N.S. Rose's Blog: Hoofprints Through Time

May 7, 2018

I have a small free-living herd of Exmoor ponies. They are here for conservation grazing purposes, as pony grazing creates a nice ‘mosaic’ which many bird species appreciate, and birds are what The Yorkshire Ings are really all about! Apart from that though, it’s nice to keep the ponies going too. According to the RBST, there's less than 500 breeding females and as I have 5 mares, that means I own at least 1% of the breed. Not only that, but I am able to keep them in 'wild-like' conditions, running free and practising their survival instincts. Exmoors differ slightly from other breeds of horses and ponies because it’s thought, thanks to DNA testing and other features like their uniform colouring and weather adaptations, that they are in fact the closest living thing to the extinct wild horses of Europe.

They certainly look very primeval compared to their finer, silkier manmade cousins and when we released the first five mares onto the land we’d set aside for them I was viscerally struck by how ‘at home’ they looked in the landscape, charging through the bogs, their brown hides blending perfectly with the autumn leaves and overgrown, naturalistic grasses. Since then they have blended a little toooo well with the landscape as we haven’t successfully managed to round them up! They possess far more stamina than the cattle and possess no scrap of interest in working with us, unlike the cattle!



However, I’ve developed a new way of appreciating horse ownership as a result of their presence. They exist perfectly well without my input and I get enjoyment from seeing them do this. The land they inhabit is a thriving ecosystem, full of scattered oak trees, deer, a nesting pair of buzzards and visiting waders and foxes. It’s a privilege to visit and soak this in: like having a gigantic aquarium to watch, I guess? I get as much pleasure from seeing the ponies enjoying their life without me as I used to from riding. I ride very little these days, realising a while ago that I much prefer working with animals eye-to-eye, on the ground, the training process.

So, I’ve fallen in love with the Exmoors, but I’ve never been to Exmoor itself! Finally the chance arose on the way back from a visit to Exeter. I must admit I don’t get down south very often; I love the north! However, I was pleasantly surprised by Exmoor, it was just my type of place…Not only did you have the actual moors themselves, but everything was deer themed! I increased my collection of ‘evocative old words’ while I explored the heritage centre in Dulverton, adding ‘staggert’ to ‘brocket’ and ‘pricket’ and the word ‘boving’ - describing the roaring noise stags make in the rut.





I drove very close to the home range of my own mares, where they had been born and roamed for up to 18yrs before coming to Yorkshire. It was incredible for a ponyfan like me to drive the unfenced moor roads and have the ponies visible all around, like a safari (maybe I’m easily pleased). The views down to the lusher land from the tops were spectacular in bright spring sunshine too. I took a track down into the leafy depths of the valley bottoms to the Exmoor Pony Centre as it was obvious I could not miss this! After touching some Exmoors which were happy to be around humans and almost clearing out the gift shop I wandered to the information boards and added yet another word to my collection – horsebeasts.



This one is particularly interesting as ever since our ponies arrived we have viewed them differently to the other ponies we have. They just have this extra ‘something’ about them, a different attitude, even though at least one of my ponies was born feral and lived that way as a colt for 3yrs. They are so different my (now ex) husband was willing to tolerate them without grumble, as he hates equids, usually. He admitted he thought of them as being more like the cattle and thus respected them. The interesting bit is that in our part of Yorkshire at least, cattle are known as ‘beasts’. ‘Beastgates’ were the fees paid per head of cattle grazed on the Ings (marshes). People still freely refer to ‘feeding the beasties’ ‘selling beast’ etc. So, the term ‘horsebeasts’ for the Exmoors seemed especially apt! Perhaps we weren’t the only ones to notice that Exmoors don’t really fit into the category of ‘horse’ as man has made them?




(don't know who painted this but it's brilliant so please tell me!)
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Published on May 07, 2018 09:12 • 229 views

April 23, 2018

Long time no blog. Over a year in fact. That, I now know, is because my life has been slowly dissolving for at least the last year. It's difficult to paraphrase, but I couldn't write about anything because for a long time I didn't really know which direction I was headed in, every time I took a path things seemed to change and they changed so quickly it seemed pointless to talk about anything.

Eventually, all the lurching around on the roundabout that was my life on the farm made me dizzy and sick of course, and I suppose my doctor's long-hinted-at verdict of stress/depression was correct after all. I now realise I've been in denial about many things and I was exhausted and stressed and yes, probably depressed. Luckily, I've called a halt to the situation and although it means saying goodbye to my husband and Rosewood Farm, after fretting over that decision for so long, and fighting so hard against a tide of factors in an effort to avoid that fate, and even though I will sorely miss certain elements of my old life, I now feel lighter and free-er and more like myself than I have for years.

Although things are maybe a bit raw for him at the moment, I also believe the same could be true of my ex husband Rob. Strangely, I thought we made an excellent team, but it seems we actually inhibit each other and without each other's influence, we are more effective in our respective dreams. So, it's not all bad.

One thing that cropped up as I've been musing on all this, going over the past piece by piece and looking for the clues I missed, is one I perhaps should have blogged about at the time. Last year I was attacked by a bull...but I enjoyed it.

Why was I attacked by a bull? The short answer is that I was trying to get him into a trailer and he didn't want to go and for my audacity he decided to try ending my life. The fuller answer is that the little dude had a poor reputation already and needed a home and I have found that bulls can sometimes be 'fixed' by a better lifestyle than they get in typical domestic settings and I had the land and means to do it, so I took pity on this one.

Now DON'T get me wrong, this isn't some smushy Disney bullshit about treating bulls with kindness and they will love and appreciate you, no no no. This is simple facts of animal behaviour - usually, bulls which become problematic are made that way by humans. We rear them away from their own kind so they grow up confused as to where the boundary between humans and cattle lies, and have no idea of social norms for even their own species due to poor socialisation with their own kind. We lock them in bare pens to keep them away from cattle we don't want them to breed or fight with. We then cement this by piercing one of the most sensitive parts of their bodies and using it to control them, making them paranoid about interaction with humans.

The bulls I have 'turned around' are simply responding to better circumstances, more stimulation and removal of the source of paranoia (nose ring) - it's nothing to do with love or respect of me. And they are still, always, dangerous animals we need to respect rather than baby.

Now this bull was beyond help, I know that now, lol. The situation was that he needed to move into the pen surrounding the trailer, involving shutting a gate behind him. After that point, nobody planned to be in contact with him - we all knew he was a bastard. I wanted to get him shut into the pen next to the open trailer quietly, before anyone starting shouting or using sticks or whatever, while he appeared calm....

