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

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Mother nature at her best

Yesterday we finished shearing the flock.  When we face a difficult annual farm activity it makes us realise and appreciate when we have good years!  The heavy, thundery showers which have dictated June have made completing outdoor jobs a challenge, shearing being one of them.  However, I think our backs are perhaps very grateful that the rain came and we split the flock over two days, rolling fleeces and keeping up with Colin our shearer and his team is hard but very rewarding work.  The sheep also look relieved to lose that weight and feel cooler in the warm sunshine.

We have taken time to enjoy the results of the winter jobs we do such as scrub clearing which clear away the gorse and encroaching young hawthorn and blackthorn bushes to allow the species rich grassland to have a chance to flourish and indeed they have!  The photo here shows a selection of orchids which have returned as a result of having the space to resurface.  It gives us such pleasure and they in turn will be supporting wildlife and we hope recreated ecosystems.

The showers have had their blessings in some respects and have helped our wild bird seed mix to get off to a good start.  If it had been continual dry the small plants have to germinate and then battle with the flea beetle who love the tasty small leaves.  Once they have grown enough they are too strong for them and can continue growing without us worrying.  Our wildflower meadow which we planted back in the autumn is also doing well as are the sheep and lambs who have been grazing it.  The poppies looked stunning and we hope all the local walkers have enjoyed them too.

As we all try and digest what has happened in the news over these last few days, we realise how increasingly important it is and will be to build up closer relations with our customers.  We need to communicate the value of buying directly from a local farm not only in terms of buying delicious meat but also the basic importance of knowing where the food you buy comes from is supporting us to produce food to the highest standard of welfare and environmental consideration.

We have a new member of the family....Finch!  She has settled well and Belle is being incredibly patient and long suffering to puppy love.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Finch and Belle 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Post lambing and calving comedown

The intensity of lambing is something which is hard to describe, the highs and lows of it all sends us all into a void of just existing day to day.  But we love it!  Now we are the other side, looking slightly battered and having got a little more sleep, its suddenly May and all the sheep and lambs are outside and a different level of checking begins.

This year has been more challenging than others mainly because of the weather conditions.  It has been so wet.  Lambs seem to not mind the cold but combined with wet it is not good.  We were particularly vigilant and brought them in quickly once they had lambed outside.  Cold followed the wet weather so there was not much grass about until now when it has really started to grow.  This has meant more regular moving around of the different groups so fields have had a chance to rest and we can keep up with the ewes needing to produce milk for their growing lambs.

Meanwhile 'Holly' was born,  Our gorgeous little heifer calf.  The photo above shows her with Roly and Freddie after we had put her ear tag in and released her back to her mum who was busy calling for her.  The cows look amazing at this time of year.  Their coats shine is the sun and look like a deep, rich red colour and against the freshness of the green grass and if we're lucky a blue sky its so wonderful.  The photo goes a little way to capture this.  Talking of grass, Freddie watched our neighbour Michael Lee arrive with his tractor and drill and plant our grass mix ready for the autumn.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Belle

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Guest blog from our amazing 'Night Manager'

My name is Jenni and I have been so incredibly fortunate to be let loose on Camilla and Roly’s farm as a helping hand. If memory serves me right, I first started helping on the farm in late 2014. So this is my second experience at lambing time.

We are all looking forward to the farm opening up to the public again this weekend to share lambing time with you all. It really is a beautiful farm with a rich history and an opportunity to see lambing up close and maybe even see a birth!

This year, I have taken on the role of night duty and as guest blogger thought I could share my experience with you so far! So in a nutshell, lambing time is all about conducting a routine and repeating it over and over. Once you get the basics you find yourself wandering off all over the place knowing what needs doing and time just disappears!

The first few nights I worked alone when things were fairly quiet on the lambing front. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do much in the dark fields but after a couple of nights I found myself tuning in to the subtle signs that a mother may be ready to give birth. Torch in one hand and the other on the quad bike throttle, I slowly patrol the fields checking each one, often shining the torch at endless bottoms going a little cross eyes and just get stared at by their glowing eyes! I then see one looking upwards as if she is pushing, a mild panic occurs, to then realise she is just having a long yawn! I had realised, up until this point I had never seen a sheep asleep as I had only worked with them in the daytime. I often drive past a few completely flat on their side snoring away, having a giggle to myself but also with a slight feeling of relief that it isn’t giving birth just yet and my hands are not full!

