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G.M.Hunter Ltd. Tilbrook Grange

Winner of
Devon Cattle Breeders Herd Competition 2016


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Winner Best local product

  • March 2018

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    It has been the most disappointing month in the five years I have been giving a monthly report.

    I start my mentioning The NFU conference again. At one of the breakout sessions on the back of each seat there was a hi-viz jacket. In every row there were a couple of red vests rather than the normal yellow ones. This broke the ice and started us chatting. What were they for? We all had to put on & keep the jackets. I had a yellow one but knowing what I do now, I should have had a red one. They indicated the percentage of people in farming who would be involved in an accident. The industry has a dreadful record, and the point was made well. A fortnight ago I was just two rungs up a ladder, drilling a hole, when the ladder slipped away. I fell, knocked my head, and broke my wrist. I am not looking for sympathy as I was my fault & I should know better. It just emphasises the fact that these little jobs are all a risk and accidents can happen so quickly. The eight hours in A & E was not pleasant, there are better places to be on a Friday evening up to midnight! In the following week I had an operation to put it straight, pin & plaster it. I am now making progress.

    In this report last March all the spring barley had been drilled and the cattle were all out at grass. So far we have done just one day’s drilling and the ground will have to dry out a lot following the wet Good Friday (21mm) before we shall be able to continue.(pictured) All the cattle are still in the buildings. The grass has greened up and is starting to grow but the land is far too wet for the cattle to be on it. The cost of feeding for an extra month is considerable. We have enough hay & straw but would have preferred to be selling a couple of loads & watching the cattle grazing the fresh grass.

    March 22nd there was the annual Devon Breed Spring sale at Sedgemoor market. This year it was Tilbrook Altas’s turn for the long journey. He is an 18 month old bull with Tilbrook, Australia and New Zealand breeding in his pedigree. (pictured)The prices in the auction reflected the confidence in the current state of agriculture.

    Sadly I have to report the sad loss of a past employee. My father set on Jim Old as tractor driver & general farm worker in 1977. He was a young chap from a farm near Rushden. He worked hard and lived life to the full. He was always out and about after work & ran a disco in the evenings (loudly). After a few years he took the stockman’s vacancy and moved into a cottage on the farm. He looked after the animals well for many years. He enjoyed his work and was successful. Whilst with us he married Rachel and they had a daughter Katie. He moved on to fresh pastures at Ravensden in 1993. We kept in touch over the years; he would occasionally call in on the way back from Thrapston market & recall old times. He was very well known and respected for his skill by the farming community. He continued to work at Ravensden until his tragic untimely death. Our thoughts are with Rachel and family at this sad time.



  • February 2018

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    I am currently standing in for Michael Brown, as the NFU Huntingdon branch chairman. I congratulate him on the safe arrival of twin boys. All doing well. I am showing my age but I recall my father chatting to their Great Great Grandfather! My main duty this month has been representing the branch at the NFU conference at the ICC in Birmingham. I think most know that the NFU is a member’s organisation that lobby & work to help farmers. The vast majority of farmers are members & the subscription depends on farm size.

    The first day of conference started with DEFRA minister of State Michael Grove MP. Mr Grove told the 1,500 delegates that the hopes, concerns and duties of the agricultural community are more relevant to Government now than they have been for 50 years. He was followed by David Drew, standing in for Shadow Defra Minister Sue Hayman, outlined the importance of British farming, its high quality food production standards and potential to thrive post-Brexit. The number of TB-infected cattle slaughtered in Britain last year breached the 43,000 barrier which caused tension in the hall as the numbers are still rising.

    The first day finished with 1260 enjoying a wonderful dinner. We were amazed how they produced such a meal for so many, we all appreciated the shops & suppliers who sponsored the pre dinner drinks, fillet steak, cheeses, wine & the speaker.

    The main topic of the second day was the election of the office holders. For the first time in the 109 years of the NFU a female president was elected. I am confident that Minette Batters will do a good job for us all. One of her challenges is for you to be able to enjoy the same good food at the right price post Brexit. I wish her well in her role. It was a very interesting & enjoyable two days, mixing with farmers & those who influence our great industry.

    Last month I mentioned that we were trying to remove the charlock in the rape fields. It was a gamble to get frosts once the chemical was in the plants. We have been lucky; most of the weeds are now looking sick, thanks to the cold snap.

    Several have mentioned that have seen the tree management in a Jaunties last winter & Six Yards spinney this year. We have taken out the dead elms. This has let the light in for the ash & oak to grow up. The removed wood is stored and the benefits are felt in the cold snaps. I heat the 8 bedroom farmhouse with a solid fuel burner. It is very hungry when it is cold! If I can lift the logs it goes in and heats the house. It can get through 100Kg of wood/ day (16 stone)

    During the month we have had three attempted thefts. The first was an internet scam. We are advertising a fertiliser spreader in a magazine & on the net. A fraudulent foreign buyer was offering to pay more than we were asking for it. As I understand it we could have accepted an offer greater than the asking price. Then loaded the spreader away and also lost the payment. Second we had visitors in the night with a lorry in the yard who attempted to take 9 pedigree bulls 18 month old. Lastly a couple of chaps were photographing the Land Rover not expecting Gavin to be just the other side of it. They made a lame excuse about rabbits & made off.

    Finally, it has been party time this year. Seven weeks in & I have had three 60th Birthday party celebrations.



