Young of all kinds lay down fat for the winter. Fledgling house martens try their wings and learn to catch flies, preparing for the long journey to Africa. Maize fattens in the ear. Roots fill with goodness, against the winter ahead, leaves look tired from the summer's work.
Tom saw a squirrel on top of a shed tentatively approach a buzzard. The buzzard turned to peck the squirrel, who retreated. Then the squirrel turned and charged the buzzard, who flew away in surprise. End of summer glorious richness, start of autumn decline. Rich fruit hangs in the orchards and hedgerows.
Grey squirrels are such a pest, arising out of their bold ingenuity. They are taking the little nets I protect my cob nuts with. Last year they didn't puzzle them out, and I had the best harvest ever. At the end of the season we saw one seize a net and carry it away like a little shopping basket. This year they have puzzled the nets out and are cutting them off the trees and getting to the nuts inside.
I'm so pleased that our crop yields have returned to where they should be. We've got the soil, the timings and the deer pressure right. We are preparing the ground for next year's crops, scuffling the ground to get a false seedbed, so that weeds germinate before we sow our seed for next year. As with any farming, the difference between a good farmer and a bad farmer is two weeks, and we have everything in place to use the weather windows to get the timings right.
The maize ripens, we will harvest it at the end of the month. We find it a useful addition to grazed grass when that gets less sweet and nutritious in the shoulders of the season. It also provides home grown energy to supplement grass silage to keep up milk protein to make good cheese in those few weeks to cows aren't grazing. It's such a spectacular plant, growing eight to ten feet high in five months. I love sitting in the cab of the forage harvester, watching the knives cut and chew through eight rows at a fast trot. It turns the elegant plants into a sweet smelling, juicy mix of seed and leaf and stem, and throws it in a continuous line into trailers. Back at the silage pit, the trailers tip the cut silage in ten tonne gouts. The rough terrain loader takes freak forkfuls and spreads it over the clamp in thin layers and rolls over it, backwards and forwards. The idea is to exclude all the air so the silage pickles in a lactic acid fermentation (same as cheese making).
SILAGE vs HAY
Lots of cheesemakers round the world don't like silage, saying it causes butyric fermentation and gassing in the cheese, and insist on animals being fed hay. I've never understood this, as we feed silage. (Imagine relying on making hay, which takes predicting in advance a good week without rain, in this country). We don't have problems with gassing of our cheese. I learned when I went to a conference in America in the summer that's why you direct salt cheddar, cut the curd up and add the salt on the day of make rather than dunking the unsalted cheese in a brine bath for 3 days. The salt, getting to every bit of curd so quickly stops any untoward fermentation. I can now answer know-it-all French cheesemakers who wrinkle their noses up, toss their heads dismissively and say ''Butyrique'' when I show them our (sweet smelling) silage. There's always something to learn!
The pastures are growing apace, in the little autumn peak of growth. The plants have more moisture, and have given up sex, the drive to make seed. The grass concentrates on leafy growth to feed the roots. The clover too has stopped flowering and concentrate on world domination, its stolon’s running through any gaps in the sward to colonise it. It gets knocked back in the winter, to make another leap every summer.
that's why we calve half the cows in August so that their peak milk yield and feed demand happens in September, to peak this autumn peak. Otherwise you try and make silage to retrieve this late bounty when the days are getting shorter and the dews are getting heavier. Much better to get the cows to harvest it there and then. It also helps that people buy more of our cheese in the run up to Thanksgiving (in America) and Christmas, when we have more of September cheese fourteen and fifteen months old.
I love September cheese, the joy of rich grassy, clovery growth after the drive to reproduce is done. I can only empathise and enjoy the cheese.
To have the cows calve in August to catch the September growth takes rearing the heifer calves that are born then to calve bang on two years later. Calve later, slower growth, longer gestation and they would hit the magic window. They also wouldn't be served by Christmas to give everyone a break from watching and serving. So we nurture the fluffy calves, so sweet and trusting, grow them on the most nutritious grass, watch them grow into leggy adolescents, and a year later in September, make the careful calculations to see if they will be ready to see Mr Bull in November, to have the cycle continue in line with grass growth.
And all in service of delicious cheese. The milk is just right to make a balanced cheese, enough cream to make it buttery and luscious, and enough protein to make a firm structure to hold those lovely flavours. We grade the September cheese of a year ago, one of the treats of cheese making, if a little arduous, as we taste every vat made then and three months ago. This informs cheese making and tells us which cheese should go where as we tease out the myriad layers of flavour that come from cows, grazing, heritage starters, maturing and that indefinable something that comes from the soil, environment, somewhere, the terroir of our land.