There was much talk about the ‘Beast from the East’ and I think it was aptly described, it has caused chaos. As far as I am aware, its been 30 years since we’ve had drifting snow to block roads. February was colder than normal, and also drier than normal, but no records broken. The average temperature here was 2.3ºC and the rainfall was 32mm. The coldest February that I have recorded was in 1986 when the temperature only rose to 4ºC on one day and the average temperature for the month was -1.4ºC.
Potatoes continue to be loaded as and when the orders come in. We do not sell our potatoes day-by-day, someone else does that for us. We belong to a trading group called Nene potatoes, their offices are not far from the River Nene, hence the name. They have about 100,000 tons of potatoes to sell during the year from local farmers,so they know what they are doing. For instance Tesco prefer a different sample to Morrison’s and Morrison’s want a different sample than Sainsbury, Nene know what these differences are. They also have a sample of potatoes from each field we have grown and so potatoes get sent to the best destination. This means we are less likely to get a complaint or even a rejection. Also the receiving pre-packer is less likely to try and get a complaint from Nene than ourselves if we had sold them the potatoes because Nene are selling 100,000 tons as opposed to our 4000 tons. We have also been loading wheat, but that has only been going for chicken or pig food. The only two requirements are that it is under 15% moisture and it must weigh 72 kg/hectolitre, which is 100 litres. Our free-range laying hens went away to make chicken pie last week, so contractors have moved in to clean the sheds out in readiness for the next batch which will be coming in within two weeks. This time we are having different hens, ones that lay blue eggs. Those of you that are able to visit our Farm Shop, you will be able to find those different coloured eggs within two months or so. We are also erecting another chicken shed. It is six years since we put the last one up and this one is going to be quite a bit different inside. It is all about making the egg collection easier and to try to make it more attractive, and comfortable, for the hens to lay in the nest boxes. We do get several hens in our existing sheds that lay eggs on the floor for a start. To discourage these floor layers, we walk around the building moving the hens around. They like somewhere quiet and private to lay so moving them around hopefully doesn’t give them that opportunity. We have been sowing mixed lettuce, spring onions, carrots and beetroot in our polytunnel so that we can sell them later in the Farm Shop.
Every morning I have been going down the farm feeding the birds with sweepings from the bird food operation. I have also taken a shovel with me to clear the ground first, no doubt it will be a lifeline for them this week. I was watching the Linnets one morning and they were spending quite a time eating snow after having had a feed. All the seeds I am feeding them are as dry as biscuits, they need to be this dry otherwise they would go mouldy. Water therefore is very important to them if they are eating seeds. At one place I was feeding at least 20 Blackbirds in January, I was amazed that there were so many Blackbirds in that spinney. Now I am only feeding five or six at the same spot, all the others have moved back to their breeding territories and my amazement has turned into knowledge. There is always something to learn about wildlife. March should see a few of the finches and buntings moving to their breeding territories, but I think most of them will be nesting within a few miles. They will be able to do a bit of singing first thing in the morning and then come back to where I am feeding them and have a good lunch each day. We have a lot of Chaffinches, Blackbirds and Robins around Blackbird the yard, they are picking up bits and pieces from our dressings, husks, dust, half seeds etc from when we have been cleaning the crops we have grown. Of course, if we were just a normal bird food factory none of those bits and pieces would be around, so as far as I am concerned, it is nice to see them around. Blackbirds are of course ground feeders and so the present snow cover will be hitting them very hard unless they can visit a feeding station that has some seed out on the ground. We even have a Blackbird and a Robin in our warehouse, but only one of each. It is their territory and they are not allowing anyone else of the same species in. One of each is OK, they don’t make much mess but if someone does find a bit of bird mess on a bag, it could be from one of them. We wouldn’t want a House Sparrow in the dispatch shed because they are gregarious and there would soon be a gang of them and they would definitely make a mess. On a cold day if we haven’t put any live mealworms out one of the pair of Pied Wagtails that we have in the yard comes into the shop just to remind our Farm Shop Manager that they require some mealworms!