Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience

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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.


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!


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!


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.


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!



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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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Lambing with Rural Care: The Real Picture

This is the second year Rural Care has taken on the full livestock management of the sheep at Church Farm, and this of course involves lambing!

Charlotte, our Rural Care livestock manager, gave us a course in lambing in advance. For some of us who were involved last year it was just a little bit less daunting than the year before.  The whole Rural Care staff team, volunteers and co-farmers got involved and several of our co-farmers actually delivered lambs this year!


Lambing can take a long time and lots of energy for humans as well as sheep.  For humans this might be bags full of chocolate and biscuits, for the ewes it is soaked sugar beet as well as loads of lubricant and orange arm length gloves.

All the pregnant ewes where put into our lambing bays two weeks before the first lambs where due.  The ewes had been scanned beforehand so we knew if they were expecting one, two or three lambs. They were marked with a coloured spot on their back, so we knew how many lambs to expect during delivery.

Lambing 41

The signs to look for when a ewe is starting to lamb is that she might separate herself from the herd, she might stop eating, her udder fills up and her vulva is getting very pink. She will also start pawing, as she is making a nest. She will also start licking her lips and might start making certain noises to start communicate with her lambs, even though they are still inside her.  But obviously some sheep won’t have many of these signs, some have them for days, some give birth quickly,….It all depends on the ewe.

Lambing 38

A ewe in labour

Once the lamb is born the mother will start licking the lamb dry.

Lambing 42

If the lamb struggles with breathing and you might have to put a bit of straw up his/her nostrils to make it sneeze and start breathing properly.

Lambing 43

It is also common to swing the lamb from its back legs to drain the fluid.

Lambing 44

Mothers can be very protective of their very precious offspring!

Lambing 16

Charlotte keep meticulous records of our ewes. We record their number and breed, but also if they had any problem during their last pregnancy and birthing and which tupping group they were in ( e.g. which ram the father is). We record if they ewes has milk and if the different lambs can suckle and if they are male or female.

Lambing 6

Once the lambs are born, the ewes and the lambs are put in a pen where they can bond with each other.  The navels of the lambs get iodined to stop infections and we check if the ewe has milk and the lambs are able to suckle.

Lambing 14

Lambing 13

Our lambing pens where built out of pallets by Tony (Rural Care) and the co-farmers and made such an improvement to last year. The co-farmers even made little blackboards so we could put the vital information about the current ewe and lambs in the pen for the next person coming on shift.

Lambing 7

Once we are sure the mother and lambs are fine and have bonded well, they go into the nursery, where they mix with a small amount of mothers and toddlers. Eventually after a few more days they get up out in the field with the rest of the mother that have given birth.

Lambing 1

Lambing 3

Lambing is a lot about observing your animals and getting to know there normal behaviour as well as checking if everything is going to plan with the mother as well as the lambs.

Lambing 45

Lambing is hard work, emotional, exciting, upsetting, exhilarating, exhausting but most of all it teaches you about life and death and how precious life is !

Many thanks to the Rural Care staff for all the extra hours.  And thank you to Nick Hooper for the photos in this article.











A ewe in labour






Once the lamb is born the mother will start licking the lamb dry.










If the lamb struggles with breathing and you might have to put a bit of straw up his/her nostrils to make it sneeze and start breathing properly.









It is also common to swing the lamb from its back legs to drain the fluid.




















Mothers can be very protective of their very precious offspring!



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You Can’t Bleat It

lamb course class

The first of our two lambing experience groups saying goodbye to their infants

Somehow the lambs get to everybody and perhaps this year even more than last.

24 little ones running around Home Field needing to be fed five times a day is exhausting, so thank you to everyone who came to help us and we have a pretty good idea that is was something that you enjoyed too.

This year in addition to the lamb feeding we had the chance to run a couple of classes for those interested in the delivery of the lambs and I think it is fair to say that these days were a real delight and also insight into the hard work put in by all our shepherdesses through the season.

We have had early morning and late night shifts going on until every ewe had given birth, with a particular eye on multiple births and first time mums.

So much of this unseen work goes on to bring people their food, and while it is very hard work, the peace and tranquillity of spending time around Long Bottoms Field is something rather special.

lamb course sheep

One Shepherdess in particular stands out in her contribution to our lambing season and beyond, and who, sadly for us, will be leaving the farm, but happily for us will be working at our sister site in Aldenham.

That is Charlotte, who is constantly cheerful, brilliant with both people and animals, and gets up to look after her horses while even the rest of us early risers are still in bed.

Remarkable, and a remarkable achievement this year, again, by the whole group of people, and of course sheep who have helped us through such a challenging time of year.

lamb course Charlotte middle

Charlotte in her special trousers in the centre with Sheep and Shepherd/esses

lamb course bags

Emergency rations!


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Wednesday Walkies with Sid the Sheepdog

sid the police dog


Chicken Dave went for his lesson as usual on Wednesday morning but……

There was no Sid!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sid was missing and his main student Su was also missing.

Surely they must have been Sid – napped.

Feeling distraught Chicken Dave searched everywhere, the café, the chick shed, Rural Care, the lambs, the cows and of course the chickens and pigs.

