Thursday 3 January, 2013
When we bought our two heifer calves in October 2010, we kept them in until February / March time. This was to allow them to get to know us and to be halter trained. Over the winter 2011/12, our two heifers (now in-calf) and our bullock out wintered, with access to a field shelter. Now Shetlands will outwinter quite happily but we don’t have masses of grazing, so during the “summer” of 2012, I was thinking about housing the cattle for at least part of the winter, mainly to protect the grass.
Had the weather been dry and frosty, I might have left them out – but, of course, it wasn’t. It was very, very wet – even here in the (supposedly) dry east. So I decided to bring them in just before Christmas and turn them out mid-March – they have to go out then as the area where they are housed is where the lambing pens go and we start lambing on 1st April.
We’ve got two areas – the old byre, that we used in 2010 and part of the barn that we had a concrete floor put down in during 2011, specifically for lambing. Neither was big enough to accommodate five cattle, so housing was delayed until the calves were six and seven months and could be weaned. The calves are in the byre and the three adult cattle are in the barn.
The byre’s working fine – obviously, we’d done much of the tweaking a couple of years ago. But the arrangements in the barn are still evolving and hay racks and troughs are being moved regularly to try to fine what works best. Although there’s enough space (according to the Soil Association standards), I’m not entirely happy with it yet – but we’ll keep working on it.
Of course, I’ve already started thinking about next year, when we’ll have more cattle. I’d also like to be able to house the calves next to their mothers at weaning – might cut down on the noise a bit. Annie actually lost her voice with all the bawling – none of the neighbours have complained, thank goodness, but they must have wondered what tortures we were inflicting on them. I also noticed that the two cows dropped condition at weaning – I think they were too busy stressing to eat or cud properly. I’d rather avoid that in future if I can.