wool

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

Bench cushion at the Allotment

Since we've got such a fine new bench at the allotment from a Transition Town Lewes donation, we felt it would be really lovely if interested allotment members created a cushion for it, made from wool from Owena's sheep at Baulcombes Barn.

So Owena came up to the allotment with bags of her wool and her peg-loom, to demonstrate how to make a peg-loom 'cushion' (which could just as easily be a rug). They are relatively easy to make, once you've got the technique, and every one is different, which is particularly nice - it depends on the colour of the sheep, and Owena's sheep are Shetland sheep, which have different coloured wool, from pale to dark brown. 

Owena showed us examples of ones she's working on and explained that wool, once so valuable, has largely lost value in this country - and is mostly exported. The top she was wearing has been made from soft, fine merino wool. In New Zealand, they have developed fine wool products such as merino, which are still commercially valuable.

She told us that you can weave with either unwashed or washed wool. The former is somewhat smellier and the outcome more random, but can be washed in a machine after it's been woven. Washed and combed wool, on the other hand, is fluffy and cloud-like. She handed round examples of combed/washed and uncombed/unwashed wool and explained that you can wash the unwashed wool in a tub with a hard olive oil soap bar. Or, you can get it washed and combed by an expert she knows with suitable equipment, which does make life easier! She had taken some of the Shetland wool to Diamond Fibres to be processed into 'slivers' which we can use for peg loom weaving. 'Slivers' - the first stage of raw fleece. Roving - is when you get a long cord of it.

She then demonstrated how to use the loom, which is quite simple once you've got the wool prepared. You use strong strands of wool to run through the rug as you weave it, that get tightened as you press each woven layer down. Differences in tension make for variations in widths of the woven rug/blanket. Once you've filled each peg, you pull the pegs out of what you've woven, one by one, and push them back in to the holes again, so you can start weaving again. So the length of the weave increases bit by bit. 

Emma and Sarah went to measure the bench so the allotment weavers could decide how many pegs to use to make the cushions to fit the seat ie the right width. In terms of length, Owena pointed out you can make one long weave to make a cushion, or several smaller ones, which you can then join together.  

The group began to weave their own cushion, with Owena's supervision.

Update - early November

Everyone that wanted to (including volunteers, staff, allotment members and project users) has contributed to increasing the length of the peg-loom cushion over the intervening weeks, so it's a lovely patchwork of all our efforts. Owena returned to work with the St Nicholas Day Centre group in order to show them how to finish off the cushion, ready to go on the bench. So now we have the finished product, and it's comfy, warm and lovely. Thanks everyone, wonderful joint effort.