Farming

FARMING

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I built the stable block in 1986 and apart from being used by my horses and pony, the 3 stables are extremely useful for dealing with my sheep [ 10 Hebridean & 12 Shropshire] and their lambs & for rearing chickens & ducklings. A friend hatches out chicks & ducklings in his incubator but I then  have to keep them under cover until they are big enough to survive in Fort Ducks without being eaten by rooks or crows. Previously my hens & ducks hatched out their own eggs but they were rather unreliable about it & I used to have to buy ducklings & ex-battery hens periodically.

Stable-block

The stable block also comprises 2 adjoining storage areas, each the size of a double garage. One is used to store hay, feed & bedding for the animals. The other is used for general storage with my Kubota tractor the most important item. Behind is the cold store where I keep 2 small deep-freezers. I fill them with home-grown fruit & vegetables; with the lamb, chicken & duck that I produce and with presents from friends of Canada goose, pheasant, venison etc .

I bed my horses on shredded cardboard. It is easier to handle than straw or wood-shavings & much better for the gardens. Contrary to popular belief, I find there is seldom any need for it to be “well-rotted” first: I put it on as a mulch in the autumn & dig it in, if necessary, in late winter or early spring after the frosts have broken it down [ I would not use it in the flower beds].
I also plant my Pumpkin seedlings directly into the main muck pile in early summer as the rising warmth of the rotting muck & its moisture retaining properties mean that they yield good crops with minimal, if any, attention.

The muck pile is also conveniently sited for friends who want some of the well-rotted product after the pumpkins have been harvested.

FIELDS

There are 8 small fields grazed by the two riding horses, the pony & the sheep.

Sheep in Sam’s Meadow

The horses are my major indulgence, although they do provide me with an ample supply of useful manure. They are usually in the Horse Field, which has the field shelter described above. I try & keep them out as much as possible as it is obviously more work to keep them in the stables. However if I think the weather is such that they would prefer to come in, there is a wicket gate leading from their field to the stable yard, which I can open to give them the choice.

I acquired the pony in February 2015 and am having great fun driving him in a cart and have just got a little tipper-trailer so that he can learn to haul loads – a more environmentally friendly alternative to using the tractor.Friends’ children ride him and he a very tidy little grazer of the green lane and the cider orchard.

The sheep do an excellent job of keeping the pasture in good condition and I try & move them around to maximise the wild-flower biodiversity.

For the first time in 2015, I made hay in three of the fields. This was expensive & provided far more than I could use but not of good enough quality to be easily sold. I’m now concentrating on developing wild-flower hay meadows out of two of these field using conservation methods, including the introduction of “green hay” & yellow rattle from good local sites. This should result in lower quantities [ an advantage!] of higher quality hay plus the restoration of a beautiful and seriously threatened habitat – 97% of the old wild-flower hay meadows in the UK have been lost.

WOODLAND & POOLS

Cider Orchard

The woodland & pools combined cover about 33 acres.

There is a problem with rampant bramble & bracken encroaching, particularly along the sides of the numerous paths through the wood & the woodland glades. We mow these areas using my tractor & flail-topper but this is obviously undesirable in that it uses fossil fuel &, in any case, much of the ground is too steep & uneven for even my sturdy 4 wheel-drive tractor.

Sheep in Woodland

In the past, I tried grazing with my Hebridean sheep but they immediately started ring-barking my beloved trees.  Shropshire sheep are supposed to do less damage to trees than any other breed and are beginning to be used in commercial fruit orchards, instead of the appalling use of herbicides to produce bare earth under the trees. I purchased five Shropshire ewes to test this and they performed so well that I bought a ram and started to breed up a larger herd.  Far fewer trees get damaged & the sheep barge through many of the bramble & bracken thickets knocking them back considerably as well as eating the grass along the paths & in the glades: the tractor is not needed nearly so much.

Recently the Wildlife Trust lent me four Dexters, two cows with their two calves at foot, who are supposed to do the same job. It is too soon to tell but I hope they will be even better at eating the longer grass with the sheep do not like and, being much bigger, will be even better at knocking back the bramble & bracken.

In December 2014, I  purchased a further 5 acres across the lane from my existing land. This was divided into three small fields by wire fences. I’m establishing a wild-flower hay-meadow on one of them , one is currently grazed by the Shropshire sheep and the third has become “the Lavender field” because two friends are cultivating lavender on most of it [ see “Gardens”] although in one corner I have built a small hay-barn.

ANIMAL FEEDS

I would like to find more environmentally sustainable & locally produced feeds for the animals.
The dog & cat both have commercial dried biscuit & the cat also has tinned food because he loves it so much, none of this is produced in an environmentally sustainable way.
My dog also loves raw squirrel & rabbit but the cat will have none of this.

The horses & sheep obviously mainly eat grass and now my own hay but they do have some hard feed of dubious origins although I keep this to a minimum by low density stocking.

The poultry have lots of kitchen & garden scraps, much of it donated by kindly neighbours in exchange for occasional eggs, but they do  have mixed corn or layers pellets as well & neither is produced from local or organic sources. Alternatives need to be sought.

FLEECES

Fleeces from my sheep are sold by the wool-marketing board but here is currently virtually no profit from selling wool .

A kind friend  gave me a lovely heath-rug for the dining-room, made on a peg loom from the wool of two of my Hebrideans, but she did complain that the fleeces were very dirty & of poor quality. She also crocheted me two beautiful waistcoats from some of the wool that I had washed, carded & spun professionally.

Felt making or wool insulation are other possibilities but time constraints prevent me from doing any of these activities myself although I am happy to give the wool free to anyone else who wants to try .