Archive for the ‘animals’ Category

Winter wildlife on the farm

28 February, 2012

Winter so far has been marked by huge flocks of fieldfares in the hedgerows and woods. As the extra hedgerows planted on the farm in the last fifteen years mature the hawthorn and blackthorn are producing more berries. These are providing a much needed food supply to the beautiful fieldfare, a close relative of the song thrush and mistle thrush. Most of our fieldfares breed in Scandinavia and northern Russia and I was lucky enough to see some in the pine forests of Finland a few years ago. To avoid the harsh winters of the Arctic the birds fly south in Autumn to seek out the milder climates of Britain where there are plentiful berries. The Berkshire Downs support very large numbers of fieldfares and they can add much excitement to a walk along the Ridgeway in winter. We have regularly been seeing flocks of over a hundred this winter on the farm, moving from hedgerow to hedgerow seeking out any remaining berries. If you are responsible for hedgerows or even an isolated hawthorn tree then you can help the fieldfare by not cutting the foliage back every year. The flowers which form the berries only grow on a second year branch so if a hedge is cut every year then few or no berries will be formed.


The remarkably mild winter (until February anyway!) meant that the bluebells in our ancient woodlands came up remarkably early and I was able to map their location in January. The plan is to record their distribution each year to see how they respond to our woodland management – we are hoping that they increase! The bluebells love the hazel coppice in our ancient woodland, Nut Wood.

How we hope Nut Wood hazel coppice will look in May, with bluebells everywhere.

Last week Sheepdrove Organic Farm Volunteers planted more hazel trees into the wood, both to help wildlife and to provide a sustainable supply of hazel rods for the gardens and for charcoal making.  The hazel trees can be coppiced every 10 – 15 years, continuing an ancient tradition, and providing a variety of habitats for nesting birds such as warblers. They will then regrow, creating a sustainable product, that can be harvested over and over again for hundreds of years. Our garden team use the hazel rods as pea sticks, supporting our organic runner beans and peas that are used for meals at the Eco Conference Centre. And if the hazel is allowed to grow for longer it provides an excellent material for our charcoal burner (see photos in the SheepdroveGarden blog below). Sheepdrove Organic Farm charcoal is usually available from Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre, and our shops in Bristol and London although best to check before going specially.

Our charcoal, bagged up and ready to use.


Funny cow?

1 April, 2011

Happy cow : )

See her picture…

Blackbird from Sheepdrove found in Sweden

14 December, 2010

John Swallow is a volunteer who comes to survey our birds each winter. John is a qualified ringer (and trainer) and the little metal leg-rings can be a brilliant way of monitoring birds.

John, along with assistants Andy and Mike, have ringed hundreds of birds at the farm. Of course many birds don’t live long, but occasionally they recapture one, which enables them to get an idea of bird ages and numbers.

To have a bird found elsewhere is rare too. When it happens, it’s usually because the bird has died, and somebody has reported the find, using the leg ring number. (Contact the BTO if you find a ringed bird.)

A female blackbird ringed at Sheepdrove Organic Farm during the winter exactly 2 years ago, on 14 December 2008, was found in SWEDEN in August 2010. I knew that winter birds here might often be migrants from Skandinavia, but this is still really interesting to know – especially because John kindly provided a link to the exact location at Backebo, Alsterbro, Kalmar, Sweden!

Jason Ball

New pictures of the farm

4 December, 2010

We have a new slideshow at the farm’s main website.

Sheepdrove in pictures – Sheepdrove Organic Farm

Farming Notes 14 Nov 2010

14 November, 2010

The cold weather has now set in and the autumn/winter livestock routines are well under way. This places quite a bit more burden on weekends so the need to get the labour profile right becomes paramount.

The weather generally has been fairly kind with a nice spread of rain/sunshine and cold and mild weather so crops look well and the forage is still of a good quality for the sheep still outside. The particularly wet and cold days when they occur do hold the stock back and the straw usage in the sheds (Roundhouse in particular) increases significantly.


