First generation Farmer Gala is back with an Autumn update from Plaw Hatch Farm..

Autumn has well and truly arrived now with chill misty mornings and long dark nights. Most of our cows are in the big barns for the winter. The young stock, lighter on their feet than the milking cows, are still out finishing off what is left of the grass. Autumn calving has begun with Doris and Cindy calving in the last week. We have four heifers (first time mums) in the milking herd who will calve soon and we will need to teach them about the parlour. A frustrating but ultimately delightful process as they settle down to their new routines.

We currently have twenty-four piglets on the farm. Dakota had nine piglets a few months ago. Her sister Montana, who I had planned to keep as a breeding sow immediately became dangerously protective of her sister’s piglets. Sadly, I decided it would be unsafe to keep her with all the volunteers and children that spend time at the farm I couldn’t risk her biting someone. Izzy our saddleback sow had a rather disappointing but very cute litter of four piglets that are growing like crazy. The litter that were born in the spring are now six months and ready to start going to the abattoir, all part of the cycle of farm life as our younger piglets are growing and in need of more space.

Throughout the summer I moved the ewes and lambs weekly onto clean grass. “Clean” grass is grass that has not had sheep on for at least a year. This is a way of managing the numerous internal parasites that sheep are vulnerable to, particularly in their first year of life. This proved to be very successful although it has become more difficult to continue into September when I ran out of clean grass. I am experimenting with different management systems to try and beat the parasites. One group of larger male lambs I haven’t wormed at all, I wormed my ewe lambs after they got nematodirus and the smaller group of male lambs twice. I will continue experimenting with moving the lambs next week. Not even the vets have cracked it, but we must make attempts at managing sheep with minimal wormers as resistance in sheep flocks is becoming a serious problem and use of chemicals is not in line with our aims as a biodynamic farm. Having said that animal welfare is as ever my priority and regular tests are done to make sure the sheep are not carrying too high a worm burden if necessary I use conventional wormers.

We have now started the process of sending this year’s lambs to the abattoir to be butchered for the shop. I take four lambs in the morning every other week to the abattoir and return later in the day to collect the skins to take back to the farm to cure with salt. I am gradually dispatching the skins to the Organic Sheepskin Company where they will be processed into beautiful finished skins for the shop, the Jacob skins are particularly beautiful. We are never certain when the skins will return but if you are interested in being notified you can email me at gala@plawhatchfarm.co.uk

This autumn Deborah (my mum) and I have run three plant dyeing workshops. ‘Hedgerow Dyeing’, ‘Madder and Weld Dyeing’ and ‘Woad Dyeing’. With 100g of wool spun from the wool of our flock to dye each participant went home with an array of colours. It is a wonderful experience to dye wool spun from the fleece of our flock with plants gathered from the land where that flock grazed. We will be running more courses next year if you’d like to know about upcoming courses please email me gala@plawhatchfarm.co.uk

The other exciting news is that we have just bought thirty Romney ewes which brings our breeding flock to eighty-two ewes. Forty-two of these ewes have never lambed before so I’ll have a busy lambing season; maximum supervision minimum intervention! This is a one-time purchase as we are as a rule a closed flock. We usually only bring in rams. Three of the new Romney’s are black Romney’s, they have black fleeces with grey tips so I am interested to see what colour their lambs will be.

I attended my first livestock auction with Emile and Eelco of Hathor farm. Marie kindly helped me pick some rams out and I came home with a lovely Romney ram who has been called Romulus. I was feeling quite triumphant returning home with my new ram but was quickly brought back to earth as I found myself chasing him around the garden after he jumped out of his pen!

Pip is now 8 months old and has become more and more confident around the sheep. We are just back from a beginner sheepdog clinic in Shropshire. Pip is not quite ready to start her training in earnest and has “too much eye” this means her favourite thing is to get the sheep somewhere in a corner, lie down and eye them so that stay put. In moderation eye is a good quality in a sheepdog but too much makes it very hard to train them to gather the sheep. I am going to keep Pip completely away from the sheep for 6 weeks and then take her back to training. Fingers crossed she’ll be ready!

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