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News Blog

News and views from Caenhillcc

1st April 2015

Wow what a week it has been - and we’re only about half way through!. No, there’s no joke here. We have reached April, no fooling, and we are rushing through another week.

Life here at the farm has been fast and buzzing. The sun has appeared much more than we had been told but the strong winds have come along to try our strength and our patience.

A night of howling gales saw the polytunnel give in and start to flap around wildly. It was the middle of the night, not a good time to be out there wrestling with it all.  A rather sleepless night followed by a busy day,

young volunteerIt was good to see the group from Youth Action Wiltshire here to share their handy work and take part in farm activities. The rain stayed away so no-one went home covered in mud, but all were smiling and chatting all the way back.

Today they returned to show a group from the Inspire project how to make raised beds, how to work on the goose house. So many keen and happy faces all glowing with the fresh air and with pride at what they had achieved.

Extra bonus for them all, twin lambs born just before they arrived so a visit just had to happen. Also last night the alpaca arrived and nervously looked around his new area today. No name yet!

It was good to meet one of the team who showed great skills, leadership and support and had talked his way into getting a lift and returning to help for an extra day. Thank you.

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30th March 2015

new born lambSummer time has started, we are all looking forward to the summer weather joining in too. The sheep had arrived quietly a few days ago, and it seems they want to share their new field with some new little ones.

The ewe started to look ready for lambing, then it got complicated. She actually had triplets! A big call for the mother ewe. A little help was needed and a big learning curve for some. A challenging day in many areas of the farm. Nothing to worry about, just the chance for several of the team to meet the challenges head on.

The potato crop was expanding in the crop area, but the rain from the past few days had made the soil heavier still. No more bingo wings, we will all have such strong toned muscles soon.

It looked like rain so it seemed a good idea to move the newly delivered wood into a dry area.

The race was on, who could make the best wood stack?

Now what can the rest of the week throw at us? Let’s just say, we are ready!

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Our first lamb

our fiirst born lamb 2015It was the start of British Summer time which meant the weather was going to get worse. In fact it was wet, windy and cold but that did not stop the great news of our first lamb of the season being born at 12.09hrs on the farma little girl - mum doing well.. dad not bothered.... farmer soaked.. first words 'ba'. Amazing how quick the little lamb will get up and suckle  *smile*

Of course the animals are unaware of the clocks changing and their body clock is rightly the sun. So its the same getting up, feeding and this will only change as the days get longer and hopefully soon warmer!

 

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The sheep are here

The day began with a tingling frost and a touch of fog. It all became clear, there is a lot to do out there. The sun woke us all up and off we went.
As usual Pixie and Clover two of our goats had a good look around every part of the barn instead of joining Dot the lamb and the gang out in the field.
Now if you want a farm job done well,  get the team and and get on with it.
Sheep are coming in, so they need a safe field ready for them. All hands to the pump and it was done, all ready.  Even our youngest member today put in 100% to help set it all up.
The crop area had some great work there today - more seed potatoes planted and the dried out bramble and weeds was quickly disposed of.
We all ended the day glowing, buzzing and sharing tales. Good to share our smiles together too.

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Fresh start hens

It's been a long while since I posted a blog, I seem to have been taking more photographs. Chris suggested a blog piece on the rescue hens and I'm more than happy to oblige.

The first batch of rescue hens are almost unrecognisable from when they arrived back in the summer. They are bigger, browner, their combs are glossier and prouder, they are more adventurous and a whole lot more bolshy (anyone who's been enthusiastically pecked on boots or jacket can attest to this). During the day they have open access to the outside, at night they are kept sheltered, warm and away from foxes. They have strong appetites for both food and water and have grass every day. I make a regular paypal/cash donation in exchange for eggs, and lovely they are too. It's fantastic to know exactly where the eggs have come from, and to be confident that they are well cared for. The hens are doing really well and it's in large part due to the generosity of supporters who have sponsored hens and also given their time to get the hens used to being around people.

