Category Archives: Farm

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Countryfile and Harvest

Chiltern Open Air Museum to Feature on the BBC’s Countryfile

On the 19th September the BBC’s Countryfile visited the Museum to find out more about Harvest and its traditions.

At the heart of the Museum is a working historic farm with arable fields and livestock that is run (as much as possible) using traditional methods and equipment. The farm has the equivalent of two full time staff and is supported by a large team of wonderful volunteers.

Countryfile Filming at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Countryfile presenter, Helen Skelton, interviewed the Museum’s Farm Team to find out how they restored a beautiful pink 1947 Ransomes threshing machine and the role the machine would have played in farming history.

The programme also features our apple orchard, where each tree is a different heritage variety. Helen chatted to volunteer, Keith Baggaley, about the different types of apple and how they are harvested and then pressed into apple juice that is then sold at the Museum.

Apple orchard at COAM

Our red tin chapel, from Henton, was decorated in beautiful straw plait sculptures made by straw plaiters and volunteers, Heather Beeson and Veronica Main. Helen chatted to Veronica about the art of straw plaiting and the important part it played in a traditional Harvest.

Helen Skelton and the Countryfile crew were absolutely lovely to work with and really friendly and genuinely interested in the work that the team here do.

You can watch the show on BBC iplayer

Straw Sculptures


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Museum Inspires Author

Vix J Cooper, known as workshop leader and farm volunteer Jane at the museum, talks about how her time at COAM gave her inspiration when writing her book Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed. She says…

My senses are always given a treat by the wonderful landscape at COAM through the different seasons. This, plus time spent in the buildings, listening to visitors recounting their past experiences, and having a go at traditional technology and techniques is not only informative but inspires some of my writing too, such as regarding the impact of WW2 and traditional washing methods.

It feels a privilege earning the trust of the museum’s animals and getting to know their particular habits, likes and dislikes. The cats are usually the first to greet me when I’m on feed duties. They’re nicer than the cat in my story Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed, despite them crunching rabbit by my feet in Borehamwood! The cows tolerate my random singing when I’m grooming Clementine, and the hens normally respond to my clucks. Often, after I’ve finished a morning feed, I’ll sit on the step to Borehamwood with a cuppa and watch the birds and clouds, rain or sunshine dancing across Hill Farm barn roof, or fallen leaves racing around the site.

Lambing by moonlight is magical with shadows of the clouds, trees and animals roaming. I’ve learnt to work out “who goes there” from the different eye shapes glinting and moving across the site for farm and wild animals. The quiet of the night amplifies masticating mouths, rumbling stomachs and belches of the sheep, as well as the hooting of owls and barking of deer. My own family groan when I, or the car, reek of iodine and worse when it’s lambing time. Post-midnight showers can become almost routine before crawling into bed after lamb – or kid – late shifts. While the ewes are reliably well-behaved, the same can’t always be said of the goats who can have me doubling up with laughter over their antics: Dotty refusing to go in the field so we engage in a tug of war with me holding onto her horns and her walking backwards; Crystal taking me for a walk, dragging me at the end of her lead or standing up on her back legs to eat foliage up a tree; and Dora climbing in the wheelbarrow I’m trying to get out of the field after refilling the hay feeder.

With many Coopers in the world, I added Vix to J Cooper because I admire foxes for their adaptability and I thought Vix, short for vixen, would be different. I originally wrote Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed for children aged nine and above, but adults do buy it and anyone connected to the museum may just enjoy reading it to discover what and who inspired some of my characters and bits of the storyline. I’m currently writing a follow-up with the main character Hugo. I’ve also written a story, aimed at 3-7 year olds and currently with my illustrator, which should be published about September time. Traditional landscapes, plus my roles as workshop leader and forest school practitioner were certainly influential for this book. I’m restless if I go a day without writing, and special places such as COAM both sooth and exhilarate me.

Crazy Pets and secrets Revealed can be ordered from Amazon & other bookshops.

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No Lambs This Year – Just Kidding!

With the cold and wet weather, it’s been a challenging winter and early spring on the Museum farm. But our spirits have been kept up by the exciting news of this year’s planned new arrivals.

