Last Wednesday morning, I returned to the farm from a week long trip to Zimbabwe, just in time to be on hand for the onset of some relatively extreme winter weather.
The snow was accurately forecast in advance, so it was no surprise to wake up last Friday morning to a white world, with the snow blowing off the fields, and drifting up to three feet deep on the steep bit of our farm road.
In the old days, this constituted a full scale emergency, since the viability of our farm depended entirely on making sure that the farm road was clear enough for the tanker to come and collect our milk, at least every other day.
In view of the fact that our farm is ‘geographically challenged’ our track record in managing to get the milk away over the last 30 years has been remarkably good. We have only failed to clear the road on a couple of occasions, and have managed to only waste two or three days milk over the last 30 years.
Since we have been cheese-making on the farm however, all that has changed. Our road clearance programme is now slightly more relaxed, since we have only to ensure that the boys can go to school and the postman can get in.
Nevertheless, old habits die hard, so on Friday afternoon, until the freezing ice turned our one in four gradient hill into a danger zone, and again on Saturday morning, once I had finished milking, feeding and mucking out, I spent several hours on our 1976 Massey Ferguson 135, using our yard scraper to push the drifts into enormous heaps in a lay-by at the bottom of the road.
There is something immensely satisfying about this work – it’s as if it taps into my ‘hunter gatherer, surviving the elements’ genetic memory, if such a thing exists!
Another liberating aspect is the progress we have made towards being more self-sufficient in our key “staple” inputs – we now mill and mix most of our dairy cattle feed from oats and peas that are grown and stored on the farm. So provided we have electricity, our sturdy Danish roller mill can continue to transform the grains into cow muesli, however much snow is blocking our farm drive.
The weakest link in the chain, as it were, is now our cheesemaker! Since my son Sam was away in San Francisco at a food fair, we persuaded Joss (our relief cheesemaker who normally travels in from near Cardigan) to stay overnight on Friday, which turned out to be a very smart move as he would never have made it on Saturday morning.
I am now back in Bristol, marvelling at the vast quantities of orange road salt that have been distributed on the pavements of Totterdown by well-meaning volunteers, perhaps 20 times more than is needed to keep our farm road clear for several years!
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