All drilling completed in reasonable conditions and the crops are now fully emerged and looking very well.
No real slug or weed problems have emerged thus far, although weed pressure at this time is always mild and merely an indication of what may materialise at a later date.

Feed and milling wheat sales have gone very well, with little in the barn. The human consumption oats, barley and rye are all scheduled to start in February.


All ewes have been sorted through and given a prep up. These are now split into various groups, according to breeding requirement, and are on their respective tupping blocks. In doing this we’re are aiming to increase their metabolic rate by giving them much better pasture than they’ve had in the last couple of months since weaning (this keeps them fit and helps prevent mastitis).

With the better pasture comes and increase in body condition (vital to store fat for winter, maintain pregnancy and assist milk yield at lambing) and a corresponding increase in metabolism. This metabolic increase produces a ‘flush’ of eggs rather than one and thus a higher percentage of twins is achieved.

We have to closely match the availability of forage to the ewes body condition so that she does not go without but also doesn’t get too fat. We have to also ensure there is enough grass to see her through the first month after tupping.

The rams have also been gone through as they will be required to do their years ‘work’ over six weeks commencing 25th November to give a lambing period of six weeks commencing approximately 18th April.

Beef cattle:

The cattle are now all inside as the spring calving cows now come in for winter to protect the pasture and help the calves to keep growing well. The performance of all the young stock since changing the grazing regime and using better forage converting breeds appears to have improved immeasurably. Autumn calving has started in earnest with circa 25 cows now calved.

Chris Blunt
Farm Manager

Hampshire Sheep Group

12 November, 2010

Hampshire Sheep Group kindly invited Chris Blunt (Farm Manager) and Jason Ball (Mgr for Biodiversity and Alternative Energy) to be guest speakers at their event last night.

Chris proudly announced that we have not had to treat any sheep for worms this year. The key is clean grazing systems, which rotate between sheep and cattle and careful management of the grass resource. Chris praised the skills and dedication of our stockmen Nick and Matt. 

Sheepdrove has won the Best Large Sheep Flock award at the Royal Berkshire Show for a few years running now. 

The breeds at Sheepdrove include a wide range, the main ewes being Shetland (of various colour types), and the ram breeds include Texel, Blue Texel (excellent for wool), Lleyn, Herdwick and Beltex. Chris explained the system we use and some of the ideas for future breeding aims – such as conformation, fleece shape and wool quality.

Jason talked about some of the achievements of Sheepdrove’s nature conservation work, such as the establishment of unique wetland habitats, 70 hectares of chalk downland restoration, the huge amount of Environmental Stewardship, attracting Small Blue butterfly, and discovering in 2010 that we have a nationally important diversity of arable wildflowers.

Our thanks to Brian, the chairman of Hampshire Sheep Group, for inviting us.

Unusual things seen at the farm

3 November, 2010

Three unusual or unseasonal things we’ve seen at the farm:

  • a melanistic (dark) Fallow Deer stag
  • a summertime flower, Small Scabious
  • a springtime flower, Cowslip

Click the pictures to enlarge them.

First calf!

2 November, 2010

Matt’s announced that our first autumn calf has been born!

Bats = pesticides

29 October, 2010

“Bats are one of nature’s greatest pesticides… during the 180 days or so that they are out of hibernation, a million little brown bats will eat – and this is a conservative estimate – in the region of 500 tons of insects. If bats die out farmers will have to use so much more pesticides.”

Dr Kunz, a biology professor at Boston University – The Independent – 29 Oct 2010

Feeding the animals…

20 October, 2010

Yesterday we attended the launch of the Soil Association’s report – ‘Feeding the Animals that Feed Us’. They produced an excellent, concise piece of work on a very big topic. It is, essentially, the invisible impact of the eggs, dairy and meat that you eat.

Others like Yeo Valley, Hi Peak Feeds and Elisabeth Winkler (food writer) think this is important. Why should you care? Things such as rainforest destruction or sneaking in GM food through the back door (through the barn door!?) can be slowed or accelerated by what YOU buy. This is why we’re grass fans.