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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Make hay while the sun shines!

A full week of work in the herbage grass fields for everyone on the farm has just finished. The hot sunshine made it a very busy week with harvesting, hay making and a wildlife surprise!

The special fingers on our Stripper Header
We started harvesting the grass seed using our combine with its specialist header called a 'stripper' header. This is designed not to cut the plant stalks but to use specially designed fingers to lift the stalks and strip the seed off each stem as the header passes over it. It has revolutionised the grass seed harvest that used to be a struggle cutting the crops directly with a conventional header table. Now, with the new header, what took us 8 days with two smaller combines, takes just over 3 days with one! The seed is then taken quickly to the farm where it is put on a special floor that blows lots of air through it to reduce the temperature of it and dry out the remaining moisture. We level it out so that the crop dries evenly and we are not left with any wet spots or hot spots. The crop yielded really well but considering the wet spring it was a perfect year to grow grass as your lawn cutting regime will testify!

The side mounted mower
Once the combine gets started the hay making process begins. The grass stalks are mown with a disc mower; this is 2.8m wide and is mounted to one side of the tractor so you don't run the grass flat on the floor as you do it, making it difficult to cut low down. This is then spread out over the field by another machine called a 'tedder'. It has rotating sections which pick up the cut grass and throw it about. It is 7.7m wide, so we can cover a large area quickly. This teddering is done 2-3 times over a period of two or three days, allowing the heat of the sunshine and wind to dry all the moisture out of the hay. 

The Rake
Once the hay crop on the ground is dry, the decision to row it up and bale it is made. This involves another machine called a 'rake', which scrapes the hay up into a row by using a number of tined arms that pull the hay to one side against a partition. Once in rows it is ready to be baled. The baler picks up the row and compacts it inside a chamber within the machine that packs it tightly before two strands of string are looped around the whole cuboid and tied up by a mechanical knotter. 
The baler and sledge

The bales are then pushed out by the next bale being made and they fall out of the back onto a mechanical sledge pulled behind the baler, this arranges the bales into eights by a continuously moving belt floor that drags them quickly off the baler down different passages. This triggers levers to open other passages for the next bale. It lines them up in two rows of four and then the last lever triggered by the eighth bale releases the back gate and the eight bales drop out on to the floor. We put them into eights as they are much easier to handle in vast numbers. The two loaders on the farm have an attachment that picks up the eights by a set of claws that grab the bales and so we can pick up and load trailers with these eights or make stacks in the field. Most of the hay bales are sold to local horse owners and pet owners that feed it to their animals throughout the year. As the old saying goes, 'Make hay while the sun shines', as this is so important and the sun makes the whole process much easier and the quality of the final product really good for safe storage in lots of different stable blocks. If it is too damp the hay can start to warm and cook itself. This can ruin the quality and in really bad cases can actually catch fire if left undiscovered!  

All the different activities took place on the farm over the past week then, on Friday, the sun never came out and so hay making was stopped. This gave me a chance to go and check the other variety of grass we have left to combine. The grass is not ready to harvest but it is proving a great hunting ground for this Short Eared Owl that I finally caught up to with my camera! BWB

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