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Farming

Common misconceptions about what it means to be a farmer…

18th October 2017

Upon telling people ‘I’m a farmer’ I’m often met with a quizzical expression. This could be down to the fact that, lately it’s usually when I’ve been at a wedding sat next to someone I don’t know, and I’m scrubbed up, made up and dressed up (no mud/straw in my hair… etc). The expression is usually followed by, ‘Oh really…you don’t look like a farmer…’ (whatever that means…what in everyones mind DOES a typical ‘farmer’ look like?! Flat cap? Chewing on some straw?!).

In my old career, when I was in marketing, answering the dreaded ‘What do you do?’ question was a hell of a lot simpler to answer. But now, when I tell people what I do, a flood of questions ensue and they are usually of a simular nature. I’m not complaining, as I’m proud of what I do, and it’s nice for people to find it intriguing. But everytime I answer that ‘I’m actually a farmer’ I usually end up dominating the conversation answering questions like ‘OMG, do you like have to get up at 4am everyday…?’. When actually, I might quite like to discuss the ‘difference between the shades of cloud paint in the Glossier make up repertoire instead’ or ‘what the new Blade Runner film is like…’.

Usual questions I get asked upon telling people ‘I’m a farmer’…

You must be exhausted, do you have to get up a 4am everyday?

No. I’m a shepherd/livestock farmer, not a dairy farmer. So I get up at 6am, like the rest of the world. (Actually later than when I was commuting into London/Brighton when I was working as a marketeer!).

How on earth did YOU get into farming?

I fell in love with, and now have, married a farmer, and this has naturally bought me into the farming world having come from a non farming background. But Andy is just as much a ‘farmers husband’ as I am ‘a farmers wife’. I have really found that there is a common attitude that if you are a women in farming that you must have come from a farming background.

Do you drive the tractor?

Yes. I do. And I bloody love it. You’re so high up and can spy into everyones gardens! I was actually quite daunted at the idea of learning to drive the tractor, but the controls are really intuitive. I think its probably easier to learn to drive than a car to be honest.

Do you have sheep dogs?

Yes, two of them…Joey the Kelpie who is an Australian yard dog who is great in smaller spaces/in the yard and Zac the Collie who is a traditional heading dog, great in large fields for gathering. The two of them have been together since they were young so they work as a little team when we are herding sheep, with us shouting/whistling commands. They are invaluable to our day to day existence.

How many sheep do you have? (to this, when Andy or I answer, around 2,000) It’s usually followed by – how on earth do you cope?! Especially during lambing?!

Because we run an extensive New Zealand system, and the sheep we have (NZ Romneys) are extremely hardy, we essentially leave the sheep to their own devices. Obviously making sure they have enough grass to eat and water to drink with little intervention. This is true of lambing too. All of the ewes lamb on their own outside and we check round them a couple of times a day, just picking up any that seem to be struggling and taking them inside for a bit of TLC. As we run this system, it means we don’t need half as much man power to run the farm, and it also means the sheep are happily left alone to live their lives without us bothering them too much!

Those are the main questions I get asked…but if you have anything else you want to ask, let me know and I’d be happy to answer 🙂

 

 

 

 

Farming Fashion Lifestyle

The Toggi A/W Collection Part 1

28th September 2017

At the end of August, along with some other bloggers, I got a chance to visit Toggi HQ and preview the upcoming A/W Collection. It felt slightly unusual to be looking forward to Christmas in August, but I embraced the festive feels and came away from the day feeling so excited to don some cosy coats and scarves and hats. Not to mention how ruddy LOVELY all of the Toggi team were. We were taken through the new collection by the design team, they took us through the thinking behind each piece and I was taken back by just how much thought and care goes into each item. As well as the fashion and design elements of the production process, they also really focus on the practically of each piece ensuring that there is never style over substance.

The Toggi A/W did not disappoint. There is a huge range of really gorgeous pieces and over the next few weeks I’ll show you some of my faves.

