Farm outing for Rotary group

David Watson and Rotary members in the tractor shed at Cockle Park.
David Watson and Rotary members in the tractor shed at Cockle Park.

IT was a beautiful sunny morning when members assembled in the courtyard at Cockle Park Tower to visit the University of Newcastle’s Experimental Farm near Hebron.

The 15th-century Tower of the Ogles and Bertrams has just had a three-year renovation, but it still needs work on the interior.

Soon there was a cold, freezing wind with snow showers, and that was inside the tractor shed.

The farm manager, David Watson, said this reflected the very bad farming year. All of the sheep had been brought indoors because of the weather.

The facility is held on a 999-year lease from the Welbeck Estate at a rent of £1 a year, gifted to Durham University School of Agriculture in 1926. All farm staff live on site.

It is 750 acres and other rented land brings it to around 1,000 acres.

A world-famous field is Palace Leas, where a fertiliser-free grass trial is the longest running continuous trial in the world.

A Cockle Park grass mix is sold throughout the world, especially New Zealand, as a mix that will grow anywhere. The farm is run as a commercial livestock operation, half organic.

The milking parlour has a barrier down the middle with different routines for each side, feeding into separate milk tanks.

A total of 350 acres are arable with wheat, barley and oil seed rape and they bale their own straw.

Staff have 850 sheep to lamb. Ewes ready for lambing are sorted into singles, twins and triplets, following scanning by the vet. There is much help from the veterinary science students.

Machines are used for bedding up and putting out feed.

Muck is raked out by machine and goes into a pipe to a large slurry tank.

The dairy herd is 200 with 200 followers.

Cows in the beef shed are in milk for 305 days a year then have 50 days off after calving when they are not milked.

They are then inseminated again. If they are not in calf then there is no milk. After 10 to 15 years of milking, they go to market for meat.

The grass fields are split up into 21 paddocks for grassland management. First milking is 5.30am to try to get a full 12-hour gap before next milking.

Muck goes to an anaerobic digester, but they have not had full-power production from it yet.

Making silage is now the only task where all of the farm workers take part together. The first cut is June 13, with a second cut before harvest.

Various types of feeds are mixed with ingredients including soya and sugar beet pulp. They include heifer mix and sheep mix. Brewer’s grain and molasses can be mixed with hay to improve energy.

The pig unit is mostly for research work on welfare and life enhancement, some licensed by the Home Office.