Thursday, 19 October 2017

Ramble round organic farm

LAST Sunday was LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) Open Farm Day and the Nettlebed Estate offered an inspiring walk for Henley and Goring Ramblers, starting in their woodland, where the beech trees are now in full leaf, casting a dense, cool shade.

We moved on to a field of immature barley which will soon be cut and mixed with grass for aromatic silage, delicious to cows. It is stored in a large clamp, or those plastic-covered rolls we see in the fields, and fed to the Holstein Cross milking herd when they are in the barn in winter — and occasionally in summer if it is very hot.

Next came organic oats, much in demand for healthy breakfasts, and here we thought the breezy sunshine had turned to rain until we discovered that each stalk of oats, trimmed back to widen our path, held a drop of water from the night’s rain, which was propelled upwards as we bent the stems, landing on our hands and faces.

This organic farm uses careful crop rotation to maintain healthy grassland and feed for the cows, which calve at two years old in the autumn, to gain a higher milk price in the winter period.

The male calves are sold on to neighbouring beef farms but no stock is bought in to avoid the introduction of disease, so it’s a “closed herd”. If antibiotics are used, the milk cannot be sold for three weeks and has to be dumped for the farm to pass the annual organic inspection.

Emerging on to a sunny hillside, we enjoyed the wildflowers, and hence butterflies, and grass untreated by pesticides or fertilizer. On the far hillside five fallow deer grazed undisturbed.

We were introduced to the new organic cheeses, Bix, a pungent, tangy soft cheese, and St Bartholomew, a hard cheese, available at the Field Kitchen in the village and at Machins in Henley.

These are produced in the creamery behind Nettlebed church, which is named after St Bartholomew, who is the patron saint of cheesemakers in Florence.

If you get a chance to go on a Leaf open day, do go and take in the advice to go gently near lactating cows — just as you would with humans!

On my drive home I encountered three fallow deer pausing on the wide verge by Greys, a doe, a first year young, and a tiny newborn spotted fawn, a first for me.

As the two adults crossed the road, the fawn tried to trot after them and its shiny little hooves slipped on the Tarmac, delicate legs skidding on the hard surface, but it struggled to its feet and followed into the bushes, so I was pleased that I was driving slowly.

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