Kicking off with some practical heroes. The Allerton waterproof jacket is a winner for me, it is rare that you can find a waterproof that is as fitted as this one, along with being water tight and windproof. I got mine in this colbalt blue, but you can also get it in bright pink too (LOVING the bright colours!).

This jacket is going to be great for Autumn on the farm, there have already been a few really wet days where its still been quite mild, so no need for a heavy coat yet. So I’ll be wearing this jacket alot whilst zipping around the farm on the quad bike. I’m also starting up running again, and this jacket will be great for rainy days as its really lightweight.

The next ‘practical hero’ I’ve been wearing are the Kodiac steel toe slip on boots. I literally can’t believe that I’m THIS excited about steel cap toe boots, but honestly these are an absolute foot saver. I’ve been working alot with the sheep and cows up in pens over the last few weeks and my feet have been constantly stamped on by the animals. The difference its made wearing these boots is a dream. My perception of steel cap toe boots would be that they would be clunky and really heavy, but these are unbelievably light! So much so that I thought I’d been sent the wrong boots at first before reading the box!


Farming

What we’ve been up to on the farm lately…

26th September 2017
So…its been a while since I posted about what we’ve been getting up to on the farm.

To be honest between the relief of getting the first year of lambing over with and planning a wedding through to actually getting married I haven’t managed to steal enough time to dedicate to the blog, so I have decided to cram what we’ve been up to on the farm into one large blog post extravaganza. Then it’ll be back to monthly farm posts as usual!

First things first. Obviously we have still been furiously fencing. Just assume that we are always fencing (I think we’ve worked out we’ve done around 15,000m of fencing since we took on the farm almost a year ago). But, I’m not going to go into detail about it- I’ve bored you all enough with the fencing chat already!


Just assume that we are always fencing (I think we’ve worked out we’ve done around 1,500m of fencing since we took on the farm almost a year ago).

After lambing was over, thoughts turned to shearing. We sheared the ewes a few weeks after lambing just to keep fly strike problems at bay. For those of you who don’t know, one of the things that sheep struggle with over the summer is flies laying eggs in their wool and producing maggots….I know, it is as disgusting as it sounds – and precisely why we shear the ewes to prevent this from happening! We have a lovely bunch of shearers that come down from Wales, 4 shearers and a rousey*. Having a large gang of shearers working means we can get through alot of ewes in a day (I think our record is 1100!) and it gets it done in a couple of days, rather than dragging it out. Its a hard slog, it at least its over quite quickly, morale is kept up with an intresting mix of ‘tunes’ all picked  by the shearers and has been known to range from Celine Dion through to Eminem. We also have regular snack breaks…and by snack breaks, I mean SERIOUS snack breaks. I have been known to get through 4 cheese scones pre 9.30am…

Along with shearing we turned our attention to establishing some new herbal leys that we have put in this year (a mix of chicory, plantain and clover with grass), after putting the seeds in, we had a slight charlock weed problem, but with strategic mob grazing and a bit of topping in the tractor the leys are looking lush and were ready for some rotational grazing** from some weaned lambs.

Which leads me onto weaning, we weaned all of the ewes and lambs in mid July and also sheared all the lambs ready for summer (for the same reason as the ewes). We then put them onto some nice fresh grass paddocks for a few weeks before we started selling lambs onto other farms for breeding stock.

Locks Farm Produce BURGER BARN

Aswell as farming, those of you who follow me on Instagram will know that we also run a food pop up called ‘Locks Farm Produce’ that we set up last year. We have only done a couple of festivals so far to trial it, but so far so good. We sell grass fed beef and lamb burgers from the farm and lovely Colin on the home farm made the amazing stand from left over pallet wood, then I handpainted the sign (it took a painstaking 8 hours). The food stall is something that has worked really well, and we’re looking to do a few more events with it next year hopefully, ya know, inbetween all of the farming shizzle….with all the spare time we have.

