Friday, 22 September 2017

Harvest - a celebration

Our church, Bishop Hannington in Hove, is celebrating harvest this Sunday.  This gives us the chance to talk about the farming year to everyone and we have been given these questions to chat about:

What does harvest mean to us?
We see harvest happening almost all year round for us.  Traditionally harvest celebration happens in September and October as this coincides with the arable crops being cut and stored ready to be sold to be made into bread, pasta, beer, porridge and so on.  For us, our busy harvest times are lambing and calving.  Lambing takes place at the end of March each year and well into April and calving begins a little before that in February and runs into March.  It is an intense time for us but an amazing one as we welcome so much new life onto the farm and witness the first few breaths and the first few shaky steps as the calf and lamb totter on their feet to satisfy that incredible instinct to find their mothers teat and feed.  Harvest continues for us in June and July when we think about food for the winter months, in the form of silage and haylage.  These are both made from grass which we mow first of all and then bale and then wrap with black plastic (this gets recycled later) which then ferments the grass.  We then stack the bales safely in the farmyard and gradually use them through the winter to feed the cows and sheep. We are not the only farmers who do not have a combine visit the farm in July or August each year to harvest the crops (much to Freddie's disappointment...) but we enjoy and share where we can when we see our neighbours hard at work during the summer combining and taking the grain back to farm to carefully store it to then sell for our food or sometimes for animal feed too. Harvest definitely feels like an end of a cycle from when  the crops were planted either in the previous autumn or spring and then looked after by the farmers through all weather conditions until they are ready to be combined.  The fields are then cultivated and the process starts all over again!  Harvest is an important time whatever the time of year for farmers and we need to be incredibly thankful for what we are able to produce.

Roly is on the tractor raking up the mown grass ready for it to baled and wrapped for winter feed for the sheep and cows.

Roly and Freddie in our spring barley crop which is again mowed, baled and wrapped for the cows to eat during winter.
Why is there a general disconnection felt to food, farming and the countryside?  
Very gradually over the years shopping for food has become a very remote experience from where the food was in fact actually grown.  Food shopping has become so convenient that we can even have it delivered to us without actually needing to leave our homes at all!  This does have major advantages in our busy lives but it does make it very removed from its actual source and it has often travelled a very long distance.  Along this disconnected line lots happens and by the time it reaches our plate we often have no idea where it is from and who has taken the care to grow it or produce it for us.  This has put a responsibility on farmers to be more open and where possible invite neighbours, schools and local communities to visit them and build up the understanding again of how food is produced and the care that is taken to look after all of our countryside and how we manage it responsibly.  We therefore try to share what we do here at Saddlescombe and make our meat sales as accessible as possible and create an understanding of respect for the meat our customers buy and the care we take of our animals.

What can communities do to support farmers and celebrate harvest?
Due to the fantastic and diverse countryside of this country there will be no one way to support.  Every farm, village and community is different but there are ways to find out about your local farm and if they can supply meat to fill up your freezer.  Websites such as can be helpful as a starting point.  Look out for open days which are advertised and Open Farm Sunday which happens each year in June is a brilliant way to make contact and actually visit the farm and meet the farmers.  
Communities can also support farmers in other ways through contact.  We have wonderful regular walkers here on the south downs who are so helpful in letting us know if a gate has been left open or if there is a sheep or one of the cows they are concerned about.
Getting together to celebrate harvest is a wonderful way to thank farmers and praise God for his goodness.

More soon

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

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Open Farm Sunday on the south downs 11th June 2017

Wow what a day!  From start to finish open farm Sunday was a real team effort and it really showed on the day when we all took it in turns to speak to the many visitors who came.  Roly and Rue Crowther spoke on the back of one trailer with Tom Turner driving and David Ellin (pictured above) spoke on the other with Hugh Starley driving.  Visitors heard how we are all taking care of the precious environment here on the south downs through hedgerow management, planting areas of wildbird seed mixes to feed the birds during winter, scrub management to allow the native flora to thrive on the chalk grassland banks.  Everyone also saw our herd of Sussex cows and met the General and we all explained how the different grazing of cows and sheep also encourages different species of flora to thrive.

Our other neighbours Pat Weeks, Chris Williams and Harold Turner were on hand next to the machinery to explain the different jobs they all do throughout the farming year, we even had the Crowthers vining tractor to show the how many local farmers are now growing vines to produce delicious local wine.  Our vets Claire and Nanja demonstrated sheep shearing and Millie Nye worked her wonderful sheepdogs for people to see.  We had face painting and crafts and we hope everyone went home with a better understanding and value of farming in this special place.  Thank you to everyone who helped and to all our visitors for coming.

