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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

  • 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.



  • October 17

    Life up on the farm (by James Hunter)

    October has been another busy month, the weather has been kind & jobs have gone well. The main arable job has been to do the autumn cereal drilling. This year for as long as I can remember we have only planted winter wheat. Winter barley has been dropped and spring barley acreage will be increased. This change has been based on costs and margins for winter against spring barley. Also the spring barley gives us a better chance to control the blackgrass than we can do in a winter barley field.

    I noted last month that drilling this autumn I was going to go round 5 times for the headland instead of four. This is because we have a new sprayer. The old sprayer was 24m wide and had been on the farm for 12 years. We had put £1.25millon of products through it! The new one is 30m (100foot) wide. It was delivered straight from the factory and then set up on our tractor over several days. The new model (Vantage) won the Sprayer of the year at the Sima Show in Paris. It has a larger tank, pump & boom compared to the old one. It has better suspension and low drift air induced nozzles. But the most significant change, better for the environment and our pocket is that the sprayer is controlled by satellites to an accuracy of just a few inches. This ensures the chemicals are put on more accurately than a driver can do & should eliminate overlapping. It is by far the most expensive machine we attach to a tractor. (Photo of controls in cab)

    You may have noticed that the countryside colour has changed quickly. The rape fields are all growing away quickly. The wheats have gone into moisture and with the warm temperatures, have emerged quickly. Slugs have not been active and we have hardly had to apply any blue pellets to control them. After the drilling all fields are rolled to consolidate soil round the seed and to prevent the moisture from drying out. We then have to apply two lots of chemicals to control blackgrass & other weeds. All four jobs have to be done before the wheat comes up, quite a challenge as rolling cannot be done if it has rained and the chemicals have to be applied in low wind conditions. All has been achieved but not during the office workers’ 9 till 5 hours!

    Last harvest’s spring barley has been loaded away this week. The specification was high and good enough to get a malting grade & premium. Sometimes it can be very frustrating and a costly gamble if the quality is not right. It was loaded, 29 tonnes on each lorry. Every load is tested at the destination’s laboratory before tipping. Thankfully, no phone calls giving a deduction or reject. A rejection can mean a price crash down to feed grade + a redirection charge or at worst a return journey back to the farm and a haulage bill. We have had the worst scenario in the past.

    On the cattle front, it has been another wonderful month for them. The weather could have hardly been better. Seldom a wet day and plenty of grass to eat. Calves have been running around and growing well. We have been bringing some in for winter housing this week. There are still just a few to finish calving & then the year starts all over again.

    Finally, an observation in the garden, we have both daffodils & dahlias both flowering together on the 1st November!



  • September 17

    Again this month our boss, Mother Nature, has controlled what we have been able to do. The wet weather has continued. The autumn work got off to an early start when the rape was harvested. We ploughed most of the fields and they are weathering down ready for drilling the winter wheat. On these fields we are waiting for a flush of blackgrass. When at a suitable size it will be sprayed off and the wheat drill. The major problem has been the wet and being unable to plough the 200 acres for the spring barley. It has been challenging. I attach a picture of some ploughing done last week. The plough took a lot of pulling and has left a lot of work ahead.

    A benefit of the wet has been that the rape has got away and is growing well. Last year we were beaten on a couple of fields but this year all fields have established. It again has had pest problems & need careful management. Hopefully it will be strong going into the winter & the pigeons will not give too much of a problem.

    Winter wheat drilling will hopefully have started by the time this comes out. It is important to sow big bold grains. The improve some of our farm saved seed we use a mobile seed cleaning firm. They arrive and our wheat is augered into their lorry mounted cleaner. (picture attached) The wheat has the dust and chaff sucked out first then passed over gravity separating sieves. The seed is chemically treated to protect it from soil borne diseases. Finally it is then put into big bags, half tonne or tonne, which can be stored until lifted into the drill. I will be drilling it at 550 seed / square metre! Since 1984 I have drilled the headland by going round 4 times. This year it will be 5 times round, a picture will explain next month.

    On the cattle front, calves have been arriving all month. There was an exceptionally busy week when 2 or 3 were born every day. There have been two sets of twins. All are doing well on the cows in the grass fields. Hopefully they will be out at grass for another month before coming in for winter. There are 40 young bulls, a year old, already housed for winter. We can better manage their diet to ensure they have a good live weight gain. They will be growing at over a Kilogramme daily.

    In the middle of the month Martyn set off to The Royal Berkshire Show at Newbury. It is the last main show of the season. The only other show we have been to this year was the Devon County in May. The Show cow has been in isolation for 60 days in case she caught bovine tuberculosis when out last. I am pleased to say she got the same result as she did at the Devon county show. First Prize rosette again! (picture of Judges formalities) The next cattle outing will probably be the spring show and sale in Devon.

    They have had a good year, an early turn out at Easter and plenty of grass all summer. They have looked well and quite a lot have been sold for breeding stock from Yorkshire to Devon in the last month. Young bulls will be the next pedigree animals to be sold to other breeders.

    Finally the result may be out by the time you read this, If not I wish Hugh Sapsed all the best for “The Farm Worker Of The Year Award “ at the Grosvenor House on Thursday evening...



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