June at Challacombe Farm – Flowers, fleeces and visitors
Wildlife on the farm
June is when the farm probably looks its best, with lots of flowers and the sky full of birds. At beginning of the month the bluebells were in full bloom (see video below), and whilst they’ve now disappeared. our hay meadows and wet rhos pastures are now bursting with orchids and other flowers.
However everything continues to be 2 – 3 weeks later than normal due to having virtually no rain but frosts most nights during April and the monsoon and gales of early May.
Things have improved since then, but worryingly we are down on swallow numbers and other birds. This year (only 12 nests, compared to 19 last year) and housemartins came later than normal, built a couple of nests but then left. I think this is down to the difficult migration they had this year with a lack of winds from the south, and then when they did arrive, the cold weather meaning that there were far fewer bugs for them to eat. They are however doing better now and we’ve had 40 chicks hatch so far (our friend Nik is a British Trust for Ornithology ringer and checks the nests each year) and one brood fledge. This is a few weeks later than normal, but hopefully there is still time for them to have a second brood before they start the long and arduous journey back to southern Africa.
Cuckoos seem to have had a better migration and we had 3 or 4 in the valley, and had the treat of hearing and seeing them most days. Having laid their eggs in unsuspecting Meadow Pipit nests the adults have now left to head back to warmer climes, leaving their chicks to rely on their innate knowledge to work out for themselves when and where to fly south and then return to repeat the cycle.
Later in the month our hay meadows and rhos pastures have burst into bloom, with lots of stunning orchids and other flowers. We’ve had a series of guided walks through them and have set up a self-guided trail through them as part of the Moor Meadows open meadow celebration (https://moormeadows.org.uk/ ). The self guided trail through the meadows will be open for another week – just turn up when you want, park in the front field and follow the markers / signs. It’s about ¾ mile with one small hill.
As well as the meadow walks we’ve also done farm walks for the RSPB Exeter local group, Dartmoor Society, the Rewilding Dartmoor Facebook group and others. We enjoy showing people around the farm and often learn from their areas of expertise and this helps us in planning about what we want to do to make the farm even better for nature. If you’re part of a group that would you like a guided tour looking at our animals, wildlife and history please get in touch – we don’t charge, but welcome donations to charity.
We also gave an online zoom talk to the Devon Wildlife Trust and will be brushing up on our dates of when things happened for another one focused on the heritage of the farm scheduled for Tuesday 13th July – see https://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/enjoy-dartmoor/events/events-list/npa-events/Challacombe-talk for details and to book.
Between 2 & 4pm on Sunday 25th July we are having another bracken pull in our hay / wild flower meadow followed by a cream tea. We did this last year and having lots of people was great as we soon cleared the field of bracken and it’s already noticeable that there it’s come back weaker this year. So if we can keep it up, in a few more years we should be able to eradicate the bracken in this field and stop it from suppressing the flowers. So if you’re free, please bring a pair of gloves and join us.
On a farming front, thankfully it’s a relatively quiet time of year. In mid-June all the sheep were sheared, by our friend and local shepherd Chris Stacey. Over 3 days he and his wife Emma steadily and quietly work through the flock, and whilst they’re in it’s a good chance for us to check them for any other health issues such as whether their hooves that need a trim. Our Shetland cross Icelandic sheep have lovely soft, long fleeces in a mix of colours. We sell a few to local crafters such as Liz Marsh who made the amazing felted picture and sheepskin below. The remainder stays local to make beautiful ‘vegetarian’ felted sheepskins – see https://feltedsheepskins.co.uk/ and felted coffins and shrouds (https://bellacouche.com/).
Beef and lamb
If you’ve looked on our webshop recently you will have spotted that whilst we’ve plenty of lamb / hogget in stock, we’re currently low on beef (though still some lovely joints left) - though this will be remedied at the end of the month when we will get a 3 year old Welsh Black bullock back from the butcher. The cutting list hasn’t been finalised, so if you have any particular requests for a certain cut, please get in touch.