Meanwhile its back to summer jobs and we've made a start on our silage stack for the winter.  North Laine, one of our favourite fields which we reverted back to grass 2 years ago now has a super crop of clover so this was mown, baled and wrapped by our neighbour Michael and we think the cows will think this is pretty tasty when they munch through it this winter!

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

Friday, 19 May 2017

Spring 2017

Spring 2017 we think might go down as one of our best lambing seasons.  The weather has been on our side and we are so thankful.  We had our first set of twins on the 24th March and our two lovely vet students, Molly and Emma arrived that day.  A steady start but it wasn't long until we were in full flow and the routine checks and systems were in place.

We had lots of lovely people come and join us to be shepherds for the day and a very special piece of farm machinery was brought out of retirement to help take our guests around the fields to check the ewes.  My fathers old Dexta.  Very nostalgic as we used to use her for bringing ewes and lambs in from the fields when I was young.

Our lambing open days were busy with lots of visitors and plenty of lambs being born for everyone to enjoy.  George who drove our tractor didn't stop doing trailer rides and explaining to everyone how we are farming this small part of the South Downs.  Thank you to everyone who came and to all our amazing helpers, we are so grateful.

We also hosted some of the chefs we supply in Brighton and locally to us.  Michael and Sam from 64degrees, Mark from the Ginger Fox and Charlie from the Chimney House.  We had a great day and hope we can make it an annual event.

Lambing has officially finished but calving hasn't!  We still have one first time mum in the barn who shows no sign yet that she is ready to calve.  All her friends and the General are outside enjoying the spring grass, especially after the much needed rain we have just had.  The General is a happy man being back with his wives and this years calves are growing well.

Our neighbour Pat has drilled our wildbird seed mix for this year plus our spring barley undersown with grass.  We are so grateful for the rain!  It has been so dry we were worried about planting it.  We can already see some germinating seedlings.

Busy getting ready for Open Farm Sunday, 11th June, come and join us!  

More soon

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

Thursday, 2 March 2017

First time mums and Countryfile

We had a tricky start to calving.  This year we are calving heifers (first time mums) for the first time and we had some unlucky losses which is always hard to come to terms with.  However, we've had some happy, healthy calves born too.  See Molly and Freddie doing their checks in the photo and a lovely heifer (little girl) calf enjoying running around.

We helped deliver a big bull calf last night about 6pm from a young mum.  She had been in labour a while so we decided to give her a hand.  In terms of giving a hand, during assisted calvings we use something called a calving jack, see above.  It looks rather sinister, but I can assure you its worth its weight in gold.  It holds the calf in position whilst the mum has a rest between contractions, otherwise what can happen is the calf can be pulled back in and the whole process has to begin again.  The most heartfelt, wonderful feeling of joy as we realised he was alive as we pulled him out and watching his mum mother him and lick him clean and dry.  Its at moments like those that we appreciate the privilege we have in making the difference between life and death.

The farm is a little wet and muddy after the rain we've had the last couple of weeks, we are hoping it will dry in time for lambing, it was hard work last year in the mud.  We are lucky that the fields do dry out relatively quickly.  The sheep are all looking well and are enjoying their extra food which we carefully work out according to how many lambs they are having.  The last few weeks of their pregnancy is critical in terms of the lambs growth, and the mums having sufficient nutrition in order to support the growing lambs inside them.

We spent a lovely morning with the Countryfile team a week ago.  They were filming around the South Downs and visited Saddlescombe to speak to us about our Shepherd for a day experience and the National Trust about the history.  We also learnt a lot from Matt Baker who is an expert with sheepdogs and gave us lots of useful advice for Fly.  We're on this Sunday 5th March!

More soon

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

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Not bad for an hours walk!

We have been really enjoying our wildbird seed mix this year as we can see it from our cottage.  Flocks of linnets regularly fly over and land and it is so rewarding to see the wildlife which it is supporting.  We are now supplementary feeding using our snacker feeder, which releases small amounts of seed as we drive around on the quad bike.
We work closely with our RSPB adviser Bruce Fowkes and he came out to visit us last week and we thought we would share his email –

Hi Camilla
Good to see you this morning.  It was great to see how many birds the wild seed mix is attracting, I saw large numbers of linnets (200+!), a good flock of chaffinch’s, plus fieldfare, starling, robin, dunnock, blue tit, wren, jackdaw, rook and crow.
A quick walk up to the top of the hill produced a good flock of meadow pipit, a few skylark and 2 corn bunting.
Not bad for an hour’s walk!
Best wishes

We had a lovely morning yesterday bringing the very pregnant cows back from over the road to the field where they will have their calves.  We love having them closer to the farm as we can easily walk to see them.  They will start calving in the next 10 days.  The young mums (heifers) who have never had a calf before are in the barn.  This is so we can keep a close eye on them as it will be their first time.