All I did was enter the pen. I averted my gaze, acted casual, just an every day shutting of a gate going on. Usually, a fearful animal's first response to a mild 'confrontational' situation like this is to remove themselves. That is what I expected - I simply put myself in the pen, no shouting or waving etc, and the bull removes himself to the next pen, avoiding a fight. I would then shut the gate and we would have no further contact. The bull at this point was exhibiting none of the usual signs of stress or worry. He was 'mildly watchful', I would say. Otherwise I would not have contemplated going in. It shows just how cracked this bull was that his response to the calm *presence* of a human being was not to step away but to instantly go into kill mode from a standing start. That is very abnormal indeed.

However, I was by now committed to the situation of course ;) I instantly spotted how things were going to go and had an escape plan plotted before going into the pen - it was a simple case of climbing out. But, I like to keep my movements unhurried and calm around animals. Scrambling out in a panic might lead to errors on my part, and there's always a chance that you being calm will calm the animal and bring things down a notch or two. Again, it shows how cracked in the head this animal was that, when I was clearly leaving him be, he chose to follow it home regardless. So, I had one leg out of the pen, but the bull was already on me. He had horns, and he drove one into the back of my thigh and basically spent some time ragging me against the gate.

I'll be honest - it didn't hurt that much. I just let my leg go limp; I find that always helps in a squeeze with animals and it was perfectly plain that he was intent on his job and I didn't have a fraction of the strength required to actually do anything about this. Neither did the people around me - not a hope. I concentrated on keeping hold of the gate, as if he'd managed to pull me off and drag me down, I wouldn't be writing this now - guaranteed. Luckily, after some time, don't know how long exactly, the pressure on my leg was released enough for me to climb out.

Once out, everyone was concerned, but I wasn't. It smarted a bit, I thought I'd have a nasty bruise come morning, but I knew my bone was intact as I was still walking. Then my leg started getting warm and wet and I knew that meant blood. I also know that major vessels run through your legs and I was running the risk of bleeding out so I pulled down my jeans and the friend who was with me took a look and declared that yes, I would need to go to hospital. I had a swift look myself and saw my thigh looking sliced in half, with my adipose (fat) spilling out - lovely.

Luckily said friend, being a farmer, had some electrical tape in his Landrover and bound the wound up tightly. Said landrover then became my ambulance after I had calmly collected my handbag and locked up my car. I was staying very zen due to the blood vessel thing - raised pulse = quicker death was all I could think about. I also have naturally very low blood pressure and when physically traumatic things happen to me, it seems to drop and, I'm not sure if it's fainting as such, but some sort of 'zoning out' sleepiness overcomes me. When I settled into the landrover and saw my lips matching my white face I felt suddenly very sleepy....

Bizarrely, this all happened near the M25 (I live in Yorkshire) and I found myself in hospital in Kent. After initially not understanding how bad I was because neither did I, walking myself to the desk and obediently sitting in the waiting room, the triage nurse took a look at the wound and said I was next to be seen. Ushered through to the next stage, I happily dropped my jeans for the third time that day and found a lump of my own fat in there. Holding it up I asked the team around me 'where shall I put this bit of the inside of my leg then?'. 'Just put it in that cup' was the reply from the fella, and the bantz rolled from there. I was under the impression Southerners were a bit staid tbh but the staff in A&E at Darent Valley are megalolz. I think they were quite impressed that I was cracking jokes while lying face down being swilled out with iodine too.

Expecting to be stitched up and back on the M25 (minus the bull, who was shot for everyone's safety) within a few hours I was stunned to learn I would need surgery, possibly two operations, and would be kept in. I had come out without any gear for this and told my daughter I'd be home for teatime - what a disaster! Luckily my southern relatives charged in and brought me essentials, like clothes not soaked in blood, and over the next few days I was pumped full of antibiotics and stitched up with what must have been knitting needles.

The staff continued to be friendly and hilarious and I ended up not taking any painkillers throughout the whole thing. I can't explain why I didn't feel horrific pain, but although it was sore it wasn't even enough to warrant a paracetemol for me and everyone was amazed. (Don't worry, I'm a complete BABY about headaches and period pain)

The reason I thought about it recently though was considering how much I enjoyed the hospital stay. At the time, I guess I was working myself ragged and the hospital, on absolutely enforced rest, was practically a hotel stay for me - housework done, meals cooked (and gratefully eaten by me!) and time to simply sit and read. Completely unthinkable at home. I experienced LIFE - the comings and goings of a London hospital. I spoke to people with lives very different to me and it was interesting. Apart from being desperate to see my poor offspring, I was almost sorry to leave!

I think seeing a spell in hospital as a welcome holiday was one of those clues I missed, and maybe that bull did me a favour after all? It's certainly a cool scar B)

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Published on April 23, 2018 05:43 • 50 views

March 5, 2017

Anyone familiar with my social media accounts will know that recently I've been waiting on the birth of a special calf recently.

"Liberty" is a unique cow. She is half Texas Longhorn, half Jersey. She's the only Texas Longhorn in the country. Why? Many of my American saddlecattle friends have Texas Longhorns, and they are beautiful cattle, shaped by their feral lifestyle rather than man for many years - I like any domestic stock that still retains a lil instinct of the wild, it keeps things interesting! So I *really* wanted to try one out! Trouble was, there were many restrictions on exporting live cattle US -> UK (and vice versa). There were no Texas Longhorns in Britain, the nearest we got was in the early part of the last century, when some steers temporarily came here as part of a circus.

My only option at the time was to import semen (nowadays I could easily get live animals from Europe!). I needed to cross breed, but although our Dexters would have been a good cross as they certainly retain their wild instincts (!), AI'ing them would have been a royal pain in the ass. On dairy farms, AI is more routine (and nowhere near as dramatic as peta make out). Trouble is, I wasn't happy about putting the enormous size and dodgy health of a black and white holstein into an animal I want to ride for many years. Holsteins make good oxen in some ways because they are docile and gentle, cheap and plentiful and grow huge so can automatically pull a lot of weight/take a large rider. For me though, they are too slow, too big to feed and house and like large dogs, die sooner. I am much more of a Jersey fan; they are much more portable, lively and long lived/healthy for the most part. So, my Longhorn semen was duly put into a number of cows and one of the resulting calves was Liberty.

My problems began the second I clapped eyes on her, because it was one of the hottest days of the year and there she was, stretched out in the full sun on her side, not many hours from death if you ask me. I scooped her up into my arms, laid her in the trailer and when we got her back to the farm, placed her in the cool. A few hours later she was still alive but looking bad. I thought she perhaps was just having the squits through heat stress and now she was out of the sun she would be better, but over the next day her guts were running too fast and she was weakening more. I managed to get some emergency home-made electrolytes into her that evening, but she was stretched out again and I was pretty convinced as I went to bed that all that time and money invested into trying to get a Longhorn was going to have disappeared down the drain by morning.

