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A Week on the Estate: Reds into Keal, Chickens into Coops & Counting Birds

We’re about to reach one of our seasonal milestones – the coldest and darkest time of year when the Lincoln Red herd moves into its winter quarters until the spring.

After a lot of rain last week, the Lincoln Reds have finished all their crunchy kale and the juiciest clover. With the coldest and darkest months upon us, it’s time to bring the herd into Keal Yard. With their thick woolly coats and plenty of lush pasture to explore, the cows would probably like to stay outside a tad longer.

Lincoln Red cattle in December mist

Midwinter is a busy time for Herd Manager John Crutchley and his hard-working team. Unlike some modern breeds, the Massingberd-Mundy Lincoln Red herd lives outdoors from March-April to November-December, depending on the temperature. The herd is about to be brought under cover and calving will begin in January, so John and the team could be working some long hours in the cold and dark.

On a typical winter day, the team starts at 7am. The cattle are freshly bedded and fed, which takes until noon. The rest of the day is spent on essential housekeeping, including bringing in feed and bedding for the next day, maintaining machinery, weighing and checking the health of cattle, liaising with the vet if needed and keeping paperwork in order.

Lincoln Red cattle in winter quarters

South Ormsby’s herd enjoys ‘high-health’ status – the highest standard of cattle health that can be registered. Their winter feed is haylage sourced entirely from the estate; year-round, the herd are sustained by the land at South Ormsby, and by a herd-team who care for their cattle.

Closer to home, it looks like our Lincolnshire Buff chickens will be spending Christmas safely inside and out of harm’s way. We’d urge any keeper of poultry – even if it’s just one hen foraging in your garden – to be aware of the risk posed by the current outbreak of bird flu. Among those affected so far by the current H5N8 strain of the virus is a turkey farm in Norfolk. An overview can be found via BBC News online.

Saturday Club bird census

Bird-flu symptoms in chickens include (but are not limited to): oedema in comb & wattles / cyanosis of wattles, combs & legs / diarrhoea / nasal discharge / soft-shelled or misshapen eggs / decreased egg production / coughing & sneezing / poor coordination / swelling of head, eyelids, wattles, hocks and comb / pinpoint haemorrhages on feet & shanks / ruffled feathers / lack of energy & appetite.

Last weekend, the Saturday Club got started on a mini-census of the bird-feeders around the Hall. In the kitchen garden, they mostly saw blue tits, coal tits and robins, while house sparrows were in the majority elsewhere. We’ll repeat the survey this weekend and tally up afterwards. The RSPB’s 2020 survey of the most common garden birds looks like this: 1. House sparrow, 2. Starling, 3. Blue tit, 4. Woodpigeon, 5. Blackbird, 6. Goldfinch, 7. Great tit, 8. Robin, 9. Long-tailed tit, 10. Magpie. It’ll be interesting to see how we compare.