Model Farm is part of the Ditchley Estate which is between Kiddington and Charlbury in Oxfordshire. The farm includes 2200 acres of combinable crops, 461 acres of organic grass, kale and barley with 234 acres of Entry Level (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS).
The first quarter of the 2016 year at Ditchley has been taken up mainly with looking after the stock. The cows came in off the Kale early because unfortunately the dry spring of 2015 resulted in a low yield for the strip grazing. It was a good year however for silage conservation so there has been plenty of fodder to feed. The cows are fed a diet of alternate days hay and silage to prevent them getting too fat ahead of calving in mid-March. The rest of the beef cattle are fed on silage every day. In addition, all cattle over 20 months and not being kept for breeding in the herd, have rolled barley to finish them for sale to Waitrose on their organic scheme.
The sheep are moved around the estate grass fields grazing the grass off as low as possible. This will ensure it returns in the spring with fresh vigour. The sheep are also fed ad lib hay, chopped into the hay racks out in the fields, together with bucket licks of molasses and minerals. They were scanned in February and then split into groups depending on their predicted crop of lambs. Those carrying couples and triplets are fed extra concentrate in the month running up to lambing but those carrying only a single foetus remain on hay to prevent the lamb becoming too large and potentially causing difficulties at birth.
During the winter months another 300m of hedge has been coppiced, it will be stock fenced in front of it to protect the new growth and should grow into a thick hedge.
At Cleveley, along the banks of the river, final stages have been completed on a 3 year project to remove scrubland off a bank to let light in to encourage wild flowers to colonise. At the same time the opportunity was taken to re-fence along the river bank. 60 cricket bat willows have also been planted here.
The arable crops planted in the 2015 autumn remain dormant through the winter months awaiting longer days and warmer soils. A little sulphur and nitrogen has been applied to the oil seed rape already as it will respond early to the first few days of spring; winter barley and wheat following later. Spring beans and spring barley are still to be planted. Patience is required until the correct weather forecast and conditions are reached to ensure the seeds grow with vigour in warm soils. Crops sown in the spring have a relatively short window to grow and mature before harvest in August.
Crops harvested in August/September 2015 have been moved out of the stores. A large proportion of our feed wheat is transported ourselves by tractor and trailers to the local mill at Enstone Aerodrome. This is milled into feed for chickens and pigs. The spring barley passed for malting and was exported. The milling wheat was also exported. The Oil Seed Rape has been delivered to a crushing plant in Erith.