Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience


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Why Our Work is Important to Us

There is nothing that Rural Care isn’t involved in at Church Farm, we keep ourselves busy with anything from picking flowers for the shop to hanging a new door in the pub. Our days are diverse and filled with purpose, which is how we like them! Some of the roles we embark on at the farm offer us more than you may think and benefit us as much as the farm.

We offer opportunities for a diverse range of individuals, all of whom have their own interests, strengths, skills and abilities. We are able to tailor a day where everyone is involved in their own way.

This newsletter this was published in has been contributed to by Co-Farmer Holly, then folded by some of the students in our group from Greenside school, some of them have been hand delivered by Co-Farmers who like a walk and are learning about being safe in the community.

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Here are how some of our bigger responsibilities on the farm benefit us and the farm as a whole.

Laying hens
The laying hens offer us routine, which is important to some people.  The job is relatively predictable, there are many tasks involved in completing the job, and everyone finds their role. Harley loves to scatter the food. Luke enjoys collecting the eggs.  Daniel likes to get stuck in mucking out and Sean health checks the hens. Each with our own role, we work as a team and there is a sense of satisfaction and achievement at the end of the session. That then leads onto processing the eggs.  Some people like sorting over a chat about what happened on Eastenders. Florence likes to grade the eggs. Matthew is a keen egg boxer.  Many of the eggs you have purchased from the farm might have been boxed by Matthew. There is a wonderful cycle to chickens and eggs.  We all play our part and the result is our lovely fresh, free range eggs for sale in the shop. All of our Co-Farmers in some way have been involved in the journey those eggs have made to get there. Those eggs for sale in the shop offer us independence skills, confidence, social skills, numeracy and writing skills and a sense that we are part of something that people appreciate.

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Sheep
Sheep are wonderful creatures for us to work with, they are relatively safe, very sensory and are a great platform for us to learn about behaviour, body language, spatial awareness, teamwork and communication. Again, as with the hens, there is a cycle to working with sheep. Their cycle is over a year and starts with the rams being put with the ewes (tupping). Throughout the year there are then numerous tasks such as foot trimming, shearing, lambing and worming. These become part of our own cycle. We know it is spring when the lambs come and we know it is summer when we shear. To work with sheep you have to be aware of their signs and signals, what they are telling us. This can teach us a lot about behaviour, observation and team building.

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Allotment
Rural Care has their own allotment garden.  The idea behind the garden was to grow food for the Co-Farmers to cook with. Each spring the Co-Farmers choose what they would like to grow based on what they like to eat. Throughout the spring and summer the Co-Farmers tend to the fruit and veg they have sown. This again offers many different tasks which altogether result in the fabulous produce they harvest at the end of the summer and early autumn.  Then comes my favourite part, the cooking, as we learn how to turn that variety of veg into something yummy. Again there is an annual cycle that is predictable, the tasks change with the seasons and there is a great reward and sense of achievement at harvest time.

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Our work is so important to us. It’s not just about getting a job done it’s about finding out people’s interests, strengths and abilities and matching them to a wide range of tasks that together make up the farming that we do.

Rozelle

 

 

 


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Lamb Feeding and other Spring Activities

Preparations are underway for the first birth of the year.  The lambing bays have been laid with fresh straw and the ewes are moving into the maternity ward as we speak.

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New intern, Angelina, has arrived from North Rhine-Westfalia in Germany to work in Rural Care and lead the lamb feeding team.  Angelina is studying sustainable agriculture at the University of Applied Science, after WWOOFing in New Zealand three years ago sparked her interest in agriculture.  She will be with us through August.

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Our first lambs are due mid-March. If you would like to meet our hand reared lambs and help us bottle feed them you can book online . Bottle-feeding is £9.95 per person, supervising adults are free. A lamb feeding session will typically last 45 minutes.  You will hear from our experienced staff the latest details about how the lambing is progressing and how special this time of year is on our farm. This activity is wonderful for all ages and everyone can get involved. Bottle-feeding lambs is a wheelchair and pushchair friendly activity.

Booking is essential as this is a popular event.  Please check-in at the Farm Store on arrival.

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Pick up an activity sheet from the farm shop when you get your Farm Day Pass and animal feed, and follow the Farm Trail around, past rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens and cows.  Along the way there are six painted lambs.  See if you can find them all!  Write down their names and go back to the shop for a prize.

Chick Trail for Easter
During the Easter holidays, pick up an activity sheet from the farm shop when you get your Farm Day Pass and animal feed, and follow the Farm Trail around, past rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens and cows.  Along the way there are painted chicks.  See if you can find them all!  Write down their names and go back to the shop for a prize.

Egg Collecting
We offer Little Farmers the chance to help with feeding chickens and collecting eggs from our happy Church Farm hens.  Egg collecting is at 11:30 am and lasts approximately 1 hour. Plus, as part of the experience, they’ll get to take half a dozen eggs home with them—eggcellent! You can book online. If you have any questions please call 01438 861 447. Egg collecting is £9.95 per child (this price includes the half dozen eggs and a bag of animal feed), free for supervising adults.

