ON THE FARM...
Everyone, including our four children, thought we were mad when we moved to Hoopers Farm in 2002! It was towards the end of one of the wettest winters on record, the house leaked, the buildings were decrepit and the whole place needed a huge amount of work following years of decline.
Our first cows arrived that summer. We chose Sussex Cattle as they have evolved to graze the pastures of the area, without the need for supplementary feeding. Ours are exclusively pasture fed, eating the wildflower meadows from spring to autumn and preserved grass as silage or hay in winter. Some of our girls only have to look at a blade of grass to get fat! They are docile and easy to handle, though to quote the late Terry Allman “You can’t hurry a Sussex”. As our herd is pedigree, any females not needed by us as replacements are sold for breeding. The steers generally mature when they are around two years of age when they take the short journey to the local abattoir, four miles away. The lack of stress at this stage is important, not only for their welfare but can impact on the quality of the meat.
Sheep first made an appearance with the sock lambs our children used to rear, purchased from local farms who were delighted to pass on the hard work involved in looking after them. I was once stopped by someone who recognised Chloe as the little girl who took her lambs for a walk on a lead! One of our lambs even starred in a TV commercial.
In 2009 we took over the Tarka flock of pedigree Dorset Down sheep, built up by Fay Dumbreck since 1976. These are renowned for their delicious lamb and the pure bred lambs are always the first be ready for us to offer as New Seasons Lamb. We use our Dorset rams with the pedigree ewes and also with our other flock of Mule ewes to give that Dorset flavour. All our ewes are pregnancy scanned and mothers expecting twins and triplets get a bit more TLC.
Having been in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme since 2003 until it was superseded our farm is now in its replacement, the Environmental Stewardship Scheme. We have planted/ renovated over 1km of hedges, removed countless rusting machines (eight muck spreaders from one patch of brambles alone), cleaned out the pond which had load after lorry load of rubbish which had to be taken away…. the list goes on and on. We don’t spread any artificial fertilisers on our fields, relying on good old farm yard manure to provide nutrients for the grass. All our fields are permanent pastures and we take care with our grazing to protect the swards and the traditional meadow flowers and grasses which help to make our meat taste so good.
In 2011 we installed 72 solar panels onto the roof of our cattle shed. The panels provided plenty of entertainment when they were first commissioned-we were always rushing to the meter shed to see how much they were generating.
We have also have installed a woodchip boiler which supplies heat and hot water for our house and to our new heated workshop. We chip wood from the coppices on the farm and also use locally sourced waste wood. It is satisfying to finally have a good use for the low grade timber. Until now it has not been viable to coppice the ancient woodlands on the farm as there was little demand for the produce. It’s lovely to smell wood smoke rather than oil fumes.
Recently we have started to welcome young people to the farm who are struggling with some aspect of their life, be it lack of confidence, being bullied at school, a disruptive home life or any of many other reasons. Being included in our Farming Family in the calming surroundings at Hoopers Farm and joining in our day to day activities is proving to be of great benefit, providing opportunities for team work, social interaction, and communication and building resilience while joining in to help in everyday farm tasks and essential animal care.
To add to the excitement of 2018, we recently hosted JB and the team from CBBC's Down on the Farm. Some of the Dorset Down flock were very keen to get on camera with JB, even if it was just to get some food!
We realise how privileged we are to live in such a beautiful environment. Many enjoy walking and riding through our farm on the bridleways that transect it but we are lucky enough to live here.