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

Monday, 5 March 2018

Saddlescombe in the snow

What a week!  We've experienced our first proper snow since being here at Saddlescombe.  Highs and lows!  Some beautiful moments as you can see when we walked two cows and their calves from the barn out to the field to join the rest of the herd.  One of the little calves had an impromptu ice skate on the frozen pond which gave it a bit of a surprise!  It has been hard work making sure everyone has water when all the troughs and pipes were frozen and now it has thawed hearing running water is music to our ears.  We have brought calves in who were born in the snow if we had concerns, just to give them a chance to warm up, suckle some colostrum and get some strength to withstand the temperatures.  We have had 8 heifer calves (girls) born so far and 2 bull calves.

Now you would never know we have had snow, it has all disappeared and we continue to hope that we have some dry spells now ready for lambing.  Not long now!

More soon

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

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Calving 2018

 First calf born on 16th February 2018

Little heifer calf born 18th February 2018 to our first heifer calf born in 2014, seen with Molly below

Molly in 2014 with the mum to our little calf born last week
It is really special to see our first heifers born here at Saddlescombe now having their own calves.  Our 6 heifers (first time mums) are in the barn and the first one calved last Sunday.  She took her time!  We have put up a camera so we can monitor them closely without disturbing them and it is working really well.  Easier for us too in the middle of the night!

We are two days in of the first dry week on the farm in a long time.  It has been tough coping with the mud and the animals do not like it.  Even though the farm is on chalk as we are in the Downs, the amount of rain we have had has made it impossible not to have been impacted by the mud.  However, we have everything crossed now for a dry spell and a warm spring ready for lambing.  We are ready for some dry weather that's for sure!

We are busy getting the lambing barns ready and promoting our lambing open days.  They are the 24th, 25th, 31st March and 1st April this year, we look forward to seeing you.

More soon!

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

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Looking ahead to lambing

Malcolm in position

Bringing the ewes in ready for scanning
There are a few significant days throughout the farming year but scanning the flock to find out how many lambs each ewe is expcting is definitely one of those days for us.  Planning their pregnancies begins way back in the previous summer when we need to consider our grazing plan to make sure the ewes are on good grazing.  The right nutrition influences the number of eggs they will release ready to be fertilised.  It is similar for the rams, they need careful management for optimum sperm and we need to ensure there is no lameness or anything else which could affect their performance.

The big day was last Monday, the forecast was appalling and it didn't change, it poured with rain all morning, the ewes were brilliant and despite not liking the mud they did well waiting their turn.  We had a great team, Malcolm who was head of scanning, Benn who came all the way from Suffolk who has been a shepherd for the day with us the past 4 years and Emma who regularly helps us.  Malcolm sits in a trailer in front of a screen and we make sure he has a constant supply of sheep to scan as they each run up into the trailer next to where he sits.  He runs an ultrasound scanner across their tummies and records how many lambs he can see from the screen.  Benn had the important job of marking them according to how many Malcolm recorded.  Triplets, blue dot, twins no dot, singles red dot and quadruplets (yes really) 2 blue dots.  The final result was 203% - 258 are expecting twins, 73 are expecting triplets, 4 are expecting quadruplets,54 singles and 6 were not in lamb.  We are going to be busy!

We are delighted but a little daunted.  We don't allow a ewe to raise 3 lambs unless under exceptional circumstances.  It is too much pressure for her milk supply and one lamb will always suffer as it is excluded by the stronger two from feeding from her two teats.  We try to adopt as many lambs as we can onto the ewes who are expecting singles and this can be very successful.  This year though the triplets far outnumber ewes who are having singles.  This means we need to have a good fostering system in place where the foster lambs will have access to powdered milk.  There are a few good systems we can look at where there is a large bucket with lots of teats so lots of lambs can feed at the same time.  We will keep you posted and take some photos of the what we choose once set up.

We are not far off calving starting.  We will bring the very pregnant cows over the road back closer to the farm so we can keep an eye on them.  The six heifers (first time mums) we will bring into the barn so we can assist them if we need to.

Our chickens which we hatched last summer are now laying eggs which is really exciting, so it does feel like spring is starting to break through.  Longer days too, hooray!

More soon

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

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Frosty mornings

The winter routine is here.  Layers on and breaking the ice in all the puddles and water troughs on our way out of the farm to school.  Roly is busy on the tractor taking barley straw to the cows and silage to the calves and steers, (neutered young males). The cows are enjoying their barley straw and their calves are enjoying some more fattening silage in the field next door, which they have access to via a creep gate.  This is a gate which the calves can easily fit through, but the cows can't, particularly now some of them are very visibly pregnant.  This might seem a bit mean on the cows!  But it is for a very good reason.  We have to make sure the cows do not get too fat, otherwise they can have real problems when they come to have their calves.

Our vet Nanja comes next week to test the cows for tuberculosis.  Tuberculosis remains a complex problem for the British beef industry.  Early stages of the disease are difficult to detect but the animal can still be infectious at this stage.  The current government policy of eradicating the disease is to test all beef herds in the UK and slaughter any animal which reacts to the injection they are given.  The test has to be done by a vet, so it has become a routine visit which no farmer looks forward to.  Nanja will inject them with a type of tuberculin (a complex mix of proteins), the cows immune system will respond to this by either producing an inflammatory response or not.  Nanja will return 3 days later to measure any responses at the injection site and give a result as to whether they are infected or not.  It is an incredibly tense time.  If a lump comes up that cow will have to be slaughtered.  The UK is divided into TB zones which determines how regularly a herd will need to be tested.  We are in a 4 year zone which is the least frequent testing, so we are in a low risk area.  Some herds have to be tested every year.  We will keep you posted on our results....

The rams have been in with the girls for what we call two cycles.  A ewes cycle is 17 days, so after the first cycle we put raddles on the rams.  These are like harnesses with a crayon on the front.  So for the second cycle any ewe which is marked with the crayon we know will be lambing later.  It is a useful management tool.

We have already booked up for scanning next year in January, when all the ewes will be scanned so we know what lambs they are each having.  How quickly the year goes by!

More soon

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