Friday, 20 November 2020

Autumn news from Saddlescombe

 



I caught this image of the cows one early morning and I love it.  It was cold and quiet and I stood for a while watching them in the amazing light.  They are now in a different field lower down in the valley of the farm where they will be for the rest of the winter.  Nanja our vet came a week ago to pregnancy scan them and all are in calf apart from 3.  A good result from William the bull.  

The rams are now in with the ewes, the picture above is our group of ewes who we keep their female lambs to build up the flock.  We have divided their field into strips to encourage better grass regrowth, (please see previous blog which explains our regenerative journey), and it is exciting to see the results it is having.  Better regrowth to allow the plants to photosynthesise more effectively and capture and store carbon.  We now have water supply to every part of the farm too which is huge progress for us and an important step to being able to divide the fields and follow the regenerative system.

We have been lucky to secure funding from the South Downs National Park to install WiFi in the farmyard which will mean we can accept card payments on our open days and for meat sales.  This will help us enormously operating without cash and will give us and our customers confidence when visiting that we will be able to accept payment this way.  We are really grateful for the National Parks support.

We hope everyone is surviving this second lockdown, please do be in touch if you would like to place a lamb box order for Christmas, please email us camillaandroly@gmail.com

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Fly and Teddy

Friday, 18 September 2020

Farming for 11 years and starting on a new, significant chapter - regenerative agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is something we have read up about, talked about, watched Ted talks about (Allan Savory talk here) and we have wanted to give it a go here at Saddlescombe for a couple of years now. But what is it and why are we so passionate about it?

It is a system which captures carbon, breathes life back into the soil, encourages the precious diversity of wildflowers and grasses and manages grazing in the extremes of weather we are experiencing.  Which makes it a really exciting journey to be starting on.  

How did we get started?  At the beginning of the summer with some help from Clyde Jones we started to divide our fields up into smaller sections with lots of fencing and water pipe!  Previously we would have moved the animals into a field and let them graze it as they want to, with this system sheep are particularly prone to going back and grazing off the regrowth and not allowing the grass plant to recover.  This damages root structure and decreases organic matter in the top soil which encourages carbon capture.  Instead, through rotational grazing (a principle of regenerative agriculture), we are dividing the field up into smaller sections and allowing the sheep and cows to graze within this space for 2 to 3 days and then moving them onto the next section.  This then allows the previous sections to rest over a period of 2 to 3 months and the grass to regrow and photosynthesise (grass needs to be green to do this), during this process it captures that all important carbon and puts it back into the soil.  This carbon has an important job to do,  feeding all the microbial activity in the soil which creates soil organic matter (good for crops to grow) and creates a healthy root structure of the plants.  This process also creates air pockets allowing earthworms to return and water to infiltrate and reach the places where it is needed rather than running off the fields and ending up where it is not wanted.

The cows in a section, day 1, by day 2 we will move them left.



The ewes in one of their sections, they will have been in this field 2 months, their first section has been in recovery 2 months allowing that regrowth to really establish 


We are already seeing the benefits, the fact that we have grass at the moment, if we hadn't started to  implement the system this year we would be struggling to find enough food for our animals due to the lack of rain we have had this summer.  We are also enjoying having more up close contact with our animals due to the frequency we are moving them although some days we are not very popular when they are not due to be moved!

We are also wanting to get the soil across the farm measured for minerals and nutrients so we can measure progress, so we will look forward to sharing any updates.  

Ted our young sheepdog, now 1, is restarting his training having had a pause due to a shoulder condition that was picked up on an xray.  For now his lameness has improved so we are keeping a close eye on him.  He is certainly enthusiastic!

We are thinking of everyone during these uncertain times.  We hope reading about farming and the incredible nature which surrounds us and is beneath us is a reassuring, stable presence.

More soon 

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Fly and Ted

For more information on our thoughts on livestock farming providing a solution to climate change, please read our blog entry from October 2019.

Monday, 25 May 2020

The other side of lambing and calving


One of the first set of triplets to be born

Molly taking the lambs into the barn using our 'lamb pram'
Once we are happy the lambs are feeding well and mum is behaving we take them out to the field

Calving got underway beginning of May

Molly with the foster lambs (lambs without mums) in the orchard

Malcolm came to shear our ewe lambs (next years mums) and Heather and Harriet, 2 herdwicks who needed a home

Cows and calves up in our top field
A very different lambing this year with no visitors.  We had put up all our banners, posters and started to make our annual preparations to welcome everyone to see our wonderful sheep.  It became clearer the closer lockdown came this was not going to happen this year.  It felt really sad as we love sharing this special time of year with everyone.  We were very lucky to still have our 2 vet students who arrived just before lockdown and had been isolating with their families, but we missed our other amazing team of helpers who would normally come and help.  It was all hands on deck for us as a family as the sheep were unaware of lockdown!  The rain stopped, it was extraordinary, having rained all winter we had an amazing dry spell, which has continued well into May and of course we now need rain!  One extreme to the other. 

May is my favourite time of year, everything is bursting into life in the hedgerows and the house martins and swallows have returned and made Saddlescombe their home for the summer.  The grass is growing and the 750 lambs or so are growing as fast!  We start to move them in their groups around the farm and look after the grazing.  It is really important we don't allow them to graze the grass too short.  This can damage the root structure beneath the soil and weakens the plant.  We need the roots to grow so they can withstand any drought and act as a vital carbon sink, this can only happen if the blade size above ground is wide enough to absorb the sunlight and perform the photosynthesis process.  The last photo above shows the cows and calves up in our top field called East Hill.  They are grazing after the sheep in an effort to 'clean up'.  What I mean by this is eating the worm eggs on the grass which would affect the sheep but not the cows.  Worms can make lambs very poorly.  We do still have to worm them with a medicine but combining this grazing management with the cows does reduce having to treat them more routinely.  Another way we are planning our grazing and worm management is by planting a new herbal ley each year.  This is a delicious mix of herb rich grasses which have a good deep root structure and anthelmintic properties to encourage a healthy digestion in the sheep.  We have planted ours this year and we had a little bit of rain 2 days ago and it is growing really well.

We have 2 first time mums left to calve who are in the field in front of our house keeping us guessing and we are now thinking ahead to haymaking and silage.  If the dry spell continues we will have to feed through the summer too but chances are it will rain just as we need to cut the grass which then needs a 5 day dry spell to make the hay!

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Fly and Ted

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 we 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