Farm Day Pass
A Farm Day Pass enables you to enjoy access to the farm trail, horticulture garden, woodland play area, home field and vicarage field animals and use of the indoor play room for just £3 per person or just £10 for up to 5 adults and children. Bags of pig, poultry and cattle feed are available at the Farm Store, where you will be given a safety briefing and a free map showing the points where you can feed the animals around the farm.

 

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Scanning Day for Ewes

Scanning day is always a big day here at Church Farm, the ewes are scanned using a mobile ultrasound  machine. They are marked with colours to indicate how many lambs they are carrying, blue is 1 lamb, red is 2 and orange is 3, an orange line on the top of the head is empty. With anticipation we gather the girls for the big scan.  It’s a tense moment when the first one goes through, and this year the girls were not behaving and avoiding the scanning crate at all costs. We eventually got the first batch through, but with all the commotion I missed the first 20 or so. As things started to flow I looked over at the ewes that have been scanned and can just see a sea of orange. My heart sinks, I immediately think they are all empty, our worst nightmare. I look again only to realise they are all triplets, and the panic sets in again!! 15 sets of triplets.

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Overall we are due 149 lambs, with 48 sets of twins and 15 sets of triplets, and the rest singles. A busy spring is ahead of us, but we can’t wait for this magical time of year,  looks like we chose the right Rams for the job!

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If you would like to join us for this special time of year we are running several experience days from family days to overnight experiences. If you have ever been interested in lambing this might be the perfect opportunity to tick something off the bucket list!

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With the 15 sets of triplets we are expecting we will have an awful lot of extra mouths to feed this year and will be offering bottle feeding session from the 25th March.

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Please visit our website for further details or to book one of the lambing experience days or bottle feeding lambs, places are limited so get booking quick!

Rozelle

 


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A Farm to Produce Food for People

Church Farm Ardeley is a “community interest company” set in order to innovate and create sustainable small farm enterprises. It took us 6 years of huge losses and a steep learning curve to get to full production and to break even! It is still a work in progress and a never ending challenge.

We produce every cut of meat, every vegetable and fruit we can here. Value is added through doing our own butchery and processing, making ready meals and we are reliant on people eating our food to sustain the farm in the pub, café, and direct farm retail.

To produce such a wide range of food, without using fungicides and pesticides, and in a manner we are proud of, takes a lot of people. We have a core team of full and part time people who help across the enterprises, we provide supervised work experience for adults with difficulties and education, have volunteers, students and interns contributing to getting the huge amount of work done to grow food and bring it to market. In all there about 48 full and part time staff on the payroll to run the farm, café, shop and pub.

We grow:

Livestock includes:

· British Lop, Large White & Berkshire breeding sows, boars, weaners and finishers (120)
· Red Poll and Red Poll Cross Cattle and Followers (80 head)
· Llyen, Suffolk, Texel, Black, White and Badger Faced Welsh Mountain sheep and fat lambs (140 head)
· Light Sussex, Cuckoo Maran, Black Rock, Rhode Island and Hybrid Laying hens (750)
· Outdoor reared table poultry – we produce 50 a week
· Norfolk Black turkeys, Embden geese, Aylesbury ducks, Bee hives and Apiary Garden

In addition we coppice and produce over 1500 bags of logs, make kindling, and grow some Christmas trees.

Thank you to everyone who eats our food and enables us to farm.

—Tim Waygood


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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

 


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Where is Farmer Christmas This Year?

This year Farmer Christmas has turned up in Vicars Orchard, miles away from the sheep in Upany where he spent the last festive season.

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Photo by Emma Massie

Almost everyone has a Christmas Tree of some description over the festive season for a few weeks but Farmer Christmas is interested in trees the whole year round.

Especially the fruit trees in the Orchard where he has found more trees than he thought, maybe nearer 800 than 700 which means more work and hopefully more fruit in years to come.

So the children who come and visit Farmer Christmas are helping to keep him company and to help the work in the Orchard where each tree needs to be fed, protected, pruned and generally cared for through the winter months.

Some animals will hibernate and trees are very similar in that they have a rest and wait for the warmer days of Spring to get growing again.

This means that with no leaves or fruit or undergrowth in the way it is the ideal time to get on with those maintenance jobs you have been dying to do.  Stake the trees that need some extra support, repair damaged tree guards to keep the rabbits out, put cow manure around the trees to replace the nourishment that has been taken out.

That is 800 barrows of cow poo! A big pile of poo!  Luckily we have lots of cows.

Also we have lots of visitors who help support the farm and they have been finding trees and having their picture taken with Farmer Christmas and the tree that they have found.

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Photo by Tom Large

It may be Apple or Pear, Quince or Medlar, younger or older, in sickness or in health – oops I think I just slipped into a marriage ceremony!  But the idea is to nurture and cherish the tree as far as possible, so that it too will nurture and cherish us in years to come with beautiful blossom in Spring and fruit in the Summer or Autumn. With a tree hopefully living for 25 years or more it is quite an interesting comparison to a marriage after all.

—Chicken Dave