When one is not 'in' farming, then I think it is fair to say that most outsiders rarely think of the farming year in terms of what jobs need doing. Yes, they notice when the lambs appear in the fields, when the oil seed rape comes into bloom, when the hay is cut and baled and when the combine harvesters begin their job. But other than that I think it is all taken forgranted. At least, speaking of myself pre-farming (that is before I became a farmer's wife twenty three years ago after a lifetime of teaching in an inner-city school) then I loved the countryside (I grew up deep in it) and I revelled in country walks and holidays, but I didn't give a lot of thought to how the farmer got his work done.
But certainly in this part of the world, I would say that the last eight months have probably been the hardest for local farmers for a very long time. It was difficult to get the corn sown (there isn't a lot of it around here because The Dales is largely grassland and what corn there is is usually grown for cattle feed) because we had such lashings of rain, day after day that so that many fields were flooded (and towns like Carlisle too). Cattle in many places had to come in early because of the state of the fields, although silaging time had been very good indeed, so everyone had at least got plenty of silage.
Now is the time for cattle - milking herds in particular (there are still a lot round here) - to go out again into the pastures. The grass has been greening up nicely and at long last it has been possible to get on to the drying-up fields to run over them with the chain harrows and then the roller. One or two farmers in the vicinity have let their herds out this week - and these cows have been going round the fields like mad things, so enjoying their freedom after a winter of being shut in. Now the weather has turned for the worse; we are getting snow (an inch yesterday, which went almost as quickly as it came) and then towards evening the sky clears and we are getting sharp frosts. This means that the grass is damaged when the cattle come out after morning milking.
Straw for indoor bedding is running out and I think most farmers are keen to let their cattle out, but the weather has to be right.
Lambing of Swaledale sheep has not quite finished yet but the fields are full of healthy-looking lambs. Once the first twenty four hours are past and the lambs have a good helping of colostrum in their tummies they are a hardy lot and really thrive better outside than they do shut in the barn. Most of the Dales sheep up here are
Swaledales - with some mules and a smattering of Blue-faced Leicesters.
The farmer is saying that he can never remember it as cold and inclement as this in all his years of farming, but farmers are a hardy lot and they press on, knowing that sooner or later it will all even out as things will get going 'as normal' again.