So…where are we now. Well, as Autumn draws in, the days are getting shorter and we have almost been at Cocking Hill Farm a year (there will be a post dedicated to this very fact!). We’re now a married couple (3 weeks and 4 days to be exact as I write this!), and our attention is turning to getting the farm smartened up, and prepping for tupping*** time in November. It also looks like, in addition to our 180  calves that we rear for another farmer, we may be getting a small herd of Sussex cattle to start, hopefully in the next month or so…watch this space!

I can’t wait until we have been here a full year, just knowing what to roughly expect each month will be great and I wont be coming at everything blind. I think thats just about everything, if you have any questions or if I’ve missed anything just let me know!

*Someone who works with the shearers to collect and bag up all of the wool once its been sheared

**Where you split your paddocks into small sections that can be grazed by livestock, and moved on every few days, this increases the productivity of the grass, if timed right.

***Putting the rams in with the ewes

Farming Fashion Lifestyle Personal

Why you need the Toggi ‘Luella’ wax jacket in your life…

12th September 2017

So there are just items of clothing, things that you buy and instantly know that you’re going to wear ALL the time. This jacket is one of those things (Click here for link).

I flipping love it. The fit, the colour, the material, and the fact that it is WATERPROOF aaaaand warm. The lining is also gorgeous too. Whenever I wear this jacket, I always get compliments. I think its because its a different colour to most wax jackets on the market – and stands out a bit as a result.

Those who follow me on Instagram will know that I have a slight obsession with wax jackets! I just think, for me, they are the perfect bridge between town and country life. I can wear a wax jacket on the farm/walking the dogs, but then I won’t look out of place if I decide to keep it on for a trip to London. I’ve worn this jacket to a festival with a dress/wellies and also on the farm riding around on the quad – the perfect all rounder.

Having never owned a wax jacket from Toggi, I now want their whole waxed collection. They’re beautifully made, and look even better aged a bit too. I will be wearing this jacket in years to come for sure…

Oooh also, some new info, you can now buy direct from Toggi.com.

My Waxed Wishlist

The Balmoral

The Austin

The Cordova

Farming

Our first year Lambing at Cocking Hill Farm

14th May 2017

Wow, where to begin. On the 1st of April we had our first lambs. A triplet (they always tend to drop earlier than the twins or the singles!), we weren’t actually expecting any until the 6th/7th but as we moved them into their lambing paddocks, they had fresh grass and the sun was shining and I think they just thought, yup – I’m ready to have my babies now. And they did, we had the triplet go on the 1st and then after that it was a whirlwind of lambs from then on.

Luckily, the beginning of April also saw the arrival of Will. Will came to help us with lambing having (almost) finished at Agricultural college and he has been a very welcome addition to the farm! He knows pretty much all there is to know about tractors, is great with the livestock and even shares my passion for keeping the barn/farm clean and tidy.

We got ourselves into a nice routine, or as routine as you can get with the unpredictable nature of lambing! A typical day would see us with me going into the barn to feed/water the orphans and ewes we had to bring inside, then Andy would check round the ewes/lambs around the home paddocks and Will would go to the other side of the farm to check the rest. Andy and Will would look out for anything struggling, and bring back ewes/lambs that had problems to the barn so we could keep a close eye. Also, typically when ewes have triplets, or quads we tend to have to take one of the lambs off the mum as they can struggle to feed all three lambs (or anything more than 2) – this is where the bulk of our orphans come from. We can however foster the orphans off to ewes that have lost lambs, or even just have singles – and we did so really successfully this year leaving us with only around 30 orphan lambs (out of 2500ish – not too shabby!).

Aswell as Will, we also had a couple of friends to stay which was such a great help. Welshy, our friend came down from London to lend a hand for a week and a bit. Having him to stay was a dream, aside from letting me steal his beaut photos to use on instagram, he cooked (one night even from foraged wild garlic he found in a field) and gave me an excuse to drink wine each night guilt free! Our friends Ed and Lu also came and helped a couple of days which was amazing – we’re so lucky to have a job that we can invite or friends help!

