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G.M.Hunter Ltd.

Tilbrook Grange

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Winner Best local product


Winner of

Devon Cattle Breeders Herd Competition 2016


By jameshunter1, Mar 3 2019 06:49PM

Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

We have taken the opportunity given by the early spring weather to get on quickly with the spring arable work. We sprayed off the emerged weeds and then drilled into lovely conditions. The 200 acres of barley went into good seedbeds the last week of February. This is the earliest I can remember. The old saying about the correct conditions are more important than the calendar will hopefully be correct.

Also enjoying the warm weather are the birds. Valentine’s day for birds to start pairing up was true for several farm birds. I have seen ducks, pigeon, pheasants & partridge all paired up. This is very early, and I hope they don’t get flooded nests.

A drawback from the weather was that early in the month we had a few cases of pneumonia in the young bulls. Temperatures were taken and several were given a course of antibiotics. They swiftly picked up and now all are well again.

The next thing will be to turn out the cattle. I usually say we turn out around Easter. But this year Easter is late & the grass is growing. It will certainly be a lot earlier than last year when the winter really dragged on. They have smelt the grass growing and have been quite vocal in the yards. Some will hopefully be out to grass soon.

Tractor Driver, James, has been driving a demo tractor to roll the barley once drilled. It was here for a week for us to try. A 4-cylinder 175 horsepower New Holland, which nowadays is a medium sized tractor. Suitable for some cultivations and carting corn & muck. It performed well with it’s dynamic command gearbox. I attach a picture of the armrest controls. The self-steering model has a list price of £109 000. I think it will remain a dream until we see a bright light at the end of the Brexit tunnel!

We have applied the Ammonium Sulphate fertiliser, which is a compound of nitrogen and sulphur. It was imported and was more dusty than usual. Photo attached.

Finally, last week I was in a market leading supermarket and looked at their beef counter. I have always known that we give good value for our beef in the farm shop. I now give a warning that we are several pounds/ Kg cheaper than supermarket beef. Come and grab a bargain before our prices increase.

By jameshunter1, Mar 3 2019 06:41PM

Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

So far, we are getting through the winter very well. But it is only a year since the Beast from the East came when the days were getting longer & we thought we were through. The ground is relatively dry. None of the fields are at field capacity (or saturated) and the drains & ditches are not running.

I know one farmer who has done his drilling. We are waiting for some emerging blackgrass to get larger. It will then be sprayed off and the barley drilled into a clean seed bed. The autumn drilled wheats are looking well and the rape has suffered some pigeon problem. I am aware that some in the village may have heard the gas gun going off to scare the birds away. I hope you have not been disturbed, rest assured all will go quiet when the plants pick up and grow. All guns are set to a strict code to not be a nuisance, but still do the job.

The rape has received its first application of fertiliser this week. Here I again give my annual warning about the next applications which will be a liquid nitrogen-based acid. It will burn your dog’s feet if you allow them in the crops, until it is washed in.

We are lucky in the village to have some lovely footpaths. I attach a picture of one up Hall Lane. We cleared it out several years ago and it is a pleasure to walk. There is the subject of dog fouling which I am going to mention, for the first time. Within the village speed limits & the church yard it is a requirement to pick up the dog mess. The other paths it is courteous to other walkers to move it from the walkway. There are two recommended methods, 1. To pick it up and carry in a bag and dispose of in a suitable bin. 2. The newer option which Bedfordshire County Council & The National Trust support on their paths is to flick it. I support the latter for you to flick it into the hedge bottom or to the edge of the growing crop. It soon rots down and is gone. I take exception to the people who bag it and then hang the plastic bag on the hedge or place it at the side of the road. The plastic does not rot down quickly, and the contents are sealed from the weather and don’t degrade. This is the worst way of dealing with is.

When the cattle are out in the fields please keep your dogs out of the grass. On average 4 people are killed annually by cattle. Some are farmers but others are because they and their dogs are chased by cattle. Last summer I had an alarm call that people were in a field with cattle. Luckily our cattle are quiet, and they left somewhat wiser!

