Tuesday, 4 March 2014

From pleaches to pigs, from cows to crowds

Last week we saw our first hedge being layed and we watched in awe! Wow.  Thank you to the South Downs National Park team and their amazing instructor Gary Moore (national hedge laying champion). It's been a wonderful week of taking part and learning about this incredible skill and language - 'to pleach' to cut into the stem of the hedge which enables new shoots to appear and the old stem to bend over to create the new thick part of the hedge. Problem is now that it has made us so impatient to do the rest of the hedges.

There is so much going on at the moment from our new meat room being built to the sheep flock being pregnancy scanned and then crutched (the fleece around their backsides being removed to keep them clean during lambing and the newborn lambs find their mothers teets).  Oh and the most exciting thing of all buying our cows and calves!  They are a small herd of Sussex who currently live about 40 minutes away from us and we hope (SUBJECT to the vet health check) they will arrive with us right in the middle of lambing.  That really will be a big moment for us at Saddlescombe.

Other livestock who will be joining us are 4 little piggies in mid May.  I went on an excellent pig keeping course a couple of weeks ago with Neil and Michaela Giles who have pedigree Saddleback and Middle White pigs.  We will have 4 of their Saddleback weaners who are going to live the other side of Belle, in the traditional piggery outside our cottage.  What Belle will think of her new neighbours we're not sure!  I'm particularly excited about this as is Molly and I'm already worried about attachment issues but we will cross that slightly uneasy bridge when we come to it.

We're waiting for a few days of dry weather to start planting our spring barley.  It seems unbelieveable that we haven't had successive dry days to date and we are now in March.  Fingers crossed our farming neighbours Mark and Garry Lee who will be helping us, will be able to crack on in a few days.  As well as our spring barley we will be planting our wild bird seed crop as part of our environemental stewardship here at Saddlescombe.  This will act as a giant bird table (equivalent to 2 football pitches) for the birds in the winter in addition to the spreading of bird seed we are currently doing (see picture of Molly).  Bruce our RSPB adviser will be doing a survey of birds in a few weeks time so we are really looking forward to seeing what is making our farm their home.

Lambing is fast approaching and we have started to feed the ewes an additional high protein and energy feed as they enter their last weeks of pregnancy . . . having said that, we did have a surprise set of triplets born a couple of weeks ago, don't ask! We are busy getting ready for our Lambing Open Days (12/13 April), we are really excited about it but slightly worried how many visitors we might get given Brighton is only 5 miles away!  The barns are going to have such a wonderful atmosphere, we can't wait to share it.  We will be selling our lamb burgers and Kerry and Mick will be open at the Hikers Rest cafĂ© for all other refreshments, yum!  We did a thank you barbeque for the hedge layers on Sunday and got fantastic feedback for our burgers, so the chalk grassland is clearly helping us produce delicious lamb.

Finally we were part of a great school visit last Friday which the National Trust had organised.  St Lukes school from Brighton came (all 90 of them) and they had time with us doing sheepy jobs, time with Catherine doing a trail around the farm and with Graham they learnt about scrub clearing.  The feedback has been really good so we are looking forward to doing more.

Soon I will be blogging about lambing....and calving . . . and then harvest, we can't believe it!

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle