Our first winter on the farm, is teaching us how to deal with freezing water pipes, frozen ground so no grazing for the Dexter Cattle, and a myriad of other challenges. Now we are looking forward to the spring and everything coming alive again.
By the time of our next update, our first Dexter steer should be “gracing our menus”, and our beautiful little red Dexter heifer, Claire, should with luck be in calf. Dexter cows produce more milk than their calves require, so I am looking forward to “real milk” again – the milk of my youth.
We have had our own rare breed pork on the menu for some months now [Large Black, Saddleback and Tamworth] and have several more breeds almost ready. Our association with “Pig Paradise – Tony and Carron York” has proven itself time and time again – their advice has proven invaluable. In December they let us have the first “Mangalitza” woolly pigs to be bred in this country [to my knowledge]. These delightful creatures have the last surviving genes from the “Lancashire Curly Coat” extinct in 1972. Boxing Day saw the birth of an entirely new cross between Oxford Sandy and Black and the Mangalitza – four of these delightful little pigs will be with us in Feb 2009. Pigs are renowned escapologists and we are still learning how to keep them safe – one of the winter’s experiences was of a piglet escaping – finding his way to the frozen duck pond whereupon the ice broke. Pigs do swim [although there was someone on hand to pull him out if necessary] and piggy retreated rapidly back to his warm straw bed. We kept a close watch on him for the next few days. Further fortification of the defenses has prevented any further sorties of this nature – hopefully for good. In the next few months our Tamworth sow should also produce around 8 of our own little “weaners”– available in the autumn – anyone interested in Tamworth for the freezer contact me on the e-mail below.
Despite being relatively straightforward to breed, our quail egg hatching programme has suffered several set backs. However we are now back on top of things and are moving back to self sufficiency in both egg and meat of these delightful little birds. Our laying hens have “gone off lay” by about 25% so we are having to buy in, however recent acquisition of a further 20 Black Rock should ensure that next winter we retain self sufficiency. Chickens for the table are proving very successful. We have selected 10 beautiful Sussex cockerels that will form the core of our 2009 breeding programme of this stunning looking old English breed. By the end of next year we should have 6/7 breeding groups well established. Our Aylesbury ducks have also proved extremely popular with staff and guests – their antics out in the fields and by us all in the restaurant too. The kitchen team has had to adapt to the challenge of cooking true free range poultry [the texture is much firmer than usual]. However for me the highlight of December was my own free range Goose on Christmas Day – heaven.
The Chef team is re-inspired under new Head Chef Nick Orr [in post since 2/1/09], and we are looking forward to his inventive use of all of this abundant produce from Fallowfields Farm.
My appreciation must go to Lin Blackwell of Challow Hill Farm, our Dexter supplier six miles away, for the phenomenal amount of help she has given us over the year, loans of the trailer and advice galore. A big mention too for Julie and Martin Furey [Just Sussex] not only for the cockerels, but their friendship and advice on pests and afflictions myriad to which our feathered chicken friends are prone. Without all those mentioned in this page, our learning curve would not have been so great.
I can not guarantee to answer all e-mails, as life here is pretty manic – and the recession is not helping – but do drop me an e-mail – a “behind the scenes” farm tour is always a possibility from time to time.
With kind regards, Anthony