A surprise calf birth has shocked a Norfolk cattle farmer

The shock arrival of an unexpected new calf and some emotional departures set the tone of change for October at Eves Hill Farm, near Reepham – the subject of our monthly ‘A year in the life of a Norfolk farm’ feature.

Life in the countryside can often be unpredictable – but Norfolk farmer Jeremy Buxton admits the unexpected arrival of a new calf took him completely by surprise.

The calf was born at Eves Hill Farm last week, months ahead of the normal spring calving season.

Mr Buxton said it was a “complete shock” to find the newborn bull in his field as he didn’t even know its mother was pregnant.

“It’s a case of some cattle getting where they shouldn’t have been nine months ago, and it was a one-night stand, a dare,” he said.

“A cow and a bull came together and nine months later we had this unexpected surprise.

“He was born within a few minutes and he was up and moving. It was a complete shock, and I drove into the field and said, ‘What is this? Where did this calf come from?’

“It was surprising and a big surprise to me because the cow hid her pregnancy from us.

“I don’t know if she got lost in the battle trying different cattle or if we just missed her, but you’d hope we’d pick up this pregnancy.”

The farm normally schedules its calves to arrive in the spring – although Mr Buxton plans to move this later in the year to make the best use of available grass and feed sources.

Farmer Jeremy Buxton with Hereford cattle being sold to a farm in Sussex
– Credit: Denise Bradley

Cattle trips

While one new calf has arrived, several animals are leaving the farm next week as it continues its transition to more sustainable “restorative” agriculture.

A group of Hereford cattle are being sold to make way for a new breeding program to produce smaller Aberdeen Angus crosses that are better suited to the farm’s grass-fed systems and more drought tolerant.

Mr Buxton said it would be an emotional moment for the 18 pregnant cows, with 14 calves at foot, to go to their new home in Sussex.

“I will definitely be sad to see them go,” he said. “Some of them are our stock cattle, some of those cows were daughters of my first cows and have been with us for a long time.

“It’s the end of an era but we’re starting a new one and we’re delighted that they’re going to a fantastic new home in Sussex. It’s a highly regenerative, 100pc grass-fed, biodynamic farm with the same principles as ours. .

“It was very important for me to find the right buyer.”

Jeremy Buxton with his Goldline hens laying 200 eggs at Eves Hill Farm in Booton

Jeremy Buxton with some of the 200 egg-laying hens at Eves Hill Farm to be kept indoors as a precaution against bird flu
– Credit: Denise Bradley

Bird flu is a concern

Another unplanned change this month was the need to bring the farm’s 200 free-range chickens indoors to comply with new regulations aimed at preventing the spread of bird flu.

Norfolk has recorded an unprecedented 40 cases of the devastating virus this month, killing hundreds of thousands of commercial birds.

Mr Buxton said he was “really concerned” about the disease, which had prompted the farm to reconsider whether it could continue to farm poultry in the future.

“We’ve done everything we can for our birds, we’ve locked them up, we follow all the biosecurity measures, but other than that it’s out of our hands,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that bird flu makes us question how long we’re going to keep chickens in business. If they’re going to be cooped up for six or seven months of the year, is it worth it?

“We did not start the poultry enterprise to keep the chickens in the barn, we started them to roam freely.

“Not only that, but in the current economic climate, with high feed costs, if they’re not laying well, it’s not economically viable.”

According to him, the forced displacement has affected the productivity of the hens, and they lay 25 percent fewer eggs.

“This is due to a shock change in the system, where we took them overnight from free-ranging birds with their chosen habit to being caged,” he said.

“Most have taken the fine, but some take a little longer, some are completely normal, the weather is changing, the daylight is getting shorter. There are so many things that concern the chickens here, it can affect their health.”

Jeremy Buxton, right, looks at the Aerworx machine with regenerative consultant Niels Corfield.

Jeremy Buxton, right, with regenerative farming consultant Niels Corfield and an Aerworx aerator during a demonstration
– Credit: Denise Bradley

Drought resistant areas

A technique was demonstrated at Eves Hill Farm this week as part of an effort to make pastures more drought-tolerant.

The Aerworx aerator is a roller with metal blades that loosen dry soil and allow rainwater to infiltrate deeper.

“It’s a mechanical tool to use in our regenerative transition journey to help our soils,” Mr Buxton said.

Jeremy Buxton, right, chats with Aerworx's Jason Lock during a machine demonstration

Jeremy Buxton, right, chats with Aerworx’s Jason Lock during a machine demonstration
– Credit: Denise Bradley

“You want to use it when the soil is still hard, so cracking in the top four or five inches at the same time as aerating the soil has a disintegrating effect.

“We’re talking about drought tolerance, allowing water to infiltrate deeper into the soil profile, so in drought conditions there’s water there for grass roots to take hold and continue to grow. It’s about water retention.”

Farmer Jeremy Buxton shows soil clinging to the roots of wheat plants

Farmer Jeremy Buxton shows soil clinging to the roots of wheat plants
– Credit: Denise Bradley

Soil biology

Soil health is also being scrutinized around the new wheat plants, which are already coming to the surface after being planted earlier this month.

Mr. Buxton looks at the roots of young plants and needed a biological dictionary to explain why he was so pleased with them.

“They’re not pure white roots, but the glomalin that forms around them is like Mother Nature’s glue, which holds all the little soil particles together to form the rhizosphere, which is the soil around the roots,” he said.

“It’s all about biology and how things interact beneath the surface.

“That’s what you want, big plots of land that are attached to strong healthy roots that penetrate the soil profile to access water and all the other minerals.

“Because we’re using a biological seed dressing, we help that process by putting the right nutrients in there to help the root grow faster, stronger, and allow all that biology to work around the rooting surface.”

Soil clinging to the roots of wheat plants at Eves Hill Farm

Soil clinging to the roots of wheat plants at Eves Hill Farm
– Credit: Denise Bradley

Aerworx aerator machine on display at Eves Hill Farm

Aerworx aerator machine on display at Eves Hill Farm
– Credit: Denise Bradley

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