Finally, it seems to have been a month of beef bashing in the press. Vejanuary has come & gone and there has been a report that we must cut meat consumption to save the planet. The report in the Lancet by a consortium of 37 international experts recommend that red meat consumption is cut by 50%. The BBC reported it in their usual fashion. The picture I received sums up the position well.

By jameshunter1, Jan 23 2019 09:33PM

Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

A lot has gone on since my last report. The weather has been kind and all things are looking good.

The most satisfying news on the cattle front has been the result of the whole herd TB test. A dreadful disease covered in the national news. In the 12 months to end of June 18 in England there were 35 511 cattle slaughtered up 8% in 12 months. Wales a further 10 051 were also slaughtered. All the cattle on the farm over a few weeks old have to be tested. We are lucky this farm is on a 4 year testing programme. The majority are annual and in infected areas it can be 6 weeks. All 232 animals were in the buildings ready for the vet to come and set the test up last Tuesday. Two inoculating injections are given in the neck of each animal. The animal is returned to the yard and onto the next one. 72 hours later the same vet returns to read the swelling on the injection sites. We were hopeful that each would get a clear result. Only one animal showed any sign of swelling & had to have an accurate calliper measurement taken. Luckily all animals passed.

Calving dragged on and patience was required for the last ones to deliver. I am pleased to report that there are more calves than cows. A good result for Martyn the stockman. The majority of the cows should now be just in calf again.

The autumn drilling was finished in October in good conditions. The rain came at the right time to enable good progress and germination. After rolling all fields were sprayed with a pre-emergence weedkiller to prevent blackgrass from emerging. Some fields have had to have a second application. Luckily the wheat is looking well and little blackgrass is coming through. An expensive start to the growing season is now over.

We took advantage of the high cereal prices after harvest and have been loading it out of store. The majority of the wheat has gone to Manchester to have it’s starch extracted for industrial processes. Some other wheat has gone to Corby for animal feed and the malting barley to Essex for brewing. It, as we expected, has not all gone smoothly as the price has dropped since the earlier record price for us of £215/ tonne for the barley.

For those who have been looking up may have noticed the wind turbine was without it’s blades for a month. The blades have rotated for 42 270 hours and needed some upgrading. They were let down by a winch on the ground and then dismantled. Things took a bit longer than expected and then the wind was too great for several days to be able to safely winch the blades up and locate the new larger pins. However we should be good again until after it has paid for itself. During the years of operation it has saved 370 tonnes of carbon compared to conventional electrical generation. It was an expensive up grade but better than ignoring the wear. The worst scenario would have been pin failure and a dropping blade!

Finally and fresh in the mind was the charity ball I helped with last Saturday in Huntingdon. The evening went well & a jolly time was had by 150 guests. Some raffle prizes and one auction lot came back to Tilbrook. Thanks also to those who remotely pushed some bids up. The final lot, my head gear, sold remarkably well!

By jameshunter1, Jan 23 2019 09:29PM

Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

Why is the Surgery in Hunter’s Way?

This month I break from the monthly report. I am going to look back further. 40 years ago I recall saying good bye to mum & dad on a Monday morning in November as I set off to college near Grantham for the week. Little did I expect to be back in the afternoon to mourn the death of my Father. I was 20 & dad was just 60 years old.

Some things have changed on the farm but the overall job of producing food has not changed. The weather is still our boss but the changes in chemicals, plant breeding and machinery has revolutionised the industry. He was brought up on the family farm near Stevenage. During the war he served in the Royal Army Service Corps and reached the rank of Captain. Father came to the farm in 1947 after the war. He was married the same year and after two girls twins Gavin & I came along. Post war there was a great incentive to produce more food; it was needed to reduce the rationing that had been introduced. When I was a boy there were 20 people working on the farm. Today there are 4. Many more crops were grown compared to today. The only ones still grown then & now are wheat, barley & grass. We no longer grow potatoes, peas, beans, cabbage, turnips, parsnips, swedes, mangolds, lucerne, clover and mustard. Oil seed rape, our only break crop now, was not grown here until 1990.