We had about 1,800 pregnant ewes to tend to so at its peak it was pretty intense, as you can imagine. Moral was kept up, usually by breakfast table photo show and tells. Each of us would fight over who got the best shot of the day of lambs in the sunshine! Obvs I’ve never known any other way, and I’m completely bias, but I really think outdoor lambing has to be the best way to do it. The Romneys are amazing sheep, and such proud mothers – in a matter of 2mins, you can see a lamb being born, the mum licking it off and it get up and drinking. I mean, it puts humans to shame really doesn’t it! So that’s it, year one lambing at Cocking Hill – DONE….well almost…we’ve finished lambing the main flock and now its the ewe lambs turn, there are only about 200 of them, so compared to the main bulk, its been a dream. They’ve done so well considering its the first year they have lambed, and we’ve had minimal problems (hopefully it continues!).

So all in all lambing went well, we couldn’t have been luckier with the weather for outdoor lambing conditions, and we managed to hold on to grass in the lambing paddocks. So yes, onwards to the next chapter (the fun never ends in farming you see!), next we will be turning thoughts to summer with lots of farm related events, shearing and eventually selling some stock! Zero chill time in 2017 for us!

If I’ve left anything out..or if you have any lambing related quezzies, let me know!

 

Farming

March on the farm…

3rd April 2017
March has definitely been our busiest month to date since we took on Cocking Hill farm back in September.
All of the times before farming where I said that I was exhausted/busy, I was wrong, I didn’t truely know what those words mean’t until now!
Our average days are 6.30am-9pm at the moment – especially since the clocks have gone forwards and there is more light in the evening. Tea and coffee intake is up to about 9 cups a day too – just to keep us going. Cocking Hill Farm is basically sponsored by hot bevs and sugary snacks.

March has also been a bit of a milestone for me, it will mean that I have been full time farming for 6 solid months, I have the scratches and bruises to prove it! I can’t really comprehend that 6 months ago I was a bit nervous driving ‘off road’, now I’m rattling around everywhere in the defender/quad/tractor without a second thought.
Of course there are days (usually the rainy ones, where I long for my old desk, my lovely old comfy warm desk…), but the truth is, when the sun is shining and we’re on top of the hill looking down at the lovely views I couldn’t think of anything worse than being indoors.
At the beginning of the month, thoughts turned to tractor work, we wanted to convert some of our fields to grass from arable and this mean’t ploughing, rolling and seeding. Luckily we have a fantastic tractor expert from back at the home farm to get the job done. The lovely Colin has been busy converting 150 acres into grass for us, which hopefully will really help us out with grazing in the future!
Whilst the ploughing etc has been going on, I have been busy grass raking and seeding some of our more rough fields. Where the dairy cows left the farm, and we took it on, the grass got to an extremely long stage and as a result we had large patches of dead thatch in some of our fields.
I set about raking and seeding with our Einbock and in no time I had covered our worst fields in a couple of days (with the help of the John Deere speakers blasting out Kisstory…naturally).
They look 100 times better now, especially now the seeds have germinated and the grass has been shooting up in this gorge weather! Also, not to brag, but my raking lines in the fields are ON POINT.
They look super neat, and I was so pleased as it was my first big tractor job!
Fencing…argh. Sorry for still banging on about it…but yes, March has been a busy month for permanent fencing again. We have actually really broken the back of it now..I think we only have about 5 fields left to go!
We have taken to moving sheep in the fields that we are fencing – for motivational purposes, a bit like a Crystal Maze challenge…like ‘you have 6 hours to complete this fence, otherwise all the sheep WILL escape down the South Downs Way!’.
I won’t miss clambering inside the back of the Defender to pull out tangled rolls of wire, or scratching my face in brambled hedges whilst rolling it out! Andy and I keep joking that once the fencing is done, what will we do with all of our spare time….somehow I think we’ll still have plenty to keep us busy!
There has also been the small matter of gearing up for LAMBING 2017…hmmm.
As the grass has been growing nicely, we have fertilised a all of the lambing paddocks ready for the girls to move in at the end of March, and they all look so lush a green now – the perfect spot for outdoor lambing.
We have also had to ‘crutch’ (shear) the bellies of our older girls and ewe lambs (basically the few that didn’t have a second shear in the summer), so they are all done and looking clean a tidy ready for lambing (if a little large…!).
As we lamb everything outdoors (all 1,800 of them!) we only bring in any problems and in effect the barn will act as a mini hospital where we bring in orphan lambs to feed and struggling mums.
So we have also been prepping the barn, penning up and getting it all ship shape for any guests who may have to stay. Its looking slightly more homely in there now, if a little sparse, being a large ex dairy, and I will give you a tour once we are all up in running.
Main must haves in the barn (aside from actual lambing/sheep related things…)  are a good radio/kettle and plenty of tea coffee and snacks at all time!
All in all March has been tiring, but also majorly productive.
We have got so much done, its actually amazing what you can get done in a month!
My next farm related post will be all about Lambing! So stay tuned and sorry for all the lamb spam you will be receiving over Instagram during the next 4 weeks!

