Monday, 18 January 2016

The Big Chill, finally

Belated Happy New Year!  We have been so relieved and grateful to see some dry weather and some sunshine this week.  Whilst we have not in any way struggled as much as some of our farming friends in the north, the relentless rain and mud is tiring to work with.  The animals do not like it either!  Some hard frosts and even a little snow yesterday morning has really lifted our spirits and put the spring back in our step.

Our cows are beginning to look significantly bigger and calving is now not far away.  We moved them recently due to the wet ground and they had to pass the General (our wonderful bull), who plumped out his chest as they trotted past.  Once he has lost a bit more weight he will be able to join them but he remains on rather a strict diet!  The cows are enjoying their hay and last years calves and the steers and heifers (born February 2014) are very content on their silage (grass which was cut last summer and wrapped, smells delicious!).

The sheep will be pregnancy scanned in the next couple of weeks and I always think that marks the beginning of turning our thoughts to lambing.  They will be split into their groups of triplets, twins and singles and then given the correct amount of food according to how many lambs they are carrying.  Freddie loves our 'snacker feeder' which attaches to the back of the quad bike and releases the sheep nuts in piles on the ground which the sheep race to nibble.  The feed is stored in a 'hopper' which is a huge wooden bin in the yard and releases the food directly into the snacker.

We are hosting a 'farmland bird identification day' here on the 26th January for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, ahead of the Big Farmland Bird Count taking place between the 6th and 14th February. This will be the 3rd time we are taking part and I've written a guest blog for the GWCT here   It is an excellent opportunity to take time to look and reflect on the farm and share sightings with visitors and in our news.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Belle

Thursday, 26 November 2015

My first butchery masterclass

From our last blog you will remember that we are just entering the world of selling and tasting our very first traditional Sussex grass fed beef.  As part of this process we think it is really important that our involvement doesn't just end in loading our special animals for the abattoir but our respect continues all the way to how they are butchered and sold.  This is why we are so chuffed that head butcher Will (pictured top) from Barfields Butchers has taken half of our first animal, (the other half has gone to chef Charlie from the Chimney House, see previous blog).  We have been regularly supplying lamb to Will for a while now so we know what a great business he runs.

I had asked if I could spend a couple of hours one morning to watch our beef being broken down (note butcher language), so I spent Tuesday morning with Matthew watching and learning the incredible skill and art butchery is.  The second photo shows the chuck end of the rib which would be trimmed down further and tied to make rib of beef, perhaps the ultimate roast?  The last 2 photos are Matthew trimming out the feather bone and as you can see he looks pretty pleased!  It was a privilege to watch, thank you for having me guys!

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Belle

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A real treat and a significant new chapter

Wow.  Our first steer (a castrated bull calf) was ready a few weeks ago and we sold one side to Will at Barfields Butchers on the Ditchling Road in Brighton and the other side to Charlie, chef at the Chimney House pub in Brighton.  This really did feel significant.  Our first beef, reared on our farm and fattening only on our grassland.  The traditional Sussex breed slow to fatten but worth the wait!  Charlie really kindly put together a tasting menu just for us and my Mum!  We were treated to cheek in a bun, delicious, followed by tongue with squash puree, incredible, heart (pictured above) with alexanders in an amazing broth, and we ended with onglet, with rape greens and chips!  The onglet was so tender.  It really does show that nose to tail eating is the way forward.  These often forgotten cuts are just what real eating is all about, hence our friend Ellie in Brighton has named her business Forgotten Cuts!  We were all slightly bowled over by the taste, the fact it was our very own meat and that Charlie had done this for us.  Thank you so much Charlie.  Please pop in and taste it for yourselves, you won't be disappointed.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Belle

Raddles on and ready to go!

One of my favourite jobs in our sheep farming calendar is getting the rams ready to go in with the girls.  At every other time of year when we try and handle them whether its to trim a lame foot or for shearing, it is hard work.  They won't stand still and make the task a whole lot harder.  However, when it comes to fitting raddles, well, they really do know what is coming next.  They stand still as good as gold.  Our two Lleyn rams (pictured above) will normally disappear to the other end of the field when they see us coming but when we turned up to load them in the trailer and they saw the raddles, they practically walked in.  Raddles?  A special harness we put on them which has a crayon positioned on their chest which then leaves a mark on the ewe once they have performed their business.  The last photo shows the ewes literally circling them in excitement.  Lambing 2016 here we come!

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Belle

For those of you who have kindly noticed that there is a significant person missing from our usual sign off, dear Boris is no longer with us.  He was 15, which for a staffy we are told is unheard of.  We miss him and so does Belle.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Farming and family life

We have two back doors.  Sometimes helpful when its raining to try and contain wet clothes and wellies plus a wet husband and sheepdog but often confusing for visitors, B&B guests and deliveries which door to knock at.  At the moment it sometimes means Roly can arrive through one door (the wet welly one) and Molly, Freddie and me are just leaving through the other in the frantic rush to be out of the other door to get to school and nursery.  Our two worlds then meet amidst damp clothing and book bags which then inevitably get covered in whatever aromas our lovely sheepdog has decided to roll in that morning.  This is only noticed once in the car and on the way to school and I'm thinking, I know that smell but where is it coming from?

