By Andrew Martin, Head of Outdoor Work
The change in the weather has really brought the farm to life, which is so wonderful to see. Last week our ‘spring’ flock of Southdown and Southdown X Jacob sheep started to lamb. As I write this we have 10 adorable little black lambs running around; we are just waiting on our three Southdowns (Sammi, Saoirse and Sophie), as well as our two Herdwicks, to deliver!
Our two sows, Little Pig and Bessie, didn’t want to miss out on the action either. They have been crossed with a British Saddleback (Basil). Between the two girls they farrowed 18 beautiful little black pigs, each with a white belt around their shoulders.
Running a school farm is a unique and rewarding job. Connecting students to the land and working with the animals is mostly a joy. Showing students across all three schools around the farm is one of my favourite things to do. Finding the balance between education and farming, whilst keeping animal welfare at the heart of everything we do, is a constant thing and something I believe we do very well here. We are not a petting farm nor do we want to be one. We want to educate students about food, farming and the environment, and how they are all linked.
Last weekend was a very strange one. It was probably the first time we felt that fine balance becoming a little unstable. A combination of new arrivals, shining sun, schools reopening and the prospect of some return to normality, saw – to use a fashionable word – unprecedented numbers of visitors at the Black Barn.
When you have a large number of young, excited children, ramblers, dog walkers and picnickers, the tranquillity of giving birth very quickly disappears and the animals get stressed. This was very evident for a period of time. Everyone thinks their child and dog is safe, but to a sheep every dog is a wolf. Standing chatting beside a very pregnant sheep while dipping into some hummus may sound idyllic, but I’m confident the sheep wouldn’t agree. Likewise noisy children around little piglets and farrowing sows causes distress, resulting in squashed piglets and anxious mums.
So, although I don’t want to sound like a grumpy farmer, maybe this is a timely reminder about the countryside code. It is such a wonderful time of year and being able to experience nature so closely is so very special. Let’s try to remember the animals and their needs, alongside our own, human wants.