Partridge Hill Farm Newsletter Spring 2017

Dear Customers and Friends of Partridge Hill Farm,

Hello and bright spring and Easter greetings to everyone, I hope you are all well and like me wondering what happened to the April Showers? The lateness of this Spring newsletter goes to show, happily, just how busy I am at this time of year. I’ve been kept working every daylight hour and beyond with projects at Partridge Hill and for customers. In fact, over the last week or two were it not for the lack of leaves on the Alder trees and the remnants of the daffodils I might have been fooled that it already was summer!

Now the extending daylight hours mean that I don’t have to use my floodlights as much, and this recent spell of dry weather has meant that I can finally get my tractor into corners I’ve not been able to reach since October, where I’ve needed to tidy up after the winter’s hedge laying and put materials there in preparation for more fencing.

Since Mid-Winter I’ve been fully occupied on and off the farm hedge-laying, trimming, planting up gaps and whole hedges and clearing up, mulching gardens, building and repairing fences and walls, a number of large trees have been taken down, logged, chipped or burnt, and getting quotes prepared for summer hard landscaping jobs.

I’m very grateful to friends who have come and helped with their chainsaws, pruning saws, effort and time with the hedge laying it was a huge task (especially in the rain!) and now they look so much better, just how they ought to and it will improve the stock proofing no end for those nimble fence-jumping lambs my ewes keep producing. A neighbour told me one hedge hadn’t been laid since 1984, and compared to the others I would have thought it was longer for them. I managed to steel an hour to visit the Blackdown Hills Hedge Laying Association annual competition near Axeminster last month and was really pleased to compare my efforts with the local champions and masters, some of whom taught me the art a couple of years ago.

As I’ve seen big swathes of snow drops been replaced by huge waves daffodils in the valley and the early emergence of the blue bells and orchids (5 Orchis mascula counted so far) I’ve barely had time to sleep let alone keep up to date with the admin and marketing side of the business, hopefully the coming summer will give me time to turn to that, along with the practical aim of getting my pasture weeds under control before one field in particular disappears under a bed of common rushes (Juncus effuses) which my sheep aren’t interested in eating. Tactically I’m planning to mow and improve the drainage there as much as possible; watch this space for positive reports!

This quarter has been the busiest ever for farm produce sales as repeat and new orders have flown in for lamb and pork. My batch of pedigree Berkshire weaners I bought from my neighbour have all sold except for the last one due to be sent off in the next couple of weeks. The Lamb has sold in record numbers too, though I’ve still got two and half to sell. A new customer commented “The lamb was absolutely delicious – very flavourful and tender, thank you”, after the butcher told me my last batch of lambs “Couldn’t have been finished better” which is the greatest complement and testament to ever better stock management with the Fat-Meat-Bone ratio being just right! The pork boxes have all been received with much acclaim, the loudest of all being from satisfied customer Mark Diacono of Otter Farm who managed to mention it at the end of an article he wrote in a Saturday Guardian last month (Thanks Mark! theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/18-03-2017).

I heard eating Berkshire Pigs been encouraged in the BBC national news this week with the publication of the Rare Breed’s Survival Trust’s Watchlist putting them in the vulnerable category with between just 200-300 registered breeding sows left in the country. The importance of the genetic variety is obviously important for the future health of the national pig stock as well as preserving our farming heritage. One commenter suggested the provenance of rare breed sausages in supermarkets is questionable and urged consumers to be wary of such claims. I’d say the best way to be sure of your meat’s provenance is to know your farmer! (fwi.co.uk/rare-pig-breeds-face-extinction)

Ironically the best way to save guard these breeds is to eat more of them and few customers have suggested that I try and sell some meat in smaller quantities for those who either don’t have the storage or can’t pay out quite so much in one go, so to help sell the last of this seasons meat I’m going to sell some “Taster Boxes” made up of one roasting joint of lamb (c1.5kg) and pork (c1.3kg) with a combination of two chops from both (lamb c0.3kg, pork c0.5kg), or pork belly slices and lamb breast, depending on demand, for £49. So please, spread the word and get in touch for more details!

Now as this season’s lamb is sold off next season’s is beginning to arrive as the grass is slowly growing again as we wait for more rain, I’ve invested in more lawn care machinery in preparation for aerating, scarifying and fertilising and go to bed thinking about grassland management strategies, after all, along with New Zealand the Southwest of England is the best place in the world to grow grass! Seeing the new lambs skipping about together in the evenings is one of the most charming highlights of the year, it’s been twins all the way so far.

Open Farm Sunday is in the next quarter so if you’d like to come visit do let me know and I’ll show you around, at this stage there’s little parking space at the farm so it will have to be by appointment only rather than on one fixed date.
I hope to hear from you again soon, and all the best for the coming summer!

Ben