  • January 2018

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    The weather, again, has had an impact on the farm. It has been wet. December & January rainfall is 48mm above the average. Most of the fields are draining well. There are other parts where water is standing & not getting into the drains & ditches. Little can be done to rectify this until after harvest when we shall alleviate the compaction. Some of the problem areas are down to the wet last July. The damage was done at harvest when we harmed the soil structure. We baled & carted a lot less straw than normal, but we need a lot for cattle winter bedding and feeding. The knock on effect is that a lot of other farmers also chopped more straw than usual and now there is a shortage. Consequently the supply & demand has seen a doubling of barley straw price from last year, from £50 to £100 per tonne. But there is not much to trade.

    18th January we had the strongest wind for a long time. A maximum 74 mph measured at the turbine. Both turbines shut down, not just to protect the mechanism but also the grid voltage was fluctuating too much for us to safely supply power. We also suffered some damage. (picture attached) Last year we had wood stolen but this time I don’t think anybody will try to get it out of the pond!

    The humid air has also caused respiratory problems with some of the cattle. Insufficient good air flow in the buildings caused a few cases of pneumonia. Luckily Martyn soon spotted it, animal temperatures confirmed the problem and fortunately antibiotics soon cleared the infection. All are well again now; no long term damage was done.

    A benefit from the wet is that blackgrass is coming through in the fields destined for spring barley. The fields were ploughed in the autumn & then levelled off. Once the blackgrass is large enough & just before drilling, it shall be sprayed off. Hopefully then the barley will be able to smother any late emerging plants. We have been successful with this approach in the past. Traditionally the ground would have been cultivated numerous times to pluck out the seedlings and drilled much later. The modern, scientific approach is much better for the environment. We must now be patient to hopefully get the timing right.

    There is Charlock (goose grass) in some of the rape fields. This is detrimental if not eradicated. It is a difficult weed to kill in the rape as it is a very similar species. Conditions last week allowed us to travel with the sprayer and apply a chemical called Fox. Once in the plants the success of killing the weed is dependent on sharp frosts. Currently looking good!

    I have been asked to comment on field identification. It is quite simple, all fields have names. Some go back hundreds of years. A lot are simple to recall where the field is. For example the left of the concrete path is “Manor Field” to the right “Football field.” I can guess the village played football there. “Bill’s Field” near Sheppards Holt is where an old chap called Bill lived. He always collected fallen wood & piled it in his garden. There is also “Station Field” next to “Railways.” Some have two or more names as hedges were removed post war to increase productivity. The big field on the hill is now called “80 Acre” The total of amalgamating “Highway and Sixyards.” Highway is beside the bridleway and the spinney at the top was quite narrow.

    Finally, Veganuary did just enter my vocabulary but doesn’t call for any comment!



  • December 17

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    As we start a new year I thought that I would begin with a little reflection on 2017. It has been a challenging year. Anything done outside is controlled by our boss, nature & the weather. The rainfall this year deserves a mention. Overall the year is bang on the average but there have been considerable monthly variations. April only recorded 6mm, average 41mm, this meant the crops didn’t get hold of the spring fertiliser as they should have done. There was a good hot dry spell in June when we cracked on and made some very good hay. Those that didn’t get their winter fodder in early were set back by the 99mm of rain in July. It was the wettest July since I started my records way back in the last millennium. As a consequence hay & straw prices are currently very high making it very difficult for those having to buy in animal food. We have taken advantage of the shortage & the weak sterling & have been sending hay to Belgium. My school French was tested as one lorry driver spoke no English!

    Later in the year the dry October, just a quarter of the 63mm average, helped with the autumn drilling. All crops went in well and look in very good health at the moment. But there is a long way to go. An old saying is “ Well sown is half grown”. (photo of December snow) Naturally I will keep you updated.

    Sadly some parts of the country have had much more testing conditions and they are struggling as we go into winter. There workload & costs are going to be considerably higher.

    I didn’t have space to report Tilbrook Elegant in November. She is a rare example of prolific breeding, born 23rd August 2003. 2016 she produced twins. She is the oldest cow on the farm but in good condition so was given the chance to give us another calf. Well she surprised us again. Another set of twins in November, 2 bull calves. She is now rearing calves no 12 & 13. (Photo attached) She earned a picture & report in the breed newsletter and has challenged the society members so find a cow that has done better!

    The shop has had another good year selling quality beef to local individuals, restaurants and shops. If you haven’t ventured up here yet, please consider us next time. We have the whole animal to sell, most butchers buy in the trade what they expect to sell. We do many old fashioned and obscure cuts as Ranch, Feather & Flat Iron steak. On the bone we do Prime Rib, short rib & tail! We have sold so much of the hind quarter in the run up to Christmas we are again going to have another January burger sale. This moves the slower cooking cuts which are not so popular on the Christmas table.

    Finally I wish my readers a very Happy New year and thank you for the comments from those who mention my reports. If you want enlightening on any specific farming topics in the future please drop me a note & I will try. (excluding the unknown Brexit!)



  • November 17

    The cattle are all in for the winter and we have had more visits from the vets in the month than we have had for a long time. First visit was to a young calf with a broken leg. It was a good patient and a splint was strapped to the leg. The splint was in stock, just a 15” length of plastic house gutter. It was soon strapped to a soft bandage and plenty of sticking plaster wrapped around. It has made a good recovery and is getting around well. Another visit was to a small calf that was not doing very well. It is still with us but not well. Little can be done to a calf with a hole in the heart. Hopefully it will mend on it’s own given rest & time. There have also been more visits and if all goes well I shall have some good news to report in the future. The real result will not be seen for 15 months but I will give updates as the project hopefully comes together.

    A final note about the new sprayer, it has taken a long time to get it fully set up. The first field fully controlled by the satellites is for you all to see as you walk down the concrete path. The volunteer wheat & blackgrass has been sprayer off. If all has gone well all the green growth will die. In these cold conditions it will take a few weeks. There should not be any green to see, not even the size of a doormat, if all worked well.



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