The beef herd of pedigree Devons was started in 1960 with 18 heifers and 1 bull. This week the total head is just under 250.

As well as being a farmer my father gave a lot of his time the community.

He served on the Nene & Ouse River board and was very involved with the building of Grafham Water in the early 60’s.

He was also vice president of the Country Land Owners Association for many years looking after the interests of farmers & landowners nationally.

He was on the St Neots Rural District council for many years until it became Huntingdon District Council in 1974. He was then the District Councillor for the Local area until his death in 1978.

His great friend Dr John Kilby from the Kimbolton High Street surgery was with him when he had a fatal heart attack.

Kimbolton and all shops & business came to a standstill for his funeral. St Andrews church was packed full & the collection enabled an oak flower pedestal to be made & dedicated in memory of him. It is still in St Andrews to the left of the Alter with an inscription on it.

A new road was built in Newtown and was named, Hunter’s Way, in memory of him for all that he did during his life for the community.

He served on Catworth parish council & was chairman for many years. Catworth Gap is also named after him. The Parish council planted an Oak tree in memory of him. It is on the parish boundary between Catworth & Tilbrook to the east of the B660.

Many in the village knew Mum; she was a widow for 33 years and was a well respected lady who lived in Kimbolton Castle Gardens. She moved there and retired from Tilbrook Grange when I got married.

40 years on from his death his name carries on and now you know why it is called Hunter’s way.

By jameshunter1, Jan 23 2019 09:26PM

Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

It seems like a long time ago but the most important thing to report is that harvest is all safely gathered in. The hot weather in June just got hotter and the cereal crops very soon burned off. We knew it was never going to be a record harvest as the blazing heat shrivelled up the grain. James, the combine driver, had to cut short his holiday as we started harvest weeks earlier than normal, on Friday 13th July. We did not spray the rape off to hasten ripening, as we have done for the last 20 years. We took a gamble that the heat wave would continue and that it would not come to an end with a thunderstorm. A storm on ripe rape is disastrous; it all shells out onto the ground. It was so hot the rape was so dry we had to stop after lunch each day. It didn’t matter as we had already done 8 hours combining. Some others started cutting as early as 4am.

We finished harvest on 8th August, the date we started the cereals last year. Quantity was down and the quality was not as bad as it could have been. Our heavy clay land retains its moisture better than sandy ground. As most of Europe was baking like us & Australia drought continues the cereal price has risen. Overall we can’t complain. We have sold the spring barley for a malting speciation at a record price. £215/ tonne, the hope now is that it is accepted at the malsters in October!

The ground was too hard & dry to rush into cultivations. We have now got all the oil seed rape planted and it is emerging better than the last few years. There has been enough moisture and the pests are not at present active. The cost on wearing metal in the ground has been high but we will have swallow the expense and hope it grows!

On the cattle front they are much happier now the grass is growing again. We had to give them all supplementary hay & straw in the heat wave. Luckily we don’t stock as heavily as some farmers and the traditional breeds don’t demand as much fodder as larger continental types. We got through without major complications. Calving has started and has got off to a flying start. 4 sets of twins so far and all doing well, I will give a full report next month.

Finally, I now break from the traditional combine picture. When in a Tilbrook field a took a picture of 3 mature Huntingdon Elm trees (Ulmus x hollandica 'vegeta' ) The county lost nearly all these beautiful trees in the 70’s to Dutch Elm disease. We had 2 survive near the farm for a long time, but lost them in a storm about 10 years ago. I guess most people concentrate on the bend in the road & don’t admire the trio. They never looked back in the drought and are in full leaf at the end of August. Elm wood is strong and durable with a tight-twisted grain, and is resistant to water. It has been used in decorative turning, and to make boats and boat parts, furniture, wheel hubs, wooden water pipes, floorboards and coffins.

Huntingdon elm is highly susceptible to Dutch elm disease, a fungal disease which devastated populations of elms since it arrived in the UK in the 1960s.

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