Adam Henson: Cold comfort farm
PUBLISHED: 13:54 03 January 2014 | UPDATED: 13:54 03 January 2014
If you live and work in a wide open landscape 1,000 feet above sea level, it's no surprise that you suffer the worst of the winter weather, writes Adam Henson.
‘January brings the snow; makes our feet and fingers glow’. It was in 1834 when the author Sara Coleridge wrote those words at the start of her famous children’s poem about the months of the year. One hundred and eighty years later very little has changed. It’s certainly true if you live and work in a wide open landscape 1,000 feet above sea level. The Cotswolds are a fantastic place and I can’t imagine home being anywhere else but it’s not really a surprise that our farm near Guiting Power suffers the worst of the winter weather. On the top of these beautiful hills you can pretty much guarantee snow during January, even if the nearby Severn Vale and the Thames Valley escape the white stuff. It’ll linger for much longer too and it’s not unusual for pockets of compacted snow to still be found in ditches at Easter.
The bitter, sub-zero conditions mean a lot of time is taken up in the farm buildings battling with frozen pipes. Many of our sheds have been around for a long time so when things begin to ice up our number one priority is making sure the animals are happy and healthy. I’m keeping an eye on them and ensuring that they’re well fed, bedded down and supplied with plenty of water.
While all the snow and ice is around it’s hard to imagine that we’re just a month away from what many consider the first sign of spring approaching. Lambing starts in mid-February so everyone is giving the pregnant ewes extra care and attention. That means more food to help both them and, importantly, their unborn lambs. They grow incredibly quickly in the last six to eight weeks of gestation so right now they’re drawing on their mother’s reserves so they need extra food in the form of special high protein pellets.
But while the livestock keep us busy in January the crops are dormant, so you won’t see us working very much in the fields during the first few weeks of the New Year. The arable team get a bit of a break but it isn’t all quiet. A lot of our grain is sold this month, which means there can be a fair amount of activity with lorries being loaded and moving around the farm. Emptying the sheds also means that we’re creating space for the later-born lambs. Of course the buildings are always thoroughly steam-cleaned and disinfected before being used for grain again but it’s a good example of making the best use of the facilities you’ve got. What’s more it saves money and it’s environmentally-friendly.
For us, just like many businesses across the Cotswolds, it’s the start of a new accounting year. So now is a good time to take stock and assess how well the business did in the previous 12 months. The shorter, darker days mean filming for Countryfile isn’t so easy so I’ve got a little bit more time to work out what we’ve done well and improvements we can make in the year ahead.
On a grey, wintry day it’s heartening to think that in just a few, short weeks we’ll be welcoming our first visitors of 2014 when the Cotswold Farm Park reopens on February 15. For many years we closed at the end of October and moved the animals to their winter quarters until we opened to the public again in the spring. Now there’s such interest in rare breeds that we’re open until Christmas. It’s lovely to have more people on the farm for longer every year although it means there’s much less time to carry out the all-important winter maintenance, fencing, hedging and decorating while things are quiet. Instead of months we’ve got weeks. But never fear, it’s all hands to the pump and everything will be in tip top form for February, whatever the weather throws at us.
This article is from the Juanary 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.
For more from Adam Henson, follow him on Twitter: @AdamHenson
Cotswold Farm Park,
Guiting Power, near Cheltenham,
GL54 5UG, Tel: 01451 850307