Winter arrived early this year when it turned up unannounced last year by gate crashing autumn and refusing to go away until the spring. It certainly tested the farm staff and volunteers’ resolve. But winter has its benefits for those of us still on site during this period when the Museum is closed to visitors.

A ghostly calm descends on the site. Walking around feels like a privilege when few people are about as just the staff and mostly farm and building volunteers continue working at this time. With the low winter sun or when gloomy mists descend, the eerie atmosphere can help you imagine yourself being transported back in time.

Winter is a vital time to conduct maintenance and those jobs that are best done at this time of year. But is a challenging time for the Farm Manager and his team, trying to complete seasonal and essential work before the Museum re-opens in the spring. A long list of must do projects are interrupted by the ongoing problems associated with any farm or estate coping with winter weather.

And this winter certainly directed a lot of ‘traditional’ winter weather at the Museum with long cold periods complemented by freezing winds and snow. But the farm team and volunteers just got on with the work as best they could.

One particular day to remember was clearing Blackthorn that was shading out a hedge that was in the process of being laid. Whilst many people across the South and East of England stayed put in their homes that day, three of us volunteers battled on in sub-zero temperatures to get the clearing done. And even though the weather was spiced up by a biting wind and heavy snow showers, it was still better than being stuck in indoors!

And then came spring and the Museum opened just before Easter. But as you probably remember, the heavens opened and the already sodden ground became even more saturated. The Great Missenden Food Event that had moved to the Museum site for Easter, that everyone was so looking forward to, was rained off.  The mud devoured anything that ventured on to the site’s fields. It took weeks to remove all that was stuck or buried.

This of course put more strain on the farm team which had to deal with the aftermath. The situation was helped by a local farmer who kindly brought in his modern farm equipment to speedily restore and seed the damaged fields.

But then the weather gradually improved with some fantastically warm and sunny days on which visitors could enjoy their visit. So it was all looking good for the Museum’s popular Enchanted Evening event, when low and behold, the heavens opened for the duration. But that is British weather for you and the many brave visitors still enjoyed themselves.

So what about the main event of the spring when we are all cheered up after winter by frolicking lambs being about the Museum? Visitors, staff and volunteers alike were disappointed that there were to be no lambs this spring. Spare a thought for poor old Daryl the ram who did not have the autumn he expected!

But sound operational reasons meant it was not practical to manage lambs, but they should be back next year.  And Daryl? He has been kept occupied by his two (delinquent) sons from last year’s lambs that have been practicing challenging to become top ram in the paddock.

However, there was good news on the animal breeding front as the goats, Crystal and Beverly, are expecting kids due anytime from late May. This was the result of the girls having been sent away for their first goat 18-30s type holiday during the Christmas and New Year period.

Goats can have up to three kids, so there could be six. Three to four healthy animals is more likely and would be ideal. However the thought of three additional Crystal offspring following in their sometimes feisty mum’s habit of butting the daily goat walker could liven up the routine even more!

So keep an eye on the Museum website, Twitter or Facebook for news of the goats. And come and visit the Museum farm to meet them once they have arrived.

So whilst the goats have experienced the ups and downs of mothers to be, the ewes have enjoyed a more relaxing winter for once. The new calf you may have seen last year has settled in well and is now nearly as big as Clementine. The harsh winter affected them as snow and strong winds caused damage to their temporary cow shelter with the tarpauling roof being literally torn off on occasions. A more permanent shelter is another project for this year.

Some tree damage also added to the additional winter work, but on the positive side, this provides material for use around the Museum, particularly for firewood.

One of the planned winter projects was to start coppicing and woodland clearance work. Hazel close to the Iron Age building has been coppiced and the materials used to repair the fencing around it. This has opened up the view across the woodland, where other coppicing and clearance has started and will be progressed next winter.

Work has also started on developing the ‘bodgers’ area in the woodland near Aborfield Barn to showcase more green woodworking facilities and the area will feature in this summer’s  Rural Life event when traditional woodland crafts will be demonstrated.

Let’s hope for a pleasantly warm and sunny summer for visitors to enjoy the Museum. Just a little rain for the grass and crops though please!