To my surprise, in the morning not only was she still alive, she was looking quite lively! Over the next few months, Liberty lived, but despite my chucking food down her like it was going out of fashion, all thoughts of economy gone, she never looked 'good'. Our (wonderful) vet Roddy came to see her. He said she was OK, but had suffered gut damage that would take many months to fully heal, and it would take a long time for her to be 100%. So for the next couple of years Liberty stuffed her face and grew very, very slowly.


 photo libertyxmas.jpg
(It took almost 3yrs and a heck of a lot of food to get her into this condition)




What I learnt (from her and her half brother, who was beefed due to conformation problems which would have made riding unethical) was that Longhorns are very gentle cattle. They might look 'wild' and people are automatically weirded out by the huge horns, but they are chilled out characters who just want to eat and lounge and have a quiet, easy life. In contrast, the dexters have a very high opinion of themselves, a rigourously enforced pecking order and are always on the lookout for their next adventure. I found that when the longhorns and the dexters are mixed, the longhorns come off worst. On the two occasions Liberty has attempted to live with them, she's swiftly had a horn shoved up her chuff. The first time it caused an infection, cue another visit from Roddy, and the second time it gave her a cut and duly Roddy came out again. I was worried she wouldn't be able to breed, but he said the damage was superficial and she was normal apart from that.

So I decided that Longhorns didn't really work on our farm after all, and resigned myself to having to keep Liberty in separate accomodation for the rest of time! She is a very people-centric cow though, the sweetest nature. She is very casual, doesn't stress and loves affection, so is ideal housecow material.

Due to her troubles and small size, I left it a long time to put her in calf. Cattle usually calve for the first time around 2, but I waited UNTIL she was 2 to run her with a bull, and because of her past and because I wasn't sure of her abilities, I made sure it was the smallest bull possible - a shortleg dexter (Tommy). Despite being half Liberty's height, Tommy did the deed in short order and and to everyone's amazement, Liberty held.

 photo libertybelly.jpg
(Feeling the calf move)

She still managed to worry me though - I worked out her due date on a cattle gestation chart, but that was based on the european cattle average gestation length of 283 days. Soon though, Liberty had sailed past the maximum 287 days and showed few signs of any intention of starting anything. When I googled, I learnt that longhorns can go up to 295 days, so I had to bite my nails for another few days. Finally, on day 293, she went from nothing to the feet being out the next time I looked. Unfortunately, that was where things stopped. I waited for a few pushes and she never progressed, so we had to pull. The head of the calf was jammed, probably due to having such a small muzzle and big round domed head. This is a trait likely from both parents, as Lib had a very domed head as a calf and of course, a short legged dexter is a very squished up animal anyway!

 photo libertydomedhead_1.jpg
(Liberty's crazily domed skull as a baby)

But, just as I was starting to panic about the purple tongue stopping it's twitching, the calf slipped out in a rush, and as she did I saw a familiar roll of the eye - the dexter side of her, immediately assessing its surroundings (and presumably searching for its first escape opportunity ;) ). Yes, she was a teeny red heifer and my daughter named her Butterfly Flower. Liberty was a good, attentive mother with an amazing, big udder for a young animal so all was good. ahhh.

Except. Over in the dexter shed, a drama was unfolding! Unfortunately, a cow we didn't think was pregnant had turned out to be, and she calved out on a rough piece of ground in the depths of winter. It all went well, mother and calf seemed fine when we rounded them up, but a few weeks later the mother went down in the shed and despite mineral supplements and other treatments, she died. It was a puzzling shame, as she was a young animal and had not seemed too underweight or ill, actually. This left a tiny red steer calf without a mother.

We had intended to use Liberty's spare milk ourselves - she has always firmly taken after her Jersey side, physically no one would actually know she was half Texas Longhorn and this seems to have translated into her milk production too. She grew an enormous udder and it was clear that was going to produce more than her tiny calf would drink, and if the milk isn't used, life-threatening mastitis follows, as any breastfeeding mother knows!

In the light of the latest development though, it seemed logical to save ourselves work and do better by the orphan by trying to graft it on to Liberty. Initially, she seemed confused; she had two almost identical small red calves. After a long and thorough sniff test though, she realised what was going on and rejected the cuckoo. Bugger. Later, we tried tying Liberty up with some food to distract her and Rob blocking the view while I tried to latch the cuckoo onto a teat. Despite milk gushing freely into his mouth after 24hrs starvation, he refused. I can't say why, but it was hellish frustrating! We retreated for the night.

Come the morning, I took a moment to observe and saw that Liberty was still pushing the cuckoo away, and he was stood there, almost bent in half with the discomfort of his empty belly, looking miserable as sin. I sighed, and headed off to prepare everything for milking Liberty and then bottle feeding the calf.

...When we came back however, I couldn't believe my eyes! In five minutes, the whole scene had turned around! There was a small red calf sucking on Liberty, and she wasn't reacting. I craned to check and sure enough, Butterfly Flower was napping, it was the other one on her! I don't know if Liberty had suddenly realised the sweetness of the relief that being milked out can give (I personally remember it well!) or just came over all sympathetic for the calf or what, but it happened very quickly. Likewise, the cuckoo must have finally overcome his squeamishness for sucking from someone else's mum, because he was hanging onto those teats for dear life now!

I didn't think he'd drink that much, so I gave Lib some food as a reward for this generosity and went round the back to take some pressure off there (tiny calves often cant even be bothered poking between the back legs for milk and those teats can be neglected). Soon though the cuckoo's slobbery muzzle was nudging me out of the way and he was draining the entire lot himself. I happily backed off and soon Liberty was fed and the cuckoo retired, fat as an egg, to sleep it all off. Amazing.

 photo butterflyflower.jpg
(Butterfly Flower)

This has happened before in our herd. Once we unfortunately had two cows die within days of each other, leaving two 3month old calves motherless on one of the most inaccessible parts of the farm. 3months later, we finally rounded them up to move them, and the calves were fine and dandy - the other cows had adopted them, no questions asked, and shared feeding duties, meaning the two 'spares' were actually well fed. Cattle, like deer, are 'allosucklers', meaning they share the feeding of offspring. This is what makes them so successful as dairy animals - they are, for the most part, happy to share; it's built into their DNA, it's a survival tactic for them. Saving orphaned offspring is good for the herd, and feeding humans is even better, garanteeing protection from predators and a regular food supply.

This cuckoo development does mean we stay on shop bought milk a while longer though, as, generous though she is, Liberty is unlikely to be able to feed two calves AND a human family!? And the cuckoo? Well, Cuckoo's mother was a gentle soul, and his father is our magnificent bull Whisky who has an active but good temperament and wonderful conformation and locomotion...so the only Texas Longhorn element of him is the milk he drinks, but it looks like I've ended up with a good saddlesteer anyway ;)
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Published on March 05, 2017 00:06 • 220 views

December 13, 2016

Kerry Hills. If you’re aware of them at all, it’s probably because they won your local sheep show with their flashy posing and unique, panda-like markings. Before I moved in with my husband who had been keeping Kerrys since 2002 I hadn’t really ever registered their presence either. I met them with a completely open mind as a result and I’ve slowly got to know and love them and now hold complete responsibility for our flock.

