Silage was postponed by a fortnight. The weather turned and shifted like a fever, and no two days were alike. When a run of clear sunshine presented itself, I rushed to mount the mower and make a start.
I’ve often wailed with discomfort at the difficulty of late season silage – I’m sorry to cover and recover old ground, but I’m thrown by how far we’ve come from the alchemy of hay. Hot summer sun allowed for the pursuit of perfection; everything clicks into beautiful harmony and it’s a farmer’s job to guide the task. Autumn silage is the prevention of disaster, and if I harp on about this distinction, then it’s only because this job is all about grass, and there’s plenty to curse.
I bought a fine-good Deutz mower in the summer, and now I’ve got the hang of it. I’ve just about learned to skim the blades across the turf and pare away the goodness, but it’s edgy work on wet soil at the end of October. And it’s a heavy machine to pull behind a light tractor, so I’m inclined to raise wads of mud in the wake of my working. Once or twice is almost fine, but when you have to mow the grass, then kick it out and row it again? well, you soon find your nice field has scarred away to a mash of welts and clods. Then your grass turns muddy, and that’s a disaster for the silage because mud breeds diseases and the cattle are sickened with it. So you try and tiptoe through the splashy ground and ditch the bits which come up mushy.
But for all it’s a challenge, I took some rare pleasure in the job this year. I did it well, and I leant on things I learned last year and the year before that. I drove the blades under an evening sky, and I watched ranks of redwings rearing up through a drift of fallen leaves. Out to the merse I found wigeon and greenshank pooling in the pans of salt and brackish water; company for the tractor cab – a fair surrogate for the fun of semi-skimmed sandmartins. Grass will always be summer work, but there are worse things than having it driven into autumn.