Written by Julian Stanton, Farm Volunteer

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Tractors, Tractors and Tractors

As you may have guessed from the blogs title, there is something I have become very fond of whilst being here at COAM……. TRACTORS!

Having very limited experience on tractors, but a keen interest since from when I can remember, I made a tractor driving course high on my priority. I attended a two day course at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester were I obtained my tractor driving and machine handing certificate. With my main interest in tractors of an older generation I was much unprepared when meeting what I thought was nothing short of a spaceship.

Fortunately my instructor on the course was also interested in older tractors and would often refer to them during the training. Over the two days I was able to understand the controls needed for most jobs from simple driving to using powered implements on the PTO (power take off).

Since then I have been very fortunate to use my skills during the process of planting of this year’s wheat. I was able to use a harrow after it had been ploughed, which is essentially breaking the bigger clods of soil into smaller ones. I was then able to harrow after the wheat had been sown to disperse and bury it and then roll it to complete the process.

A personal favourite of mine is the Fergusson TE35 we have on site. A brilliant little tractor and a real classic example of extraordinary agricultural engineering of times gone by.

A new additional to the farms supply of work horses is on the small size, in the shape of a Kubota B1620 which at its rather “cute”, size its ideal for jobs like getting through the woodlands narrow paths and transporting fire wood. A handy extra is the tipping trailer which we brought with it, meaning we can load and tip all sorts of things from brushwood to gravel.

I really do appreciate how vital a tractor is to running a farm, especially when seeing Rob working the heavy horses on site. It’s a reminder of the extraordinary extra amount of work that was involved before the introduction of tractors.

Written by Josh Hayes
HLF Farm and Site Trainee

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10 things that you might not know about COAM

Amersham prefab at COAM

10 things that you might not know about Chiltern Open Air Museum

  • The Museum has seen an increase of over 90% in visitors over the last 4 years!
  • Over 21,000 school children visited the Museum for school workshops in 2017.
  • The Museum has over 200 active volunteers and we couldn’t run without them.
  • The Museum has 14 buildings in store waiting to be reconstructed on the site, we just need to raise the funds so that we can do this.
  • The 14 buildings in store are all stored flat packed within Glory Mill, which is one of our historic buildings. It’s like our own historic Ikea!
  • The Museum is a charity and any profits go back into the Museum so that we can continue the valuable conservation work that we do.
  • The Museum currently only has 7 full-time members of staff, 8 part-time members of staff and 2 Heritage Lottery Funded trainees. Due to the increase in visitor numbers mentioned in point 1, this will be changing for 2018 so keep an eye on our vacancies page if you’re interested in joining our team.
  • The Museum’s farm was used for filming in series 2 of Downton Abbey.
  • The Museum has been used for filming 35 TV programs/dramas/films since 2011.
  • Our buildings are named after the place that they were rescued from.

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Stooking and Spooking and other Farm Activities

Things have been settling down on the Museum’s farm since the summer although the harvest and Halloween events kept the COAM team busy.

The new Farm and Site Manager, Alaric, is settling in well and formulating some exciting plans for the farm, meadows and woodlands for the future.

It has also been quiet, not literally though, on the animal front with no recent comings and goings. The calf is growing up quickly and the lambs are now almost indistinguishable from their mothers.  Daryl the ram has gracefully accepted, if you can use graceful when referring to him, the two ‘trainee rams’ from this year’s lambs. Although still top ram, the trainees are getting noticeably more assertive but accept being put in their place by Daryl.

Goats at Chiltern Open Air Museum

The Old English goats continue in their unpredictably eccentric and often amusing behavior – that is as long as it does not involve horns and walks! They have been enjoying the meadow next to the Toll House since mid-summer. Its fallen tree provides a great climbing frame and the variety of vegetation provides much to munch.

The morning walk from their night time farmyard quarters to their field is now often a rush to get there quickly. This does not however help with the route hedge maintenance leaving more for the staff and volunteers to do.  But it does reduce the time and opportunity for them to misbehave on route.

