Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A year at Saddlescombe

The new boys, left to Right - Thomas, Peter & Benjamin
Freddie & Molly with Rapunzel, Tiara and Belle
Left to right - Austin Weldon, Peter Thompson and Camilla
It feels good!  To have experienced all the seasons on the farm it helps for our surroundings to now feel like our home.  We're starting to really understand the fields and know where our favourite spots are for the best views and chances of spotting some wildlife.

We were lucky to have Peter Thompson and Austin Weldon from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust visit us yesterday.  They came to walk the farm and discuss our environmental work.  We saw meadow pipits, linnets, skylarks, goldfinches and partridge all around our wildbird seed mix plot, it was so exciting.  They would have been busy feeding on the millet and triticale seeds which are all part of the mix we have planted.  Other arable plants we saw were fumitory, field pansy and field madder.

The cows are currently not very happy with us, we moved them a week ago onto Varncombe Bank.  This is an area of grazing which needs their help!  We have been busy scrub clearing and managing the gorse to allow more area and light onto the bank to help encourage the wildflowers and grasses to grow back.  The cows have an important conservation job to do, through grazing the area they will also encourage the native species to grow back.  However, it looks like they don't think it is that tasty!  So we will need to move them again soon.

The sheep are doing well.  The ewes are out in Saddle field which is an amazing field next to Devils Dyke.  Plenty of grass to keep them happy until they meet the boys in a few weeks time.  Our ram numbers have increased in the last week.  We have two new Lleyn rams who we bought from a farming friend in Worcestershire and they caught a  lift down with Roly's parents last week.  They are very  handsome and they will be meeting our girls who we use to lamb our replacement flock, so if they have girls we keep them.  Molly has named them Peter and Benjamin.  Our third new arrival is a Texel called Thomas, he will be helping Basil, Bruce, Ted and Churchill do their work with the main flock.

Rapunzel, Tiara and Belle (the pigs, not Disney princesses) will soon be leaving us. They have added so much to our daily routines here, they are just brilliantly inquisitive, fun and really naughty! They have been tickled, scratched and told off for escaping through the fence and digging up some of the garden. They are being fed lots of apples, plums and whatever else they have found in their quest to totally dig up their lovely patch. Ultimately we hope they will taste delicious and that our customers will appreciate where they have come from and pork is to be very much part of our Saddlescombe story.  We are selling boxes containing delicious joints, chops and sausages, please let us know if you would like some, we have already had lots of interest.

We are really excited and proud to now be supplying some of our local pubs with lamb, The Royal Oak at Poynings, where lots of our Bed and Breakfast guests have supper and always have a lovely time, The Fountain at Ashurst and the Rainbow Inn at Cooksbridge.  Stewart Parker their chef came out to the farm and it was great to have the opportunity to show him around.  The Ginger Fox is our other lovely local pub and restaurant and also have Saddlescombe lamb on the menu and we supply their sister pub the Ginger Pig in Hove.  We are delighted that the lamb we work so hard taking care of and enjoy doing so much is being enjoyed by our local community.

As I look out the window, the tail end of hurricane Gonzalo is playing havoc and the leaf fall is significant.  We are looking forward to Autumn, Roly always says he enjoys the new seasons.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Our first harvest at Saddlescombe Farm - the highlights

A big thank you to Gary and Mark Lee, our neighbours, who not only planted our spring barley crop, but also managed it through the spring and last week harvested it.
The crop was ready to be harvested two weeks ago, and then hurricane Bertha decided to send some very unsettled weather our way. Anyway, the sun came out and it was all systems go. 

Freddie, our 18 month old boy was in his element watching the large combine and tractors roaring around the farm.
Another local farmer, Matt O'Neil came and baled all the straw which then kept Roly busy with the tractor and trailer bringing the bales back to the farm and into the barn to be kept dry ready for feed and bedding over the winter months.

"Beer o'clock" overlooking the South Downs national park
Meanwhile, Michael Lee (Mark's son) who is an agricultural contractor, also used the sun to make the last lot of hay the opposite side of the farm, which has provided us with a little more hay, including some small bales which will come in very useful during lambing time in the spring.
The last load of hay bales coming into Saddlescombe Farm
The old tythe barn stacked with wool sacks and small hay bales 
As soon as Roly had finished moving the straw bales off the field, Oliver Lee (Marks other son), then planted a forage crop (stubble turnips and forage rape) to provide grazing for the lambs later in the year when the grass stops growing. Oliver had a late night to get the field all planted ahead of the rain.
Meanwhile, Belle has been busy keeping an eye on the flock and herd during the harvest
Yesterday we sent off a sample of our spring barley to be analysed to determine the quality. We are hoping it can be used for malting.

We will keep you posted!

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Oink oink!

Some very exciting new arrivals to report....our first calf born here at Saddlescombe.  He arrived on Monday morning and was up and with his Mum when Roly went to do the daily checks.  Amazing to think of the size and the fact she had him all on her own.  Suddenly the other calves seem really big!  They have grown so much its amazing.  She is being a wonderful Mum and we are so thrilled, Roly was a bit tearful when he came back for breakfast and told us all!  Very proud.

Belle now has some new neighbours, 3 little Saddleback weaners.  They are wonderful and seem very happy in their new home.  They have got plenty of work to do clearing the nettles we hope!  We can see them from our windows and we all have a big smile on our face when we see them.  Molly has given them lots of different names, predominantly relating to Disney princessess, I have only named one so far, Margot, as she looks like a little ballerina!  The whole naming thing is very dangerous, oh dear.....