 

Farming

Ten things I’ve learnt since farming…

5th March 2017

Nothing can prepare you…

As I have gone from spending 70% of my day sitting down at a desk to running up hills after sheep it is only enviable that I have felt extreme levels of tiredness. Over the last few months I have been known to fall asleep anywhere and everywhere (most recently in the passenger seat of the tractor…). I have also been partial to an 8pm bed time! However, that being said, its a really nice type of exhausted (if that makes sense!), the kind where you sleep really well – no restlessness like I was used to in my old office job. My body has been a bit in shock I think, I’m finding muscles that I didn’t even know existed. As I’m constantly getting in and out of vehicles to open gates I have built up really strong arms where I have been hauling myself in and out – not to mention all the fencing we have been doing. I have really noticed a difference in my physical fitness, not only am I fitter, I am also much stronger than I used to be (sometimes more out of my stubborn nature to save face, lifting ridiculously heavy post and the like).

Gloves, always gloves

My hands…my poor poor withered hands, they really have taken a hammering (sometimes literally, actually). I now religiously wear gloves to protect my hands, but its a real battle to know which ones work best. My dilemma is that I was wearing massive ski gloves over the winter as we were darting around on the quad bike on the downs and they were freezing, but it left me unable to do ANYTHING in them as they were so bulky. Then I tried what I would call ‘heavy duty’ rubber coated gloves, these were good for fencing, but my hands were still FREEZING and if they got wet it was game over. So now I take a range of gloves out with me and have average around 3 hand outfit changes throughout the day to suit the occasion. I then get home and dowse my hands in hand cream in the evenings – I find O’Keeffes the best so far (here), but thoughts and recommendations welcome?

Bailer twine can solve 99% of problems

If I had a pound for everytime I heard ‘Lau, could you just grab me some bailer twine’ I would be rich. We literally use it for everything, wonky non closing gates, holding stuff in the trailer, electric fencing…it is the biggest problem solver. Give me bailer twine a knife and an iPhone and I reckon I could do almost anything on the farm!

Take time off the farm

This is a really important one. We’ve had 2 weekends off the farm since we moved to Cocking Hill around 6 months ago, its just so hard as there is so much to get done all of the time and having time off is just not a priority. A compromise we have found is to book to have friends staying, that way we can get some ‘farmy stuff’ done aswell as going out for a yummy pub dinner – they have fun as they think its a novel experience and we get some jobs done – everyone is a winner!

Get yourself a decent flask

Tea/tea breaks are key in farm life. We take a flask out everyday along with some biscuits and it just helps to break the day up a bit. Also, the farm is such a stunning setting, but when you’re running around ,checking sheep and feeding out silage on the tractor..as cheesy as it sounds, its nice to park up in a nice spot and appreciate the land around you. We’re on flask no 3 now, as the first 2 broke, the 1st one I actually ran over with the trailer (!). We’ve found the thermos (metal NOT plastic, NEVER plastic as they just aren’t heavy duty enough) works best (here).