The second group of rescue hens arrived on Sunday with Di and Dave and are already starting to settle in nicely. They're in a separate quarantine area which helps them to build confidence in their new surroundings without any risk of bullying from the established brood. Sponsors are welcomed for these hens too - contact Chris or Helie via this site, Facebook or Twitter (or even phone!) if you'd like to help. You can see a short video of these hens arriving below. Have a look, you'll be able to see just how far the first set of rescue hens have come, with the generous support and sponsorship provided by friends of Caenhill.

Rescue hens arriving at Caenhill Countryside Centre.

It's worth saying that battery hens, as we used to know them, no longer exist in the UK due to changes in EU law. Hens now have a bit more space and slightly improved conditions known as enriched cages. However, hens that are kept in these environments still have a lifestyle that is a long way from free range hens. When hens come to Caenhill they may have lost many feathers from scrapping with other hens. They are not used to having water easily available and may just peck when they want to drink, as that's what they do in the cages. They've never seen a cockerel or daylight, nor their own eggs. Change comes fast though and they adapt well to improved conditions. Chris collected eggs from the new arrivals on Monday morning, just hours after they'd arrived.

 

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Countryside Centre Where you can learn so much

I have spent a lot of the day making sure we know what we are talking about. Our Introduction to Agriculture course which we have developed for Key Stage 1 & 2 pupils. which will be held here at the Caen Hill Countryside Centre.
The next stage is for Key Stage 3 & 4 with our Seed to Fork delivery.
We also have targeted work for NVQ and other accredited courses.
We have some great resources from NFU (National Farmers Union) - where Farming Matters. They have a very interesting website which tells you about farming and the countryside. have a look: http://www.agriculturesnetwork.org/farmingmatters
You may see things out in the countryside and wonder what it was, or why you saw it there. Visiting the site may help  you to find out a little more. Always good to learn something new every day.
Now at the Caen Hill Countryside Centre today, we have had some bold and bright winter sunshine. A cisp start with some ice around saw the deer trotting up the fields as soon as the sun rose. Even more came along once we had been out with the food. The birds really appreciate a little extra at this time of year.
While summer brings the colour, song and drama of the breeding season, winter is a great time to watch birds flocking together, sometimes in spectacular numbers.Why not learn a little more about our native birds here in the UK? Visit: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/features/winterflocks.aspx
The birds tend to change their habits in the winter. They are more likely to swoop around in large flocks and several different species in each group. As the night draws in they will head for safety in a barn, an empty building, swaying reeds or even a bare tree.

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Fresh start hens

It's been a long while since I posted a blog, I seem to have been taking more photographs. Chris suggested a blog piece on the rescue hens and I'm more than happy to oblige.

The first batch of rescue hens are almost unrecognisable from when they arrived back in the summer. They are bigger, browner, their combs are glossier and prouder, they are more adventurous and a whole lot more bolshy (anyone who's been enthusiastically pecked on boots or jacket can attest to this). During the day they have open access to the20141110-IMG 0581 outside, at night they are kept sheltered, warm and away from foxes. They have strong appetites for both food and water and have grass every day. I make a regular paypal/cash donation in exchange for eggs, and lovely they are too. It's fantastic to know exactly where the eggs have come from, and to be confident that they are well cared for. The hens are doing really well and it's in large part due to the generosity of supporters who have sponsored hens and also given their time to get the hens used to being around people.