One of the bigger events of the year for the farm is the Harvest Festival weekend. The 1940s threshing machine was dusted down and carefully prepared by the farm artefacts team for demonstrations of how the harvest was done in the past. The nearly as old Fergusson tractor was set up to provide the power to run the thresher and the recently restored binder linked up to the reverse of the threshing machine.

Farm and Site Manager Job

Visitors who attended one of the two days were able to watch demonstrations of how the threshing was done from the days of steam through to the 1950s. Stooks of wheat prepared in the fields when harvested were fed into the thresher to separate the grain from the straw. The grain is sacked up whilst the straw was deposited into the binder.

Halloween has become the finale of the Museum’s season and is the busiest event of the year with 2000 plus, mainly young visitors descending on the site during a madly exciting few hours.

The evening is a hectic and stressful time for staff and volunteers. However it is worth it for the pleasure it brings to many of our more junior visitors who have a great time enjoying the crafts and experiences of Halloween, as well as many tasty treats whilst also being scarred witless, along with many parents it has to be said, enjoying the scary walks.

The farm team have responsibility for preparing the spooky walks as well as getting the barns ready for activities. The animals also have to be moved to suitable locations where necessary as the object is not to spook them!

So after the excitement of Halloween, a calm of sorts descends on the Museum with only the educational groups of school children continuing to visit for another month or so before the Museum’s final event of the year, the Victorian Christmas on 2/3 December.

It will not be quiet on the farm though as there is much winter work to be done before the Museum fully opens next spring. Hedgelaying will resume as wildlife dictates that this must be a winter activity. There is work to be done in the woodlands including path scrub clearance and maintenance ensuring a safe passage for visitors.

There is also plenty of scrub and tree clearance to be done in other parts of the woods. This is a necessary part of woodland habitat management and will also allow more suitable tree species to be planted where appropriate.


This type of work is time consuming and cannot easily be done with visitors present. The farm team were recently helped by an enthusiastic group of volunteers from Robert Bosch who swapped their desks for a day in the fresh air to help start the clearance of a large area of scrub. Even with heavy rain stopping play for an hour or so, they achieved a lot which has been a great help.

So when you are warm and dry inside your workplace, school or curled up at home during the day in front of the fire, just bear a thought for the farm team who will be hard at work outside in the cold and wet this winter – loving every minute of it!

Written by Julian Stanton
COAM Farm Volunteer

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A Summer of Change on the Farm

There have been happy and sad times with comings and goings on the Museum farm this summer.

To start on a happy note, a calf came to the farm early in the summer to give Clementine the cow company. Both reddish brown, they can be seen at this time in the paddocks close to the farmyard. Clementine and the calf are getting along well together.


With the birth of the Oxford Down lambs in the spring, grazing capacity was being pushed to its limit as numbers of sheep approached 50, far more than the Museum farm really has the space for. This was due to the delay in the departure of the Hoggets who finally left early in the summer followed by some of the ewes who were surplus to the farm’s needs.

More recently some of this year’s lambs have departed as well as Gordon the ram. You may have seen Gordon, with his buddy Daryl, in the paddocks around the farm hoping for an ear rub from a visitor. Gordon may well be pleased when he finds out that his new role will be to keep the ewes happy at his new home this autumn – as long as he can cope with so many ewes for company!


This left his pal Daryl with no one to boss around – but only for a very short time. Two of the rams from this year’s lambs have recently joined him. They are getting on fine even though Daryl is happily putting them in their place as they attempt to be assertive.

On the human front, the farm has also seen staff changes with a number of comings and goings. July saw the arrival of the Heritage Lottery funded farm trainee Josh Hayes who replaced the departing Lindsay Rule who came to the end of her 18 month traineeship. This lottery funded position, of which Josh will be the last trainee, has been a much welcome opportunity for the Museum in providing essential support for the farm manager. The post is an excellent opportunity for a young person to learn not only about farming and estate management, but also gain experience in an environment with visitors as well as how to manage and work with us volunteers.

Finally, Conway Rowlands, the farm and site manager for 15 years decided to move on to fulfill one of his dreams away from the Museum. Conway was at the forefront of many of the farm developments bringing in many positive changes over the years.

