Monday, 3 February 2020

Lighter mornings, longer evenings....

Ted on the left is growing up fast!  Fly on the right definitely in charge
We are just beginning to feel and sense the first signs of spring as emerge from a very wet autumn and winter.  We can hear the birds in the morning now and they are just starting to get a little lighter.  Walking the dogs last night at 5pm we could see and we are ready for the change.  The rain has been relentless and the odd dry day we've had are then followed by more rain.  It is hard working in the mud and the animals do not like it either.  However, looking at the forecast this week, we have some dry days so we will be making the most of it.

Big highlight on our calendar happened 2 weeks ago, Malcolm came to pregnancy scan the ewes.  It is a big day as it feels like the culmination of months of planning their grazing to ensure they are in good condition and the implications for what lies ahead for lambing!  We were really pleased with the results, considering the wet autumn and winter we've had we weren't quite sure what to expect -

  • singles - 65
  • twins - 277
  • triplets - 60
  • quads - 1
  • empty - 14
Total scanned were 417 which makes our percentage 193%.  We were pleased, a few too many empty ewes but they could be late lambing so that figure may not be wholly accurate.  We have started to supplement the ewes expecting triplets to support the nutritional demands of carrying 3 lambs and to ensure good colostrum quality.  Colostrum is the first milk the lambs suckle which is full of antibodies to protect them from infections so the difference between good and bad quality can be life threatening for newborn lambs.  We had a group of year 4 schoolchildren to the farm last week and we explain colostrum as an imaginary internal shield.  Those expecting twins we will start feeding in a couple of weeks and those expecting singles will not have any.  They will be fine on the nutrition they receive from the supplementary hay and ensuring their lambs do not grow too big inside them is the utmost priority for them so their labour is straightforward.

We have a great team of helpers lined up again for lambing, local vet students this year and past vet students coming back to help.  We are so grateful to them.

Ted our young sheepdog is coming up for 6 months old and he is huge!  We are really enjoying having him and we will start introducing him to a few sheep over the next few weeks.  An experienced shepherdess in training dogs, Zoe who farms near Cuckmere Haven on the coast is very kindly going to come up and give me a few starting points so I'm looking forward to that.

Dates for your diary - lambing open days - 28th/29th March and the 4th/5th April, we look forward to seeing you.

More soon with news of a dry spring to come we hope!

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Fly and Ted

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Grass fed, good for the planet? We think so...

Meat has been in the headlines a lot the last few months.  This has really made us reflect on what we are doing here at Saddlescombe and ask ourselves some fundamental questions - are we farming in the right way for our planet?  We believe we are but of course we can always do better.  Our cows and sheep are purely grass fed, they are outdoors all year round, the exception to this are the ewes expecting twins and triplets who do get some supplementary feed in the weeks running up to lambing to support the growing lambs inside them.  Our cows are slow growing, when they are ready it means they have reached their size from only eating grass, we believe this makes their meat taste delicious as well as being higher in healthy Omega 3s.  We are also learning that grass fed animals are one of big solutions to storing carbon, a key answer to climate change.

As we understand it, grazing animals encourage increased natural photosynthesis through grass growth.  The grass absorbs the carbon, then releases it through its roots.  This process encourages and supports microbial activity which locks the carbon in the soil.  The more life there is in the soil in the form of microbes, the more carbon that gets stored.

Looking after our soil is really important, we try our best to do this through not disturbing it and allowing the animals to graze in particular ways.  We try our best to make sure they don't graze the grass too short, this ensures the root structure below is not affected.  If the root structure is affected the carbon cycle is just not as efficient. 

We are members of the Pasture for Life Association and follow their principles, please take a look at their website and this amazing example (copyright Christine Page from Smiling Tree Farm) of how the carbon cycle works through the cows when they are grazing.  We will continue to chat about this, there is still much to learn.

Beginning of October already.  The first crisp, sunny morning today and much appreciated after about 10 days of rainy, drizzly days.  We were glad to see the rain after a lovely dry spell so we are hoping that we should see a good flush of autumnal grass growth, very timely as the ewes have their annual rendez vous with the rams on the 29th October.

Moving lambs yesterday across one of our herbal leys, Fly behind

Ewes returning to grass after checking them ahead of tupping (mating with the rams)

Its been a busy couple of days with the sheep and organising the different groups around the farm and working out who has the priority grazing.  It was the ewes turn yesterday, we had them in two separate groups according to their body condition.  One group were a little leaner than the others so they had seen the better grazing.  We were encouraged yesterday how much better they felt as we put our  hands on their backs and on the dock, which is the top of their tail.  One group is now in the field neighbouring the rams for a few days . . .  so there has been a bit of 'flirting' by the gate.

William is now back with the group of steers (castrated males) and away from the cows.  We count the weeks he is in with the cows to allow enough time for them all to be in season but not too long as otherwise calving goes on for a long time next year, it is all a balance.  We watched William yesterday sat down on top of one of the banks, it was a beautiful day and we like to think he was up there enjoying the view, he really is a gentle soul we are so lucky to have him.

Family time is taken up with conkers, blackberry and sloe picking, what a great time of year!

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Fly

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