The second group of rescue hens arrived on Sunday with Di and Dave and are already starting to settle in nicely. They're in a separate quarantine area which helps them to build confidence in their new surroundings without any risk of bullying from the established brood. Sponsors are welcomed for these hens too - contact Chris or Helie via this site, Facebook or Twitter (or even phone!) if you'd like to help. You can see a short video of these hens arriving below. Have a look, you'll be able to see just how far the first set of rescue hens have come, with the generous support and sponsorship provided by friends of Caenhill.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF0djDDk81Y

It's worth saying that battery hens, as we used to know them, no longer exist in the UK due to changes in EU law. Hens now have a bit more space and slightly improved conditions known as enriched cages. However, hens that are kept in these environments still have a lifestyle that is a long way from free range hens. When hens come to Caenhill they may have lost many feathers from scrapping with other hens. They are not used to having water easily available and may just peck when they want to drink, as that's what they do in the cages. They've never seen a cockerel or daylight, nor their own eggs. Change comes fast though and they adapt well to improved conditions. Chris collected eggs from the new arrivals on Monday morning, just hours after they'd arrived.

20141201-IMG 2652

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January. What can I say about January?

It was in February 2014 that I first emailed Helie Franklin, offering to volunteer with the centre. She diplomatically and gently replied that with much of the farm still under water there was limited scope for my help and encouraged me to get in touch again a bit closer to spring.

A year on, and this winter has been much kinder in that it's been rather warmer and rather dryer. For example, every single field on the farm is walkable this year. Last year you'd have needed waders and a dinghy to get onto several of the flooded fields. Even with drier fields though January is about building, feeding and waiting.

It's been a very long month in photographic terms, and I have especially cherished the visits that coincided with a heavy frost, new animals or birds or volunteers working on a specific tasks as they've provided extra variety for photography. The fields and hedges, which provided such fertile ground for photography and writing through spring and summer are almost in suspended animation. The wheat, sown last year, is holding its own in muddy fields that are still more brown than green. The hedges are bizarrely transparent in many places with far reduced foliage. I've seen one bud - on a bramble. There is no warm background hum from insects, though there is the odd bit of birdsong. On some days the traffic noise carries from the road and it's a long mental stretch to remember the bright days of summer or the golden days of autumn. I am thoroughly enjoying photographing the farm every week, even on the days when it's cold, wet and muddy and it's a real challenge to find new images to record. Luckily I've found some new pictures every week, but I'm really looking forward to spring and new growth! Since this is a family friendly blog I shall draw a discreet veil over the enthusiastic activities of the ducks who are making grand efforts to ensure the continuation of their line, but it's fair to say that I'm hoping for some duckling photos at some point. Can you imagine how cute an Emerson/Lemon cross would be?

This is not to say that the farm has been idle in January - far from it. The first month of the new year has seen animal and bird accommodation being created and refined. The inside of the barn has been cleared and tidied ready for the groups of people who will start arriving soon. Funding bids are underway. The large pond is filling well and is ready for planting on the banks - the geese love it. Ditches have been extended. Bees need regular checking and feeding if necessary. It won't be long before the weather and fields are ready for a new intake of sheep, and lambs will follow very soon after. The newest batch of rescue hens are doing well and are unrecognisable in terms of confidence from when they first arrived. As for the first batch of rescue hens - well I think you'd be hard put to guess they were ever anything other than happy feisty healthy creatures. Relationships continue to be cultivated and grown, it's wonderful to meet new people at Caenhill and then to see them come back again and again. There's a lot of work happens away from the fields and barn too - Chris is updating the website to a new version of Joomla! and also taking the opportunity to refresh and tweak the content. Helie is part-way through a one year course at the School of Social Enterprise which develops people who have social impact projects. Just between us I have no idea where she finds the time, but am very grateful that she does! She went through an intense selection process to gain her place, amidst lots of competition from candidates whose projects were more urban and city based. I think she did brilliantly and I'm sure her skills and passion will enthuse everyone lucky enough to work with her.

I'm planning to start a foundation course in photography after Easter. It seems fitting that after the project bought me to photography I'll be able to bring the project to a wider audience via photography. I'm also learning some Joomla!, along with Belinda, so that the website load can be shared a bit. After all, we all know that Helie and Chris are never short on ideas and plans, but they have the same number of hours in every day as the rest of us. If you would like to help, Chris tells me that they would very much appreciate donations of seed for the crop area, seed for the bee/flower area, fencing material and any old tools for the farm or building work. Thank you. I shall leave you with a shot of Lemon, having a good wash after a quick rendezvous with Emerson. It's shots like this that reassure me that there are always photos to be taken, no matter how frozen the ground and bare the hedges.