Conway has been replaced by Alaric Bowler who brings some exciting fresh thinking to the farm and estate management role with new ideas to enhance the visitors’ experience. Alaric is finding his feet and developing his plans and visitors will see some of these developments next year.

Just to update regular readers of the farm blogs. The chickens are happy now having full freedom of their pen to peck around all day following DEFRA restrictions keeping them locked up earlier this year. And the goats? Well Crystal can be just as badly behaved as ever on her walks!

By Julian Stanton Farm Volunteer


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New 2017 Farm and Site Trainee

Hi my name is Josh and I’m the new farm and site trainee. I am coming to the end of my first month at COAM and what a month it’s been. Over the past two years I’ve been studying a countryside management course which focused on wildlife and conservation, but I always have had a passion for agriculture specifically livestock which I’m really looking to get stuck into and hopefully learn as much as I can about. This picture to the below shows me with one of our resident rams, Darrell who is the father of this year’s lambs and a favourite of mine. In the future I would love to work with sheep and from the traineeship I hope to gain the skills to be able to do this.

Josh-and-lamb-COAMAnother side of farming which I have had a chance to have a go at is the hay making process. The picture to the below shows me in the process of making a haycock which are made in order to create an egg like shape which will protect most the hay from bad weather or even morning dew. Having done nothing with arable farming before this was a new for me and was quite an experience as it was a blisteringly hot day.


Something which has been one of my highlights of the month is being able to make two hurdles as shown in the picture. I have been involved with greenwood craft for just over two years now and so I know some basics but I had not made a hurdle before. These are used on the farm exactly the same as modern metal hurdles to pen up sheep when we want to do something with them, for example when we put them in the foot bath. They were traditionally used in the process of folding sheep which meant a shepherd could move his flock to different sections of fields along with his shepherd van.


Overall my first month at COAM has been brilliant and I’m very excited to see what I will learn throughout my 18 months.



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Lambs Find Hidden Meadow – And Worming!

Galloping Sheep

If you visited the Museum in the spring and walked in the Hidden Meadow, you would have enjoyed the proliferation of spring flowers. The meadow is however, an important grazing area for the Museum’s sheep and the Museum’s farm staff and volunteers spent much of the winter reducing the invasive scrub cover and erecting or repairing stock fencing. So the ewes with this year’s lambs have now moved into the Hidden Meadow to give other grazing areas a rest.

The impact of this is that the vista of wild flowers may not be as splendid for a while as the sheep munch and trample their way through the meadow. However, this is an important part of meadow management and grazing the sheep will help keep unwanted scrub growth under control which will help ensure future re-growth of meadow plants so we can enjoy the flowers again in coming years.

Properly managed grazing is essential for the health and welfare of the sheep whilst helping to maintain an appropriately rich variety of wildflowers amongst the grasses. The Hidden Meadow has not been grazed for over a year and it is this practice that helps to encourage wildflowers to thrive, whilst also providing time for vegetation born parasites that can be harmful to sheep, to die out.

Parasitic nematodes, spread through infected sheep faeces, can be a problem for flocks as the parasites migrate to the meadows grasses and plants. The sheep then ingest the parasite when grazing and the cycle continues if not dealt with effectively.

When moving sheep to pasture not grazed for over one year, it is firstly good management to ensure the sheep go there parasite free. However, it is also important to provide protection just in case any parasites have survived.

Prior to the flock being moved to their new home for the summer, it was necessary to protect each ewe and lamb, as well as the two rams which are grazed separately, with protection through applying an oral worming treatment. A nice job for the farm manager Conway Rowlands until he suggested that it would be helpful if some volunteers could also learn how to carry out the treatment. The fun of volunteering!

Three of us volunteers were happy to get involved. This required the application of the worming treatment solution by using a drench gun to dispense a measured amount on to the back of the animal’s tongue. This is where the fun started!

Being able to explain to children as to why they should take medicine gives you half a chance of success and this may work with some adults as well! But as the farm’s Oxford Down sheep have yet to make any serious attempt to properly learn the English language and to be fair, nor have the farm team been bothered to learn sheep speak. Therefore, you cannot reason with the sheep as to why you want to shove a drench gun in its mouth and ask it to behave reasonably whilst doing so.