Quite unusually for a British sheep breed, and frustratingly for sheepgeeks like me, details of their history are hard to come by. Most other breeds seem to be far better recorded and represented in the history books. I constantly scour shepherding books old and new and most do not make a mention of Kerrys at all.

My theory on this is that the Kerry as we know it is actually a very modern invention, the style of sheep we have seems to have emerged within the last 50years, but it does have ancient roots. Looking at the Kerry of 100years ago we see a heavy, white docile-looking animal much like a white Shropshire!



Shropshire ram taken from Shropshire Sheep Society website for reference:



Things hadn't changed much by 1938:



But by 1959 they start looking a lot more familiar:



And by 2016, we have something very different to that 1908 animal:



Shropshires were created from the Southdown, crossed with a 'sheep from the Welsh border'. Highly likely to be a part of this unknown sheep at very least is the ancestor of the Ryeland from the Hereford area around the corner from Kerry Hill, which in the medieval era had wool known as 'Lemster Ore' - highly valued for its fineness above almost all others. In the area 70years prior to the heyday of the Shropshire according to John Gorton in 1833 was a breed known as the 'Cerri', which gave fine wool free of kemp fibres...sound familiar?

But there's something else and what that is, I don't know, but as the influence of the Shropshire/Ryeland fades and the Kerry becomes a more upright, active and alert animal in the last 50years, proudly strutting around a showring, it seems to be coming out. There was the Cardy, Eppynt, Longmynd and Morfe Common sheep to name but a few in the area since time immemorial. No trace of these remains, they are too far back and history seems to have been keen to forget the 'ill shaped' wild little things from a tribe known as 'heath sheep'. I feel sure these wild little things still reside in the genes of the modern Kerry though, as I recognise Philip Walling's quote relating to primitive breeds in his book Counting Sheep: A Celebration of the Pastoral Heritage of Britain when I look into the eyes of a Kerry as she stamps her foot defiantly at me.

"Like many of the other ancient breeds, these are proud sheep, independent and not easily intimidated, with a sense of their own dignity and a bearing that commands respect. They are not the slaves of commercial farming...come from an earlier time when relations between people and their animals were regulated by a greater respect for the servitude that domestic animals give their human keepers."

Kerrys are a world away from a docile Ryeland or Shropshire; catch me at penning or clipping time and every other word is likely to be a curse word as I try to impose my will or get the wool off a wriggling Kerry without nicking their bizarrely thin skin!? When we bought ordinary sheep hurdles in the early days they promptly bust them down and as a result we’ve had to buy specially made reinforced ones a full foot higher. We even went up to 5ft high alpaca hurdles for a particular group of gimmer hoggs and they still got over and away! Is that the spirit of the Morfe Common heathsheep, fighting its way out after all these years?

But, at various junctures over the last seven and a half years I’ve had the opportunity to swap them for a different breed, or get rid of them altogether, and it’s never quite happened in the end. And when I go to the twice yearly York rare breeds sale to find some more, it’s usually a Kerry which sails out of the ring and that usually makes me bid a bit harder as I know that’s a Rosewood sheep that will fit right in!

I worry about them though. Over the last 15yrs I’ve seen them disappear outside the showring and I believe it’s because nowadays farming is very specialised indeed and Kerry Hills are a little ‘vague’ in what they offer apart from a pretty face.

Their wool does not compare with Merino, or Blue-Faced Leicester, or Shetland or any of those popular wool breeds. They are good mothers, but aren’t especially prolific (producing many lambs each time) and don’t have the infrastructure of other breeds which offer sales of thousands of females for farmers to pick from reliably every year. Their milk yield won’t rival a Friesland and their meat yield is perfectly adequate, but not spectacular so that ‘terminal sires’ which father butcher’s lambs like Beltexes and Suffolks have nothing to worry about. They wouldn’t survive on the mountaintops like Herdwicks or Blackfaces or Welsh Mountains, either.

So why keep them?

I like to think this vagueness gives them versatility. My area must be the only part of Britain which does not have a native breed of its own - East Yorkshire. Sheep have been kept here for eons; my husband's earliest farming ancestor was a shepherd over the river in 1870, but no one knows which sheep he had and no one breed dominates here. That means I have a blank canvas to start with, there is a vacuum here for a breed to step in to. The unrecorded past of the Kerry and the fact they sound Irish but are Welsh but nobody knows that anyway means I'm not facing the incongruity of selling Leicester lamb in Aberdeen, and so on.

The world changes; Consumer demand swings from wool to meat to milk and maybe back again, and some breeds fall foul of it if they are too specialised. The Kerry sails past all this though, doing its thing, producing a reasonable carcasse, wool and if pressed, milk (yes I’ve milked ours!). You can always give them a nudge in the right direction with a judicious cross, too. I've tried crosses for meat, wool and hardiness and always been pleased with the results.

This is only one end of the process though - what a sheep can produce. That always has to be balanced with what you've got to produce it with. Kerrys are equally as flexible here. I know I could bang up a hydroponic greenhouse and my Kerrys would produce the same 40kg shapely carcasse the customer has come to expect, munching on leftover cabbages and tomatoes in a shed, as they would out on a hillside.

A few years ago, we were struggling for acreage and had to make maximum use of our grass. My early farming career was preoccupied with intensification-with-sustainability and the impossible issue of land purchase. The Kerrys had to calm themselves sufficiently to stay in small paddocks and be rotated daily - they did. That was all reversed in a bizarre twist which saw the local marshes empty of stock keepers in the face of new nature-centric rules. Enter me and my Kerrys, who adapted with relish to a larger, rougher area.

As a farmer, this gives me a bit of peace of mind: I’m not completely sold on specialisation. , I'm not one of those farmers who comes from a long line, with an ancestral farmhouse and owned acres. I've clawed my way in and need to be quick on my feet to stay in, ready to exploit any opening I spot. I've adapted before, and I like to think I'll be able to adapt again more less come what may, even with my meagre resources, with my chosen breed. Thank you, Kerry Hills!
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Published on December 13, 2016 10:07 • 369 views

August 16, 2016

It's sometimes thrown at me that it's OK to eat plants but not animals because plants aren't conscious and don't feel etc. This concept has always bothered me. I always felt deep down that plants did have their own ways to experience life and 'feel', we just didn't understand them because they are so unlike us. Hell, most people can't effectively communicate with dogs, a species highly adept at human interaction, so what hope do they have with trees?

