Posted on 20 December, 2016Comments (0)

Farm Diary

Farm Diary

The ewes are grazing stubble turnips at present. These were sown in September and provide fresh feed now that the grass has little nutritional value. The sheep initially eat the green leaves but then learn that the turnips themselves are preferable being sweet and tasty providing high sugar and therefore energy levels. The alternative for the hopefully pregnant ewes is hay, haylage or silage as a bulk feed, but this is expensive and requires more management, machinery etc. For these ewes which are due to start lambing in early March they will also receive some concentrate nuts from mid Jan onwards. The aim is to produce lambs that are fit and healthy when born but not too large otherwise there will be difficulties at birth.

When I first came to Bentworth the Hall Farm flock grew to about 450 ewes at one time and necessitated housing the ewes during the winter months because providing sufficient fresh feed in the field for that number would cause problems. The lower numbers and recent milder winters mean that housing is not essential but I do have the option of bringing them under cover at short notice if a lot of snow is forecast.

I am asked if the seasons are changing and my answer would be that as we have all observed the snow periods which used to last weeks do seem to have ceased but maybe by the time that you read this we will have had a white out! I can remember Tinkers Lane being impassable even for 4 wheel drive tractors and the lane to Burkham being completely filled with snow in places. The road past Roe Downs farm in Medstead was blocked for several days – with all of the new dwellings in Four Marks the number of commuter journeys through Bentworth might drop for a while if / when it happens again.

The world climate has always been evolving and humans and others learn to cope with changes. Sadly some species do find it hard to adapt whilst others thrive and the populations vary accordingly. By the time man has interfered there is a very mixed picture an example of which is the humble hedgehog. They used to be very common with many flattened on the road by cars. Nowadays their numbers are dwindling and one of the main reasons is the protected status given to badgers in 1992 under the “Protection of Badgers Act”. Hedgehogs are a delicacy of badgers. Badgers are about the only species that can easily undo rolled up and spiky hedgehogs and therefore the huge increase in badger numbers has been at the expense of hedgehog numbers. This can be seen by the sight of cleaned out skins and spines in the countryside – the badger has eaten the rest of that hedgehog.

A species that has thrived recently is the Red Kite, examples of which can be seen every day in this area. They have tended to push out the Buzzards that were very common a few years ago – I had a BBC reporter doing an interview about the farm and he was amazed that I could take him to areas of the farm and without waiting we could see and hear (they have a high pitched scream) Buzzards flying around. The Kites can be easily recognised by the “V” shape to their tails. The down side of all of these high end predators is that the vertebrates lower down the feeding ladder are having a hard time because of predation. In one 30 acre field this autumn we had 7 Kites looking for small creatures to eat e.g. field mice – it is no wonder that the species dynamics are changing!

[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]

Julian Lewis


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