The worming process is probably a straightforward task for the experienced sheep farmer, but for a volunteer doing it for the first time, an interesting challenge. So the task in hand required the capture of every ewe, lamb and err, the rams! Without a sheepdog in sight, this may have proved tricky. But with the rattle of the feeding bucket carried by the farm manager, the ewes and most lambs obligingly followed him pied-piper like into a holding pen joined by the rest of us rounding up the stragglers from behind.


It was then time to catch the ewes one by one, followed by the lambs, and administer the appropriate amount of wormer whilst ensuring it was all swallowed.  The animal was then marked with a dye to ensure it did not get a second dose.

The ewes were wary as they had past experience of worming. As it was the first time for three of us volunteers, we decided that one person would catch the sheep and hold it securely whilst another would administer the dose and the other apply a marking spray to indicate job done.

The first sheep were not too difficult to capture as there was plenty of choice to be able grab one who was due the wormer. It became harder as the number of waiting candidates reduced and they would try and hide. The trick was not to let the target sheep think it was next as it would try and keep well away from you. So not looking directly at it and seemingly aiming for another animal whilst quickly and carefully changing direction and grabbing at it when it thought you had not noticed it worked well. This large breed of sheep certainly had the strength to put up a bit of a fight, well more of a frantic wriggle, but then quickly settled in most cases to receive the inevitable.

The lambs were by far the easier to hold still, even though they did not stop wriggling. Their speed, agility and ability to squeeze through small gaps between the other animals made it interesting.

The wormer dose was applied to the back of the animals tongue with the head slightly elevated to encourage swallowing. Squeezing the drench gun nozzle into the mouth was not too difficult whilst holding the sheep’s head firmly in position. But once achieved, the sheep would chew on the nozzle therefore keeping fingers away from the mouth was essential in order to complete the task with a full complement of digits! Marking the sheep was the easy part, but the three of us alternated the tasks to get experience of the whole process.

And then it was the rams turn. A more daunting task against two very strong brutes that seem to growl more than bleat! One ram had history of clearing the height of the fence when a previous catch had been tried. This time they were mere pussycats, although two of us holding them made it easier.

Visitors can still visit the Hidden Meadow which is on one of the Museum’s walking routes. It is always a nice area, whether grazed or not. And the sheep – they were none the worse for their experience and all but the two rams are enjoying the fresh and plentiful pasture in the Hidden Meadow.





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A Volunteer’s Introduction to Lambing Time

Lambing time at COAM

The image of fluffy playful lambs prancing around fresh meadows on a sunny spring day whilst their watchful mums nibble at the grass amongst the early spring flowers, is an image implanted on many country lovers and townies minds alike.

At the Museum, lambing is one of the events of the year for many visitors, staff and volunteers alike.  Although the Museum’s farm is not intended as a petting farm as at some farm attractions, visitors enjoy seeing the animals in an historic farm situation. And during the lambing weekend last May, visitors were able to see the ewes and their lambs in the traditional lambing fold as those once used by Chiltern farmers over many generations.

As a more recent farm volunteer, 2017 was to be my first full experience of the lambing season. Along with other volunteers, I would have a small part looking after the ewes and their lambs. I sensed as the year progressed from winter to the early days of spring, that amongst some of my fellow volunteers there was a noticeable period of increasing excitement as lambing time fast approached!

The nice thing about volunteering at the M­­­useum is:

  1. You can do as little or much as you like or are able to do. You can choose not to get involved in particular tasks that you might not enjoy or feel capable of doing. Great, no expectation to get involved with lambs being born at 3.00am then!
  2. However, you are encouraged to have a go at most things if you wish. Try something different and even go outside of your comfort zone if you feel adventurous. Uh oh! But fortunately, no encouragement this year for me to help with the birth of lambs at 3.00am or any other time.

The farm manager, Conway Rowland takes on the midwife duties as well as making night-time farm visits to check all is well. So a very sleep deprived Conway is glad that his team of volunteers can help out with other lambing duties as well as the routine farm jobs that must be done.

Lambing talk around farm gets going in March with discussion about when the first lamb will be born and more importantly, what should it be called (decided by a naming competition to raise funds).