For me, a big part of not being vegan is the fact that I'm unable to draw a line anywhere in nature.

As you know, I ride cows. I enjoy the company of my cows as much as, if not moreso, that of my dogs'. I simply can't consign cows to 'the eating bin' because I think they are stupider or less loving than dogs or horses - that's a flat-out lie. But I do come up against this attitude a lot 'oh I could never eat my dog or horse! They are special!'.

What makes a species 'special' to a human is the human that values it. And although there's a few popular species out there like dogs, cats, horses and whales, they *are* people out there who like the cows, the slugs and the bacteria just as much, for whatever reason. And if you can identify with bacteria, it's probably possible to identify with plants, too, alien as they are.

So yeah, for me every species is equal in its specialness. I just have to accept that life is a web, with life and death switching back and forth in cycles for everyone involved in that web. Everything I do for my bodily organism to succeed probably takes away from something else somewhere down the line, but one day my luck will run out and it'll be the plants and fungi or possibly vultures winning and me 'losing'.

That's why I'm now at peace with not being vegan. But, it's nice to finally have scientific validation that my feelings about trees were correct, or at least it seems so - it turns out they are connected by a fungal network, can recognise their own kin and share resources. They are not always competitive, they can cooperate.

It makes me wonder if trees, quite the opposite of feeling nothing, actually feel things very keenly. They don't move, so all their energy presumably goes towards sensing? Sensing where the sun is and directing growth there, sensing where their kids are and arranging root growth away from there. Are they hyper aware of their whole forest space, way up into the air and down into the soil? When we walk through a forest, are the chemical signals oozing from our bodies and vibrations and compaction of our feet being monitored by the plants around us?

This leads to the Dark Side of our current situation though - it seems that forestry plantations of a single species are the equivalent of a modern ryegrass setstocked field on a farm, with a correspondingly shallower root system and vulnerability to disease and climate changes. Once again, variety is the key and we need to keep mature 'breeding stock' of trees just like we do with farmed livestock. Unfortunately due to their reproductive system trees are easy to exploit, a bit like chickens. One tree can produce many seeds and doesn't *need* to physically rear them for them to survive, just like a chicken lays many eggs and they can be reared by machines.

I hope that we will come round one day to a way of producing, trees, chickens and beef that values the intricate knowledge of the passionate humans, apparently genetically destined to have an affinity for certain things, that allows for variety in a harvesting system. Because although I'm at peace with not being vegan and taking equally from sources right across nature, recognising the worth of each species, I do believe we have a duty to pay back, to be grateful, to ensure the whole cycle is preserved for future generations.

Here's the FASCINATING (and amusing) TED talk by Suzanne Simard that prompted this post:

TREES - AWESOME, literally.
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Published on August 16, 2016 01:57 • 148 views

July 22, 2016

Anybody else slightly suspicious of how simple a fix this is for a world of problems? Who was it that said 'for every complex problem, there is an answer that's clear, simple and wrong.'? (H L Mencken, Google informs me). Let me tell you a little story....

In the past, our main problem was getting hold of enough grazing land for our animals. It was a huge obstacle for us; we all know land prices are stupid, bear no relation to what you can make from said land and that we at Rosewood are penniless peasants! So what were we going to do? None of us knew how we were going to deal with this.

Fortune smiled on us. Turned out, Natural England were becoming desperate enough to ask us to tender for some of their grazing. Conservation bodies realise that undergrazing *damages* habitats. Near us, The Lower Derwent Valley in the recent words of Natural England, is: "a haven for wildlife supporting internationally important populations of wintering wildfowl...as well as breeding wading birds, otters and..some of the most important and botanically rich flood plain meadows in the country." If it's not cut every year only aggressive species survive and biodiversity swiftly plummets. Grassland is dependent on the churning, pooping action of herds of grazing animals, without them it simply disappears, along with the species reliant on it.

Yes sure, volunteers can march out there with scythes...but does anyone honestly think there are enough volunteers available to cut 1000 acres locally to us, every year without fail in the very short window available? Then what's to be done with the hay? If it lies on the top without being trampled in by heavy animals, it may aswell not have been cut. Who would pay for the gathering and transporting of it? Where would it physically go? This is a story repeated all over the country too, as we saw when the RSPB offered a huge farm for just a quid because they couldn't find anyone to farm it. (spoiler alert - farmers need customers ;) )

So all of a sudden we were up to our 300acre goal - yay! After a couple of years not only was biodiversity increasing, but the grass was improving and performing better, so both wildlife and farmers were happy - double yay! But a letter from Natural England dropped through the door today that made me excited and worried in equal measure.

There's been nothing short of a mass exodus of farmers from the "Ings" (traditional local word for water meadow) of the Lower Derwent Valley. In disbelief, we totted up the acreage the letter offered us, and it came to over 500! The grass produced on this land is no good to the vast majority of livestock farmers left standing. Demand for red meat, and therefore prices, is so low that only the biggest, plumpest animals sell. The wiry, tough little beasts that can process this stuff just don't get a look in. Most sensible farmers therefore have moved away from them in an attempt to survive a Britain that shuns it's beef. Their animals need higher powered feeds to fund more mass. It's simply not worth the fuel for them to drive down to the old water meadows, cut and bale, transport and store the stuff that won't help their stock, they will simply grow crops for them closer to home instead, or go out of beef and lamb altogether.

By a strange fluke, our stock have been bred for these conditions for 20yrs. It's worth it for us to attempt to deal with this grass because we know our cattle can cope with it. We also set our own prices and don't have a middleman taking a cut, which helps. But it takes time; each of our customers has to be gleaned, person by person, by the sweat of our brow. And it's hard prying people away from Tesco, especially when they see our product as dirty, or a luxury. Ironically, they think they are harming the environment every time they buy from us. Slow clap for the own goal the environmentalists scored there by putting all "meat" in the same category....

So, much as it galls us to leave this land empty, decreasing in biodiversity year on year, we simply can't move fast enough to keep pace with this exodus. We ruled out the pieces it would most certainly be stupid for us to take on due to distance etc. and were still left with 400acres, which would more than double our acreage overnight, and we have no magic pot of money waiting to fund more cows and more cutting equipment to try keeping it in good nick - we'd just have to trust that we could find enough new customers to achieve it in a timely fashion.

This land was bought up in the first place to prevent farmers ploughing it for crops. And yet, we are told to 'eat less meat'. We're told to eat less "meat" even though nobody knows how much meat you eat. Even though all increases in meat consumption are down to chicken, pork (which are the ones which rely on the crops...) and seafood, while consumption of beef, lamb etc. which would eat the Ings grass is staying steady at best. We're told to eat less meat because it's good for the environment, but not being asked to check where the replacement crops come from, despite the fact that crop production is universally far worse for the environment than our beef and lamb production will ever be: soil depletion, utter reliance on diesel fuelled machinery and/or chemicals and monocultures. Really, what IS the point?