People love to talk about farming

One thing I love, is whenever I say I’m a farmer, people always want to chat away to me about it. It’s a really rich, interesting subject to talk about. Conversations usually lead to remarks like ‘When I was watching Countryfile last week….’ or ‘on the Archers…’ – it nice to feel proud of what you do for a living.

There will always be good days and bad days

I’m not going to lie…we have had some pretty tough days. Farming is an amazing job when the sun is shining, all your animals are healthy and the grass is plenty. But its a different story when its hammering down with rain and your perched on the side of a hill battling with the wind putting up temporary electric (that you know your going to have to take down in 2 days again!). You’ve just got to remember that when its good, its REALLY good.

Trust your instinct

I’m not only learning to be a farmer, I’m learning to be a shepherdess as well. This means spending time learning what the sheep are like when you move them, and also learning what the dogs are like too. To date, I’ve been a bit unsure of myself as lets face it, I have no idea what I’m doing yet. But I’m slowly realising to trust myself a bit more and go with what feels intuitive.

There is no such thing as a five minute job

Never count your chickens before they’ve hatched. In other words, never say ‘well, lets just go and move that mob of sheep and then we can have the rest of the day to get on with x, y, z’…this will automatically mean that you will arrive at the field to move the ewes and there will be a multitude or problems in doing so…just because you have said the words out loud that ‘it will be an easy job’. It is sods law.

Keep positive

When we’re having a bad day, I always remind myself how lucky we are to have an opportunity to not only work for ourselves, but to be surrounded by amazing views and doing a career many aspire to have. The first few years are going to be, no doubt, pretty grueling, but hopefully once all the ‘setting up’ has finished we’ll have a bit more time for weekends and more time off…but for now there is always tea and plenty of hob nobs to keep us going!

Thoughts/advice on a postcard please…or just in the comments box below, I’d love to hear from you all!

Farming

February on the farm

21st February 2017

Twins? single? triplets? (…..quads?) scanning the ewes, first year at Cocking Hill!

We’ve been very busy this February. Grass is scarce and typically always a hard month for farming. There is some positive news though…we’ve scanned our ewes, and it went really well!

We scanned at an average of 183% (…the boys did their job!), with a great twinning rate and hardly any triplets of quads. For us, as we lamb everything outdoors, it is crucial that we don’t have two many triplets or quads, as we have to foster them onto the ewes with singles – and it just makes things a bit tricky.

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Farming

January on the farm…

1st January 2017

First things first; It has been FREEZING on the farm. Like, the kind of freezing where I have worried that my fingers may actually drop off! All sense of pride within the fashion stakes have gone out of the window and every morning Andy laughs and asks me ‘Come on then, how many layers have you got on today then?!’ ‘Six…usually the answer is six’.

Traditionally January would be a quieter time for most sheep farmers in the UK (if there is such a thing for farmers!). But for us, taking on Cocking Hill Farm the previous September has meant that we have a lot of ‘setting up’ to do.

As we are converting an old dairy farm to sheep and beef we have had the grand task of upgrading all of the fencing so that it is stock proof for the sheep and lambs (around 25,000 meters to be exact!).

I’ve gone from someone who takes absolutely no notice of fences around animals, to a woman obsessed with all the different types. At the moment we are having to use a mixture of three methods, one being ‘temporary’, this is poly wire that is electrified by batteries, popped up with plastic posts that stick into the field. We’ve been using this out of necessity – just to quickly fence around any fields that don’t have secure fencing. Its quick to put up (rolled out on the quad bike attached to a ‘Rappa’ trailer), BUT some of our savvier and more brazen mobs of sheep have been cheeky, and the moment they discover that part of the fence is down (perhaps a deer has pushed through for example), they’re out in a flash! Not great when you look up onto the Downs and you see hundreds of fluffy white things all wandering along the South Downs Way! The other down side is the constant, having to put up the fences and take them down again – it can get very dull, very quickly!

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