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.
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.
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.
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.
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