I don't know about you, but I resent being told what to eat by anyone who doesn't even know what I eat. I think if we need a message, it's one that doesn't tell you what to eat or not eat, it's one that encourages you to look into the source of whatever you eat, or wear, or brush your teeth with, or....

It's perhaps too complicated for the world, as H L Mencken articulated so sweetly, but I'm staring at, and trying to deal with, the results of our love of a quick, easy fix and snappy slogan and I feel something has to be done. We will try - we will tender for this land and look after it as best we can with the small number of stock and tiny amount of old machinery we have...would you please uphold your end of the bargain and purchase something, even some knitting yarn or a cowhide rug if you can't stomach the thought of meat, to help? Rosewood Farm


(Don't just take our word for it, here's the words of NE from their Lower Dewent Valley Facebook Page: "we are pleasantly surprised about how good the Ings look despite the prolonged winter and spring flooding we experienced, but then again the Dexter cattle have been doing a great job down there over the last couple of years, really increasing the biodiversity of the area. So many thanks to you for that.")
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Published on July 22, 2016 01:20 • 293 views

July 18, 2016

Do you own a mule, and although you're fully on board with the whole intelligence thing, you find yourself questioning why you bother, or wondering if you'll survive the next handling attempt? You're nice to your mule, you go out of your way to never mishandle, mistreat or neglect your mule in any way....then they drag you, or kick you, or just generally act like a wild animal when you attempt to go near them?

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

It can feel like you're just a know-nothing failure. You see pictures from Spain and the Americas of the locals, happily working and showing their mules, apparently in droves ('mules are so popular and numerous everywhere else, Brits just don't understand them!') so you wonder what it is you're missing. Mule-lovers are keen to tell you that they 'just need understanding', which is true, but information on what exactly that *means* in practise is thin on the ground.

The truth is: Mules are tough. In *every* respect.

I was recently reading the articles page of a great website - that of Sowhatchett Mules . This lady clearly knows her stuff; she's had a lifelong love affair with mules and has bred and shown many lovely, successful mules so I felt like listening to what she had to say, and I'm glad I took the opportunity because I learnt a lot about donkeys and mules I didn't know, even though I've 'been a fan' for years! E.g: Did you know, that the donkey's gut functions more like that of a small ruminant than a horse? Their hindgut acts like a rumen, able to take on board and store comparitively large quantities of water, making them drought resistant for their natural desert habitat. They can also exploit pockets of feed they find by effectively gorging themselves after a lean period, unlike a horse.

All this is great for some people. People who need a tougher, stronger version of a horse would really appreciate a mule! People like people in history for example, when roads weren't built, let alone feedstores. People in third world countries perhaps, who live in dry spots and have virtually no resources and would *love* a souped-up donkey - that kind of animal, worked successfully, could revolutionise a life!

And yet, here's a telling statistic from the aforementioned website. There are 55million horses in the world. There are 44million donkeys. And there are just 13million mules.

Take a look at the graph below that I shamelessly lifted from the website. When you see those little colour blocks stacked up, with horses AND donkeys, who are notoriously 'stubborn', so far outstripping mules, even in the countries associated with mules, you start to realise something's up here.

Mules have such benefits - increased strength and toughness - which is like gold to anyone who relies on animals for work. How come every third world country isn't bursting at the seams with mules then? True, some spots just won't support anything other than donkeys....but the same countries have high numbers of horses too, with all their delicacy and needs.

It all leads me to believe that actually, it IS true that mules are difficult creatures to work with. That maybe if your mule is giving you trouble, it's not just because you're useless and incompetent.

When you look into it, this human creation is a little messed up. Do mules occur in the wild? Maybe. They maybe deal with wild life well, too...because there's no monkey trying to ride them in fast traffic, a situation both know is a stupid, unsafe idea but in which the 4legger is far more logical! ;) But for the most part, we made mules. We found two species that happened to be able to mate and went with it. But coming back to those things I learnt about donkeys and horses from the articles, you can see why mules can seem a little inconsistent and conflicted.

It's just little things aside from the biggy horse flight Vs. donkey fight instincts, like horses preferring to roll in places where other horses have rolled, whereas donkeys prefer to roll in clean spots nobody else has laid in before. Horses organise themselves into simple harems, bands of individuals traversing a home range but not defending this 'territory' from other bands - the stallion will simply defend the mares from the other stallions. In contrast, unless food and water are plentiful, donkeys are happy to spend time alone or in small groups in order to forage. as a result, again the behaviour of a donkey is more like that of a ruminant's, the males will defend a territory and mate with females that pass through, rather than travelling with the females and defending them from all other males.

(Incidentally, I do wonder if the affinity I have with donkeys but not horses is due to their similarity with ruminants/cattle, which I get on with far better? I Know what cows are going to do before they are going to do it, we are 'on a level' and I know from some of the other most passionate dedicated and successful [not force/aversion-reliant] ox trainers in the world that they too prefer donkeys to horses to work with...food for thought).

Which of these instincts is the mule going to go with? The human attempting to squeeze tasks out of these animals have all this to take into account! And as we've seen...there's no doubt it's tricky.

Now, I'm not saying this to denegrate mules, my intention is only to lift the chins of downhearted mule owners out there - you are doing a tough job, one that few other people globally would take on, or stick with. Even the brilliant article-writer herself Amy McLean admits that things don't always go to plan and even the pros might struggle to catch their animals for a farrier's appointment:

"As we all know, our long eared creatures enjoy routines. If the farrier or veterinarian is coming to our farm say an hour or two before feeding, the animals tend to be more wary about why they are being caught or fed earlier than usual and may refuse to cooperate. Trying to explain why your very well trained animal with long ears doesn’t want to be caught when it’s not the usual feeding time or time to come into the barn to someone who has little experience with them often creates an interesting conversation to say the least. Many times the conversation results in responses such as “you should better train your donkey or mule or get rid of it because I wouldn’t own an animal I can’t catch!” The correct retort might actually be, “maybe you should learn more about donkeys or mules then you would understand that you have to outsmart them.” "

We all know there's benefits to mules, not only the strength and hardiness of donkeys added to the size and speed of a horse, but the intelligence of the donkey which is proven by studies to increase when given the hybrid vigour of mule-dom, can lead to an increased bond and a more rewarding relationship, which to those who enjoy working with animals, would enjoy. But I think sometimes these benefits can be played up and the downsides to potential and even existing owners, minimised.

The truth is, even after you've got your mule and always been nice to it, never forced and taken its point of view into account, it's still not going to 100% be a human slave. As Ben Hart, reknowned donkey and mule trainer says: "Donkeys in general have a very efficient walking pace and to be honest, in most situations it is easier to walk at the donkeys pace rather than try and make them go at ours."

So it seems that compromise is the key. Humans learning to pick their battles, and not get downhearted when shortear owners say 'I would never own an animal I can't catch every time!' and so on. Probably to be a successful mule owner, you need to think to yourself that 'I would find it dull and degrading to own an animal so stupid it would allow itself to be caught unquestioningly, even when the monkey that invariably comes to jab a needle into you is here'.

Yup, mules ARE difficult. They are not for everyone, and they are rarely going to perform exactly like a horse (and let's face it, horse owners tend to be comparing us to only the 'best' horses, the ones that jump highest, catch every time and so on. There's plenty of uncatchable horses out there that can barely jump more than a foot whilst ridden, too ;) )

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Published on July 18, 2016 09:32 • 145 views

March 18, 2016

In more of a return to the original purpose of this blog rather than endless nattering about sheep, I share the memoirs of a chap called Graham; a native of Suffolk who I met on my travels down there...

My ears pricked up when Graham mentioned that his great, great grandfather John had been an oxman for the Somerleyton estate when he had moved across the river to settle in Aldeby with his two brothers, Jimmy and Aaron in 1837. Sadly, any further information about John or the oxen he worked has been lost and the family memories only begin in detail with the next generation, William, John's son.

William worked on the railway as a ganger and Graham relates how he would cut the grass growing on the sides of the tracks for hay for the horses - nothing was wasted. William's son who was also a William must have been ill-at-ease with his father's change of direction away from their farming roots as he left school at 14, determined to be a farmer. It seems to have been a familiarly difficult ambition for him, as he took work as a rook scarer, a postman and a coalman with two waggons and horses to fund some rented marshes and cattle. Finally, in 1912 he took on a full tenancy on Blocka Farm and had his 90acres.

He married a lady named Jessie who promptly added dairy to the enterprise, handmilking the cows and making butter before taking it to market via horse and cart (picture below); a 22mile trip, each way. The horse pictured is called Dolly and her breed isn't known but it's likely she had a good dose of Hackney blood given the period and location in question, Yorkshire and Norfolk being the heartlands of the breed and their purpose being a fast roadhorse. As a firm Hackney fan the previously unpublished picture from the '20s which Graham showed me is the stuff of dreams!

At this time the farm worked what Graham says were known as 'Shirbreds' - shire horses, though they were blended with Clydesdales. Back then, pedigree was less important than it is for the showring thesedays, the important bit was how well the horse worked. The picture below show Beauty, Prince and Blossom at work. Strangely, they were not Suffolk Punches, the local breed of the area. It's unknown why this was the case, but by the 30s the farm had switched to Suffolks and was using Lord Somerleyton's Suffolk stallion.

Graham told me a few tales of the more memorable events of his grandfather's life breaking and working heavy horses. The best was possibly the mare who would not go forwards. In the training process she quickly figured out what was wanted and decided to avoid work by going backwards instead. A heavy horse's backside moving towards you is hard to combat without use of the whip but William was not the type to use one, instead he stood her in front of a haystack and asked her to go forwards. The stubborn mare insisted on going backwards, and Graham says she heaved and kicked for a full hour, until the ground under her feet was churned into mud and she had exhausted herself with her efforts. Finally, she gave up and walked forwards, found it easy in comparison and was never a bother again!

The horses were traditionally turned onto the marshes between 'haysel' (haymaking time) and harvest to eat the aftermath of the haymaking and presumably build themselves up for the heavy work of harvest - pulling the binder was the hardest job and would have to be done in 3hr stints only before switching the horses. Mares would work whilst in foal, almost up to their time, and when the foal was born it would run alongside its mother as she worked. I know from experience that oxen learn a lot through example and mimicry, so this is probably an ideal start for a working horse!

The horses were often not too keen on returning to work after their holiday and William had another problem to fix when one mare figured out that putting her hefty leg over the trace and refusing to budge meant the men having to undo everything and set it right before they could start, whereupon she would simply move her leg again and delay everything further. Many would have been tempted to take a whip to the animal perhaps, but William decided to give the mare a taste of her own medicine - if she was going to keep him waiting and from his work, he would do the same! He walked her front feet to the top of a bank, tied her head high up to a branch and sat down for lunch, leaving her stood still. When he returned, she was suddenly keen to be on the move and never tried her trick again!

Time marched on and William's son was keen to move on to tractors. William Snr refused point blank to have anything to do with them however, and the farm continued to work horses throughout the war years. No horses were lost to the front in the First World War, only a stack of hay - one of 800tonnes required every week to feed the horses on the front! During the Second World War William was caught out by a 'nuisance raid' while ploughing. He managed to unhitch the horses upon hearing the warning siren and by the time the two planes burst over the treeline firing bullets randomly, he had run and hidden them behind a haystack and had the presence of mind to walk them around it as the planes passed so that they would not see the planes and take fright. His neighbour meanwhile had jumped from his tractor and into a ditch for shelter, leaving the tractor in gear, trundling away by itself!

Another wartime adaptation was having to make stacks with the grain crops rather than filling a stackyard back at the farm, near the giant new threshing machines, to avoid the risk of fire when incendiary bombs were dropped. It was quickly realised that the machines were too heavy to be moved nearer the stacks and would damage the ground too much in the process, but Grandad William was confident his horses could do the job, so he took it apart a little and hooked up 'Smiler' (pictured). Smiler had very broad feet and was an extremely strong horse; he carefully and successfully pulled the machine across the fields to the stack. Smiler was previously known as an almost useless horse, an 'Old Stomper'. He not only had enormous feet but he banged them carelessly up and down as he walked, damaging many plants in the process if he worked any crops. In contrast, Graham says the other horses moved their feet carefully and neatly which was ideal.

The last foal born on the farm was Smart in 1938, out of Blossom and by Lord Somerleyton's stallion. She's pictured below and was clearly a well loved member of the family. Graham says she was so good natured she never actually required any formal kind of 'breaking in', she naturally took to work.

Unfortunately Grandad William died in 1952, still steadfastly refusing the drive the tractors. His son William was pleased with the switch to tractors as he regained a third of his land which had previously been dedicated solely to maintaining the horses. The horses were allowed to live out their lives on the farm however but eventually only Smart was left. She befriended a goose in those solitary days and they went out on the marshes together to graze, the goose bedding down on the muckheap outside her stable when they returned together at night. The goose laid her eggs on that muckheap but never needed to sit them, they hatched from the heat of the muck!

Smart's last job was harrowing for a kale crop, driven by Graham's dad. After this she developed 'bad feet' and finally in 1957 it was considered kinder to put her out of her misery. William could not bear for her to be killed on the farm, so she was carted to the slaughterhouse. Though a tractor fan, the experience moved him enough to write a poem on the passing of the horse days:

There's a big tractor shed now standing
Where the old hay stacks used to be
And a big plough standing there outside
Not one furrow now but three
I've hung up the horse trees and the plough trace
Along with the whippletrees, saddles and bridles too
And I'm wearing greasy dungarees
For old grey mare is dead and gone
And there's weeds around the stable door

- William Richmond

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Published on March 18, 2016 12:59 • 270 views

March 8, 2016

Hmm. This blog is mostly a complaint.

When I went to complete the daily pasture move for our sheep today my heart sank when I approached because I could see sheep moving about in the field ahead where they shouldn't be. My mind whizzed over the possibilities - why would this be?

The battery was getting on the low side but not dead. The sheep haven't been testing the fence; they've been good as gold for weeks, happy with plentiful clean, fresh grass every day. I'm grazing them very lightly, allowing them to just pick the best bits, as I don't want the pasture too depleted and the ewes are pregnant, they need the best. I'd only be hurting my own pocket at the end of the day if i was stupid enough to short-change pregnant ewes! So they should be full enough to leave the fences alone. Perhaps a dog had worried them? Perhaps my fencing, which I thought was good and taught yesterday, had sagged a bit or something?

When I entered the field, the sheep jumped up and started running away. It was then that I noticed we had far. too. many. sheep. They just kept coming! Briefly, my hopes were raised when I noticed that some were still in the right paddock, but I quickly saw that no, there were not enough in there and some of the ones running around at large were Kerry Hills, so our flock and a stray flock had merged together.

This is a disaster for me. They had roamed all over the grazing I had set aside, which I rely on being clean. They had pooped out their parasites and pasted their diseases all over it long before I turned up. Not to mention the portion of it they had managed to harvest for themselves!

Any plans I had for the day evaporated, as did my trip to Suffolk to deliver a cow to someone tomorrow. There's no way their owner could drive down to the farthest edge of our farm to collect them from the field, whatever vehicle they brought would either get stuck or chew up the ground. Likewise there was no way we could get our handling equipment down to the field to separate them - the only option was to make a pen on the yard and separate them there.

Luckily, the new sheep were calm and with 'Gub' my hand-tame wether leading the way they all came down easily. It was a long walk/run though and some of my ewes look very heavy with their lambs so I didn't want to take them back out again straightaway. There is only 2 weeks of now dirtied and depleted grass out there anyway, so I can now decide if it's worth them going back out or if I should swallow an extra fortnight of feedbills and waste that grass and just keep them in now. The fortnight I thought I had to prepare the shed has vanished now too in that case...

Rob had thought I was exaggerating when I said I estimated our flock had doubled but had to concede I was exactly right after a headcount - 37 in each flock!

I'd like to say the owner was grateful when I drove over to tell him about this and thanked me for putting in a day's work to gather up, sort and accomodate his flock and postponing my trip to Suffolk thanks to the work backlog caused, but as yet no thank you has been received, only complaints that he has no transport and doesn't know how to get them home! Apparently something will be done tomorrow, so I can add a night's worth of hay to the list of losses from this aswell!!!!

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Published on March 08, 2016 13:10 • 244 views

March 7, 2016

Ever had a problem for years only to find the answer staring you in the face and when you finally twig, you feel like such a plonker it's untrue?

We're obsessed with dairying here. Rob and Paul's background is dairy on both sides of the family, they wanted to carry that on but couldn't see a financially viable way. As is well documented here I love the unique, close relationship betweens humans and herds, extra close in the case of dairying. Dairying has traditionally been women's work and I think that's a kind of poetry - women can truly understand birth, lactation and nurturing so in my opinion we're sisters, across the species barrier and it makes for a better milking relationship, so I'm all up for taking on a dairy herd!

At Rosewood we like the micro dairy 'thing' and it'd be nice to get another food group out of our soil-building grazing system but equally have struggled to make that work.

None of us want to milk the Dexters. I did that to start with because it was obvious; it was 'ok' but the milk isn't terribly high in butterfat whatever anyone tells you and it being naturally homogenised makes it tough to get a meaningful amount of cream, so it's similar to goat's milk that way. We moved on to Jerseys and never looked back, the milk was rammed with easily available cream and they are such gorgeous, placid, generous beasts.

The trouble for me, as I watched others I knew setting up little Jersey dairies, is that the Dexters and Jerseys didn't get on, with the more rapacious Dexters simply outcompeting the gentle Jerseys. So it would require a whole new set of housing and grazing for the dairy operation which is all a bit out of budget etc. Meanwhile, I'm supposed to be Head of Sheep and I'm sure you can appreciate, it's a lot of work, and so is microdairying, so I was looking at a situation where I would be run ragged and neither enterprise would be done well. So we've left the idea.

But then I was struck by inspiration, the answer was staring me in the face all along - milk the sheep! Sheepmilking's very traditional in this country, just like oxen, but we've forgotten about it, just like oxen - so it's right up my street! I've milked sheep before and it's lovely stuff; double the fat and protein of cow and goat milk and higher in all sorts of vitamins and things too, with no goaty flavour.

Meanwhile, we have housing for the sheep already and they work around the Dexters, rather than competing with them. Sheep are a bit more child friendly for Anne to help me with too, and far from being pushed to the side, this brings the sheep right to the heart of the Rosewood operation and justifies far more love and resources going their way! No, our sheep do not have the high yields of proper dairybred sheep, but they are great mothers with a decent yield, and if the milk is an extra top-up on the existing sales of meat, skins and wool the sums add up. I think if we lose sight of the efficiency and turn our thoughts to relying solely on milk, that's when you get into high yields, lots of feed and having to take the lambs from the mothers and beginning to see lambs as a by product - I'm determined to avoid that.

I've said for a while now that I think the UK dairy industry will split into mega and micro dairies with no in between. I think it's pretty clear which side of the divide I'm on, although no hard feelings to the mega side, I think the public get what they seek out and pay for and if mega dairies have a market, fair play to them. Far from being bad for welfare, I think mega dairies are actually better placed to do right by cows, as so much money pouring into brand new facilities and dedicated vets will be much better for the cows than family farms struggling to cram too many modern cows into old buildings they weren't designed for...

But anyway, we'll be doing things the Rosewood way, which means grassfed and I intend to follow The Calf at Foot Dairy's example and leave the lambs on their mothers, which is how I did it when I milked sheep for the house anyway - all achievable if you bend your brain round it and the customer is willing to pay you to do it......watch this space!

Pictures show me milking 'Buttercup' the Dexter and my hand on our ewe 'BigFatBlackFace's teat.

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Published on March 07, 2016 09:41 • 59 views

Hoofprints Through Time

N.S. Rose
The most varied and least read blog on the internet!

Write ups of my mental and physical journeys around mankind's relationships with our hoofed friends - also stuff about my peasant life in general;
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