The countryside has dramatically changed colour over the last couple of weeks, combines are rolling and our barley is looking lovely and golden.  Gary and Mark will harvest the barley for us around mid August.  The price looks a little disappointing so this is a whole new side to farming for us, trading, it reminds me of overhearing conversations my Dad used to have with neighbours and droughts and floods elsewhere in the world impacting what price our harvest would get.

The farm has been noisy this week, we weaned all the lambs off their Mums, so we are not very popular, but they all seem to have settled now and within the next couple of weeks we will be selecting our first spring Saddlescombe lamb for sale.  Another rather special milestone.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Monday, 7 July 2014

Wildlife, wildflowers and 5 years

We celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary having a picnic with our cows!  Well, they were nearby and probably wondered what on earth we were doing having a picnic in the rain....whilst munching, we saw our first pyramidal orchid and have since seen a lot more.  The wildflowers up on Newtimber Hill, at the back of the farm, are just amazing, scabious, vipers bugloss, wild thyme and lots more we need to learn the names of.

Other exciting news is we have a pair of corn buntings nesting in our top field of spring barley.  They are a particular target species for us here at Saddlescombe so we are really pleased.  Bruce from the RSPB, has one more survey to do next week and we will then have the full picture so will keep you posted.

We weighed our first batch of spring lambs last week and some will be ready very soon so we are looking forward to lamb sales and getting to know some new customers.

Fair to say these first 5 years of married life have been busy...the next 5 here we come!

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Monday, 23 June 2014

Shearing at Saddlescombe in the 1860s . . and today

The photo below is from Maude Robinson's book 'A South Downs farm in the sixties' - in the book Maude recalls her childhood memories of growing up at Saddlescombe Farm in the 1860s. This book is obviously very special to us, not only because it helps to visualise what Saddlescombe would have been like over 150 years ago, but it reminds us just what a small part of history we are and the responsibility we have to look after Saddlescombe for future generations, including hopefully Molly and Freddie.

Anyway, we have included this photo as last week we sheared all our flock for the first time at Saddlescombe and the team effort seemed no different to the 1860s. Shearing time provides an opportunity for everyone to get involved, young and old, and amazing Emma, who helps us a couple of days a week, and Alex, who was on work experience, had a go at shearing a sheep!

More soon
Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Shearing at Saddlescombe 1860s

Shearing at Saddlescombe 2014

Alex teaching Molly and friends to roll a fleece

Emma learning to shear

Alex learning to shear

Haymaking - an emotional rollercoaster

Believe it or not but haymaking is a complete emotional roller coaster. To make some good hay ideally you need 5 cracking days of sun, and lots of kit (farm machinery . . . toys). This year we decided to avoid the frustrations and challenges of making hay and make silage which is basically a little easier as you cut it, bale it and wrap it in plastic (expensive) and some would argue less stressful in terms of not checking the weather forecast every 5 minutes!

Well, when we checked the weather forecast and saw 5 days of blistering sun, we could not resist making some hay! Our neighbours, Mark, Gary, Michael and Oliver Lee have been incredibly generous with lending us some of their machinery and helping out. The first three days went well. Michael mowed the field, we tedded (fluffed up) the grass twice to dry it out, and then the forecast changed, and it rained! It's so upsetting, but we got a grip, the sun came out again, we tedded the grass to dry it out and Matt the baler man baled it up for us. We then raced to get it in the barn . . . all ready for the winter. Job done. 

Next year we're going to make silage ...

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Michael mowing

Tedding (fluffing up)

Molly assessing if the grass it ready to bale ... NO ... too green

Matt with his baler

Our first Saddlescombe bale!

Our first load aboard

Safely in the barn

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Henry and his wives

Not Tudor times but 2014 here at Saddlescombe!  Having discussed calving times with some helpful and informed friends and family we decided it was time for Henry to meet his wives which means we will be calving for the first time here at Saddlescombe in February and March 2015.  We weren't sure how loading him into the livestock trailer would go, but it seems those boys always know, just like the rams do when it comes to their time to meet the girls.  He trotted up and happily skipped out of the trailer and did a good circuit (running) around the field until he found them.  He seemed even bigger out of the yard and in the field and compared to the cows coats, his seemed very dull in colour.  Now it is gleeming like the others and looks wonderful, such a deep, velvety brown/red.  The cows remain a joy to have on the farm and going to visit them is a treat, they are so quiet as we walk amongst them.  We take a bucket with a few treats so we can have an excuse to give them a cuddle!

It probably seems like the sheep are taking a bit of a back seat at the moment, well they're not honestly.  The lambs are growing really well, and the final ewe lambed only last week!  So lambing 2014 is now officially over.  Routine annual jobs like protecting them from fly strike (making sure flies eggs do not hatch out into maggots on their fleeces) to worming are all happening at the moment and then Brian is due to come down and shear for us at the beginning of June.

Our piggies arrive mid July, 3 girls (gilts) from the Tedfold Saddleback herd where I went on my pig keeping course back in February.  Really exciting.  They will live in the traditional piggery behind where Belle currently sleeps.  Not sure what she will think of her new neighbours when they arrive!

The farm like everywhere at this time of year is looking particularly stunning, cow parsley, buttercups, butterflies and the swallows have arrived and busy finding somewhere to nest.

We now have lamb burgers available with our lamb packs for easy suppers and delicious barbeque treats.  Pork and beef are a little way off yet, but watch this space!

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle