The falling leaves in the Valley aren’t a signal that things are slowing down – quite the opposite! Looking after our over 400 British Friesian cows, 800 sheep and 2,000 acres of farm and woodland means that now is the time to prepare for the winter months ahead.
As summer turns to autumn and the evenings begin to close in, the jobs on the farm need to be squeezed into a shorter day. Whilst organic farming is sometimes a battle against the weather, it can also be a race against time and that’s certainly what it feels like in the autumn!
In October, it’s harvest time. Rain and temperatures are falling, and we’re making feed, such as silage, for the cows. Silage is grass that is ‘pickled’ – cut, preserved and fermented and compressed until it’s needed. We’ve taken the fourth and final cut for silage this year. This meant mowing 400 acres of grass and clover leys. We were working from 8 in the morning until past midnight to get the crop in before the rain – you have to make the most of the sunny days on the farm!
Being organic, we don’t use chemical fertilisers or pesticides anywhere on the farm, so instead we compost the manure the cows produce (we have a steady supply of this!) and spread that onto the crops to boost the fertility of the soil. This also stops the weed seeds before they get going. After all that work to clear the grass, we applied this composted manure and then planted a crop of oats, ready for harvesting next summer.
While Autumn is one of the prettiest and most colourful seasons in the Valley, it’s also the time when the growth of the grass is slowing down, now the days are getting shorter, colder and wetter. This means that the cows are now coming in at night to make sure they get enough to eat but still go out in the daytime to graze and exercise. We spend a lot of time working out the perfect diet for each of them and most of this food is grown right here on the farm. It’s the perfect closed loop system, just as nature intended.
While everyone knows Yeo Valley Organic for their cows, our other animals and a variety of crops provide fertilisers, food, pest control and other benefits which ensure the farm, its produce and the environment are as healthy as possible. This seasons lamb are weaned and are now grazing on newly sown grass clover leys in our fields. Our new leys for the lambs have clover, chicory and plantain included in the seed mixture to aid digestion and act as a natural gut worm deterrent. It’s this mixed farming working alongside nature which makes us as self-sufficient and resilient as possible. Every animal or crop plays a vital role in looking after the farm and each other. It just shows how nature always has the answer and how we strive to put nature first in all that we do.