Spring at Higher Hacknell Farm
by Annie Veale
Lambing time is the herald of spring. It can still feel pretty wintry, when we start, usually around the 20th March. It takes just 5 months from introducing the rams back in October until the lambs are born. Over the next three weeks it all happens, and spring will really have arrived!
They say, “If March comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb,” meaning if it starts off blustery and wet, we should get good weather at the end of the month, which is what is needed to give the lambs an easy start. This year it was very cold and dry, so we are all a little concerned that we may be faced with wet and windy weather when we are in the middle of lambing!
For the first time we lambed some of the ewes early in January in order to have the new season lamb ready for May, when we will be running short of the previous year’s lamb supply. The main flock lamb now, so we will be in for a busy Easter!
Our chicken enterprise is also going well, especially since the arrival of Luke the llama. We had been losing a few chickens to foxes, badgers and even buzzards, when a local organic egg producer told us that llamas are very good ‘guards’ and scare off the foxes. As he was getting one brought down from Aberdeen, we thought we’d give it a try, and were able to select ‘Luke’ from pictures on the internet! He is kept company by our rams, as well as the chickens, and is taking his role pretty seriously, patrolling the field and when he hears something, he turns his long neck in the direction of the noise and then off he goes to check it out! So far, he seems to act as a deterrent, but if angry or being defensive they reputedly have an unpleasant spit. He hissed when Rosy, our daughter, was riding her horse on Saturday, but she didn’t hang around long enough to find out what was going to happen next!
I think we are traditional farmers really and should stick with our native species! We love the big golden brown South Devon cattle with their gentle nature. We have bred our herd now for nearly twenty years and are very proud of them.
It is really quite frightening when faced with disease and threats that could affect your livestock. We were lucky during the foot and mouth disease crisis but we are constantly under threat from T.B it is widespread in this area, and with so many badgers around, we keep our fingers crossed. Every year now the vets test all cattle to see if there are any T.B reactors and fortunately the test in February was all clear again. Any positive reactors would have had to be killed and cattle movement restrictions placed on the farm.
Fifteen years ago we added several young trees to the existing cider orchard. These young trees are now in full production and need pruning and cutting back to let light in and stay healthy. February is also the best time to ‘rack off’ the cider we made in the autumn into clean barrels. Having finished the cider from the previous year, we have now started drinking this year’s and it’s the best cider we have ever had! At this time of year it is still quite sweet, though it will get drier later on. If we haven’t drunk it all by then.