Monday, 6 December 2010

Short legs and deep snow equals can I have a lift please!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

A winters scene at Holywell pond

When the snow is not too deep the sheep still prefer to dig down to the grass rather than eat hay.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Snow, snow everywhere..........must be winter time again. Those bright, sunny autumn days seem a long time ago now. It's at times like these that using hardy native breeds for the grazing really starts to pay off.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Some of the Holywell volunteers checking over the new arrivals. The Swaledale and Cheviot cross sheep will be grazing the hay meadow for the next few weeks.

Jess in action

Thursday, 11 November 2010

This week has seen grazing commence on a new area at Holywell pond. The flower meadow there is being grazed by sheep to remove the regrowth that has occurred since the meadow was cut for hay in the summer. The sheep will taken off once the meadow has been grazed down and before the the flowering plants and other broadleaved plant species start to grow in the spring. There is a keen group of volunteers who help to maintain the site and who will regularly check the sheep while they are there.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

An early start this morning to take some of the shearling lambs into the abattoir, not my favourite job I have to say but they have had a good life grazing on the nature reserves and now must make way for the young lambs that were born this year. There will be probably be one more trip to make before there will be a break as everywhere gets too busy for Xmas....turkeys or something so I believe! Bet they haven't been on a nature reserve! Any way there will be more lambs available in the new year depending on the weather so if anyone is interested and would like to support the project please contact me.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The winter grazing programme started properly yesterday with Exmoor ponies going onto Ragpath heath. They will be there for about a month before moving on to another small site nearby. The ponies are excellent grazers of some of the more rugged sites coping well with the difficult conditions.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Jess and I had quite a busy afternoon yesterday splitting some of this seasons intake of sheep into groups and moving them into different paddocks to graze.

Meanwhile the Highland cows are continuing to make inroads into the birch scrub on one of the other sites. Their continuing browsing and bashing of the scrub helps to maintain these areas as grassland and stops the scrub taking over.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Luing cattle grazing on Druridge pools. They are reducing the grass cover and plunging up the mud around the edges of the splashes which creates feeding areas for the wading birds that visit the coast line at this time of year. Every things always looks so much better on bright clear mornings such as when this was taken.

Friday, 8 October 2010

The cattle grazing is also going on apace and there is even a new recruit helping out on one site in Durham. Follow or cut and paste the link

Cattle are currently grazing on 4 different reserves across the region combing them with the different grazing habits of the sheep and ponies helps to maintain and create ideal habtitat for the local wildlife.
It's that time of year again when the annual migration of stock from the hills to the lowland starts. We took delivery of the first 50 sheep from the Cheviot hills on Wednesday, these will be with us for the best part of a year grazing conservation sites and replace some of those that went away to the abbattoir this week. There are still some of last years sheep available for anyone who has an interest in naturally reared meat and would like to buy some lamb that has been reared grazing on conservation grasslands and sites of special scientific interest.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Rushing around all over the place today sorting out a few lame sheep. Then into the office to catch up on a bit of paper work before taking Jess off to her training course.

She is progressing well and today I took her out in the the bigger field and worked on her outrun.......that's the bit where you send them right out around the field to gather the sheep to start with. We started with some short 50 yard or so runs and built up slowly and finished up at about 150 yards. I just need to keep her practising at it now until it is second nature to her.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Volunteers checking feet, and trimming the wool from the tails of some of the older swales last week. I'm not sure who had the biggest laugh (or the last!) the volunteers or the sheep. I don't think we'll be opening a beauty salon anytime soon!

Monday, 20 September 2010

This season's Hebridean and Manx Loaghtan lambs have been purchased and trained to respect an electric fence and are now on Holy Island grazing away. Time is always a bit of an issue with this site as we need to get them there and set up the fence and get off again before becoming cut off by the tide! There are another 5, which I collected this morning, to go and join them next time we move the fence. I will get some pictures of them uploaded soon.
Phew where is the time going it just seems to be flying by. It was a busy week last week with the showing of Robert Kenner's film food inc. after which I gave a short talk about Flexigraze and the shearling lamb which is produced by the project all a far cry from what we had been watching on the big screen. There was some useful feedback with one or two people expressing interest in forming buying groups for the shearling lamb, which is becoming available now.

