Tag: farming life

Our Farming Year

So many of our guests ask about our farming life and are interested to know what we’re doing, what we do each month or season and why. So here it is, our year in brief at St Oswald’s Farm.

A farming year could probably be described as none stop, each month brings new tasks and inevitably new challenges and with the annual to do list on top of the usual daily farming routine. Each day begins with all stock being checked and fed, any that aren’t well are attended to or if there are any animals not accounted for then they need to be found. Sheep and cattle love to find out if the grass really is greener on the other side of a fence or wall! We ensure there is a water supply for all animals and if in the winter troughs are frozen they need to be defrosted. From October to May when cattle are housed indoors then they require clean bedding every couple of days and that in turn means mucking out the sheds too.

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Checking and feeding the stock every day

The year begins in earnest and January sees the start of calving time, the cows and heifers are checked continually each day and we’re always looking for those who we think will calve today. Some deliver on their own and others will need assistance, day or night, and then like any newborn we are checking to ensure they are feeding and Mum is happy with her baby. If not it could mean bottle feeding and trying to keep them warm until Mum steps up.

During January our flock of sheep are scanned to let us know how many lambs each one is having and throughout the month we are also selling the last of the lambs from the previous year and buying store cattle. Through February calving and buying store cattle continues and we begin vaccinating the sheep in preparation for lambing. Fields are ploughed for Spring crops and we’re starting to prep the sheds for lambing time.

March and April is all about lambing which is the busiest time of year with the livestock, lambing time is hectic and depending on the weather can be particularly stressful, and I’ve dedicated a whole blog post to this important event in the farming calendar. Fertilizer and muck are spread in March and April and Spring crops are sown. Any cattle we have bought are wormed and the bulls go out to the cows and heifers.

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Cute lambs…around 1900 of them!

During May we hope that cattle can be turned out, and it’s always fabulous to see them kicking their heels in the fields after being indoors all winter. As the grass begins to grow so do the weeds and that means treating the fields to eliminate them. Our arable fields are ploughed and sown for our forage crops whilst other fields may be topped (cutting off rough grass to promote new growth) and if possible our first cut of silage is made.

Summer is mainly about silage and hay making, we have to ensure we have enough fodder to feed our animals through the coming winter. In July our sheep are clipped and we’re still topping fields and then during August we’re beginning to wean the lambs from their mothers, to enable us to begin selling our new season lamb at the local mart which we continue to do right through until January. If you’re wondering how we know when to sell them, they are weighed each week to ensure we sell them at the correct weight. Winter barley is also harvested, grain stored and straw baled.

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Hay time

In September we’re spreading muck, weaning the calves and harvesting our Spring barley and it’s this time of year when we buy any replacement sheep that we need, buy any new tups and we begin to prepare all 1000 of our ewes for tupping time. We’re ploughing and sowing our next crops and buying in the additional straw that we’ll need for winter bedding.

Our calves are sold during October and our tups are put out with the ewes, cattle are clipped in preparation for being sold in November and the cows are brought in for the winter months. During December we continue to sell our lambs and our store cattle are sold and we’re looking after our heavily pregnant cows and heifers who will begin to calve in January.

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Our calves at 8 months old

After all that is done and dusted then the maintenance of sheds, fixing fences, repairing stone walls, clearing fallen trees, digging ditches, vermin control, paperwork, movement licences, registration of animals, passports, book-keeping, Countryside Stewardship and SFI applications, medicine records and mandatory records for Red Tractor Assurance are all done too.

Farming life is so dependent on weather and very often the annual timetable is stopped, paused or even destroyed by what the weather throws at us, each year brings different challenges and as farmers we have to be adaptable and be ready for whatever the weather decides to do. Farmers are eternal optimists as we always think next year will be better or as John says “next year will be different”. Farming life is all consuming, it’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year, it’s about loving your animals, being a caretaker of your land and taking pride in what you produce. We get to live in a beautiful place working alongside nature and get to enjoy the most amazing views every day. We could say that’s it’s the best job in the world but farming isn’t a job, it’s a way of life and I have to say it’s a way of life that we love!

Stay on a farm

St Oswald’s Farm is where we live, its’s what we are and it’s what we do. But what is it like to stay on a farm, to be a guest here, to come and stay in a holiday cottage on an actual working farm?

A stay here is just what you would expect from a stay in a luxury holiday cottage, it’s welcoming, it’s relaxing, it’s ultra comfortable and it’s peaceful and most importantly it’s your special break from your everyday.

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Heavenfield Cottage

Heavenfield Cottage allows you to enjoy everything you want from your holiday, lazy mornings, day trips, visitor attractions, meals out, leisure time, long soaks and time to enjoy your book. However a stay on a farm perhaps also gives the opportunity to see the countryside in a unique way and take a glimpse into a way of life.

We have over 750 acres of ‘back garden’ to enjoy, there are stunning walks and views to die for without even leaving St Oswald’s. The scenery, the birds and the wildlife around us are fantastic and depending what time of year you visit you may be lucky enough to spot a curlew or lapwing, you may be here when the cotton grass is out or when our preserved hay meadow is in full bloom.