But then…. you spot in the distance a few tiny legs and a birth has occurred! They key with any new born lamb and it's survival is warmth and then food. So I get the lambs onto the trailer first and mum either comes easily or she doesn’t. When she doesn’t, you can spend a lot of time running around and falling down rabbit holes but generally if they are experienced mothers, they walk straight into the trailer. The plan is to then whizz them back to one of the barns where we have plenty of lovely pens waiting for them but if it’s a busy night you will generally spot another giving birth. I would make sure they all are birthed and okay before I head off with the ones in the trailer, to come back as soon as possible to collect the next lot.

Once I get lambs back to the barn, I check they have iodine on their belly to prevent infection and check for any signs of hypothermia. If they seem very cold and struggling, the key is to warm them up and later on make sure they have some milk in their tummies. Sometimes you have to tube feed a lamb with milk and when you have quite a few to feed, including any orphans that need bottle feeding, as well as finding the time to check everyone in the barn and do hourly field checks, I find I end the shift with milk in my hair, birthing fluid all over me and with a few more grey hairs on my head!

So going back briefly to checks, I check the fields every hour, that way no lambs are left out in the colder nights for too long and risk of hypothermia is lower. I then do the rounds in the barns, what I like to call the the maternity wards, checking everyone is happy, lambs are milking from mum and everyone has food and water. This is repeated and repeated until I go to bed or the music on the radio becomes a little too eclectic for my ears which it can do in the early hours! I can often be found singing or having a chat to a few of them when I pass midnight and I am working on my own!

A few things I have learnt with lambing, one being not to wear bracelets… these can come off when you are assisting a birth and have your hand up a ewe’s backside! Birthing fluid…. this just goes everywhere, I have had every item of clothing just covered including my face but there comes a point where you just don’t care! Hands…. they are scrubbed clean so frequently they feel like sandpaper! If you speak to shepherd Emma she can recommend fabulous hand creams as per her blog!

Lastly, straw. Emma has touched on this about finding straw everywhere. It really is an essential part of lambing but when I wake up in my bed at home after a busy night shift to find some straw in my bed (oh and some baler twine a few days ago!)… I realise that I have fully embraced lambing time and have almost become one of them!

I feel so privileged to work on the farm and to learn so much about sheep and lambing in particular. I will be at one of the lambing open days this weekend on the 9th/10th of April, so please come along.


Thank you also to Roly, Camilla, Molly, Freddie and Belle.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Straw, hand cream and other lambing inside knowledge

Hello. I’m Emma and I'm very honoured to be Camilla and Roly’s first guest blogger. I’ve been helping out at the farm for two and a half years now, learning so much and feeling very lucky to be part of such a wonderful team.

We’re really looking forward to the Lambing Open Weekends. They’re a wonderful opportunity to share beautiful Saddlescombe Farm and to provide a bit of insight into the farming life.

In that spirit of sharing, here are some things we might forget to mention.

We have straw everywhere. Clean beds are amazingly effective against all sorts of diseases. “Bedding up” is when you spread straw to create that cosy, clean environment that’s essential for ewes and lambs to flourish, and we do it twice a day for everyone. But when I say we have straw everywhere I actually mean… well, something a bit more personal, directly linked to all that bedding up. It’s up our noses. In our belly buttons. Providing a ring round the bath. Carpeting our homes. Think of us as we itch.

We have strong opinions on hand cream. As in any hospital, we spend all day washing our hands. Covered with afterbirth, stained with the iodine we use to disinfect the newborns’ umbilical cords, then scrubbed with antibacterial soap, the skin on our hands gradually takes on the softness of coarse sandpaper. Enter the hand cream. Feel free to ask us for a recommendation. I can guarantee we’ll have one.

That’s not thousand yard stare, that’s thousand bum stare. We have spent weeks on end looking at sheeps’ bottoms. As soon as they get ‘crutched’ – their pre-lambing backside tidy-up – the season of the sheep butt begins. As we patrol the fields of expectant mums, we’re searching out prolapses, water sacs, difficult presentations – all only visible to the keen student of the ovine rump. Catch us looking into the distance, and it’s more than likely there’s a fleecy rear end involved.

And finally, I might forget to mention my own little secret. When a newborn lamb covered in birth fluid disgustedly shakes itself, its ears make a wet slapping against its head. That’s my favourite sound of lambing. It means the lamb is ok, that it’s going to try to make it, that it has fire in its belly. It’s a tiny noise with huge implications.

There, now you’ve got the inside track on the lambing team. Come along to the open weekends to meet us and the amazing ewes and lambs who make it all possible.

Emma, with thanks to Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Belle.