives: silaging

Four weeks late

I escaped and went for a walk on Saturday. I just made my way along the various back paths to a village about eight miles away. It was a glorious day, the sun shone, and everything looked green and well cared for. The village has a coffee morning come jumble sale so I dropped in. After eight miles I felt I deserved a coffee. Indeed whilst I was there, I picked up a boxed set of eight Tom Sharpe novels for £3, which has to be good. For those who don’t know his work he is exceptionally funny, and can be remarkably cutting about the fads and fashions of the time he wrote. He was also remarkably rude. For those who are too young to remember the Apartheid regime in South Africa, his two books set there, Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure, are perhaps required reading.

But as I was walking, I noticed a couple of times that there was white ‘thistle down’ blowing past me. Which was remarkable because there were no thistles. It was next morning I worked out what had been going on. It was willow. I’ve never seen so much of it. Whether this has been the perfect season for it or what, but I saw one ploughed field where parts of it looked as if they’ve been ‘airbrushed’ with willow down.

By any usual way of measuring things, this spring has been four weeks late. Normally we’d silage in the first week of May, weather permitting. Even if the weather had permitted, at the start of May there was so little grass that we’d have had to go round with a dustpan and brush rather than the usual chopper and trailer. As it was we silaged at the end of last week and all around us everybody else is now working furiously to get the grass in.

Whilst spring does drift about, this year we’re back to what would be usual back in the 1960s and 70s. Back then we tended to find ourselves silaging during Whit week. Whitsuntide is one of those moveable feasts (Easter plus 49 days) but it tends to be the end of May, start of June.

The issue with a late spring is feeding cattle. Firstly have you got enough silage left to carry them through the extra month? The problem is that even if there is grass out there, it’s not for them, yet. It’s being grown for silage to get everybody through next winter. Indeed we are already gearing up for next winter before this winter has finished.

It’s one of those instances  where if you get it wrong, the problem comes back to bite you next winter, and can even ricochet into future winters. If you haven’t the silage to get through this winter and turn out early, you eat off some of the grass which should be silage for next winter, which means that next winter, you run out even earlier.

Some years you can ‘catch up’ in that you can make more silage in the next cut. But again that costs money. Either you try putting on more fertiliser to encourage it along (which is cost) or you let the grass grow for longer. This means you get more bulk, but the quality isn’t as good meaning you’ll have to supplement it with more purchased feeds. Again this is extra cost.

This spring we have one bunch of heifers who’re on a field that would normally carry them, but we’ve been feeding them silage as well to make sure they’ve got enough. In another field a small batch of young stirks have been grazing behind an electric fence. Between ourselves I’ve been proud of them. They’ve behaved beautifully. They’ve not had tantrums and run into it, breaking it down or anything silly like that. They’ve just grazed as sensibly as a bunch of elderly dairy cows.

Twice a day I’d go in with a bit of feed just to make sure they were getting enough of everything. Whilst they ate that, Sal and I would quietly move the posts of the electric fence another foot forward. Before I finished the heifers would have joined me, tucking into the fresh grass.

We silaged the majority of the field they hadn’t grazed. We continued to strip graze up to where the mower had been, and then I quietly took the fence down. I rather expected them to kick their heels up and run a bit, but no, they just walked sedately to the hedge and ate the grass the mower hadn’t been able to get. Indeed yesterday when I went in to see how they were, rather than running to me to be the first to get to the feed, they just lay there, soaking up the sun. Finally as Sal arrived to see what was going on they slowly stood up, stretched and quietly ambled across to see me. After the wet misery of earlier this month, they seem to be really appreciating the sun.


There again, there are some out there who know more about grass than I do.
Available in paperback or ebook from Amazon


And to buy it from anybody else


As a reviewer commented, “Jim Webster’s recollections, reflections and comments, about life as a Farmer, are always worth reading, not only for information, but also for entertainment and shrewd comments about UK government agencies (and politicians).
One of the many observations that demonstrate his wryness, is as follows:
There was a comment in the paper the other day. Here in the UK, clowns are starting to complain that politicians are being called clowns. The clowns point out that being a clown is damned hard work, demands considerable fitness, great timing and the ability to work closely with others as part of a well drilled team!”

The Rural Payments Agency has given us Schrodinger’s saltmarsh.

The photo was taken a couple of days ago. At this time of the year we really shouldn’t be seeing snow on the fell tops. Not only that but the grass in the foreground ought to be a lot taller and ready to cut. After all, even round here, it’s common enough to get first cut about the 10th May.
There again, we’ve had slow springs before. As a child I once I sledged down this hill in my youth. That year we had snow in May.
When I tell people I farm in Cumbria, people immediately think of hill farms, and it’s something of a surprise for them to realise our highest point is the 30m contour. The photo is a view taken from this immense height.
But whilst I realise that we aren’t the highest farm in Cumbria. We haven’t got a lot of salt marsh. In fact we have none.
There are good reasons for this. In the UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitat Descriptions, saltmarsh is described as followes.