But Sid was nowhere to be seen (of course he was worried about Su as well but really he was missing Sid).

He felt silly going for a walk by himself so got out his camera and took some pictures of the animals around the farm.

While he was doing this to take his mind off his missing dog he wondered where Sid might have gone.

dog races

Perhaps Su had taken Sid to become a racing dog?

cute dog - c

What if Sid had been swapped for another, smaller, cuter, better behaved dog!

week 9 sheep

Or perhaps he had gone to do some special undercover police work as a sheep?

Next week – what happened to Sid (and Su of course).


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Reflections on Mothers Day at the Farm

mum and present

Once a year we set aside a day to really thank our mothers for all the work they have put in on our behalf.

I have been told that it is not until you become a parent yourself that you truly understand what that entails.

Well, at the end of another Mother’s Day at the Farm, I understand it a bit more.

tugging on mum

My last act of the day was to feed six hungry lambs, in the cold and without a proper woolly coat.

They kept sucking bits of me to try and get milk out but had to settle for the bottle which while effective probably isn’t quite the same.

Then they wanted to clamber all over me for a bit of fun while I was looking to get some sleep, not much chance of that.


Farm life is tough, up early, cold, lots of tasks to achieve, animals to keep alive and people to keep happy.

Staff and volunteers to encourage and nurture and visitors to inspire and delight.

Chicken Dave doing what Mothers the world over do, all day, every day.

Chicken Dave doing what Mothers the world over do, all day, every day.

One of my favourite mothers came to the farm today as a Mother’s Day surprise and she was booked in to feed the lambs.  What a lovely thing to see a family grow up with a new little dog to look after and help to pass on those nurturing skills.

Delilah rushing over to meet Sid.

Delilah rushing over to meet Sid.

hug mum

Another of my favourite mothers is moving away and we won’t see her again for a while with her stick loving children.

The idea of family is what continually grows on me whilst I survive on the farm and it was beautifully summed up in a testimonial from one of our many hardworking interns.

family and sun

“People see the best and worst of me and still accept me.”

Something I suspect most mothers would be nodding their heads at but replacing the word accept with love.


love mum

So for all of you who brought mums to the farm, the pub, the café, the lambs thank you and Happy Mother’s Day.



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Wednesday Walkies with Sid the Sheepdog

Sid the winner

Sid the Sheepdog waiting for his walkee.


“Ruff” said Sid the Sheepdog as he waited and waited and waited for his walkee to arrive.  Eventually he gave up and heard later on the farm news report that a serious epidemic of manflu had broken out in the close vicinity to Dave the Chicken who had been held in quarantine until the event had passed.

Pathetic thought Sid, here I am with no extra clothes and I never get ill although I always have a wet nose, I don’t think these humans get the idea at all.  They have lost all their hair and got soft, that Adrian chap had the right idea and got quite hairy and then chopped it all off…crazy!


pub - Adrian

The Jolly Waggoner Pub where Adrian lives who nearly grew back all his hair.

Sid however was going to have quite a surprise when the quarantine period ended.


It was Saturday when he heard some strange activity going on outside his home.  He jumped up on the table to look at what was happening and then he realised something.  Chicken Dave was smarter than he had previously thought and knew that being a Sheepdog was the best thing in the world.  Chicken Dave was out practising to be a sheepdog!

Obviously he was rubbish and he wasn’t even using Sheep but the funny two footed beaky creatures which the humans called ducks.  They kept doing their own thing and I was laughing my lead off as they led him a merry dance and of course it wasn’t long after that that he asked for help.

runner ducks

The Runner Ducks relaxing, waiting for Chicken Dave to catch up.


What an idiot! He didn’t come to the master for a lesson but some other humans.  At least he picked out some of the smarter, smaller ones who kept close to the ground and actually did quite well.  Another big group managed it but had to put the small one on his head, as well as get help from the rest of their family. ( I knew they would get it as they had a dog looking after them).It still took three or four of them to guide 8 ducks between two buckets which were about five leads apart; I could have done it with my paws over my ears.

I was enjoying myself enormously realising how superior I am to these two legged creatures but then I got the shock of my life.

A really small one, only a bit taller than me when I am on all paws, with funny white hair on top came along and was brilliant.  He got behind them all – basic I know –and stayed behind them – still basic but not everyone gets this far you know and most importantly, after keeping low which he was very good at, was he moved s  l  o  w  l  y.

Dave the Chicken and the young man’s Dad were full of admiration and then I realised it was one of the students from my Sheepdog Academy, SidSA.

No wonder he was so good but don’t let Chicken Dave know that I know he wants to be a Sheepdog.

sheep and hay

The sheep reacting to Chicken Dave’s lie down in the mud on your belly move!


Each Wednesday in February, Chicken Dave will lead a leisurely walk around the Circular Walk at Church Farm.  We will meet at the Café for an 11:00 start, and the walk will take around 45 minutes (around 3 miles), finishing at the Jolly Waggoner Pub across the road.

Date for your diary:   24th

 Chicken Dave is a qualified Walk Leader with The Countryside Management Services of Herts County Council and has been helping on the farm for over a year.