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On Our Farm

July 11th 2016

Guy Lee farms in partnership with his wife, Philippa, at Sandystones, near St Boswells. Arable crops of wheat, oilseed rape, malting barley, rye and organic oats are grown, 400 cattle are fi nished annually, 4000 organic hens produce eggs for Waitrose, 14,000 organic point of lay pullets reared each year and 60,000 pheasant poults are raised. In addition we produce Agrimart, which is read by 8,000 farmers and agriculturally related businesses.

Philly and I were in the kitchen on Saturday evening having put two grandchildren to bed and about to have a strong drink when we heard a terrible cacophony from our furthest away hen shed. This is over 600 metres away from the house and it is very rare for us ever to hear any noise, especially over that distance. I drove straight out and found carnage with

dead and dying hens outside the shed. All the birds had lacerations or claw marks on their backs, there was no damage to the head or neck and there were no piles of feathers.

We have already lost a number of birds earlier in the summer and were unsure what predator was causing the damage. There is a nine strand electric fence that we toil hard to keep working effectively, being organic we are unable to use glyphosate to keep weeds down and have to rely on regular strimming.

The fence is tested everyday, we never see hens outside the fence and I am sure foxes and badgers are not getting in. There are no worn tracks round the edge of the fi eld, it could be mink or an otter as the paddock is close to the river and a ditch but I don’t think the way the birds are killed fi ts in with their pattern. We have come to the conclusion it must be buzzards or goshawks, there is a nest in a neighbour’s wood and although it is reported that these birds of prey rarely kill hens, more usually rabbits or young pheasants, the damage to the birds is consistent with their method of killing. This is very frustrating and gives few control measures, in the long term we are going to plant trees and shrubs in the range to give more cover, in the meantime I am sourcing old potato boxes that can be put upside down with some boards removed that will provide additional shelter. It was amazing how quickly after the attack the hens were out ranging again as if nothing had happened, and egg production seemed unaffected yesterday.

Laceration and claw marks on the backs of the hens

The damp and warm weather in the past month has boosted grass growth and delayed silage harvest. For the second year in succession there will be a huge bulk of conserved forage. There is already a large carryover and with stock numbers down there are probably insuffi cient mouths to consume this surplus. On the plus side it has meant our toppers are fl at out, and are hardly back in the steading before they are out again. Maintenance is a constant challenge, I do wish someone would develop a PTO guard that has the durability to survive a season’s hard work, too often the plastic rings fail and we are having to purchase yet another protective cover.

At last the beef price has turned, we have been paid £3.60/kg since mid April, and have endured returns below the cost of production. I fear this gain may be short lived as supplies are forecast to increase as dairy cows are culled when grass growth declines, although this is not prime beef it adds to the amount of product on the market.

The chipper is coming regularly. The larger Heizomat machine processes a good volume of willows in a day. Although weight for volume is not as good as chipped cord wood, the calorifi c value seems on a par or better and our boilers handle the chip wuth no issues.

What a great day for the country’s sportsmen yesterday Andy Murray, Heather Watson, Gordon Reid, Alfi e Hewett and Jordanne Whiley all won titles at Wimbledon, Lewis Hamilton won the British Grandprix and Chris Froome kept hold of the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. With the referendum over and not going the way that almost half of those who voted would have wished, we have put the result behind us and make the most of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. The weakness of the pound has lifted domestic prices which will help sales income but the downside is that so much of our input costs are imported whether it is fertiliser or machinery though I fear it will be a short-lived gain. At least we have a new Prime Minister which should give some stability and direction.



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