Coastal saltmarshes in the UK (also known as ‘merse’ in Scotland) comprise the upper, vegetated portions of intertidal mudflats, lying approximately between mean high water neap tides and mean high water spring tides. For the purposes of this action plan, however, the lower limit of saltmarsh is defined as the lower limit of pioneer saltmarsh vegetation (but excluding seagrass Zostera beds) and the upper limit as one metre above the level of highest astronomical tides to take in transitional zones.
Saltmarshes are usually restricted to comparatively sheltered locations in five main physiographic situations: in estuaries, in saline lagoons, behind barrier islands, at the heads of sea lochs, and on beach plains. The development of saltmarsh vegetation is dependent on the presence of intertidal mudflats.”

All good stuff. Absolutely splendid. You hum the tune and I’ll sing along with it. I have no problems at all.
The problem is that according to the Rural Payments Agency, we have some saltmarsh. You cannot see it in the photo because it’s behind the cameraman (ruggedly handsome individual that he is) and therefore not visible. But our saltmarsh is somewhat problematic.

Firstly it’s above the 20m contour. Now if in this area, the 20m contour is now mean high water, there are a lot of places in really deep trouble. Secondly, looking at the OS map, there is at least a full kilometre between our RPA saltmarsh and the sea in every direction. So if it is genuine coastal saltmarsh, I can see house prices in Barrow-in-Furness and the surrounding area dropping very rapidly because they’re all lower and nearer to the sea than our ‘saltmarsh.’

Alternatively it might be ‘Inland salt meadows’ which is how you get saltmarsh that isn’t on the coast. This country has one, it’s the Pasturefields Saltmarsh at Hixon in Staffordshire. This is a remnant of the former saltmarshes of the Trent Valley. These were once exploited for salt production. The Pasturefields saltmarsh still has two old brine wells, fed by naturally saline water seeping up from deep underground. Perhaps I’m sitting on an unrecognised goldmine here? Or at least salt mine? Has the RPA spotted a diversification opportunity for me here?

Alas I’ve checked the water. It is disappointingly fresh with no hint of salt.

So what has happened? Could (gasp) the RPA be in error? Now every year the RPA send us, along with all other farmers, a form to fill in about the land use on every field and land parcel. It’s pre-populated so if you are doing the same this year as you did last, you don’t need to change things. But every year since at least 2017 they have turned a wet area with a pond and some trees into a saltmarsh. Every year my lady wife changes it back to pond, and every year they send it back pre-populated as saltmarsh. She has tried phoning them and explaining. They have been very grateful, taken notes and promised it will never happen again. And every year it becomes saltmarsh.

At one point she got so hacked off with them she asked me to talk to them. I asked the RPA if they have software that is designed to spontaneously generate errors, or do they employ somebody whose job is merely to go round changing things at random?
And of course it made no difference whatsoever.

I have been tempted to fatten a few lambs on our ‘saltmarsh’ because ‘saltmarsh lamb’ is a premium product.

The problem is I can well imagine one branch of government prosecuting me for fraud at the same time that another branch of government keeps turning our pond into a saltmarsh.
Perhaps we ought to sell ‘Schrodinger’s saltmarsh lamb’ on the not unreasonable grounds that nobody seems to be able to tell whether it’s saltmarsh or not.

But look on the bright side, our other pond (which has no inlet or outlet) is no longer a ‘river’. It’s taken us about four years but finally the RPA seem to have had somebody check the dictionary in the office for the definition of river, and have noticed our small pond doesn’t really fit the bill.



There again, what do I know? I’ve always been given to wild flights of fancy. You really need to speak to somebody who’s got their act together. From Amazon at :-

And from everybody else at :-


Yet more observations on rural life. We have cattle, environmentalists, a plethora of new thinking as Defra plunges into the new world but more importantly we still have our Loyal Border Collie, Sal. She is joined in a starring role by Billy, the newly arrived farm cat. As well as this we have diversification opportunities for those wishing to serve niche markets, living in the past, and the secret of perfect hair.

As a reviewer commented, “Another gentle and entertaining read about the pros and cons of Farming, ably assisted by Sal the collie dog and Billy the feral farm cat.
As always, I’m amazed Farmers make enough money to keep their farms and families going, given the ‘guidance’ given by the ‘experts’ in government and the Civil Service…”