But for farm manager Conway, lambing has been on his mind all year, in fact from the very moment the first of the previous year’s lambs were born. This is because he will assess lambs to determine which ones will be most suitable for breeding from.

lambing at COAM

The farm’s sheep are Oxford Down, a rare breed that was once commonly found in the Chilterns. Hence in order to help ensure the breed survives well in to the future and the farm’s own flock is fit and healthy, a couple or more of the lucky boy lambs will be kept uncastrated to develop into rams, either for tupping (mating) with the farm’s ewes or to be sold on to another flock owner to help keep the Oxford Down gene pool healthy. Conway will also be looking out for suitable rams from other flocks to introduce in to the farm’s stock.

Tupping takes place in the autumn.  From then on Conway will ensure the ewes get the right diet and environment to graze on to ensure the flock produces healthy lambs.

Last winter was a time for Conway to consider grazing requirements for the sheep and their lambs. It is not preferable to use the same pastures as used the previous year because of the risk of harmful parasites that can prevalent in those used by the sheep. By leaving these fields sheep free for a year or more can help reduce the risk of sheep being infected.

Putting up fence posts at COAM

So volunteers spent much time during the winter clearing scrub from under-utilised fields and replacing old fencing providing usable fields to increase the sheep grazing options.

The next task was to prepare the lambing fold ready for the new born and their mums. The lambing fold had been partially occupied by the museums two goats whilst their usual pen was removed whilst filming took place around the farm’s barns for a recent TV drama. The lambing fold, which includes a central area surrounded by individual pens, had to be thoroughly cleaned and repaired before it could accommodate the ewes.

Seventeen lambs were born over a number of weeks through April. During this period, volunteers helped keep watch on the lambs through regular checks day and night, particularly important for lambs in their early days. It was also important to ensure they were feeding from their mother and keeping healthy. Full marks to this year’s ewes as no lambs needed bottle feeding!

Lamb feeding at COAM

As weaning of the lambs commenced feeding time became a battle as the lambs greedily tucked in to the twice daily feed with the ewes. Over indulging young lambs would foam at the mouth and suffer a little later if allowed to eat too quickly. So to slow their eating pace and aid their digestion, it was necessary to battle through the feeding mothers to restrain the lambs from over indulging. Not an easy task as the ewes battled for space to feed, pushing any humans out of the way. The lambs then found plenty of gaps to dart in an out and avoid capture! As long as they were feeding from their mothers, it did not matter if they did not eat too much. It was more important to ensure the ewes got their fill in order to feed their growing offspring.

The ewes and their lambs were allowed to move from the lambing pen during the day to pasture allowing their mums to graze. Due to the exceptionally dry early spring, grass near the lambing fold was at a premium. So a number of excursions to richer pastures a little further from the lambing fold had to be organised during the day. This added to the entertainment as the ewes and their lambs were moved across the site whilst staff and volunteers were kept busy encouraging lambs, sometimes a day or so old, to go with their mums and not drop behind, or to stop the older lambs from going off exploring the exciting new world.

The lambs are quickly growing up and now no longer return to the lambing fold. As they are growing up, they still get into mischief as do any youngsters. With the rain finally arriving in May, the fields quickly returned to life providing the sheep with plenty of luscious grazing. Feeding the ewes and their lambs with the special food supplement gets more interesting as not only does the person feeding get mobbed by the ewes, but also by now by lambs that are getting bigger and stronger by the day.

As a volunteer I have learned and enjoyed much about the work involved around lambing. I have tried to keep objective about the whole process and avoid getting attached to lambs as it is easy to do. Unexpectedly, it has been the ewes that I became more attached to as they came to me for attention whilst doing chores around them. Some seemed to enjoy a nose or ear rub and maybe seeing them suffering in their pregnant state during the warmer days of early spring attracted my sympathy.

COAM Sheep

So as the year moves on and the lambs progress to being called hoggets (sheep aged less than one year that have yet to be sheared), I shall watch development of the flock with interest. Some will be sold on during the year, making space for next year’s arrivals, whilst others will remain on the farm during their breading years.

Julian Stanton
Farm Volunteer





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