Farmer Richard Thomas

PUBLISHED: 14:25 28 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:40 20 February 2013

Farmer Richard Thomas

Farmer Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas farms with his father at Risbury Court in Herefordshire. He is the fifth generation of his family to work on the farm and the fourth generation to breed Hereford cattle

A few weeks ago I put our dry hogs (12-month-old ewes with no lambs) on a small field below my house. The grass in the field is an old ley, meaning it was planted many years ago. Despite my best efforts spot-spraying in the spring there are still a few docks dotted around the field and indeed around the farm. The common dock is the bane of most grassland farmers, proving to be difficult to remove and serving no useful purpose, or so I thought. The following morning on my way round the sheep I noticed that without exception all the docks had been eaten off overnight. Once I got over the shock of this rare occurrence, I began to try to work out why the sheep would chose to strip the docks, in place of the lush grass in the field. The dock is from the same family as sorrel and contains many of the same properties and traditional uses. My agronomist told me that they contain Selenium, which is true of many herbs. Herefordshire and the Border counties are well know for being low in Selenium, indeed many farmers supplement it in their sheep and cattle. Similarly the cattle very often strip the nettles in the orchards during the summer, occasionally overnight and not because there is no grass! I have trawled the Internet for an answer, but havent found a conclusive one yet. Watch this space!

- I was mowing grass for silage in June, being followed by the obligatory seagulls and carrion crows, on the hunt for any tasty morsel they could spot in the freshly mown swath. Field mice are a popular treat and easy pickings after the mower. Turning back to check the mower was doing what it is supposed to, I spotted a large pale shape out of the corner of my eye. I was being followed by a larger bird, with a distinctive fork tail that immediately gave it away. We dont get many red kites here and they certainly dont nest in the locality. Its paler plumage gave it away as a juvenile, perhaps out for its first long trip. It wasnt successful in my field and, perhaps sensing too much competition from the seagulls, crows and ever-present buzzards, it soared away. We normally see them at this time of year, in pairs at most, but usually on their own.

- After a spring and early summer of praying for rain, I spent a few days in mid-June hoping for a prolonged dry spell to get the important silage crop harvested in the dry. We managed it and were quite lucky, dodging the showers to get it in with minimum hassle. Getting enough consecutive, warm, dry days in early July was next on the list to be able to make some hay. Silage is normally higher in feed value than hay and is most often used for finishing cattle and breeding stock that need a more nutritious diet. Hay on the other hand is more typically maintenance feed, although good hay can be quite nutritionally valuable. August is the harvesting month. It wont take us long to get our small arable crop in, but it is important none the less. In preparation for the winter well sow stubble turnips after the barley is harvested. During the winter theyll provide much needed forage for the ewes and finishing lambs.


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