Autumn Equinox Newsletter 2016

Dear Friends and Customers of Partridge Hill Farm,

Happy Autumn Equinox for last week, the shift from the shorter nights to the shorter days is an important marker in the year for activities on the farm, and with the estate management jobs.

Since mid-Summer I’ve been working as much as possible to take advantage of the day light and drier weather on the farm, with a couple of local breaks to make it along to the Sidmouth, then Dartmoor Folk Festivals, and a weekend at the Beautiful Days music festival on the Escot Park estate where I’ve been living for the last year.

The majority of this summer’s farm tasks have concentrated on woodland management, reclaiming areas for grassland which had disappeared under fallen willow and holly trees, over taken with bracken and brambles, or just lost under the shade of over-hanging branches. Another job being to organically control the weeds in the pasture by mowing or scything them out before they go to seed giving the grasses the advantage.

Time has also been taken up with the planning for a new barn, the site and design which has now been settled on and an application made to the local authority. With a sound structure I’ll be able to set up a turkey hatchery and nursery, bring the ewes in for lambing, and how useful it will be to be able to safely store the tools I need on site there.

The turkeys arrived as 12 week old poults in July, from Wonnacott Farm in West Devon, and it is lovely to have them back again, the farm had missed the sound of their reassuring cheeping and chirping. They’ve continued to flourish and grow into strong healthy birds, it is gratifying to see them running and flapping around the field and woodland exhibiting all of their natural behaviour, I particularly like their fondness to eat down the stinging nettles. Because they sold so well last Christmas and I had such positive feedback about their flavour and meat structure (due to their traditional breed and long free-range rearing period) I’ve doubled my flock size this year to 60 and I’m already taking orders. So it’s not too early to reserve one for your special mid-winter meal!

In August I expanded my Badger Face Sheep flock as well, there was one lot of half a dozen at Exeter Market’s rare breed sale and I was lucky to win the bidding, they’re all good sturdy specimens of the breed with solid confirmation. I had been thinking about investing in another breed as a drawback to these welsh mountain sheep is that they can be a little flighty making them hard work to round up without a dog but I was encouraged to stick with them as they’ve proved hardy survivors on my steep slopes and the requests for repeat lamb box orders from this year’s customers confirmed they are a popular and not easy to find elsewhere. Though only medium size animals their traditional taste cannot be matched by the larger, tamer modern breeds. I’ve just been informed this week that last year’s fleeces are now ready to be collected from the tannery, yes it really does take this long to process them from a raw hide into a rug, I’ll be getting in touch with those who have already reserved theirs directly, and the remaining ones will be advertised shortly.

This quarter I’ve made my first pork box sales which have gone very well. I’ve really enjoyed introducing this element to the farm, it’s been 7 years since I last worked with pigs at Church Farm in Hertfordshire but I’d not forgotten how charming they are. I’ve still not settled on which breed I’ll continue with, though the smaller more flavoursome Berkshire black pig is definitely the favourite so far. The next pair that will be ready during the run up to Christmas are Duruc X Berkshires and they are already the biggest animals I’ve kept so far. They’ve just been moved from their summer home under the trees before it becomes too wet and are now digging out the rushes in their new home. Due to their size I’ll be happy to sell them in quarters rather than just halves, cut and prepared as desired by my local butcher.

I heard on Farming Today this morning that 55% of farmers have second jobs which made me feel like I’m in good company! The Estate and Gardening Services side of my life has been a good balance over the summer, like on the farm it’s been a busy time of year when I do my best to fill the coffers in case there are quieter month ahead. The summer has been filled with managing the borders at local country houses and holiday homes, caring for lawns and edges, pruning shrubs and fruit trees. I’ve undertaken a number of small building jobs, hard landscaping and some tree work which has added to the variety of life.

Now in autumn I’ve started cutting back and planting perennials and getting stuck into the tidying up season while looking forward to the mulching and winter pruning to come. There are plenty of hedge laying and planting jobs lined up on and off the farm, and some indoor property projects for the rainy days but of course there’s always room for more if you need a hand.

Thanks for reading this far and I hope you’ll be interested to hear how things are going in my next newsletter due in around the Mid-Winter Solstice, after turkey deliveries. If you think you might know anyone interested in my updates please forward this onto them, let me know and I’ll add them to my list, or just search for Partridge Hill on Facebook and share.
All the best for the next quarter,

Benji and the animals at Partridge Hill Farm