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 7 Shropshire sheep and their lambs & for rearing chickens & housing them in winter. A friend hatches out chicks in their 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 had to buy ducklings & ex-battery hens periodically.
in 1986 and apart from being used by my horses and pony, the 3 stables are extremely useful for dealing with my 7 Shropshire sheep and their lambs & for rearing chickens & ducklings. A friend hatches out chicks & ducklings in their 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 had to buy ducklings & ex-battery hens periodically.
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 and poultry that I produce and with Canada goose, pheasant and venison shot mainly on site.
Vermin-proof apple racks, cider making & bee-keeping equipment is also kept in the cold-store, together with the apple juice, cider, honey & beeswax produced and home-made elder-flower cordial.
The horses are my major indulgence, although they also provide me with an ample supply of useful manure. I keep them out all year round, usually in the Horse Field, which has a field shelter for them, but there is now also good grass and a sheltering hedge in Home Field which I bought in 2021.
I acquired the pony in February 2015. He is now too old to be ridden or pull sledges but since I started feeding him “Veteran Vitality” he has developed a new lease of life and now comes galloping towards me whenever I turn up with a bucket …..
Apart from Horse field and Home Field, there are the Conservation Lakes, Sheep Field, three wildflower hay meadows and three smaller fields at Pam’s Pools, far too much grazing for my two riding horses, the pony & my Shropshire sheep.
I also use the flock of “Easy Care” sheep [ so-named as they don’t need shearing] and the Dexter cattle which belong to Jack & Archie Groves in the above areas.
New pool, Lower Pool Grassland, Marsh Field and Wood pasture are grazed only by the Dexters. They eat the longer grass, which the sheep do not like, and being much bigger are even better at knocking back the bramble & bracken and show no sign of damaging the trees.
In the woods there is a perennial problem with rampant bramble & bracken encroaching, particularly along the sides of the numerous paths & into the woodland glades, smothering the woodland wildflowers. I used to mow some areas using my tractor & flail-topper but this is obviously undesirable, in that it uses fossil fuel, and, anyway, much of the ground is too steep & uneven for even my sturdy 4 wheel-drive tractor. So we have divided the woodland into “Wood Pasture” and “Non Intervention Woodland”.
Shropshires do less damage to trees than any other breed of sheep 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’ve used them successfully to graze my four small orchards although one does have to watch them, ready to remove them at the first sign of tree damage.
In this way, SWT and I are creating diverse habitats to attract wildlife.
While I manage the wood primarily for the benefit of wildlife, it is a source of fuel for my log-burners; blackberries ; sloes for gin ; rowanberries for jelly ; elder flowers for cordial ; wild cherries ; inedible chestnuts [ I keep hoping !] & dubiously edible fungi.
A regime of regular hay-making followed by aftermath grazing is developing Lake Field, Wildflower Hay Meadow and Lane Field into traditional species-rich wild-flower hay meadows. This is resulting 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.
In 2016 Wildflower Hay Meadow was started off by strewing with “green hay” & yellow rattle seed from good local sites. Lake Field already had a small patch of yellow rattle and a number of the “indicator species”, including Common Spotted Orchids and hay was first made there in 2015. We strewed “green hay” from there onto Lane Field in 2022 and it took very well so that we were able to harvest the first hay crop in 2023.
WOODLAND & POOLS
Some years ago, I found American Crayfish in Upper & Lower Pools. This is ecologically extremely undesirable & “it is one’s duty to eat them to extinction”. So I got a crayfish license & 3 traps. These traps work on the lobster-pot principle & are best baited with dead squirrel, magpie or similar. I submerged them near the rocks of the bottom lake and then put the catch in a holding pen of clean water for 24 hours to cleanse them before killing them & enjoying delicious meals.
A byproduct was large quantities of crayfish shells which I crushed by putting them in a tough plastic bag & then stamping on it. The resultant fishy grit was extremely popular with my chickens & very good for them.
But I’m not catching any now as over the last few years the otters have moved in and we are finding crayfish remains in their spraint and neat piles of crayfish shells beside “Otter Rock” at the edge of Lower Pool. Someone on the reserve even saw an otter with a freshly caught fish in one of the Conservation Lakes in 2023. I guess they need the crayfish more than I and my chickens do!