Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience

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We’re Off the Bottle

20160524_134733If you live within a 5 mile radius of the farm you may have heard that we are weaning our hand reared lambs.  Their bleats for milk can be heard far and wide! Weaning is the practice of removing from lambs the milk diet provided by the ewe (or a milk replacement diet).  From the milk diet, lambs are moved onto forage or grain based diets.  The separation can be stressful for ewes, lambs and those of us who are caring for them.

Weaning age varies greatly in the sheep industry. Lambs have been weaned successfully as early as 14 days, while some lambs are allowed to wean naturally, staying with their mums for 6 months or more.  Hand-reared lambs can be successfully weaned from a milk diet at 25 to 30 pounds body weight or when they are 30 to 45 days old. Weaning abruptly is better than offering a diluted milk replacer the last week.

Our hand reared lambs are now 3 months old which is when we usually wean them.  They have had access to grass to forage from the first few days of being alive and have been introduced to grain from a week old. 3 months of feeding 6 times a day is a huge commitment for all of our staff, co-farmers and volunteers and it’s a relief when we make it through and feel confident that they can survive without the milk.

In a natural situation, weaning occurs at approximately 6 months of age, usually in the autumn when the ewes begin returning to estrus (the ewe reproductive cycle). Our male lambs with mums will be separated from the ewes and weaned next, but our female lambs will stay with their mums and wean naturally.

There are several advantages to late weaning. It is more “natural” and results in less stress for the ewe and lambs. There is less risk of the ewe developing mastitis since her milk production has declined significantly by the time the lambs are removed.

For now our lambs are learning to fend for themselves, it’s a tough lesson but their instinct and resilience will hopefully see them though.  In the mean time we have ear plugs on order!




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Wednesday Walkies with Sid the Sheepdog

The SidSA goes TransAtlantic

The SidSA goes TransAtlantic


This week Chicken Dave got a bit forgetful and turned up on Thursday but with a whole bunch of people from American and British universities who wanted to learn about the Sid Sheepdog Academy.

It was gratifying that his Academy was now working with esteemed Universities from around the World and helping young people to appreciate dogs.

I ended up getting to train about six students, guiding them around the Vicars Orchard, where they were helping the farm with some tree feeding.

One of the Five Scarecrows on the Farm overseeing the tree Feeding by UNCW University of North Carolina Wilmington. Photograph by Merrick

One of the Five Scarecrows on the Farm overseeing the tree feeding by UNCW, University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Photograph by Merrick


They were all much more attractive than Chicken Dave and younger so I gave them a good run about.

We introduced them to the flat noses (pigs) and the chickens (who don’t look anything like Chicken Dave), the lambs and the runner ducks where they practised a bit more herding.  Pretty good they were too.

Sid and Chicken Dave in Vicars Orchard. Photograph by Merrick.

Sid and Chicken Dave in Vicars Orchard
Photograph by Merrick

The Farm has asked me if I can extend my contract to work on Sunday as well this week so that means more biscuits.

It’s All Good.



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Wednesday Walkies with Sid the Sheepdog

Sid relaxing after his last Wednesday Walk in February this year

Sid relaxing after his last Wednesday Walk in February this year


As Sid panted away for the last of his Wednesday Walks in February he reflected on what he had learnt and what he had taught.

He decided to interview Dave the Chicken to see how his pupil was doing.

Sid:  “Ruff.  Well Dave you have completed our four week course now and I was wondering what you thought of it?”

Chicken Dave:  (Indecipherable noises) But I’m sure he said Sid a few times, or it might have been Sit!

Oh dear, thought Sid, I forgot that he is human and can’t speak my language.

I will have to make this easy for him.  I will ask him simple questions and if he nods his head a lot I will take that as a no.  If he sticks his finger up and throws me a biscuit I will take that as a yes.

Sid the sheepdog




Sid: “Ruff, you also must now realise that it is impossible not to take me for a walk when I look up at you with my doggy eyes and stick my tongue out.”

