Category Archives: Farm

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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.

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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.

Hurdle-COAM

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.

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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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Chicken Run Blues

The Museum’s farm chickens are enjoying the milder spring weather having endured an unpleasant winter locked in their henhouse. This was in their own interest in order to protect them from the risk of catching avian influenza which was a problem in some European countries last winter.

Poultry farmers and other captive bird owners across the UK were instructed by Government agencies to keep all birds indoors from December. This was because of the risk from some migratory birds that had come from areas where avian influenza was found in wild birds. This restriction was only lifted in the Chalfont area this April.

Silver Grey Dorking Chickens

But the Museum’s chickens, Silver Grey Dorkings, were not impressed by their temporary incarceration.

“What a load of old nonsense keeping us indoors all winter” commented an anonymous spokeschicken.

“Totally unnecessary as we girls have nothing to do with those foreign birds, in fact any other birds. We have no time for idle chitchat anyway. Too busy meeting our egg production quota. We probably don’t speak their language anyway!”

“For four months we were locked away. We are a very rare breed and expect to be treated with the utmost respect. I bet they would not lock away the Museum staff in the old houses if tourists came to the UK with flu!”

“We Silver Grey Dorkings are one of the oldest breeds of poultry in the UK. We came to Britain with the Romans. They never locked us up and we are still around as a breed today as we are very hardy. Get to know us and you will find that we are a very docile breed, well except for some of the boys, and we are known to be good mothers and produce high quality white eggs.”

“We have been entering and wining prizes at poultry shows since 1845. That proves that we have a good pedigree. But we need to be able to range to keep ourselves in tip top condition. They expect us to lay lots of eggs and look presentable for the visitors but then lock us up for months. When we were let out, we had to hide ourselves from visitor stares at first. Being locked up isn’t good for your fitness but more importantly to us girls is how we look. What stress!”

“It does make us appreciate how awful it is for all those chickens in some farms that are always locked up, fed disgusting foods to make them lay loads of eggs, get fat and then be eaten. And worse still. What if they are seen in public. How awful they would look. How those girls cope with the stress! Maybe our lot is not so bad, although the ground has been a bit hard for plucking out those juicy worms recently.”

The much happier Dorkings are now enjoying their freedom in the enclosure next to the village green, although they may move soon to fresh pecking ground. They share a field with some young sheep, but have their own separate area fenced off area with an electric fencing to keep the foxes out.

“We are happy to be protected from those nasty foxes at night” continued the spokeschicken. “But we would rather it if we could roam the Museum grounds during day. I am sure those nice visitors would protect us if any foxes did come along. And visitors might share their sandwiches with us.”

The Silver Grey Dorkings, which typically live for six years, are provided with a suitable grazing area in fields around the Museum. They have plenty of space to roam in search of food including insects, grass and weeds that help provide a healthy diet, supplemented by special chicken feed. Free roaming chickens live longer than those cooped up permanently.

However, allowing the chickens to roam freely around the whole Museum site or farmyard during the day would not be practical from a health and safety perspective, both for the chickens and the visitors. And rounding them up at night in order to safely house them would be an additional chore for the busy farm team.

The chickens have an important role demonstrating their place in a Chilterns farm of the past. This now rare breed would have been a regular sight across the Chilterns many years ago, so the Museum is pleased to help preserve this breed. And the chickens do help to pay for their upkeep by producing a steady flow of eggs from March to October.

So everyone is pleased that the Dorkings are happy again In their healthy environment and equally as pleased that they had not seen the film ‘Chicken Run’ about chickens that escape a nasty farmer. Otherwise there might have been some very happy foxes around last winter!

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Four and a bit Tractors

The Chiltern Open Air Museum farm is a key part of the Museum’s operation. It’s not just a static display of historic farm buildings and artefacts, but a working example of Chiltern farms of the past.

Ferguson Tractor

Traditional practices are maintained where possible although the farm does not focus on any one particular era. Artefacts are used in the farm’s day to day operation as much as possible and key to this are the tractors. The four sturdy workhorses in all have around 200 years of hard labour between them. And there is the other – more about this later!

Tractors have been the backbone of farm labour for over 100 years, slowly usurping horses and man’s physical labour. The first steam powered tractors appeared in the 1860s and by the end of that century the first petrol tractor was patented. However, it was not until just after the turn of the century that petrol tractors went into production.

Tractor innovation has come a long way in the intervening 100 years. And the next inevitable step is the driverless, computer controlled vehicle for tasks such as ploughing and harvesting and who knows what else.

Innovation is essential, but remembering the past is also important, not just for nostalgia and the pleasure this brings to many, but to help remember how things were done to provide lessons for the future.

