This year has been quite extraordinary and challenging for those of us whose working lives are so intimately bound up with the weather. The past few weeks with their mild autumn weather have been lovely and quite honestly the first that have seemed 'normal' for ages!
It's hard to believe that much of the first three months of this year were freezing cold and covered in snow. As our first goats started kidding at the start of February, this proved an immediate challenge as new born kids are - much like human babies - very vulnerable to cold weather. These two cuties were born by emergency C section in the middle of the early March deep freeze, and even though they were immediately dried and warmed, got hypothermia. So they ended up in our sitting room, in a nest of hot water bottles. Once their temperature normalised, they moved into the dining room (the photo is of them here at a few days old) and stayed there until it got warmer and they were big enough to rejoin the others.
Meanwhile, nearly all our water pipes froze which is a challenge both in terms of getting water to the goats to drink, and for cleaning the milking parlour and cheese equipment, where high standards of cleanliness are a must. We did manage to keep one tap going, but had to manually fill the boiler and parlour washing system by lugging 20L buckets of water back and forth (they get quite heavy very quickly, just ask Fraser....), and pass buckets filled from the boiler in through the windows of the cheese room.
The goats were very freaked out by the sight of snow, too, and it took a while to convince them that they could step on it without their feet coming off!
At last April came however and the weather warmed up enough for the goats to venture outside. Unlike sheep, goats don't have waterproof coats (or a thick fleece) so they need to be sheltered when the temperatures are cold.
Due to the cold weather, the grass had hardly grown at all, of course, but it managed a few good weeks of growth in April. Luckily we are well stocked up with hay from the Earth Trust wildflower meadows, so no one went hungry, but for many farmers who are less plentifully supplied, hay stocks were running very low by this point in the year, and prices to buy in hay started to climb steeply.
No sooner had the snow gone though then the sunshine and heat came, and a whole new set of problems! From May to July, there was astonishingly little rain, and so the grass once again stopped growing and the landscape turned brown. Again, we are lucky at Earth Trust as the supply and quality of hay is really strong, but people when hay making in June, many people were only getting half the amount they usually would from their fields, which will surely have an impact on their supplies - and hay prices - over the coming winter.
Meanwhile, the milk yield dropped, as the hot weather affects the goats' appetites (the same is true of cows and sheep).
On the cheese production side of things, the heat had a big impact on our maturing facilities, as the hot weather means the cooling units need to be running more, which can change the humidity levels and maturing environment. So adjustments were necessary, such as extra buckets of water on the floor, and adjusting the fan speeds to reduce air movement.
So the past few weeks have been a very welcome relief. The goats have got their appetites back, the grass is growing again, and the temperature is pleasant for humans and animals alike. In fact, it's the time of year when thoughts turn to spring again, as we start to plan for next year's kidding, which we are planning to start in March this year, in the hope of avoiding the coldest of the weather and giving the new born goat kids a warmer welcome to the world. You may even be able to spot some billy goats in the back of this picture looking on with interest....