More soon

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

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Looking ahead to calving and lambing

So far so good.  Less rain than this time last year.  Thats  not to say there isn't mud around but we haven't got lakes in our fields which we've had before.  We have enjoyed some frosty, gorgeous, sunny days like today and it really does make a difference to checking the animals and keeping them fed.  But it does mean wrapping up with a lot of layers!

The cows are heavily pregnant and will begin calving in the next few weeks, they are enjoying their silage bales and we will bring them back closer to the farm buildings soon so we can keep an eye on them.  For the first time we will be calving heifers, these are female cows who haven't had calves before.  We have been warned that they can be tricky so we will bring them into the barn and have them on straw and leave them undisturbed unless we think they need our help.  This will be easier to intervene in the barn rather than in the field.

Bob arrives next week to scan the sheep, a key annual event in the sheep calendar.  The sheep will then be divided up according to how many lambs they have been scanned to have and will be fed accordingly.  The triplets and twins sooner than the singles and the closer lambing approaches the more food they will have.  Their food is a high nutritional pellet which contains energy and minerals to help the growth of the lambs and maintain the ewes condition too.

The flocks of linnets continue to enthrall us as we drive past the wildbird seed mix, they fly up and swirl around before coming in to land.  We have just started to supplementary feed too, as the food larder diminishes not just in our area but in the hedges too, we spread a mix of grains and seeds to help the birds maintain themselves through the winter months, sometimes called the hungry gap.

Our lambing open days are 1st, 2nd, 8th and 9th April, we are busy planning for them now.  We are also doing Open Farm Sunday this year on the 11th June and involving lots of our neighbouring farmers, more details soon.

Fly has settled in well and loves sitting on the back of the quad bike.  Belle remains top dog but has realised she can't run faster than Fly....

More soon

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

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Meet Fly!

We have a new member of the team to introduce...Fly our lovely new sheepdog!  She is wonderful and settling in well.  Roly did a big trip up to Skipton in North Yorkshire to get her.  They hold sheepdog auctions up there and trainers and buyers travel for miles to be there.  We had spent a lot of time looking through the catalogue (yes a catalogue of entries for every dog to be sold), and on youtube as well where trainers upload clips to show the dogs working of course and also getting on and off quad bikes, in and out of tractors and into and out of pick ups.  Sometimes they even show them with young children to demonstrate their nature.  Fly we had seen and really liked the look of her amongst a few others.  We had help from Rob, a sheepdog expert from near here who has a number of dogs himself and regularly trials with them.  Rob knows many of the good breeders and trainers so we have been very fortunate to have such good advice.  Once up in Skipton, Roly didn't take long to decide that Fly was the right dog for us as her nature is just so lovely.  As well as being good with the sheep we need a dog who is good with people and children!  Just like dear Belle is.  Belle has been very good and quickly let Fly know who is boss, but Fly is so sweet and submissive that all pecking orders have been easily established and respected.  Apart from Finch of course, who thinks she is in charge despite her tiny size!

Autumn is one of Roly's favourite times of year and I am coming round to agreeing.  The children are getting bored of me talking about the colours in the hedgerows and on the trees on the way to school, but I can't help it!  This year has been particularly stunning given the warm sunny days we had in October and the abundance of berries available for the birds.  Talking of birds, our wildbird seed mix continues to keep us captivated as we watch the flowers turning into seeds and now supporting the birds more than the butterflies and bees during the summer months.  We invited our local RSPB adviser Bruce out to take a look and he was really encouraged by how well the different plants like the fodder radish, quinoa, millet had all established.  We are regularly seeing flocks of linnets and goldfinch too.

Last Wednesday was a big day in the sheep calendar.  The boys finally went in to meet the girls.  Their behaviour never ceases to make me giggle.  One group of ewes were completely disinterested as we had just moved them into a field with a fresh flush of grass, this was far more important than thinking about being wooed by one of the boys.  The boys on the other hand are totally desperate, having waited and watched through gates and fences and wondering when the big day would be.  Once in, they seem incapable of realising there are plenty of girls to go round but will insist on chasing one and then preceding to fight with each other over her.  Emma who regularly helps us on the farm, intervened in an effort to separate them, they didn't seem to take much notice.  In the end we sent Belle around the rest of the ewes to show them there were plenty to go around. Honestly.

More soon

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