Skip to main content

Farmers’ dilemmas: an early summer collection

Want to know more about what goes on here at Warren Farm? Read on for a low-down of the decisions we have to make at this time of year.

Farmers’ dilemmas: Throughout the year, farmers have to make lots of decisions, particularly around planting, harvesting and animal care. To give you an insight into what’s going on behind the scenes at the start of summer, we thought we’d share some of the hottest topics we’re currently debating here at Warren Farm. Read on to see our most common set of Farmers’ dilemmas.

A flock of sheep being rounded up. In the distance a red quad bike is being used to help and a sheepdog is bringing up the rear. Farmers’ dilemmas with this is knowing when to start the shearing.
Herding the flock of sheep here at Warren Farm.

Shear or don’t shear?

The hot weather can be uncomfortable for our ewes if they’re still running around in their thick winter coats. Leave the fleeces on too long and they can become itchy and maggoty. The sheep start rubbing themselves to relieve the itching and this causes the fleeces to disintegrate – which is not good because our fleeces are a valuable commodity, which we sell for use as fillings in duvets and pillows. Shearing the sheep cools them down and makes it easier to see when they are lambing. But if we do it too soon and then there’s a cold snap, they can go into shock – so we have to keep an eye on the weather forecasts and time it right.

Cows feeding at Warren Farm. Farmers’ dilemmas - If they eat all the food now, what do we feed them during the winter?

Extra feed?

A long, dry, sunny period is great if you’re glamping here, but it’s not so good for our sheep and cattle. In hot weather, the grass becomes dry and loses nutrients, so there’s a danger they will start struggling and get bored in the fields because there’s nothing much to graze on. We have to watch the situation closely and decide whether to top them up with extra feed – but the problem with doing that is that it eats away the food we’ve stored for winter.

Making hay during the summer months at Warren farm in Somerset. The Farmers’ dilemmas here is knowing just when to time it.

Make hay while the sun shines?

We want to get a good crop of hay so that we have enough to feed our animals through the winter months when the grass doesn’t grow. May is traditionally the best grass-growing month, because the grass gets good sunlight and plenty of moisture. This really sets it up for growing through the summer. A dry and cold May stunts the grass’ growth, leaving us waiting longer in the hope the grass will grow a bit more before we start haymaking.

Glamping pods, tents and cabins - BOOK HERE

Breezy weather is also a problem because it can burn the grass, resulting in poor-quality hay. That means there’s always the question of whether to wait or to go ahead with the hay-making. We bring in a contractor to bale the hay, and we pay based on the area covered, so it costs the same however lush or sparse the grass is. To make it cost-effective it’s best to have a good crop of grass. In dry weather, this often means waiting a little longer in the hope that rain will come and make the grass thicken up a bit.

Our new, North Devon (Ruby Red) Bull
Our new, North Devon (Ruby Red) Bull

Which breed to buy?

We recently bought a new bull – and whenever we do this, we must decide which breed we want. Different breeds have different benefits and disadvantages. For the first time, we’re trying a North Devon (Ruby Red), which is a hardy native breed with a thick hide that enables it to live outside during winter. We’re aiming to breed heifers from him that are better equipped for outdoor living so that we can keep them out longer throughout the year. We usually budget for housing our cattle for six months a year, but we hope that with Red’s help, we can build a herd that will only need to come inside for three months. This will save us money and improve the herd’s quality of life.

A variety of wild flowers growing in one of our fields

What to plant?

We use our land to grow different types of food for our animals, so every year we must decide what to grow, where, and when. We grow peas and barley every year. These two plants can be grown together very well – we call this ‘whole crop’. It’s high in protein, and the barley provides starch for energy. It also improves the soil because it’s a good nitrogen fixer. We’ve got 20 acres of whole crop planted at present, and we’ve also just set 26 acres of new grass.

Glamping pods, tents and cabins - BOOK HERE

You might be surprised to learn that grass doesn’t just grow naturally: we have to sow it. A ‘lay’ is the terminology for the new grass seeds that have gone into the ground. Each grass lay will last six to eight years once it’s established and we’ve tackled any weeds. When the weeds are gone, we direct drill into the grass to lay a biodiverse mix of herbs and legumes in it – so instead of just one species of grass, we will have multiple species of different plants, some of which will have flowers, and some of which will be nitrogen fixers. This is good for pollinators and invertebrates, and some of the plants will have deep tapping roots that bring nutrients up into the soil. They also provide a better mix for animals to graze on and improve the crop’s survivability in dry weather.

Hopefully this has helped to shed a little light on the multitude of Farmers’ dilemmas that goes on at Warren Farm every summer. Why not book your own stay and see the working farm for yourself.