Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience


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Choosing the Right Ram for the Job

October was the start of our sheep year, a funny time to start a year you might think but for us here at Rural Care it’s the start of our breeding year and what we raise our sheep for.

By this time, the ewes have been on the summer grass and have reconditioned after lambing.  They are in peak condition, and their fleeces are starting to grow back from being shorn earlier in the summer. Their lambs were weaned, and they have enjoyed a few months of lush grass, warm weather with no hungry mouths to feed.

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Jeff

The Rams, having spent 11 months now away from the ewes, are also in prime condition.  They have had their full MOT—feet trim, teeth checked, weight monitored and resilience checked. We have our Suffolk Ram, Randy Dandy, who proved himself last year and produced some beautiful strong Suffolk lambs. We have also kept a shearling Ram who we have called Andy.  He was a lamb who was born here is the spring of 2015. He is a Lleyn-Texel cross and is a handsome boy.  He has a beautiful temperament and takes forward the strong  points from both breeds, the strong bones of the Lleyn, and the temperament and excellent mothering skills and strength, stamina and conformation of the Texel.

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Randy Dandy

The flock here at Church Farm started with the Lleyn, good sized sheep who make excellent mothers, and we still have some of the original flock amongst this year’s breeding ewes. They usually carry triplets, and big ones at that! They are old timers at this and know exactly what to do. They are large, heavy sheep and not the easiest to work with when you need to tip them to trim their feet. However their calm, sensible, gentle nature makes up for it.

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Lleyn Sheep

So October brought with it big decision making.  We retired our Black Welsh Mountain Ram, Jeff, this year.  After 6 years of service we felt he had earned his retirement, however we are not sure he is ready to retire! You should always have a reserve ram ready just in case anything goes wrong, and so we chose one of Randy Dandy’s lambs born last year.  He has all of Randy’s characteristics, and is a handsome boy.

On October 13th the boys or the ‘tups’ went in and the’ tupping’ began. Tupping is the term used when referring to a ram mating with a ewe.  The ‘tup’ is an uncastrated male sheep. It’s always an exciting but tense day, with overwhelming anticipation the boys fly around the field, smelling the air, the girls in a flurry of excitement.

The ritual  of tupping is a polite one, which may surprise you. The Rams will seek out which ewes are in season, the ewes will come into season every 17-21 days. The odour of the oestrous ewe stimulates the ram, although it is the ewe who seeks out the ram and stays close beside it. The male responds to urination of the oestrous female by sniffing, extending the neck and curling the lip. This is the flehmen response. The tongue goes in and out and the male may bite the female’s wool, and raise and lower one front leg in a stiff-legged striking motion. If the female is receptive she will stand for copulation.

Once they find a ewe in heat they stick with her for about 8-12 hours, sometime longer.  There is a courting ritual, as ewes typically stay in heat for 6-18 hours. (Allowing just enough time for dinner and a night out!) They talk to each other in a low chattering type bleat, the same affectionate voice the ewe uses with her new born lambs.

After the first 24 hours we start to get an idea about how the tups are doing, as they wear a coloured crayon called a raddle on their chest. We are then able to see which ewes the tups have seen. The field is usually a sea of different colours.

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Bums for inspection

Randy had made it around about 10 ewes by the morning, and Andy, with his more polite approach and being a first timer, had seen 2. Unfortunately Randy overdid it in the first 36 hours, pulling a hamstring and had to be pulled out (with much resistance) and rested for a week. Luckily we had his 2016 lamb in reserve and our old timer Black Welsh Mountain Ram Jeff was on hand to muck in!

The tups remained with the ewes for 5 weeks, and they are now recuperating in the R&R field.  They lose a lot of their condition through tupping, often forgetting to eat or drink and need to be monitored closely. Randy is on the mend but he will need some physiotherapy on his leg and warm up exercises for next year!

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Say cheese!

The ewes are pregnancy scanned early in the year and we will find out who is carrying lambs and how many. Fingers crossed their hard work has paid off and we will have a successful lambing season. Here’s to the start of another sheep year!

Rozelle

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Mission Impossible?

Everybody knows that farming is hard work! What we are trying to do at Church Farm isn’t easy, but how hard is it actually?

Church Farm, Ardeley Community Interest Company is  a small family farm, run on ecological principles. The farm grows a variety of crops and orchard with old traditional varieties, and also breeds the livestock you would like to see on a traditional farm. The poultry is slaughtered in a small abattoir on site, while the larger animals are slaughtered in Chelmsford and butchered on site. We also run a village shop and pub.

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Small family farms are disappearing and being bought up by larger farms, just because they aren’t economically viable. Farmgate food prices have fallen to the lowest level recorded in the last five years, according to the United Nations.

At Church Farm we try to grow a full diet for people with as much variety in vegetables as possible, which makes it very hard to mechanise anything. If you grow hectares and hectares of the same crop you can invest in specialist equipment and machinery to seed, plant and harvest your crop but at Church Farm, Ardeley CIC most of this work is done by hand.

Natural England and the National Trust claimed 60% of England’s orchards had disappeared since the 1950s. Orchards are disappearing due to supermarket power demanding apples all year round—including out of the British season—that can be shipped and stored for long periods. They also demand disease-free apples with a decent profit margin and want a guarantee of consistency of shape. Church Farm orchard has 700 trees with 120 varieties of traditional fruit trees, which don’t meet all these conditions.

All of our livestock: cattle , sheep, pigs and poultry, are free range and reared in a high welfare system with requires a higher staff input than intensive systems and makes it less economically viable.  While we have been cross breeding with some of our rare breed livestock, Church Farm Ardeley CIC still maintins some rare breeds. Breeds of livestock become rare when their specific characteristics are no longer required or economically viable. Rare breeds are important to conserve for their genetic diversity that might otherwise be lost forever.

Abattoirs and butchers have been disappearing rapidly because of new legislation by the fresh meat standards that required upgraded facilities, which increases operation and by-products costs. In 1996, 800 artisan abattoirs were operational but this declined to 145 by 2007.  But Church Farm Ardeley CIC set up its own  poultry abattoir in 2009.

The common pressures facing rural shops in all areas of the country are competition from supermarkets, online shopping and changing demographics.  The New Economics Foundation (NEF) reveals that between 1995 and 2000, the UK lost 20% of some of its most vital institutions: corner shops, grocers, high street banks, post offices and pubs.

400 village shops closed in 2008 but Church Farm Ardeley started one in 2011.

In 2014, 31 pubs a week closed, but Church Farm, Ardeley CIC took over the running of the Jolly Wagonners in Ardeley in 2014.

We are also trying to inspire a new generation of farmers as the average age of the UK farmer is 59, as well as reconnect people with food and farming.

 So, how hard it is to run a farm like Church Farm, Ardeley CIC and making it economically viable?

Very hard indeed! Church Farm Ardeley CIC is combining at least 8 businesses that are hard to make economically viable and 8 years on we are slowly getting there.

Tim, Emma and Adrian have the guts and determination to take on this mission. They are helped by an incredible bunch of highly motivated and skilled team of staff, interns, volunteers and Co–Farmers to make this impossible mission possible.

A great thanks to all our customers, supporters and Co-Farmers who support this way of farming in 2016.

In 2017 we will continue to supply you with excellent vegetables, fruit and meat, a farm to enjoy and reconnect you with where your food comes from.

Ann

Sources

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/structure-of-the-agricultural-industry-in-england-and-the-uk-at-june

 http://farmbusinesssurvey.co.uk/DataBuilder/defra-stats-foodfarm-farmmanage-fbs-UK_Farm_Classification.pdf

 http://www.face-online.org.uk/resources/factsheets/discovering/rarebreeds.pdf

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11353767

 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/11283995/The-real-reasons-for-the-tragic-demise-of-the-British-pub-industry.html

 http://tna.europarchive.org/20120419000433/http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/board/fsa080504a2.pdf