I found the film quite a wake up call, admittedly it was based on American production but usually what happens over there follows here.......................... we have all heard about chickens a pigs being mass produced and a far cry from how we like to think animals are treated in our society but the way the huge corporate bodies have monopolised food processing is quite astounding. What i found most scary though was the way that the GM companies , one in particular, are bullying their way to controlling 100% of production. Enough said but I would encourage any one who has an interest in what they eat or who farms to to see this film for themselves.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Jess and I started our 'Down Shep' course on Monday. So far it has been very educational, Jess has a good grasp of the basics and has the potential to become quite a good sheedog. All she needs is for me to develop the skills to bring out the best in her. (That could be the tricky part!) I definitely have a long way to go yet! So its roll on next week and in the mean time practice, practice, practice.............the sheep are going to be pretty fit by the end with all this rounding up going on!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Wow well yesterday turned out to be rather different to the norm. Jess was invited to meet The Prince of Wales when he visited Ouseburn farm which meant I was allowed to tag along as driver and escort!
She met the prince and we had a discussion about the grazing project and what it involved. Jess took it all in her stride and coped well with all the crowds and attention she received. I am not sure how much in awe she was at meeting the prince (I think she was more absorbed with the Jacob sheep in the field behind us!) but it was fantastic to be involved with the visit. A big thank you must go to the Ouseburn Farm for hosting the prince, the farm has come a long way over the past 3 years and is a credit to all those involved with the project. It shows what hard work and dedication and can achieve.

It's back to normal next week with Jess starting the second phase of her training. She has the basics quite well but now that she is eleven months old it is time for her to step up a gear and to show how good really can be. Time will tell!

Friday, 3 September 2010

We went across this morning and moved the sheep at Whittledene from the field they have been summering in back onto the aqueduct to start and graze there.
After they had been safely installed in their new home we went along and had a look at the section where they had grazed until the end of June.
It was quite a surprise to find it in full flower and just goes to show how intensive grazing at the right time can help flowering plants overcome the competition from grasses.

3 sept 10

The same part of the aqueduct in June. This picture was taken just after the sheep were sheared in the middle of June, they were moved off the following week.

3 sept 10 Looking back towards the gate where the above picture was taken in June.

3 sept 10. Another advantage of these plants flowering now is that they are providing a nectar source when the peak flowering time is usually past.

This is a Wall Brown butterly taking advantage of the late summer sunshine.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Jess is starting to work well now here she is having successfully gathered up some of last years shearlings most of which are now ready to sell to make way for those lambs born this spring. We tend to only keep the sheep until they are up to 2 years old. If we keep them too long we tend to find that they take more looking after and can have more problems with lameness etc. Because the quality of the grazing on many of the conservation areas is quite poor it is best use animals which are in their prime.

The weekend saw me collecting the first of this season lambs on Saturday.These are some Manx Loaghtans and a few Hebrideans form a breeder at Tow Law. These rare breed sheep will be used for some specialist grazing on Holy Island later this autumn.
My camera unfortunatley had a flat battery when I went to use it but some images can be viewed on this link.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Another damp August morning, even the cows are taking it easy. I think they feel that if everyone else is taking it easy and having holidays why should they rush around grazing!

Monday, 16 August 2010

I dropped in and had a look at the Soays on Powhill this morning. They are looking really well and settled there. I am not sure yet if they are having any impact on the bracken but there are signs that they are browsing the birch in places. It could do with a few more sheep on there but getting the balance right to ensure they have enough grazing when the site has as much bracken on is tricky. I will maybe add some more as the season progresses.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Jess is coming along well with her training. She has got the basics pretty well and can get the sheep all gathered up and into the mobile pen. Fortunately although she takes her work seriously she knows how to relax and doesn't take her work home with her!!

Friday, 30 July 2010

The conservation grazing season is starting to kick off in earnest now that the chicks have hatched and fledged and most plants have finished flowering. Over the last few days cattle have gone onto Weetslade country park and on to Druridge Pools. More will go onto Druridge pools over the next week to get the grass eaten down and to plunge up the edge of the pools for the migratory wildfowl that travel through the region in the autumn months. There is a slight change this year in that we are using Luing cattle instead of the Highlands which we have used over the last couple of years. Luings are a cross between a Highland cow and a Shorthorn bull and are a popular breed of cow used on Hill farms across northern England and Scotland.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

