crouchley hall farm

  • it must be Spring

    All of a sudden we’re through March and into April. People are already asking when the turkeys will be arriving and we’re still in the throes of lambing. The weather here is much wetter than we would like, so we’re doing our very best to keep the new lambs out of the mud and with access to a decent shelter. We put a good straw bed in the 10 foot livestock trailer and park it in the field with the ramp down. Most of the lambs love it but there’s always a splinter group that prefer to creep underneath the trailer to get out of the weather. Don’t ask me why, it’s a sheep’s prerogative to do the unfathomable.

    Lambing is different every year and the 2016 season is no exception. Wiltshire Horn sheep tend to have a single lamb at their first lambing and (usually) twins thereafter. Which is ideal. In the last 15 years I can only recall having 3 sets of triplets born – triplets are less than ideal as a ewe only has two teats – so far this year we’ve already got 3 sets of triplets and we’re only halfway through lambing. As we lamb indoors, our ewes can end up delivering their lambs closer to another ewe than they would choose given more room outdoors. One of my pet fears over the years has been that this close-quarter lambing could lead to mis-mothering and the wrong ewe and lambs being paired up, either by me getting it wrong or an over maternal sheep stealing a lamb away. I arrived at the barn the other morning to find my worst-case scenario: two ewes had delivered triplets at the same time. There seemed to be lambs everywhere and I had no idea which three lambs belonged to which ewe. The secret was to do nothing but stand and watch. A ewe will only have anything to do with her own lambs and chases off a lamb that doesn’t belong. So a few minutes careful observation showed me how the two families lined up and I could get each ewe settled in a pen with her own lambs and no interlopers.

    Another first for this season has been a lamb with contracted tendons. It looked fine when first born but as it started to totter about, there was obviously something wrong. Its front feet were folded back, so it had to try and walk on the joint, rather than its hooves. For some reason the tendons at the back of its legs were contracted and pulled on the hooves so that the poor little thing couldn’t straighten its legs to walk properly. Never had this before either but this time it was out with the reference books. They all agreed that this was a minor ailment and easily fixed. “All” we had to do was gently splint the back of his legs from below the knee to just behind the heel, so that the tendons extended and would begin to work properly. So that’s what we did. Little pieces of plastic pipe were light but stiff enough to work as splints. We raided our First Aid box for padding and surgical tape to hold it in place. Plus some bright red Vetrap, self adhesive bandage, to keep everything clean and in place. He was immediately better for being able to mix with the other lambs and get at the milk more easily. We changed the dressing every 24 hours to prevent chafing and check progress and after the first day things were even better and he was walking more normally without the splints, although still on tiptoe. By day 3 he was perfectly normal again. A good result all round and another new wrinkle learnt.

    We’ll be carrying on with one of my favourite annual events for another few days yet. To me there are few things in farming as satisfying as walking away from a successful lambing, with a contented ewe and healthy lambs secure in their own deep straw bed. I look forward to it every year and miss it as soon as it’s over. And the turkeys ? They’re not due until July.

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  • plan A for Christmas

    Leap Year day and you might expect that things at Crouchley have been quiet during February. Well they have outdoors but inside there's been a lot of pondering going on. There's a lot more planning involved in farming than you might expect - which animals to breed from - what to do with your grazing - when to buy hay or straw - you're constantly trying to plan ways to improve what you do. Of course there are a lot of things that you can't do anything about: the weather is the most obvious and it doesn't matter what we do but a ewe can't produce a lamb in anything much under 147 days. But there are things that you can tweak and alter and change and these are the things that affect our plans.

    The reason I'm writing about this is that I've just ordered our 2016 flock of KellyBronze turkeys from the Kelly hatchery. Planning for next Christmas in February does feel rather like wishing your life away, when we've not even started lambing yet but it's a feature of the slow farming methods we use to produce "proper" KellyBronze birds for Christmas.

    Our birds come to us in July when they're 5 weeks old. So they'll have to hatch in the middle of June. Turkey eggs take 28 days to incubate, which means our eggs will have to start incubating in the middle of May at the very latest and that's only 12 weeks away ! In fact, our eggs will probably be laid in the 3 weeks or so before the middle of May, then be carefully stored in controlled conditions, until it's time for them to go into the incubators. So that 12 weeks has just become 9 weeks. When you look at it like this, I'm almost at the last minute !

    Of course, we can't just put in a random order for "x" number of turkey poults. All our customers need Christmas turkeys of about the right size for their families & friends and being free range birds the weights that eventually come out of the field aren't always exactly what we would like but we have to do our best to come up with the right plan.

