This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
Has this been endless Summer? It seems a bit like Groundhog Day. Warm before seven, hot by nine and a still, airless, blistering heat from midday onwards, the air still retaining its heat well into the night.
Up early, the sheep fed before seven, the lack of grass meaning all have had ad lib hay in the fields and the growing lambs had concentrates daily, the hay not providing the protein of good green grass, so they needed something extra.
Feed prices have risen along with everything else; our winter contract with the feed merchant ended at the end of May, so like all sensible farmers, just before then we filled the bulk bin to capacity at £282 a ton. Amazingly the sheep ate it all so we re-ordered in late June to find the price now £390 a ton, and since then it’s gone up to £410. We just hope the lambs are worth a little more than normal, but corners can’t be cut.
We’ve made plenty of top-quality hay to see us through the winter, but it’s frightening to start feeding it in August. Luckily there has been plenty around at sensible money, around £20 a big bale, so we bought additional bales in. Later in the year, if we have a long, wet winter hay prices could exceed £40 a bale.
Personally, I like this weather, although I don’t want to be out in the middle of the day. Writing in a cool office in our Cotswold stone farmhouse is a wonderful sanctuary. But typical farmer, my husband Aubrey hates this weather and moans continually about it. Yes, we both worry about the stock, although we’re lucky enough to have fields with ample shade from groups of trees and often a slight breeze blowing on even the stillest day. But I can’t make the weather change, as I tell him. Yes, the forecast said we’re going to have this heat for another week. I suggested he just went out and sat in his air-conditioned tractor and topped the neighbour’s fields as they requested.
Our fields are full of long thin grasses and thistles, which would normally have been cut and tidied back in June, but due to red diesel prices rising from 57p a litre last August, to 68p in December and over £1.20 a litre this summer, we left everything until the thistles had flowered, then cut once this year, rather than tidied up twice. While Aub has topped a part of each field, basically so he could find the sheep, a large area has been left untouched, giving the sheep a little greenery in the bottom, protected by the longer vegetation.
It’s also meant the bees and butterflies have been overjoyed to banquet on the thistles and our resident hares have had somewhere to shelter and hide. It’s lovely to see them out playing in the early mornings and sometimes late at night when the air has cooled. Now the thistles have not just flowered but run to seed, but still they stand, protecting what little grass is left.
I can’t remember seeing the fields so dry, although they must have been like this in ’76. The farm looks like the Serengeti, I’m just hoping that when the rain eventually comes, and surely it must sometime, we’ll see the grass grow at the speed of time lapsed films where everything flourishes within minutes. I know it won’t but I can still imagine it.
But however lovely the weather has been there was always discontent when we had two or three days of cooler weather, especially in the evenings. Unfortunately, this often happened when you’ve just invited everyone round for an evening barbeque. Why is this? How can the weather be so fickle? The evenings up to now have retained so much heat from the day, and sleeping has been difficult at nights, but not once a party is planned!
These sudden cooler nights play havoc with the livestock, and sadly several have died from pneumonia, in spite of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medication, simply because their bodies cannot cope with the temperature change. Of course, you can always find the really stupid one that lies out in the sun, then falls asleep, like a lot of humans. The down side for sheep is it can kill them not just give them sunstroke.
But we must adjust. This weather is simply a sign of the times and global warming becomes more apparent, although I still find it odd picking ripe blackberries in early August.
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