One of the great things about going around checking the stock is that you get to see so much more of the wildlife at different times of the day. Yesterday evening while out on Longhorsley moor I spotted a jay, a roe deer and unfortunately what looked like the remains of a woodcock. Presumably the latter was a UK resident that had fallen victim to a bird of prey or possibly even a youngster that had been nabbed by a fox. The feathers looked like those of an adult but I am not sure how quickly the fledglings get their adult plumage.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Last week I put 3 lots of sheep into one field. There are now 4 different breeds mixed together in there and it is quite interesting watching how different their behaviour is. Although they keep relatively close together when they are grazing they still keep in their distinct groups and quickly seperate out again once they are left alone. The rare breeds are also a little wilder and harder to gather than the Swaledales which themselves have a reputation for being a little wild compared to other breeds. I have seen a similar thing with some of the breeds of cattle that we use for our conservation grazing.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The soays have now returned to Pow Hill beside Derwent reservoir for the summer. They graze there through the summer months to help with the bracken control and to enhance the heathland restoration work that is being carried out. In the winter they graze other conservation grassland nearer the coast. They are quite shy creatures and behave a little differently to other sheep both in their grazing habits and their behaviour which can make rounding them up to move them a bit of a challenge!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

And yet more photos!

Yes the incentive of lunch was enough to get everyone back down again!

Thankyou to Stuart Nelson and his family for allowing us to visit and for taking the time to show us around. Even the weather was ideal, from the description of what it was like this winter I don't think a January visit is on the cards any time soon!

On Friday some of the community groups took advantage of the fine weather and visited Low Bleakehope farm at the top of the Ingram valley where the farmer kindly showed them around and explained how a hill farm with no flat ground operates and what is involved in raising stock in such remote areas.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Phew warm again today. We have sheared most of the sheep now with a few more to do tomorrow to finish. I'm sure they will be glad to get their coats off too. Hopefully it will sat warm for a few days afterwards too so they can acclimatise. They can't just pop their fleeces back on if they feel chilly!



Wednesday, 16 June 2010

One of the thing we use our grazing animals for during the summer is scrub control. This particular area has been grazed by Exmoor ponies to knock back a lot of scrub regrowth in the centre of a woodland. At one time this area was an open glade but it has slowly been lost to scrub over the years. Now that the scrub has taken a big hit this can be backed up with some annual late summer grazing which given time the this will open up the glade again for butterflies and other invertebrates.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Today I went to have a look at some new sites that will require grazing this winter. It seems a long time away yet but plans need to be made now to ensure that the animals are available when needed.
I took Jess with me so she could have a day out which proved to be a good idea. One of the sites consists of a large area of bog which were walking across, it wasn't much deeper that our ankles until all of a sudden Jess disappeared over her head! After scrabbling out and a quick shake she didn't appear particularly bothered, much less that I would have been anyway! I must remember to get her to walk in front of next time I am crossing wet ground! The downside was I had to share the car with a rather smelly dog for the rest of the day!
Any way we are off shearing tomorrow so back to rounding up sheep for her.............and not a bog in site!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

We vaccinated the our sheep against Blue Tongue Virus (BTV) yesterday. There are many different strains of the virus but only a vaccine against BTV1. Hopefully the other strains won't spread here from mainland Europe. It is spread from one animal to another by biting midges. These have been blown over from mainland Europe and brought the disease with them. However there were no new out breaks here last year and so hopefull y if we have another outbreak free year we will achieve 'disease free' status again.

Quick their escaping...........where's that sheepdog.............this ones a bit slow!
We had hoped to start shearing today but the wet weather has put paid to that. We can only shear them when the wool is dry otherwise it will rot in storage.
With any luck the weather will settle down soon so we can get on. Some years it is a question snatching every chance between showers which inevitably means shearing in the late afternoon and evening when the volunteers want to tucked up beside the bbq with a beer. Maybe they're the sensible ones!

Monday, 24 May 2010

The wildflowers on aqueduct at Whittledene are starting to come into bloom now that the weather has warmed up. Grazing the excess grass down in the late spring has let the light in and allowed them to flourish. One section is still being grazed, the idea being to summer graze one section each year giving a one year in four rotation to prevent any scrub and invasive species becoming dominant.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Jess had her first proper outing to gather some sheep yesterday. She has been getting along nicely with the 5 I have been using to train her in the training field. They had got used to being rounded up and her confidence is growing because they do what she asks them to!
We set off early to Holy Island where sheep had been grazing on the island over winter and more recently lounging in the paddock in front of the Barn at Beal. After a little false start she settled down and we soon had them penned and loaded and on the road back to the reserves at East Chevington.

I did try to get a picture of her on her feet going round the sheep but they all move far too quickly for my camera skills! We will shear them in a couple of weeks and then move them onto another grazing site for most of the summer.

One contented dog keeping an eye on proceedings.