Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Lambing 2014 highlights - Week 1

Ewes expecting twins strategically positioned in lambing paddocks
Meanwhile ewes expecting triplets get the lambing yard with en-suite facilities
Our first arrival over 7 days early . . . we're never quite ready
Strong set of twins born with Saddlescombe Farm and Devils Dyke in the background
Belle has to wait patiently during most of lambing
Old hay rack meets new hurdles
OH! Get off my hay!
Moving new born lambs into the trailer to take back to barn before night fall
First of the banners goes up - no going back now!

More to follow

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

Thursday, 16 January 2014

A very different kind of January...

....we are still getting used to the idea that we are going to be lambing outdoors in open yards for the first time this spring here at Saddlescombe and feel very excited about it. Once the ewes have lambed they will be taken into one of the maternity wards in the wonderful old traditional barns, which have not housed a sheep flock since the 1940s, which will make it even more special. All our ewes are still outdoors, previously in Oxfordshire they would have been inside by now being fed hay and even shorn.  We're unsure how the ewes feel about still being outdoors and having to put up with getting very wet!  They don't appear to mind as there is still plenty of grass and during a big sheep move manoeuvre across the farm on Monday they had a pit stop in the farm yard for us to take a good look at them and make sure their condition is in good shape. At this time of year when the ewes have their winter fleece, it is only by putting your hand on their back can you really access their condition. The good news is they are doing well on the grass at Saddlescombe.

Moving the sheep around the farm has to be well thought through and will always involve us asking for an extra pair of hands to help us get them across the road.  The latest move with the ewes was fun as they have moved from one end of the farm to right opposite the farm entrance, so it is lovely seeing them every time we leave or come home.  Molly enjoys saying good morning to them!

Soon "Bob the scanner" will be paying his annual visit to us to tell us how many lambs they are having to make sure they get the appropriate feed in the build up to lambing. This is an exciting job but makes us feel a little apprehensive too as so much depends on it.

We are busy planning for our lambing weekend on the 12th and 13th April.  We are looking for helpers so please get in touch with us if you are able to give us a hand, jobs will be everything from helping in the lambing yards to car parking.

Our lambs born last spring have been grazing some stubble turnips on the highest point of the farm and enjoying some amazing views of the sea, Devils Dyke and Brighton - all from one spot.

Last week we had a real scare when Freddie our 11 month old boy was taken into the high dependency ward of the childrens hospital in Brighton with Bronchiolitis. He is heaps better now, thanks to Dr Patel and his amazing team who took such great care of him and Gemma, Lisa, Natalie and Anna, his amazing nurses. Whilst we hope Molly and Freddie will have a wonderful childhood growing up on the farm, having Freddie in hospital for fours days and nights did remind us just how difficult it is being a parent and shepherd to a lot of sheep. We decided to postpone Molly's 3rd Birthday until Freddie was back home and we could spoil her with a trip to the beach (above). We think we got away with it, until she can read these blogs!

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Christmas at Saddlescombe

....we are really excited about spending our first Christmas here and perhaps having the chance to review this year and look forward to next year and seeing some of our plans come to life.  I think we may look back at 2013 and wonder how we did it!

Already really exciting work is happening.  We had our first day hedgelaying last weekend, working with Charlie the head warden here at Saddlescombe and some National Trust volunteers.  Roly really enjoyed it, there is nothing like a hard days work which ends in a satisfying bonfire at the end of it!  Philippa and volunteers from the South Downs National Park team started some scrub clearance today along Varncombe Bank.  A long stretch of species rich grassland which has become too overgrown with scrub (invasive trees).  Again a satisfying job which ends with a bonfire!  This work will be so important for the native grass and wildflower species to have the space and light to grow and establish themselves again on the bank.

Our lambs are enjoying munching their way through the stubble turnips which were planted back in August before we arrived by our neighbours Mark and Gary Lee.  It is rather an amazing sight seeing them on the horizon as it is the highest field on the farm so the view is rather dramatic, particularly when the last of the evening sun catches the top of it and bathes it in an orange glow which is amazing.

Our family came to visit us last weekend and we put them to work sawing up wood to feed our hungry wood burners.  Another satisfying job done with spectacular views as a backdrop. 

We are looking forward to welcoming our first visitors to be Shepherds for the Day with us here next year so if you are looking for an unusual but fun and memorable Christmas present to give then why not purchase one of our Shepherd for the Day vouchers or even send a box of lamb?

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Thursday, 21 November 2013

This time last year...


...we were visiting Saddlescombe for the first time for the viewing day.  I remember it being freezing cold and so wet!  I was heavily pregnant so was finding it hard work walking the fields and climbing over the styles.  I had so many layers on that I know I had some looks from people wondering if they should ask when I was due, or was I just cold!  Now Freddie is 10 months old and here we are now making Saddlescombe our home!

