pigs

Last Bluebell House session at Baulcombes Barn

By Emma Chaplin

It was a hot day and we all knew it was going to be a poignant session with the Bluebell House group at Baulcombes Barn, because it was the last one to be held here.

Flourish funding comes to an end in August 2018, and Bluebell House is moving to Horsham.

As Owena pointed out, members of the group have gone from being anxious around the animals, to being confident and assured, and that has been a pleasure for all of us to be part of. 

Lunch was going to be a late one, so I made drinks and shared courgette cake to tide everyone over.

Since Rhiannan has done the Erasmus cookery course in France, and has developed her skills and confidence as a chef, she kindly agreed to be in charge of cooking over a firepit for the celebration meal, with myself in a supporting role. Before we lit the fire, we brought two buckets of water over, just in case there was an issue with the ground being so dry.

From her farm, Owena had provided hogget burgers, sausages and boiled eggs. Rhiannan had made rose harissa koftas from hogget mince and made pittas to put them in, with yoghurt dressing and pomegranate seeds. Also, she'd made halloumi and watermelon skewers for the vegetarians, and a lovely salad made from fennel and other delicious things. Sue had brought courgettes and beans from her allotment, and we cooked those in foil in the fire. I brought apple juice from Ringmer Community Orchard, which is special and went down very well indeed. 

Whilst Rhiannan and I cooked near the pond area, everyone else spent time with their favourite animals, saying goodbye.

Then we gathered to share a delicious meal, before going inside for a final check in. I gave out the gifts of mugs, tea towels and framed prints of the cartoon of the farm Flourish had had made, and the group gave Owena a wonderful pyrography picture of a pony as a thank you for being such a great group leader.

Owena praised everyone for coming to what we all knew would be a painful session. Endings are never easy.

It has been a pleasure working with the wonderful members and staff of Bluebell House, and Owena has been a wonderful person to work with. We've all learnt so much. 

Thank you to Rhiannan for her amazing cooking!

Owena will be doing two weaving sessions at Bluebell House in August, and Emma will come to the second one.

Welcome to Baulcombes Barn, Rural Pathways students!

It was great to welcome the new group of seven Rural Pathways students from Plumpton College to Baulcombes Barn. They came with support workers Niyati and Kieran, and were greeted by Owena and Ivan, plus myself, Flourish project manager Emma.
We sat in the art/therapy room around the wood burner whilst everyone introduced themselves, said what experience we all had of both farms and animals.

Then Owena talked about health and safety issues such as:

  • Being aware that there are electric fences
  • Only eating/having food & drink in the designated areas where animals do not go - not even in your pockets or bag - the animals will want to get the food from you and it sends the wrong message
  • Being aware of animals that bite or kick (pigs might nibble your boot, which is fine, but you need to keep your hands away from their mouths - they have incredibly sharp teeth). It's fine to stroke their backs. Ponies might bite if they are anxious or think you have food, and they can kick too (be careful walking behind them)
  • You should not rub a ram (male sheep) on the front of his face or head - it's an invitation to fight
  • Being careful where you walk - the rain causes the ground to be muddy/slippery underfoot, and the ground isn't even in places 
  • Everyone needs to wash their hands with soap after being at Baulcombes Barn
  • It's important to always close the gate behind you

Owena then talked about the animals, their food, habits and bedding.

Ponies

There are three ponies; Frankie, Buster and Tallulah. They live in a field most of the time and eat grass, but are given hay in the winter too when there isn't enough grass, when it's muddy or the ground is frozen. The ponies need grooming and sometimes their horse dung is collected from the fields in wheelbarrows (to reduce risk of spreading infection) and kept in heaps to rot down for manure. The students can help with all of these tasks.

Owena passed around hay (dried grass - which is winter food for the ponies), straw (which is bedding, not edible, and can be barley or wheat stalks) for pigs, ponies and ewes when they lamb bedding, and explained the difference.

Sheep

The variety of sheep she keeps, Owena explained, are Shetland. They are various colours and she uses their wool to make rugs and cushions, and they become joints of hogget, which is lamb but older, which she sells at the market. She talked about the ewes, or female sheep, and how they are due to be giving birth to lambs in March. The usual number of lambs each ewe has is two, but the ewes are being scanned this week to check, and will be marked if there are more or less than twins. Ewes having more than two lambs will be given sheep nuts near lambing, to help them produce more milk.

Pigs

Owena's sow (female pig) will have piglets.

Once weaned from their mother, the pigs are fed milled barley mixed with water. The students are welcome to bring apples for them she said. because the pigs love to eat them and they are not bad for them. The Rural Pathways students will be taught how to feed the pigs.

Owena sells pork from her pigs at the market in the form of joints, burgers and sausages.

Chicken

Owena has two flocks of chicken, some that are pretty (the Brahma variety), and the brown community hens, who lay the most eggs! They are all free range, and they are fed with layers pellets. They need feeding, cleaning out and the eggs need collecting. The students can help with that.

The chickens produce eggs, which Owena sells. Sometimes they hatch eggs which broody hens sit on to produce chicks. Sometimes Owena will eat the chickens,

At this point, everyone then put their wellies on and went for a walk around the farm, to meet the animals that they will be working with in future.
 

Emma Chaplin, Jan 2018

Rural Pathways group at Baulcombes

Feb 2017 Because of the current risk of Avian flu from wild birds, all the chickens are shut in a polytunnel, and we all needed to dip our wellies in disinfectant before entering the yard.

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Then we split into three groups. Some of us filled nets with hay for the ponies, with one person holding the net open, the other stuffing the hay in. This caused much interest for Frankie, who put his head over the door and tried to eat the hay as we worked. After the bags were full, we put them on the gates for each of the three ponies to eat. A couple of sheep came for a nibble too.