    Over the last 30 years the Kelly family have selectively bred from their original flock of the last few hundred bronze turkeys, so that today they have several strains of KellyBronze birds. All of them selected for quality of eating, a slow rate of growth and an ability to thrive out-of-doors on a natural cereal based feed without additives. So to plan our order for the poults that will become your Christmas turkey, we have to look at what everyone wanted last year, guess what they might want to order this year and then allow a few more birds here and there to allow for new customers.

    Whichever way you look at it, free range turkey farming is much more of an art than a science.

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  • a New Year's resolution

    Every year I start off with the sorts of intentions that pave the road to hell but 2016 is definitely going to be the year when I start to write this blog regularly ! It isn't really an excuse but the fact is that so much happens here day-to-day, that I tell myself I'm too busy dealing with "stuff" to write blog posts about it. This is me stepping back, making a bit of room and getting on with some blogging.

    So what happened here in January ?

    Well, the first job is always to send a New Year newsletter to our customers. We like to do it as a way of saying "thank you" and drawing our turkey season to a close for another year. Then we have to get down to the administration work that has to be done to actually make our turkey business happen. Not very exciting and definitely not glamorous but essential to keep things running. This even includes booking refrigerator hire for next Christmas.

    This January our outdoor jobs have been restricted by the rain. We've been far luckier than so many people - our little flood was just in a field and did no harm but it has delayed our dismantling the turkey shelter. It's been in the same place for the past two years, so we need to move it to fresh ground before this year's turkeys arrive. Better for the land and better for the birds. We've got the roof and sides off now, next job is to move the water and power supplies to the new site and then we'll move the frame. We have managed to take down our giant straw bale turkey on the A56 though - doesn't do to have your Christmas decorations up after 12th Night !

    As for our sheep, they started off 2016 with a whole flock dosing against liver fluke. It's a known problem where land floods from time to time and some of our ewes were showing symptoms. We had to gather them all indoors to keep them safe from fireworks on New Year's Eve anyway, so we medicated the whole lot at the same time. Other than that, they're just jogging along through the middle part of their pregnancies. Fed up with all this wet but at least they have free access to a shed with straw and hay whenever they want it. All we have to do is carry the bales to them every day while they watch and wait. W've just started feeding them as well in the run up to lambing, which is always a popular milestone.

    And that was our January. Wetter than we wanted and not as cold as we would have liked but at least we're getting things done - and blogging again

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  • and the winner is ...

    it's always lovely to give someone good news and we're very pleased to be able to offer our congratulations to Hilary Loy of Lancaster, who's ticket was first out of the hat.

    Hilary will be able to collect her 5kg KellyBronze Turkey from us here at Crouchley on our Sales Days, the 23rd & 24th December.

    sadly not everyone who entered our raffle at the North West Food Lovers Festival last weekend can win a prize but if you were an unlucky entrant and are still interested in one of our rather special birds there's still plenty of time to place an order - either online from this site or by using any of our contact details you can find here.

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  • more of an art than a science

    my apologies for failing to update the farm blog for SO long. Between various good and bad things over the past few months, it simply hasn’t happened. so, putting all that behind us, off we go again.

    it’s that time of year already and we’re taking orders for our KellyBronze turkeys again. only HOW MANY days to Christmas ? scary but our birds have been out in the field since early August and are doing really well in all this lovely weather. which is what I wanted to talk about.

    if you’re one of our existing customers who are appreciative of our slowly reared, free range birds, I’m sure that you already know that what we do is more of an art than a science. if you are a new reader considering one of our birds for the first time, please let me explain.

    the majority of “commercial” turkeys are reared as quickly as possible to reach the desired market weight. our birds are reared for much longer, until they reach maturity, because that way they achieve the proper flavour and “finish” that makes a KellyBronze Turkey such a special treat. and of course all our birds are truly free range. we pluck our birds when they’re at their best to eat – not as soon as they reach the required weight.

    now an animal that lives in the field, even with a shelter and bedding that it’s free to use whenever it wants, is subject to our wonderful British weather. so some of its food goes into growth and some of it goes into keeping the animal warm. it follows that the better the weather, the more feed is available for growth.

    even though we have a flock of mixed strains that should finish at around the range of various weights that our customers want, a good summer and autumn (like we had last year) can mean that they actually end up heavier than planned. we’re not going to stop that happening, because firstly we can’t and secondly it would mean they wouldn’t be as flavoursome.

    so I just wanted to explain this and ask that, particularly if you would like a smaller bird, you understand that the art of the possible may mean that your bird comes out heavier than expected. we will always do our best to meet our customers’ requirements, we just ask that you give us some wriggle room please.

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