March update from Challacombe Farm
First couple of days of the relaxation of the lock-down rules and the weather has been lovely, and it’s great to see the return of walkers.
If feels like Spring is definently well on its way now – though we’ve had few false starts during the month with warm weather interspersed with cold snaps. Around the 9th & 10th the temperature dropped to -5 degrees C, which unfortunately froze much of the frogspawn. However, the birds don’t seem too bothered and the whilst the spring migrants haven’t arrived yet, skylarks and other residents have started their singing and prospecting for nests.
The last few weeks has brought a flurry of calves, with 4 born since Friday. Our bull is in with the cows year round and so whilst they could have calves anytime, on the whole they naturally revert to their ancestral instinct of calving in the Spring to take advantage of the summer grass and warmth.
It’s very rare that we have to intervene when they calf – we select for bulls and cows that are easy calving. Normally the first we know that a cow has a calf (or is about to calf) is that she will go off on her own to a quiet path of the field (as well as having hay & straw in the barn, they have a 40 acre field to roam all winter). After a day or two, they will ‘creche-up’ with other young calves and their mums. A few days later the calves will follow their mums into the barn and this gives us the chance to grab them and ‘make them legal’ by putting in their unique id ear tags.
We use special tags which retains the little plug of skin from the ear piercing. This is popped into a vial and sent off for testing for Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) which is a highly contagious viral disease of cattle. Our cows have been tested and are free of BVD, but potentially could still catch it, and if a mother is infected during pregnancy, the calf may become infected and then shed high quantities of BVD virus into their environment for the whole of their life – thus being a real risk to the health of the whole herd (and any cows they interact with over the fence). So being able to easily test for this is a great reassurance.
We’re now getting ready to start lambing, with the first expected towards the end of the week. So we’ve been getting the barns ready for them to come in and they’ve been moved into a smaller field where we can keep a closer eye on them. Although tiring, lambing is a great part of our farming year – so expect lots of photos on our Facebook & Instagram pages.
We are also hosting 2 guided walks around the farm led by Dartmoor guide Geri Skeens on April 5th and 13th – you can find more detail and book at https://moorlandguides.co.uk/walk-list/ .
Now that outdoor exercise is permitted we hope that you will be able to get back out to visit. If you would like to buy any of our beef or lamb, if you order it on the website we’ll have it ready for you to pick-up. Some new items we’ve added are lamb and mint burgers (delicious) and a selection of gorgeous sheepskins. Undyed to keep their natural colours they are processed by the highly skilled craftspeople using traditional techniques at Britain’s oldest tannery at Buckfastleigh on the edge of Dartmoor. The long fibre (staple) length of our Shetland sheep makes curing the skins challenging, but the resulting softness and depth of pile makes up for it.
Take care & all the best
Mark & Naomi