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Currently two tractors are regularly used on the farm, a 1950 Ferguson and its junior partner, a 1981 Ford 4600. The Museum also has two Fordson Super Majors. One dates from 1950 and is only used on special occasions such as driving the threshing machine during the Museum’s Harvest Festival event.

The second Fordson, a later model dating from 1961, needs much renovation work before it can play a more active role in the farm’s operation. The project is now underway, although it may be sometime before she is working on the farm again.

The task in hand is being led by volunteer and former agricultural engineer, John Smithson. John’s wealth of experience working with agricultural machinery around the world for many years has been a major plus for the Museum, with his superior knowledge of machinery no longer in regular use. John first became involved with the Museum when he offered advice on renovating the ‘Ransoms’ threshing machine. Having become fully involved with that project, he then stayed on as part of the Museum’s farm artefacts team of volunteers who ‘tinker’ with the farm machinery every Thursday.

Progress has already been made and the engine is running again. But other essential work will take many hours and the team must also continue to progress other projects.

Considering the basic conditions the team have to work in, they do a superb job in keeping the mechanical farm artefacts operational. Volunteer Olly Mazzitelli is adamant that if the team were provided with a new, modern workshop, the tractor renovation would be completed in no time. However, it would take significant funding to provide such a facility and the Museum has other priorities. And of course, it would not be in the spirit of a traditional farm if the conditions did not replicate those that the Chiltern farmers of the past often had to work in!

Developments on how John, Olly and the rest of the Thursday team are progressing with the project, as well as more about the individual tractors, will appear in this blog in the future.

And the other tractor? Well, it has to grow up first, but in the meantime it provides lunchtime entertainment for hard-working volunteers!

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“Volunteer Jane Bland finds time to try out the Museum farm’s latest tractor whilst the Ford takes a rest”

 

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Goataly Unimpressed

Crystal, one of the Museum’s two goats was not impressed by a recent blog about goat walking and had other issues she wanted to air.

Goat walking at COAM

“I was not amused by the recent blog about goat walking. It does not exactly put me in a good light and completely misinterprets the purpose of the walk. This and a number of other issues need to be brought to attention of my visiting fans to put the record straight. I feel that I need to personally report these facts as my friend Beverly, who is older than me and not so pretty, is too nice and does not want to upset the Farm Manager Conway.

Let’s firstly put the record straight on walking. We are not taken for a walk; we take the staff and volunteers for a walk. We appreciate how they like to have a look around the Museum site to check out that everything is hunk-dory each morning, so we are happy to go along and escort them. We only allow them to put dog collars on us as it makes them feel like they are walking their dogs.

What is very annoying is that they like to stop and stare into space. So we entertain ourselves by helping to keep the vegetation under control whilst we wait for them to come around. But to allude to us having a second breakfast – what an insult. We are not greedy goats!

And then sometimes we see some vegetation that needs pruning or hay that needs tidying up, but they get annoyed and try and drag us somewhere else. This is when I sometimes have to remind them to behave by giving them a gentle nudge with my horns. And then they get annoyed with me. You would have thought one volunteer had been shot by the way he hoped around just after I touched him. He’d been watching too much football if you ask me!

Sometimes we walk past the sheep. I like to put me head through the fence to give them a cheery good morning. And what happened the other day? A grumpy sheep nipped me on the nose! If she was not pregnant I would have given her a reprimand with my horns. Maybe she is grumpy because she is pregnant.

kid goats at COAM

With lambing in the next month, I guess the Farm Manager Conway will have to move us back from our temporary home, the isolated lambing fold, to our proper home. I mean, would you like to live in a maternity wing! I am not sure why he insists on punishing us by keeping us there at night. We just want to go back to Hill Farm Barn so we can keep an eye on comings and goings and make sure no undesirable characters are around the farm (volunteers excluded).

The only reason we got evicted from our home was because of those stupid film people who did not like us. I mean, they would not give us parts in the drama. What can I say if the critics don’t like it? Goats always add something special to a production, particularly if we can chase the baddies! We always get them. But they would not even let us stay around as extras. Their loss!

Another concern? Why do they shut the Museum during the winter? They say it’s because our fans won’t visit and the staff and volunteers have maintenance to do. Maybe that is why they hide us away so they can sit around drinking tea all-day! People want to come and see us all year round. Do you really think they come to see those old buildings when they can see nice new ones for free where they live.

Anyway, when they finally let you back into the Museum in April to see us, don’t forget we do like a chin rub. You can find us in a field somewhere mowing the grass. We would maintain the hedges as well, but they insist on putting an electric fence around the field to keep our fans out. Don’t forget, I’m the pretty one and Beverly will probably be daydreaming!”

Crystal
Museum Goat

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All quiet on the farm

January arrived with an air of peace and tranquillity about the farm and Museum site. This followed a disrupted December when for a number of weeks much of the site, including the farmyard and barns was taken over by a film production team, actors, extras and the associated entourage involved in a major TV drama.