Another group mixed up the pig feed. Owena was putting the food into the open trailer which she'd placed in an opening next to the field for them to eat inside. This is because one of the pigs is going to the abattoir next week and she wanted the pigs to get used to going in and out of the trailer before taking one of them away in it. It took a bit of getting used to, but they got there.

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The third group went to clear horse manure from the pony field.

Then, some students went off with Ivan to trim brambles in the sheep field, and Owena showed Connor, Natalie and Ebbie how to lead Buster and Frankie on the head collar in such a way that they don't push you off the path you want to follow (you sort of have to lean into them).

Owena also explained that, although the ponies are very muddy, it wasn't a good idea to groom them when their hair is wet. Ponies can get mud fever if mud gets brushed into their skin.

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Finally, the whole group gathered for some hot chocolate to warm up.

Emma Chaplin

Cutting Willow at Baulcombes Barn

We had a special January session with a group from Bluebell House Recovery Centre, cutting willow from the bed at Baulcombes Barn. The willow has to be cut by March. Here's some more information about growing willow.

The Bluebell House group could stay later than a usual Wednesday morning session, so they brought lunch with them. And secateurs! Owena provided the gloves and we headed out to the willow bed - in wellies - it was very muddy.

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First of all, Owena needed to strim back some brambles to make it easier for us to cut the two types of willow growing in the bed, so most of the group left her to it and carried on walking beyond the willow bed in order to go and see the horses and pigs.

We didn't see the hens, because they are are shut in at the moment, because of the risk of them contracting avian flu from wild birds.

Nicola was keen to see Buster, and so we went to the horse field, via the pigs and the yard to fetch a wheelbarrow, so some of us could clear up poo from the field.

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The younger pony Frankie came up to the wheelbarrow to see what was happening, but then put his ears back. This is probably because he didn't know my face. Horses (and sheep) can recognise human faces.

Oscar was brave enough to approach Buster. Buster is a friendly pony, but this was Oscar's first time touching a horse. Nicola supported and encouraged him and he did really well.

Then we headed back to the willow beds. We laid a tarpaulin on the ground to put the willow once cut, because the ground was so wet. Then some of us cut the willow, others sorted it into piles of thin, medium and thick stems. Some bits were too short and wispy to use, so they will be burned.

The welcome warmth of the woodburner   

The welcome warmth of the woodburner

 

After some hard work, the group headed back to the cabin for lunch around the woodburner to warm up.

We all felt it had been a good day. It was lovely to welcome new people as well as those who had come before. People tried things they hadn't done before, such as going right up to a horse.

With the willow cutting and sorting and even navigating muddy slopes and climbing under fences, we worked as a team and got a lot done. The fresh air did us good too, as did the company of the animals.

The willow will be ready for weaving in six weeks.

Emma Chaplin

Plumpton College Rural Pathways group at Baulcombes Barn

15 November 2016

I went along to meet the Plumpton College Rural Pathways group at Baulcombes Barn last week. It was a beautiful morning, Owena and Ivan were moving Penny the sow into a field waiting for the arrival of Happy the boar, since her piglets have now been weaned.

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Claudette and Tash brought the nine Rural Pathways students along in a minibus. Everyone was wearing very smart overalls.

This is Owena's report of the session:

"I was with the group who took care of the hens; Kira, Bethany, Savanah, Clianne, Jake and Mikey.  They seemed unsure about how to open the electric fence, I think this is because normally *Gabriel has done it."

*Gabriel, we're very pleased to report, enjoyed his time with us at Baulcombes so much, he's gone on to start the Plumpton agricultural course!

"On the way out Jake and Mikey were able to do the electric fence gate and test it. Bethany and Savannah knew about collecting eggs and putting them in the trays, they needed reminding how to open the door, but were able to close it later.

Collecting eggs

Collecting eggs

We found an egg which hadn't hardened, which looks very odd. We removed it because we do not want the chickens to start eating eggs.

A strange egg shell

A strange egg shell

Clianne, Jake and Mikey cleaned the hen house. Mikey was able to prepare the paper lining with help from Tash; Jake and Clianne removed the paper and muck from the house, and removed the muck from the paper and lit the fire to burn the paper.

Cleaning out the community hens

Cleaning out the community hens

Mikey helped me to push the hen house floor back. He wanted to learn how to pick up a hen. I showed him, but was uncertain to catch one himself, he held it from me. Mikey wanted to catch a hen on his own, he was keen, but kept avoiding making the final catch. Eventually he did it! He caught a hen and held it.

The hens are easier to catch when you approach slowly and gently crouch down, as they will crouch down thinking that you are a rooster and they will stay still for a short moment and it is then that you can capture the hen. You need to hold the wings firmly to avoid flapping and damage to the wings.

We observed the hens for a while before leaving them to peck and scratch.

Feeding the chickens

Feeding the chickens

We had the boar Happy brought to visit the sow, Penny. Penny has been weaned from her piglets and she will come in season in the next three days. We watched Happy and Penny reacquainting themselves with each other.

Feeding the pigs

Feeding the pigs

One group cleaned the horse muck from the field, this is to stop the grass becoming too sour from the breakdown of the manure. We collect it up every day and let it rot down in a muck heap, which is emptied every six months when it is well-rotted.

Feeding Tallulah

Feeding Tallulah

In the meantime, another group had been feeding the weaners. They measured out the feed and gave it to the pigs, they observed if all the pigs were eating.

Finally, we all walked to check sheep. The boy lambs were well. The ewes have the tups [ie males who have not been castrated] in and the young people were told that the orange mark on the back of the ewes mean that they have been 'served' by the tup [ie in order to get pregnant]. We discussed the cycle of the ewes, which is three days with 17 days between each cycle."