Thursday, 2 March 2017

First time mums and Countryfile

We had a tricky start to calving.  This year we are calving heifers (first time mums) for the first time and we had some unlucky losses which is always hard to come to terms with.  However, we've had some happy, healthy calves born too.  See Molly and Freddie doing their checks in the photo and a lovely heifer (little girl) calf enjoying running around.

We helped deliver a big bull calf last night about 6pm from a young mum.  She had been in labour a while so we decided to give her a hand.  In terms of giving a hand, during assisted calvings we use something called a calving jack, see above.  It looks rather sinister, but I can assure you its worth its weight in gold.  It holds the calf in position whilst the mum has a rest between contractions, otherwise what can happen is the calf can be pulled back in and the whole process has to begin again.  The most heartfelt, wonderful feeling of joy as we realised he was alive as we pulled him out and watching his mum mother him and lick him clean and dry.  Its at moments like those that we appreciate the privilege we have in making the difference between life and death.

The farm is a little wet and muddy after the rain we've had the last couple of weeks, we are hoping it will dry in time for lambing, it was hard work last year in the mud.  We are lucky that the fields do dry out relatively quickly.  The sheep are all looking well and are enjoying their extra food which we carefully work out according to how many lambs they are having.  The last few weeks of their pregnancy is critical in terms of the lambs growth, and the mums having sufficient nutrition in order to support the growing lambs inside them.

We spent a lovely morning with the Countryfile team a week ago.  They were filming around the South Downs and visited Saddlescombe to speak to us about our Shepherd for a day experience and the National Trust about the history.  We also learnt a lot from Matt Baker who is an expert with sheepdogs and gave us lots of useful advice for Fly.  We're on this Sunday 5th March!

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Finch, Belle and Fly

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Not bad for an hours walk!

We have been really enjoying our wildbird seed mix this year as we can see it from our cottage.  Flocks of linnets regularly fly over and land and it is so rewarding to see the wildlife which it is supporting.  We are now supplementary feeding using our snacker feeder, which releases small amounts of seed as we drive around on the quad bike.
We work closely with our RSPB adviser Bruce Fowkes and he came out to visit us last week and we thought we would share his email –

Hi Camilla
Good to see you this morning.  It was great to see how many birds the wild seed mix is attracting, I saw large numbers of linnets (200+!), a good flock of chaffinch’s, plus fieldfare, starling, robin, dunnock, blue tit, wren, jackdaw, rook and crow.
A quick walk up to the top of the hill produced a good flock of meadow pipit, a few skylark and 2 corn bunting.
Not bad for an hour’s walk!
Best wishes

We had a lovely morning yesterday bringing the very pregnant cows back from over the road to the field where they will have their calves.  We love having them closer to the farm as we can easily walk to see them.  They will start calving in the next 10 days.  The young mums (heifers) who have never had a calf before are in the barn.  This is so we can keep a close eye on them as it will be their first time.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Finch, Belle and Fly

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Looking ahead to calving and lambing

So far so good.  Less rain than this time last year.  Thats  not to say there isn't mud around but we haven't got lakes in our fields which we've had before.  We have enjoyed some frosty, gorgeous, sunny days like today and it really does make a difference to checking the animals and keeping them fed.  But it does mean wrapping up with a lot of layers!

The cows are heavily pregnant and will begin calving in the next few weeks, they are enjoying their silage bales and we will bring them back closer to the farm buildings soon so we can keep an eye on them.  For the first time we will be calving heifers, these are female cows who haven't had calves before.  We have been warned that they can be tricky so we will bring them into the barn and have them on straw and leave them undisturbed unless we think they need our help.  This will be easier to intervene in the barn rather than in the field.

Bob arrives next week to scan the sheep, a key annual event in the sheep calendar.  The sheep will then be divided up according to how many lambs they have been scanned to have and will be fed accordingly.  The triplets and twins sooner than the singles and the closer lambing approaches the more food they will have.  Their food is a high nutritional pellet which contains energy and minerals to help the growth of the lambs and maintain the ewes condition too.

The flocks of linnets continue to enthrall us as we drive past the wildbird seed mix, they fly up and swirl around before coming in to land.  We have just started to supplementary feed too, as the food larder diminishes not just in our area but in the hedges too, we spread a mix of grains and seeds to help the birds maintain themselves through the winter months, sometimes called the hungry gap.

Our lambing open days are 1st, 2nd, 8th and 9th April, we are busy planning for them now.  We are also doing Open Farm Sunday this year on the 11th June and involving lots of our neighbouring farmers, more details soon.

Fly has settled in well and loves sitting on the back of the quad bike.  Belle remains top dog but has realised she can't run faster than Fly....

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Finch, Belle and Fly

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Meet Fly!

We have a new member of the team to introduce...Fly our lovely new sheepdog!  She is wonderful and settling in well.  Roly did a big trip up to Skipton in North Yorkshire to get her.  They hold sheepdog auctions up there and trainers and buyers travel for miles to be there.  We had spent a lot of time looking through the catalogue (yes a catalogue of entries for every dog to be sold), and on youtube as well where trainers upload clips to show the dogs working of course and also getting on and off quad bikes, in and out of tractors and into and out of pick ups.  Sometimes they even show them with young children to demonstrate their nature.  Fly we had seen and really liked the look of her amongst a few others.  We had help from Rob, a sheepdog expert from near here who has a number of dogs himself and regularly trials with them.  Rob knows many of the good breeders and trainers so we have been very fortunate to have such good advice.  Once up in Skipton, Roly didn't take long to decide that Fly was the right dog for us as her nature is just so lovely.  As well as being good with the sheep we need a dog who is good with people and children!  Just like dear Belle is.  Belle has been very good and quickly let Fly know who is boss, but Fly is so sweet and submissive that all pecking orders have been easily established and respected.  Apart from Finch of course, who thinks she is in charge despite her tiny size!