Any walk you take you will undoubtedly see our animals, John’s beloved sheep as they go about their daily business and during the Spring and Summer months you will see our lambs, thousands of them as they play. You can admire our cattle grazing and visit the hens that provide you with your welcome hamper eggs! You can even collect some eggs if you wish..do just ask us.

You will see our dogs hard at work. Sky, Dot & Bea are an integral part of the day to day running of the farm and always keen to do their job. You may see them rounding up the sheep whilst out in the fields listening for John’s call, well almost always listening for John’s call. They are more than eager to please and they don’t care about the weather or the mud and can normally be found within a few yards of John! Although they have been known to wander off in search of a tummy tickle!

I don’t think anyone could stay here without seeing the beauty that living on a farm brings or the time and dedication that goes into farming, the love we have for our animals and for where we live. Our guests are able to see at first hand John’s comings and goings as he gets on with his everyday routine.

alt="stay on a farm heifers of different breeds in a field with blue skies above stay on a farm"
Our ladies enjoying summer days

One of the questions John is most frequently asked is “do you get a day off”? The idea of a day off to John is odd, he doesn’t think about days off, and in answer to the question, no he doesn’t not unless we actually go away and leave someone to look after everything on the farm.

John would however tell you that he does get the odd day off, but what he means is he gets up earlier to do all his work before he goes away for the day and then works late when he gets home to get everything done that needs to be done. That’s John’s idea of a day off! I’ll let you decide if you think he’s right.

January and February is calving time and during March and April a stay at St Oswald’s Farm will mean seeing lots of activity, you will undoubtedly see lambs born and can feed lambs if you would like to. It’s a busy time of year for us but we’re always more than happy to answer any questions that you may have and you are more than welcome in the lambing sheds. We love that people are interested to know about our way of life.

If you happen to be here at the start of July you might witness John shearing his own sheep, and there’s even the odd chance you might witness me wrapping fleeces, please feel free to have a go, the lanolin is great for your hands!

Of course the summer months are also about making silage and hay for the winter. The tractors, machinery, the mower, the baler, the wrapper are always great to see in action. In fact the distant sound of the bale wrapper in the fields is for me a real noise of summer and it always feels comforting to know that our fodder for the winter is being safely wrapped up for our stock.

alt="stay on a farm John shearing a ewe on a clipping trailer in the sun at shearing time"
Shearing time

Staying on a farm is without doubt a pleasure, it’s all a holiday should be with perhaps just a little added extra, a real experience of the countryside and a small yet real glimpse into farming life.

If you would like to experience a stay on a farm and enjoy the best of our countryside and all that Hadrian’s Wall has to offer, then we’d love to welcome you here. For all availability, prices and details of Heavenfield Cottage then please go to our website. Or if you’d like our monthly updates from life on the farm then we’d love if you signed up to our newsletter here.

We look forward to sharing St Oswald’s Farm with you!

It’s Lambing Time…again!

It’s March and lambing time is upon us again here at St Oswald’s Farm, so what is lambing time all about and what’s it really like?

Although I’m a farmer’s daughter, I had little to no knowledge of sheep and of lambing time, dairy cows were more my area of expertise so marrying a sheep farmer also meant I had much to learn in my new role and I discovered I had little idea of what lambing was all about. I knew people said it was hard work, but farming is, so what could be so hard about sheep giving birth and all the lambs running off into the fields to frolic and skip! I really couldn’t understand what the fuss could be about. I was in for a bit of a shock!

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Lambing for us symbolises a new year, new beginnings, new life and is the start of our farming year. Even long before March arrives we’re discussing when tups go out and in turn what date LAMBING will begin.

Conversation then turns to how fast the ewes have been tupped and which week will probably be the busiest when lambing time arrives, and ultimately which week I need to take off work.

The ewes are scanned in January and this tells us which ewes are carrying a single lamb, a pair or a triplet or in some cases more than that. During scanning the ewes are marked on their side, blue dot for a single lamb, red dot for a pair and an orange line for a triplet…I discovered this was something I would need to know when March arrived each year.

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Marked as a triplet

Ideally ewes would all give birth without any difficulties, they wouldn’t have lambs that are coming backwards, they wouldn’t have lambs not presenting with front feet first, they wouldn’t have dead lambs, they wouldn’t have lambs too big to deliver. They wouldn’t give up half way through delivery to just push a head out and decide they can’t be bothered any more. They wouldn’t give birth and then shoot off to an entirely different part of the shed and deny all knowledge that any lamb in that shed is theirs, they wouldn’t feel they only want one lamb even though they had given birth to two or even three and then for no apparent reason decide they fancy licking someone else’s lambs so that lamb ends up unwanted by their own mother. They wouldn’t think that food is more important than their offspring and trample over their lambs to get to their food bowl, they wouldn’t lie on top of their lamb and suffocate them. I had not anticipated that sheep aren’t always natural mothers and the work and torment this creates and just occasionally the heartbreak it brings….I’ve had to toughen up!

