Ferme du Vieux Chêne

In that first week of May, it felt like we were being pushed into a corner. There was very little work for other farms and on our own farm the busiest little bee was the Kubota Sidekick. We were making some money though and our funds had crept up to over €30k again. We took the difficult decision to spend some of that cash on a second large greenhouse to sit beside the first. Once more we contacted Jacques and he agreed to come and prepare the ground and install it for us. I visited him on site as the work neared completion to see what he thought. “This will be the last one here.” he said, “The rest of the ground isn’t really flat enough – You can see I’ve had to leave quite a lumpy bit to the side there…” He indicated a mound of earth. “Putting more up on the east side would need a lot of earth moved and the same is true to the west.” He shook his head and put on a sad expression. I was sure that if we asked he would probably agree but the cost of the works would be a lot more. “I’ve made you a small parking area for your water tank though.” he showed me the area to the west of the greenhouses.

With the second greenhouse installed, it was time to do some more trips to the river to fill the storage system. On the third trip I decided to pop into Armand Moteurs to get the tractor and water tank maintained. It proved to be a opportune visit. Sitting among the second hand implements was an Anderson RBM2000 bale loader! They normally cost over €50k new – Jean wanted just under €23k for it. I rang Mark, “What do you think?” “Get it!” was his response. I hadn’t realised how much he’d grown into the idea of grass, hay and silage since our original decision to buy the field up by the Cooperative Grain Store. So I agreed the purchase with Jean and he moved it out front ready for me to collect later…

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The last week of May was mainly small errands for the farm – taking produce to the farmers market or the bakery and another water run to top up the greenhouses. We picked up a weeding job too – one of the worst paying jobs but when you’re living hand to mouth, you take what you can get.

The beginning of June – bright and sunny. I checked the weather…

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…Dry for the first 10 days with rain moving in for the rest of the month. Our Barley crop was ready to harvest and that should be our priority but there was also a harvesting job for Caroline Rodine in the next valley and, knowing that we’d have to hire a combine to harvest our own crop, I opted to take that job first to boost our funds. I was loaned the necessary equipment and got on with the job post-haste…

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…Then it was time to harvest our own crop. On dropping the loaned equipment back to Jean, I enquired about hire rates and opted for borrowing a Rostselmash harvester and its associated cutter head. “What about trailers?” he asked. “I won’t need one – our silo’s right next to the field.” “Header trailer?” “It’s only a narrow head – I’ll take it fitted.” He looked dubious so I explained, “If I take the back road up to the Grain Store, then come down to our farm from there, I can pull onto the grass to let traffic past and there aren’t many street lamps to hit on the way!” Still shaking his head, he waved me on my way.

The Rostselmash proved to be quite an agile machine after driving the Deutz-Fahr earlier in the week and I made it to our farm without incident. It was very easy to manoeuvre around our field too…

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…Its one downside was the small capacity of the internal tank, requiring me to take a trip to the silo to empty it 4 times!..

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We now had a problem – a field of straw to gather and sell, but no tools to do that with. Hiring would cost more than the straw was worth. It was a compelling case for buying a baler but we didn’t have the cash. We discussed it over dinner that evening. The cheapest I could see us getting a baler for was €25k – I’d seen an older basic Claas one in Jean’s catalogues. We’d need to take a loan which would increase our debt to the bank and push up our interest payments. As luck would have it, we were able to pick up another harvesting job. This time on a larger field belonging to Hugo Boutroux. The money earned from that job, combined with the sale of our first Lettuce crop…

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…along with some Tomatoes helped. I took the trailer down to Jean to get the sides refitted – something I need to get the tools for so that I can do it at our farm! Got some odd looks from the locals as I passed through town…

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…Yes, the Sidekick can pull an empty trailer! With the sides refitted, the tractor took over to haul 3 loads of Barley up to the Coop Grain Store…

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With all that work done, we’d managed to reduce the amount of additional loan needed to €15k. I called Jean and asked about the baler – “Ah! – Old man Roche had one of those in stock. I’ll call him and check if he still has it.” There was a nervous wait then Jean called back. “I’ll collect it from him tomorrow and you can come and get it on Wednesday.” Come Wednesday and by the time I’d been able to collect the baler it was late evening. I quickly set about baling the straw…

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…it was dark by the time I finished and put the baler away…

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…The trouble was – rain was forecast for the next day and wet straw bales are no good for man nor beast. I hooked up the Anderson – it was going to do its first work in the dark!..

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…I collected 12 bales of straw. Fortunately, the biomass plant is open 24/7 and is just a short trip along farm track from ‘du Vieux Chêne. That put some good money back in our account – more than I expected to be honest and with a baler added to our machinery, we’ve moved a bit closer to being able to produce grass, hay and silage 🙂 I put the bale loader to bed next to the shed and parked the tractor beside the house…

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…after the hectic last 10 days, I could happily have fallen asleep in the cab!

I hope I have conveyed the pressure to get a job completed at harvest time. The threat of rain is a great motivator! Whether the rains will come in the morning is, of course, a moot point – weather forecasting is not an exact science and local areas can have their own micro-climate.

The decision to take out an additional loan to buy the baler was probably the right one – hiring would have cost as much money as the straw was going bring in and the baler is part and parcel for the longer term activities on the farm. Now all we need is a mower and we can do grass bales.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the trailer taking Barley to the grain store is only half-full. There is a setting in the game that limits the amount of grain you can load on a trailer to its max weight. if you turn it off, then you can fill the trailer to the brim. I personally prefer to have real life limits where possible. That weight limit setting doesn’t seem to affect your limit when carrying big bags or pallets though – based on the amount grain I was allowed to load, the trailer was overloaded when I had 4 bags of chicken feed on board 😉

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