 

Lemon having a wash.

 

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New volunteer Kate visits the Countryside Centre and shares her experiences

The entrance to Caen Hill Countryside Centre is very easily missed. I did so, despite Project Manager Helie Franklin’s crystal clear directions. One moment of distraction to read a new road sign and there it was in my rearview mirror, one of those elusive little opportunities that only really appear once you pass them. I looped round and tried again, slowing and signalling as I approached the turning whilst hoping that the driver of the bus bearing down upon me had noticed my lack of speed. I took a hard slow left into what felt like a miniature lay­by, and a track opened up Harry Potter Platform 9 ¾­style to my left. On reaching the bottom of the track the sun finally broke through the morning’s rain clouds and Helie greeted me from the barn. I was relieved to hear that local residents of much longer standing have struggled to find the entrance, or even believe that it was there in one case!

“The Caen Hill Countryside Centre is a project which brings countryside learning to children, young people and communities. Located just to the west of Devizes near the Caen Hill locks and covers 70 acres of land.” I was there to see if I could add anything to their pool of volunteers, offering time and enthusiasm but precious little experience.  Luckily, it turned out that Helie needed someone to lend a hand blogging, so here I am blogging whilst we wait for fields to drain. The centre is at the start of a new phase of its life, and it’s an exciting phase.

The 70 acres of land has been farmed for a long time, but areas have been neglected over the last few years and there is a lot of work to be done. Much of this work has been delayed by the very poor weather over the last few months but a strong start has already been made. Chris Franklin’s father farmed here for decades, retiring in 2002. In today’s world, 70 acres is very small for a productive farm so the Franklins have adjusted expectations accordingly. Old fruit trees are being coaxed back into full life, and damaged fruit stored and fed to some very grateful hens. The remaining apples will go to Rowde Community Shop for sale. The dairy that last saw milk in the 1970s is being converted into a training centre and office, with an interaction centre to show the milking process. A barn stacked with hay stacks from last year’s hay and straw for bedding has plenty of sheltered usable space out of sun and rain. A disused silage pond will be cleared and reused as a pond for geese and ducks. Sheep will graze, orphan lambs will be nourished and there might even be alpacas batting their gorgeous lashes and making that weird alpaca sound. Wildflowers and nettles will be encouraged in support of the bees, whose hives enjoy some really quite special views.

Vegetables will grow, be harvested and nourish. Children will learn about our food and our farms,young adults will have the opportunity to contribute to the clearing and working of the farm, earn credits for qualifications, and be part of something truly remarkable. Adults can volunteer skills, time, equipment or attend the workshops and courses that run here. Helie’s commitment and vision are all­encompassing, from feeding the chickens to supporting disadvantaged young adults, to working towards the certifications that will allow these neglected acres to make a big difference to local communities.  Gangs of workers arrive on “day release” from employers such as banks and food producers, enthusiastically cracking on with the not to be underestimated amount of cutting, clearing and cleaning that precedes so much of the other work. Working on rain water handling is a priority too, with seven fields currently under water.

My appetite is truly whetted. I’d like my six year old to grow up with the same experience of and exposure to the rural environment that I had, growing up in Cornwall. I’m fortunate enough to have some time to give, and would welcome the chance to build some marketable skills at the same time (did you know there’s a green skills gap? http://press.rhs.org.uk/RHS­Campaigns/Press­

releases/Horticulture­­An­Industry­At­Crisis­Point.aspx ) If you’d like to know more, or can help with time or donations (everything welcome from boots and secateurs to vintage farming equipment) take a look here ­ http://www.caenhillcc.org.uk/ .

Kate

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