I love it.  It is a whirlwind of chaos but our short car journeys are taken up with discussing all our different days and whether Daddy is on the quad bike, driving the truck or tractor and which story book we need to read that evening and who Molly sat next to at lunch and who will be star of the day in her class the next day.  Seeing their faces light up when we drive in the farm is so lovely, looking out for Daddy and saying hi to our rams who are outside our cottage at the moment getting ready for their favourite time of year, meeting the ladies.  Some ladies have been moved into the field next to them and the eyeshadow and lipstick is definitely being worn as the flirting through the fence is intense.

We have planted our giant bird table up in the top field this year.  As part of our environmental project here at the farm we grow food for the birds to help them feed over the winter months which is called the 'hungry gap'.  We went to have a look on Sunday and we saw flocks of linnets, goldfinches and Roly has seen corn buntings too.  It is really exciting to see them.

Our other big project this summer has been reverting an arable field back into a wildflower meadow.  This has taken a lot of thought and consideration relating to the seed and establishment.  We are now seeing the shoots coming through which is wonderful and we can't wait to see the different stages of growth over the coming months.

We lost one of our dear cows a few weeks ago and it really knocked us.  I think it is their size which makes a death so much more dramatic and sad and we also don't know why it happened.  On a more exciting note we are awaiting the arrival of 'The General'.  He is our new bull who will be arriving from a neighbouring farm in the next few weeks.  He is seriously handsome and very quiet like Henry.  But this means saying goodbye to Henry.  Farming is hard!  But perhaps we are too sentimental?  I don't think we could farm without feelings, we have to cope with happy arrivals as well as very sad departures.

Autumn is Roly's favourite season.  The colours are just amazing at the moment and we are loving seeing the contrasts and the gorgeous sunny days we have had recently.  

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie and Belle

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Meet the boys and some other exciting finds...

They are wonderful!  Very interesting, they took a few days to feel settled in their new surroundings, different to the Saddleback girls who were instantly hungry and happy.  Perhaps boys are a little more sensitive?  They have certainly made up for any lost time and are now charging around and bounding towards the fence whenever anyone comes into the drive in any hope of food and/or a good scratch.  Wellies are a real favourite for nibbling and having a good rub, particularly if they have a buckle.

I think it could be official, we have recently become wildflower enthusiasts.  Our wildflower book which admittedly has sat on the shelf largely ignored for a long time, made itself part of the daily routine, it even made its way into the box which sits on front of the quad bike (a real honour).   We even booked a babysitter to walk a very special area of bank one evening to try and see what we could spot!  Our favourite find has been the bee orchid, isn't it beautiful?  We could hardly believe this incredible flower had appeared on our farm!  But it has been a real reminder to us how important the grazing and scrub management we are undertaking is so we are able to encourage these types of species on the farm.

Our spring lamb is proving popular with our local pubs and restaurants in Brighton, plus our friend Ellie who runs her own brilliant company called Forgotten Cuts, serving up tasty treats every week in Brighton.  We are really pleased with the positive feedback we are getting, thanks everyone.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle

Monday, 27 July 2015

Ear plugs anyone?

Weaning is taking place today and the farm is far from quiet as the lambs get used to not having their Mums around.  The ewes on the other hand are far more relaxed and I always think seem a little relieved to have time to themselves again.  Rearing lambs is hard work and demands a lot from the ewes so we need to make sure they have enough time to regain any condition before they meet the rams again in the Autumn.

All of our hay is safely in the barn and we think this might be the first year it hasn't got wet!  The usual frantic weather checking and 'shall we, shan't we', until we decided to go for it and were lucky. Such a great feeling to have it done.  We have also made silage for the first time this year too, so we have a good stack of bales piled up behind the barn which we can see from the kitchen window.

Our small area of spring barley is a few weeks off still from being ready for harvest.  We have just had a couple of very wet days which will be helping our winter fodder crop to grow which is food for the lambs during November/December time when the grass has very little goodness in it.  The local rooks and pigeons also think it is quite tasty and it is times like this we remember we share our farm with a lot of other wildlife, some more welcome than others!

We've been busy pulling ragwort again this year with help from wonderful local groups who give their time and come and lend a hand.  The farm is looking so much better we think than it did this time last year due to our efforts to get on top of the thistles and nettles which had really got out of hand in some fields.  Roly has been busy topping, which is a key part of grassland management which involves taking the top off the grassland which gives the grass and second boost of growth.  It can also kill some thistles too if done at the right time.  An old saying goes relating to thistles, 'if you top in June its too soon, if you top in July they're sure to die'.  So much of farming experience which gets past down the generations remains invaluable.

Our first batch of spring lambs are ready this week and we are really excited to begin supplying some of our regular customers who have also been enjoying hogget and mutton up until recently.  Positive lamb burger feedback remains particularly strong but our Saddlescombe Sausages are certainly coming in a close second!

Talking of piggies....we have 3 little boys who have arrived with us, Gloucester Old Spots this time and they are wonderful.  They took a few days to settle in but are now fully into their routine of listening out for feeding times and loving a good scratch and wrestle.  They've had a good explore of their patch and found some tasty treats amongst the mud and bushes.

Family life is busy too with Molly starting school in September, everyone tells you it goes so fast but you don't believe them until it is happening to you!  We are really enjoying having all of our lovely Bed and Breakfast guests too who are exploring our beautiful surroundings and seem to fit into our perhaps somewhat chaotic family/farming life.

More soon

Camilla, Roly, Molly, Freddie, Boris and Belle