CD throws a biscuit indicating yes.

Sid the sheepdog


Sid the sheepdog

Sid the sheepdog

Sid the sheepdog

Sid the sheepdog





Sid the Sheepdog was secretly quite pleased with the way his mentee was coming along and it had been good for Sid, too.  That afternoon a crowd of thirty people watched as he tutored Chicken Dave to herd the runner ducks into that wide gate.

Some people had heard about the walk and come to the farm that day to join them and he hoped this would continue, because unbeknown to Chicken Dave, his other student Su was still taking him for both his other walks!!!

Life was good for Sid, more walks, more biscuits and Sid was doing well.

purple dog

However he was disappointed he hadn’t seen Daisy in a while.

Maybe she was going out at a different time of day; he would check it out and book Chicken Dave for some further training during March when they should start to see more of the Signs of Spring as highlighted by the wonderful Woodland Trust.

hello spring






Six today including: – Snowdrops; Bluebell shoots; Elder buds and Song Thrush songs as well as lambs tails and primroses.

Three more to add including: – Frogspawn, Birds making nests and one I can’t remember but it might have been a Valentine or was it Calendine.

The Valentine would be Daisy, but she is no yellow petalled flower. She is more like a Rose in Bloom.



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Church Farm Mutton, Vegetable and Barley Stew

Did you see the post about eating lamb in spring?   Enjoy this recipe from our butcher, Tony Hopkins.

1kg shoulder or leg of Church Farm mutton, diced

3 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp olive oil

15g butter

2 celery sticks, roughly sliced

1 leek, washed and roughly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 carrots, roughly sliced

400g floury potatoes, roughly diced

400g swede, roughly diced

500ml fresh lamb stock, hot

400ml carrot juice

2 fresh sprigs each rosemary and thyme, plus extra to garnish

100g pearl barley

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4. Put the cubed mutton in a large bowl, add the flour and season. Toss well.

Put a large casserole over a high heat. Add the oil and brown the mutton in batches.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the butter. Stir in the celery, leek, garlic, carrots, potatoes and swede and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browning a little. Pour in the lamb stock and carrot juice, then add the rosemary and thyme. Bring to the boil, cover and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, until tender.

Stir in the pearl barley 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time, so it absorbs the juices and becomes tender. The stew should be thick and juicy. Season, garnish with rosemary and thyme and serve with rustic bread.

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Is Easter the best time to eat lamb?

leg of lambIn my opinion (I’m Tony, the butcher), lamb for Easter is all wrong.  While “spring lamb” has undoubted marketing appeal for supermarkets, spring is when lambs are meant to be born. So what are you eating? In fact, when you buy “spring lamb,” you get animals that were born in the autumn, specifically for the Easter market. Mostly they are reared indoors, with their mothers, who often continue to suckle them until they reach slaughter weight. Ewes and lambs will be turned out on spring grass in early March, but they’ll get only a couple of weeks to graze before they go to slaughter. The resulting meat, known in the trade as “suck lamb,” is sweet but pale and, I think, a bit porky.

So should we never eat lamb at Easter?  I often eat sheep—either mutton (an animal of two years or more) or, best of all for flavour and tenderness, hogget (a one-year-old in its second spring or summer). Both mutton and hogget animals should have a good covering of fat, which means they can be hung properly— 10-14 days is about right—after which they end up even more tender than lamb, and can be served pink. A few good butchers will sell you mutton and hogget, and both are available here at Church Farm or from our online shop.

So when is the best time to eat lamb, in the true sense of the word? During the summer months, in my opinion. February-and March-born lambs (look out for bottle feeding at the Farm soon) are invariably put out to graze within a few weeks of being born, and learn to eat grass, as well as their mother’s milk, before they are a month old. They exercise far more than indoor-reared lambs, which gives their meat a finer grain and more flavour. Slaughtered in the coming weeks, at five or six months old, their meat is still sweet, but much more rosy and vivacious. This is the flesh of animals that, though young, have lived a little, with grass under their feet and sun on their back.