Already the days are noticeably longer, the dark pushed back each morning and each evening. We wait for the forecast cold weather, great to dampen down pests and diseases, and we'd rather everything just carried on growing.
I saw a little badger running down the road, plump and healthy. This winter has been much easier than the last two, and I'm hopeful the setts are dry and warm and the badgers will fight off infection, to save our animals from harm. Everything starts to feel hopeful, and the signs of spring are getting louder and clearer in every warm spell.
I cultivate my garden, which now provides the Kitchen with salads, herbs and flowers. That was a challenge with short days and frost on the ground. Each warmer day brings more growth, and I'm nursing the plants through the cold snaps. The primroses and pansies are the core flowers now, with some rocket, mustard and broccoli flowers giving bright yellow.
I love Quickes Farm Kitchen, our cafe on the farm. I love it that people enjoy coming again and again. I love how people really seem to enjoy themselves, the food and the sense of eating food in view of the source of it, the grass and the cattle. We can tell the story of what we do here, and the wildlife and landscape we support, and how eating the food supports that wildlife and landscape. Although it's in a safari tent, we've kept it warm through the cold weather, thank you to everyone who has supported it so whole-heartedly.
The crops start their growth. They've come through the winter well, with our care of the soil, the easy winter and the even drilling from our GPS-guided tractor. Fewer deer mean less bare patches. We've still got the deer here, and it's lovely to see them, it's just you can have too much of a good thing. Enough make very good eating in the Farm Kitchen. We can enjoy see them on the woodland edges, and enjoy eating them - a good balance. In our crowded island, on our crowded planet, we need to keep the balance right between people and the natural world.
The grass has had its annual holiday from grazing. Now we see what the winter has left us to graze - some grass held over from the warm autumn, and a very little grown over winter, and just starting to grow now as it warms up, all looking healthy. We watch, and walk, and measure to see the crucial time to send the cows out for the first time, that most joyous of events in the farming year. Then even the most matronly of the cows lets it all swing as they skip, dance, buck and butt to greet the grassland. The soil needs to be firm enough to suffer minimum damage from their grass-fuelled bacchanal. We hosted a farmers' meeting last month on Free Range Dairy, to highlight the benefits of grass fed cows, www.freerangedairy.org. It's great to see this movement gaining pace, with all the health, environmental and cow welfare benefits of grass fed.
The spring calving cows are just starting to calve, that great expression of hope and gorgeousness as the cows deliver their calves, the girls our future dairy herd. Our crossbreed cow, a mix of Kiwi Friesian, Swedish Red, Montbeliard and now a little touch of Jersey, calve easily with vital life-seeking little calves. Any cow takes a little time to recover and look her best (as those of us who've done it can attest), and our ladies are up and going soon. We aren't expecting huge yields of them, although the physiological demands of suddenly starting milking are tiring even if yields are modest. We tend them, send them out to grass, and everyone is soon shiny and happy.
The autumn calved cows are milking well and happy to be out on grass. The stored sunshine in the silage pit has done them well over the winter and nothing beats grass.
The heifers follow their older sisters out as soon as possible. Some have spent the winter outside, behind wildlife-proof fencing. It's harder on the ground, and better for their health and growth - we'll have to work out the best balance, as always in farming.
As soon as the calves are feeding themselves securely, they go outside, and we take the milk to them. It's lovely to see how quickly bemused little calves, unsure of what to do and where their mum is as newborns, become alert (about a day) and then confident, sassy and friendly (about a week).
Then the spring milk comes in, the glory of grass fed, that extra layer of flavour arising from the magic green stuff. Milk volumes rise as more cows calve, giving the dairy team more milk to turn into junket then curd, then to cheddar by blocking and turning the curd, then milling and salting. All the more cheese to mould up, press up, to dress and to turn, all in pursuit of lovely flavour.
Our mature cheddar is tasting particularly gorgeous at present, and it's lovely to think of all that yum finding its way across the globe. People are enjoying it from Australia and New Zealand right the way to California. I love that we get to create and be absorbed by making the most lovely flavours we can that people can enjoy right here on the farm in our Kitchen, around the country and across the ocean. Thank you for enjoying it!