Autumn is one of Roly's favourite times of year and I am coming round to agreeing.  The children are getting bored of me talking about the colours in the hedgerows and on the trees on the way to school, but I can't help it!  This year has been particularly stunning given the warm sunny days we had in October and the abundance of berries available for the birds.  Talking of birds, our wildbird seed mix continues to keep us captivated as we watch the flowers turning into seeds and now supporting the birds more than the butterflies and bees during the summer months.  We invited our local RSPB adviser Bruce out to take a look and he was really encouraged by how well the different plants like the fodder radish, quinoa, millet had all established.  We are regularly seeing flocks of linnets and goldfinch too.

Last Wednesday was a big day in the sheep calendar.  The boys finally went in to meet the girls.  Their behaviour never ceases to make me giggle.  One group of ewes were completely disinterested as we had just moved them into a field with a fresh flush of grass, this was far more important than thinking about being wooed by one of the boys.  The boys on the other hand are totally desperate, having waited and watched through gates and fences and wondering when the big day would be.  Once in, they seem incapable of realising there are plenty of girls to go round but will insist on chasing one and then preceding to fight with each other over her.  Emma who regularly helps us on the farm, intervened in an effort to separate them, they didn't seem to take much notice.  In the end we sent Belle around the rest of the ewes to show them there were plenty to go around. Honestly.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Finch, Belle and Fly 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Summer news

I enjoy the time I set aside to write as it gives me the chance to reflect on what has been happening on the farm and look through photos and recognise how the landscape changes even within a few weeks.

One of the highlights during the school holidays was each choosing our own sunflower in our wildbird seed mix and watching and measuring it grow and then eventually flower.  We think Roly's won the race with Molly's coming a close second!  They look magnificent, particularly with the backdrop of the flowering radish.  The whole area has been alive with butterflies and bees.  During the winter months the aim is for it to be a vital food source for our farmland birds, we hope they like sunflower seeds!

The photograph of the John Deere tractor pulling a drill shows the replanting of a field to create a new grass ley.  Grass can get 'worn out' and with regular grazing all the beneficial grasses can get grazed out so you are left with a field with low nutritional value.  It was certainly the case with this field which is called Peeling Brow.  I love the name.  It represents a typical, rolling downland field. We had rain last weekend and now very warm weather so we hope to see new green shoots appearing very soon.

The General, our handsome bull, has now been separated from all his wives.  He isn't too grumpy about it as we have given him one cow for company and they seem very content.  We have a ritual of always saying good morning and good afternoon to him as we pass on the quad bike.  We like to think he notices us....

We have taken the plunge and borrowed an incubator from Charlie (the head ranger here for the National Trust) and have 24 eggs gently rocking away!  Very exciting.  They are due to hatch on the 21st September.  We have 12 silkies, some light Sussex, and wheaten marans.  We will keep you posted.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Finch and Belle

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Guest blog from Aaron, our fantastic work experience student

The active lifestyle of a working farm is one that I had the privilege of taking part in last week as a part of work experience.
Coming from a city based college with no formal ties to agriculture, I was often met with quizzical expressions when asked where I was going for the week. But I knew that my decision would be justified as soon as the work began.
Whilst my peers flocked like sheep to grey offices, spending relentless hours making cups of tea and completing mundane tasks, I was busy embracing a world of work I hadn’t had the chance to see in detail before and one I cannot wait to jump back into!
Over the course of a varied week I have judged farms, mucked out yards, picked thistles, herded sheep and attempted to help out with the daily running of the farm in any way possible; each task allowing me to improve a new practical skill and learn about a profession I am passionate about entering. This dramatic learning curve was fuelled by having Roly as a mentor, as he continued to encourage, enthuse and enlighten me through out the week, as well as answering every question I sent his way.
Looking back over my time at Saddlescombe farm, it’s immensely satisfying to observe the progress I have achieved in such a short period of time, thanks to the dedicated group of people I met there over my short stay. I feel extremely lucky to have been accepted into the farm’s close knit family and given the opportunity to work in such a unique role, nestled amongst the scenic, sloping hills of the Sussex downs for this week. A big thanks to Roly, Camilla, Belle and everyone else I had the pleasure of meeting and working with. Hopefully it won’t be long until I can return to the farm and re-immerse myself into that bustling brilliance of a farming lifestyle, offering a helping hand once again.


Thursday, 30 June 2016

Beautiful orchids

Before settling down to work this morning to cram in the list of jobs before nursery pick up, I raced to one of my favourite spots in the hope of finding one of these....the bottom photo is a bee orchid, and I am so happy to have spotted one.  As you can see the flowers are not completely open yet but it is still stunning.  The other two are the slightly unfairly named 'common' orchid and the middle photo shows I think one of the marsh orchids but I will need to check with an expert!

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Finch and Belle