The farm is split in two by Saddlescombe Road and the ewes are now the other side of the road in the next door field to the lambs who are at the furthest point of the farm. We put the rams in with them about 2 weeks ago and they didn't take long to get busy!  It was so funny as the days running up to them being 'released' we had the rams in the donkey wheel paddock (pictured above) behind our cottage and the ewes in Croft field in front of where we live, and they spent a long time looking "longingly" at each other through the gate!

We are starting to plan our first open lambing weekend here next year which will be the 12th and 13th April.  We are really excited about it and having the opportunity of sharing our flock and the amazing buildings with our visitors. We will keep you posted on our plans. Please let us know if you would like to get involved and help out during the weekend.

Lamb sales are going well both locally and nationally to our loyal customers back in Oxfordshire, thank you.  We've sold some lambs to a local farmer who is also a sheep trader/dealer to sell on to the open market.  So for the first time we don't know who will be eating our delicious lamb!

Over the next couple of months we will start laying some of the hedges and clearing some of the scrub which is invading the species rich chalk downland. We have been overwhelmed by offers of help from the National Trust wardens and volunteers, the South Downs National Park rangers and volunteers, and the members of Portslade Green Gym and feel very grateful for their support.

Our amazing friends John and Julia Sargent have been to visit us today from Little Wittenham, it felt so lovely showing them around.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Monday, 14 October 2013

Settling in....

We are slowly getting used to our new beautiful surroundings. The South Downs are just amazing and our sheep look so happy and we are loving being able to see them as we drive back home towards the farm.  We did our first big sheep job last week and brought all the ewes into the yard to select the ewes who we will keep their female offspring for our future breeding stock.  I love this annual job as it is selecting the 'prettiest' of our girls . . . although Roly is more interested in their genetics, previous lambing history and general performance as a sheep!  Molly and Freddie took part too and Molly has found a favourite spot in the yard which she is using as a dancing stage so the flock were even being entertained! We've selected 83 and they are in the 'croft' field which is right outside our window which is lovely.

We've had a couple of very wet days here but it still looks beautiful and then makes us appreciate the dry sunny days even more like this morning.  I stand at our kitchen window and look up to our far arable field and then beyond to our neighbours Aberdeen Angus cows grazing on Newtimber hill, wow!

Plans are already underway for our lambing open days, we will keep you posted on dates but we are so excited by using the buildings here for mothering up pens, it really will be special and will create a wonderful atmosphere which we can't wait to share.

Bed and breakfast, shepherd for the day, mail order, visits will all be up and running soon, watch this space and place your first Saddlescombe lamb order!

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Thursday, 3 October 2013

We've arrived!

The sheep move began on Sunday, when Roly with the help of lots of lovely neighbours in Little Wittenham helped gather the flock and bring them back through the woods, over the clumps, and then pen them up in the farm yard ready for their road trip the following day. Generally this went well . . .  although an enthusiastic dog who was taking its owner for a walk through the woods spooked the flock and the manoeuvre became a little more interesting. On exciting the woods (through a different gate than then one shown to the team of helpers during their briefing!), the flock were then ambushed by 20 Hereford cows as they walked back over the Wittenham Clumps Nature Reserve for the last time. After a second regroup, the flock finally arrived back in the farm yard.
The next morning Roly and John Sargent helped load up 300 ewes, 76 ewe lambs, 296 lambs and 8 rams into the two lorries each with 4 levels, not to mention lifts, stairs, compartments, etc - you name it, these lorries had it - we (sheep included) were all fascinated! It look about 2 hours to load the 2 lorries. The road trip itself to West Sussex took 3 hours. As the sheep unloaded it was the noise of the doors releasing and the sheep running down the ramps and the lambs springing in the air which all contributed to it feeling like a really historic moment for us and as we learnt later for the National Trust too who told us that us farming Saddlescombe was the first time since the 1940's that a family and their flock have settled here. The sun even shone for us!

We stood and watched as the ewes gradually spread themselves across the open field in front of us and they seem to think so far that Sussex grass is pretty tasty!  We walked back to the farmyard with members of the South Downs National Trust team who had come out to watch them arrive to greet the boys meandering their way through the farmyard to their new home in the donkey wheel paddock behind our house.  Basil was in front of course.  It is just the best feeling eating our breakfast and seeing them outside, Molly can't quite believe it!

Thank you to all our friends, neighbours and customers from Oxfordshire who have all been so kind. Please keep in touch with us and mail order will be up and running soon!  We are really looking forward to making friends down here and welcoming visitors to the farm and sharing with them this beautiful place.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle