Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Summer news from the farm

Our last calf to be born.  Beautiful little heifer.

Malcolm and his team came to shear the girls, it was a great day, team effort!
Haymaking 2019 all done and in the barn, phew!

Meet Bobbie.  I think I am so handsome....
I do enjoy looking back over what we have been up to before I write and realise how busy the last few weeks have been.  The intensity goes after lambing but the pace is always there and continues right the way through until haymaking. 

We had rain at the beginning of June which has helped enormously.  This time last year the farm was brown and we were worried about grazing for the animals.  This year we are enjoying everything looking green but we need a bit more! 

Calving ended at the beginning of June and they are all looking well.  William our bull is about to have his favourite moment of the year and be back with his ladies.  The big day is on Friday.  And so the cycle starts all over again!

The rams have a little longer to wait, but we have a new boy on the block this year, Bobbie.  A very handsome Hampshire Down ram who has settled in very quickly.  He is still separate from the rest of the boys for now so we are enjoying having him right outside our house.  He will look a lot more woolly once his fleece has grown, so pretty much like a teddy bear, but don't tell him that.... 

We weaned our first group of lambs on Monday, so the farm has been pretty noisy.  They have settled now and are enjoying the first bites of our new herbal leys which we have planted for the first time this year.  To us it looks delicious!  Lots of thick juicy chicory leaves, sanfoin and lots of other tasty treats.  Many of the plants have natural anthelmintic properties and are deep rooting so will benefit soil structure.  Good for drought grazing too so a win win all round.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Fly

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Guest blog from Emma - Varncombe Bank

Varncombe Bank is at first glance less of a field, more of a fenced-off bit of scrap land. Seen from the road (mind the bend) it really doesn’t look up to much. Exposed to the wind, a bit gorsey, its most striking feature from a distance is the very smart stock-netting fence separating it from the imaginatively-named Under Varncombe Bank.

Look more closely (seriously, mind the bend) and you might see livestock on it. At various points in the year, sheep, cows and even horses have grazed the bank.  Although the cattle looked a bit unimpressed to be honest, our friends Steve and Lisa, whose two lovely cobs graze the bank over winter, have said that the pair are positively plump after a winter’s strip grazing.

This is conservation grazing at its best. Coupled with targeted scrub bashing of invasive species such as thorn and gorse, and a bit of tree removal to open up spaces for the sun to get in, the change in the bank has been wonderful to see. We’re so grateful to the volunteers who helped. (The Green Gym even showed up how we should be warming up before getting stuck in.)

Orchids now spill across the slope, birdsong’s everywhere, delicate local plant species are flourishing and a little bit of native downland – so precious it’s referred to as our rainforest – is now definitely more than a bit of scrap land.

Emma Kemp, June 2019

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Lambing 2019 and far!

New born lambs drying out in the sunshine

One of our first sets of triplets to be born

One of our last sets of triplets to be born, all a lovely size!

The shepherd getting some attention on his birthday

One of the many tractor and trailer rides on our open days.  The ride took visitors past our cows.

Emma, Molly and Annika.  Three of our amazing vet students who come back each year to help us on our open days.

Emma talking to visitors about a ewe going into labour.

Rachel, Jane and Sally, some of our lovely helpers on our open days, thank you!

Taking a load of ewes and lambs out for the first time.  One of our favourite jobs.

Lambing 2019 has officially finished!  The weather has been amazing this year, perfect conditions for lambing outside like we do and turning ewes and lambs out onto fresh spring grass.  Everything is easier when its not raining!  However, there is always a sting in the tail with farming, as we now really need rain to keep the grass growing so the ewes can continue producing milk for their lambs and so we can harvest a good crop of hay to store for this winter.

We have some beautiful calves and 7 cows left to calve, they are in front of our house and their deep, rich brown colour against the blue sky contrasting with the fresh green grass is just stunning.  We had some naughty cows not wanting their calves initially which we found surprising, we expect some bad behaviour with the sheep but the cows we expect better!  Things have settled now we are relieved to say.

We have planted 2 new areas of herbal ley mixes and again we need rain to help these establish.  Herbal leys are a mix of different grasses, legumes and herbs, together they provide a range of benefits for healthy rumens of our sheep and cow and good soil health and fertility due to their deep rooting structure.  This structure is one of the key reasons we want to have these types of ley as they are better at coping with drought conditions due to the depth of their roots.  When we were so dry last summer, our red clover field kept our lambs growing as the plants remained green and healthy and continued to grown despite the severe lack of rain.  We have included plants such as chicory which has a high mineral content and perhaps most important of all from the sheeps perspective they think they are incredibly tasty!  We believe this will also enhance the flavour or our meat too.  We look forward to updating our blog with progress over the coming months, I hope by the next time I write we will have had rain.

The swallows, house martins and swifts have returned and we love hearing their calling around the farm, a true sign of summer arriving on the farm, we love it.  Freddie has 2 nests above his bedroom window and we can hear the chicks chattering away, its wonderful.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Fly

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Lambing 2019 here we come

It soon comes around each year, scanning.  Malcolm arrives with his trailer and we send all the ewes through individually and Malcolm scans each one.  Benn our friend stands next to the trailer with spray cans and gives each ewe a mark depending on what Malcolm finds.  If they are having twins they actually don't get a dot, singles its red, triplets one blue dot and this year we have 6 girls having quadruplets who got two blue dots!  The total meant that our lambing percentage is 201%, so each ewe is averaging just over 2 lambs each.  We are going to be busy!

We are now only 4 weeks away from lambing and so far the weather has been amazing and kind to us.  We are really hoping it will continue and we can avoid the difficult conditions we had last year.  Things already feel different because we have moved calving until after lambing.  Normally the cows would be calving now and we would be regularly checking them day and night.  The wet conditions and the snow we had last year helped us decide that it would be safer to calve later in the spring. 

The ewes are beginning to show their pregnancy and looking like convenient coffee tables but moving around never seems to worry them when it comes to feeding time where they are very nimble.  We keep a close eye on them as there are particular risks at this stage when the ewe is under so much pressure from the lambs growing inside her.

Meanwhile we are busy getting ready for our lambing open days - 30th, 31st March and 6th and 7th April.  Please come along and join us.  Meet our wonderful sheep and maybe see a lamb being born, climb our bales, eat delicious local food, tractor and trailer rides (weather permitting) plus other stalls and activities.  We look forward to seeing you.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Fly

Friday, 30 November 2018

Well done William!

We had our lovely vet Nanja here to pregnancy diagnose the cows and everyone is pregnant except for two.  One who we suspected might not be, she had been suffering minor prolapses so it is a good thing she isn't and the other is a bit of a mystery as she is a young cow.  In previous years we had left our bull with the cows for longer to make sure each of the cows had been in season.  This seems a good idea at the time but actually in practice it means calving can last a very long time so we decided to take William out a bit sooner this year.  So we think this could be the reason she isn't in calve, simply that she wasn't in season when he was in with the herd.

We are well into the winter routine now.  The cows are having bales of barley straw, this is a less fattening diet for them as we don't want them putting on too much weight as their calves grow inside them.  The younger cows (see above with William) enjoy the more tasty silage and hay as we need them to continue growing so we can start selling them next year.  The ewes are enjoying the best of what grass there is on the farm, and the lambs have started their winter diet of being out on the stubble turnips (see above photos).  This is a winter food to keep them growing as we are regularly selecting from them now for our customers.  They are funny as they eat all the tasty leaves first and it takes them a couple of days to get the taste for the turnip bulbs themselves.  If we've had a frost they will taste nice and sweet.  This year we were surprised as they seemed to get the hang of munching them quite quickly.

We are busy investigating a system called mob grazing which we have read lots about through being members of the Pasture for Life group of farmers.  The aim is to conserve and look after the soil microbial activity and the roots of the grass to make a more efficient and sustainable system for the environment and our sheep. We divide the fields up into strips which the sheep graze for a few days before moving them onto the next strip.  The grass is not grazed too short and put under stress and is allowed to recover before the process happens again.  What happens otherwise is the sheep nibble the regrowth first and this puts stress on the plant and the root system beneath the soil which the plants and other microbes depend on.  In our new leys (where grass is reseeded) we are knitting in some delicious grass plants which are particularly deep rooting, so will help us during future drought conditions which we need to prepare for and will taste delicious to the sheep and make our lamb and beef taste amazing too.  Water management needs careful thought but is not going to hinder us putting this system in place.  We are really excited about it.

The farm is full of the noises of winter, the quad bike splashing through the puddles, Roly on the tractor doing the winter rounds delivering bales to the cows, chopping wood to keep our wood burners going and at dusk hearing the pheasants going up to roost.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Finch and Fly

Friday, 7 September 2018

One weather extreme to the next

Last winter was the wettest we have experienced since being at Saddlescombe.  We were calving in the snow and mud and then more mud during lambing.  May seemed to be going to plan but with a slight curveball of a very hot bank holiday, little did we know what was to come, we had rain on the 12th May and then nothing until the 29th July.  Even as I write this in September and looking at the photos above reminds me how dry it was and how quickly we forget and how quickly the grass did recover once we did finally get rain.

It was a really difficult summer and lots of extra decision making around whether we need to feed the animals or not.  We just about managed.  We ended up giving our 1 year old cows some extra feed but the moment we had rain and the grass grew we stopped.  The sheep we had to move around regularly to ensure they had enough to eat.  We weaned the lambs and they suffered a bit, they are under a bit of stress anyway leaving their mums but the fresh grass just wasn't there for them.  This affected our lamb supply and we are now on catch up.  Thankfully the farm now looks green again and our shoulders have relaxed a little!

Big decision this year has been to move calving to after lambing next year.  This year was hard in the snow and mud, so by leaving it until later we hope for warmer weather and conditions for them.  This has of course meant that William joined the cows a little later, but he seems very content!

Roly went to collect 20 new shearlings (they will be first time mums next lambing) to join our flock yesterday.  They already appear very at home.  They are Lleyn breed.  We will be welcoming a new Lleyn ram too in a couple of weeks, we are buying him from our near neighbour Hugh Passmore.  So it feels nice to start autumn with some new stock.  We love the seasons with the fresher mornings and heavy dews, it feels even more welcome this year because of the summer we've had.

We all continue to miss Belle very much.  Fly was very quiet and reserved for a while but is now doing really well and her lovely nature is flourishing.  She is still very much Roly's dog but she gets plenty of tummy tickles from all of us. 

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Finch and Fly

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

RIP Belle, a very loyal friend

We lost dear Belle very suddenly last Friday.  She was 11 years old.  We are devastated and miss her very much.

Belle came from Emma who is a shepherdess in Norfolk, who had trained her from a pup.  We collected her and brought her home to Little Wittenham, Oxfordshire where we then were farming.  She was not used to men at all so she stuck with me for the first few days.  It wasn't long until Belle and Roly were firm friends.

Belle had many special qualities, her main one being a wonderful family dog as well as a loyal, brilliant working dog.  When Molly was old enough to start playing with her, Belle was ready and waiting.  She adored the children and would collect balls and sticks for hours with them, or would be happy to sit and be stroked, or poked as often happened when they were small.

In her later years once we had moved to Saddlescombe, she loved getting to know the fields and gateways and learning and anticipating all the sheep moves that she would know off the back of her paw in a short time.  She quickly became part of the farm and loved being out on the quad bike.  She mastered the 'downhill snuggle' (Emma who helps us named this), which involved her lying/leaning on you as we rode on the back of the bike behind Roly down the often steep banks,  her sense of balance was unique.  We loved it, any excuse to give her a cuddle.

Back at home she would potter around the garden, be there while I would hang out the washing and  lie in the sun or right by the back door, waiting for the right moment to sneak in and lie inside by the back door.  I would pretend I hadn't noticed her lying there, she would open one eye and quietly wag her tail.

Belle touched a lot of peoples lives through all of our visits from schools, shepherds for the day and other groups.  She knew what to do.  The children in wheelchairs she would just sit next to them and let them stroke her and she would delight everyone who had the opportunity of working her and sending her off on a 'come by' or 'away' command for the first time.  Thank you to everyone who has been in touch and shared your lovely stories and feelings for her, we are so grateful.

We are so thankful for her.  We like to think she had a happy life with us, we loved her very much.

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Finch and Fly