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Labour ward

Any preconceptions I had quickly made way for reality when I learnt what lambing time entailed. My first experience of a lamb being born wasn’t a great one and it is a moment I won’t ever forget. It was before we were married and I’d called at the farm to see how it was going. John was on hands and knees lambing a ewe who was pair marked, so I was pretty sure I was going to be witness to a couple of lovely pearly white lambs being born. However despite John’s best efforts both lambs were dead, there was nothing he could do. I just watched silently. The mother stood up and turned around to greet her new offspring and John just said to her ‘I’m sorry lass’. It seems a cruel flaw in nature that some ewes with perfectly healthy lambs couldn’t give a damn about their new arrivals but some like this ewe are good mothers and she kept nudging her dead lambs and trying to get them to stand up and licked them for all her worth. I was used to death, I’d grown up on a farm but this still really affected me. The poor dead lambs who would never play in the fields, the lambless new mother and John, sorry for her but quietly accepting that these things just happen.

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Happy mum, happy lambs

The one blessing of being very busy at lambing time is that there can be a lot of sheep lambing all at the same time so you are quickly taken from your current thoughts and have to move on to the next situation. A ewe in the next pen quickly spits out a pair of lambs and they need to have their navels iodined & dosed and be penned to ensure the mother and lambs are mothered up properly. Another ewe has decided she doesn’t like one of her lambs and so you’re on your hands and knees holding her to prevent her knocking the lamb so that the lamb can feed. Another ewe is about to lamb but you notice it’s a back foot or a tail coming first, so she’s going to need assistance. You spot a lamb in another pen who doesn’t look well, it may just be cold and need some time under the heat lamp or maybe the mother isn’t milking well and doesn’t have enough to support her lambs. You’re always on the look out for something.

If lambs aren’t getting the milk they need from their mothers or a mother dies and leaves her lambs , those lambs find themselves in the pet pen and need to be bottle fed every few hours, believe me when I tell you this is only fun the first few times you do it! You have the eager beavers who would glug anything down in vast quantities, you have those quiet stand at the back types who won’t suck anything, you have the ones who want to drink but can’t master the art of sucking and that we aptly call ‘donnard’, and then there’s the ones who persistently find an escape route out of the pen and you spend your day putting them back into the pen from wherever they have roamed.

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The pet pen can however be a dangerous place. The lambs can often be in the pen for a good while until a new mother can be found and you find yourself talking to them and becoming attached to them, but I’ve learnt from experience not to get too attached and not to name them. My mind goes back to ‘Jeremy’ who I nurtured and fed and then when we realised he was blind it just made me love him more. But as well as blindness Jeremy had other ailments and he lived only a few weeks, needless to say, I cried! John was right best not to name them.

Ewes that have lost lambs will be given others to ‘adopt’, however this isn’t as simple as it may sound. Ewes rely on smell to identify their own lambs and if a lamb doesn’t smell right she generally won’t want to know. The adoption process can take days or even weeks and ewes and lambs are left together with the ewe restrained so that she can’t harm the lamb and the lamb in turn takes on the smell of the ewe in the hope she will accept it as her own…it doesn’t always work.

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Tiny Tim…small and oh so cute!

A much better way if your timing is right, is that a single lamb is being born at the same time as a triplet so that the 3rd lamb can be given to ewe with the single so that both ewes end up with a pair of lambs each..another flaw in nature, ewes only have two teats and can therefore generally only provide for two lambs adequately.

A ewe and her lambs stay in an individual pen for a couple of days, during which time they are pair marked, that’s the numbers on their sides that you will see, and they are also ringed, some tup lambs are castrated and all have their tails ringed to shorten them and prevent future parasitic problems (fly strike). Mothers and offspring are then moved into a slightly larger pens of 5 or 6 ewes with lambs to ensure they are finding each other, or mothered up properly, and all still feeding adequately before being put out into the fields.

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Play time

Feeding time for all the pens is twice a day and this is hugely time consuming, countless feed bowls and water buckets to fill, hay nets and hecks to replenish, clean straw for all the pens all the time and water buckets to fill again because they’ve knocked it over or decided to poo in their water!

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Night shift

Lambing time is undoubtedly hard work, and is hugely affected by the weather, but it gets over, although that’s probably easy for me to say because it isn’t me that it affects most. I only do days in the lambing shed and work it between school runs, my day job, changeover days in the holiday cottage and mealtimes. I ensure there’s a full fridge, meals on the table and plenty of flapjack and cake to keep energy levels up. John is out there for at least 18 hours every day and sleep is somewhat of a luxury for him, however I know he wouldn’t have it any other way, he loves what he does and that includes lambing time, with all that it may bring!

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John…happy in his work

John and I are both passionate about where we live and the life we have here at St Oswald’s Farm. We love welcoming our guests here and really don’t mind answering questions, explaining what’s happening on the farm and why. We are so fortunate to live in this beautiful spot on top of Hadrian’s Wall , we love the life it allows us to have, we love the landscape, the views, the scenery and most importantly we absolutely love to share it with our guests.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this small insight into part of our farming life and please do feel free to call in anytime in late March/early April , you’ll be very welcome to feed the pet pen!

See you next month when it’s all over!