What’s that smell?” said the nine-year-old in the way only children are honest with you.

“It’s silage,” said herself, “and it’s coming from Daddy’s trousers”.

Yes, the first of this year’s silage bales have been opened. As well as more regular changes of clothes to keep the family happy, the next few months will bring about several other changes in Daddy’s routine.

I was half on holidays over the past while. The ewes were gone so there was none of the work related to their breeding rituals. The last of the lambs were thriving well and only needed their 0.3kg of meal every day. The calves-stroke-weanlings were the same, needing only grass and a daily visit to give them their 1kg of meal.

It was a nice gentleman’s schedule. I am sure I even walked slowly with my hands clasped behind my back on occasion, pondering the meaning of it all.

Rude awakening

The past week was very much a rude awakening, however, with one weanling dying of pneumonia and several structural adjustments needed in the yard and shed to accommodate feeding and bedding for three different groups of animals.

The weanling dying was not inevitable. But being a May-born calf gave her a bad start. More experienced farmers might be able to manage younger animals at this time of year, but I will stick to buying calves born in February and March from here on. The early calf has a head-start for their whole life.

The remaining 39 weanlings will be split into three groups and you could guess who is going where by just looking at the date of birth on their blue cards. The oldest 12 are flying and if I was into benchmarking and putting myself under pressure, then I would say this group is certainly hitting target weights. At the other end of the scale are four animals born in May and June that need a little extra time and space to feed.

Finally, there is the middle group of 23. You could call them the Goldilocks group. They are not big enough for the eldest group, and not small enough for the youngest group. Spotting any animals that are off-form in the middle of this group will probably be the hardest job over the coming months.

Into and out of the shed

But as we all know, the weather has been mild. This might have contributed to more cases of pneumonia across the country, but it has also meant cattle could stay out of the shed for longer wherever there was a bit of dry ground to accommodate them.

It is a little extra work, but I am currently alternating the big and middle groups above into and out of the shed. The middle ones are in with silage by night and out on grass by day, while the bigger ones spend the day in the shed eating whatever silage is left over before heading back to sleep under the stars. Both groups are getting 1kg of meal.

This Lanigan’s Ball of stepping them out and stepping them in again is adding around 20 minutes to the daily workload, but I will put up with it while the ground holds.

I am paranoid another one might pick up pneumonia, so I hope the fresh air and gradual transition help keep it at bay. It also means less dung around the shed and yard as the animals drop some of their business in the fields.

So, we are into the winter routine. Kind of. No two years are the same, and while the perfume off silage might be consistent, the need to remain agile and adjust farming practices in line with external conditions is something we are all used to doing, no matter what some nay-sayers might claim.