With the Museum closed to visitors and school groups from December until late February, it is the perfect time for Museum staff and volunteers to get on with tasks, particularly those that would impact on visitors if the Museum was open.

The progress of many tasks would be so much quicker if it was not for visitors wandering around, getting in the way and engaging staff and volunteers in conversation! If only there were not any visitors. So much could be achieved!

Even though there are occasional times when it might be nice not to have to worry about visitors, there is not a member of staff or volunteer who does appreciate and enjoy the interaction. Volunteers give up their time and staff choose to work at the Museum because they get pleasure seeing visitors, whether retired reminiscers, historical enthusiasts, exuberant school children or just those wanting to relax in a wonderful rural environment, enjoy their visit.

The problem is that everyone enjoys engaging with visitors, whether imparting knowledge of the buildings and artefacts, offering directions or advice or just passing the time of day. This can of course slow down the completion of tasks. However, everyone relishes their role in ensuring that visitors have an enjoyable and safe visit.

So whilst it was quiet, the farm team were getting on with the tasks in hand. There was firstly the need to return artefacts removed for filming back to the farm buildings. Fortunately there had been minimal physical impact on the farm site, which was a relief considering the number of people involved as well as the vehicles used.

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A key winter task was to increase grazing available for the farm’s livestock. With pressure on existing grazing space, it was decided to open up Toll House field and other areas where scrub had encroached in recent years.

Volunteers worked hard to remove intrusive scrub, much of it hawthorn and bramble.  These have the habit of fighting back, inflicting minor wounds on any unguarded parts of the body, ripping into clothing and causing just a little cussing!

With the scrub cleared, it will be easier for grass and other meadow plants to re-generate. But it is also important to control scrub re-growth. So bring in Beverly and Crystal, the farm goats who will be the first animals to use the field as they will enjoy munching away at any intrusive re-growth.

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As well as clearing the scrub, a bigger task was to ensure that the hedging and fencing was in a suitable condition to stop the escape artist goats and lambs from testing the boundaries out. One side of the field had a relatively recently planted hedge that was just about ready for laying. This has now been laid and filled with some of the cut scrub to ensure there are no holes for stock to squeeze through whilst the hedge continue to develop its strength.

The next stage of field preparation was to renew stock fencing where the hedge was not a sufficient barrier, particularly for inquisitive lambs. And with this complete, staff and volunteers have moved on to mending or renewing fencing in other fields including the Hidden Meadow, which is also part of the plan to increase stock grazing capacity.

Another more mature hedge was laid in one of the arable fields through December and January. Whilst this work was being completed, the farm’s artefacts team commenced working of the renovation of a Fordson Super Major tractor and a hay sweep, but more on these in separate blogs.

The Museum’s peace and tranquillity was shattered towards the end of February with the visit of Doris. She was an unwelcome visitor that all were pleased to see the back of. Causing havoc across many parts of the Chilterns, storm Doris gate-crashed the Museum inflicting damage on some buildings as she rampaged across the site. Fortunately for the farm team, there does not seem to have been any major damage to farm structures or woodland. So staff and volunteers can continue to focus on the planned activities prior to welcoming all ‘well-behaved’ visitors on 1 April.

By Julian Stanton
Farm Volunteer

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The Pleasure of Volunteering

The Pleasure of Volunteering – A New Volunteer’s Endorsement

It’s a bitterly cold winter’s day. The sky is grey and the increasingly heavy rain is threatening to turn to snow.  The icy wind’s tentacles feel their way through every gap in my clothing. I am working alone.

A relatively new volunteer on the Museum farm, I am working at the side of a field today, adding the binders to a nearly completed laid hedge. My hands in my saturated work gloves are cold and the rain is creeping through those not so waterproof parts of my old rain jacket.

One year previously I would have been sat in my warm and dry office feeling pity for the wet and cold workmen on the building site opposite. But today I am happy. In fact, I am far happier than I was in my office going about my stressful managerial role. I am enjoying myself in these inhospitable conditions. Thank you Fate that gave me the early retirement opportunity to stand here on such miserable day!

So what attracted me as a volunteer and why am I happy to be wet and cold in a muddy field today? I had previously worked with another voluntary group that occasionally helped the Museum farm with specific projects. This gave me an insight into the Museum and its people. I had noticed the enthusiasm and dedication of the staff and other volunteers and their welcoming nature, and thought that one day I would like to become a regular volunteer.

The opportunity came and I took it. Over six months on, I am thoroughly enjoying my small role and remain enthused by the positive environment. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. There are no targets or expectations other than your own. You can dedicate as little or as much time as you want. Of course volunteers want to do a good job and be effective in their own way. One word of warning though – it’s addictive!

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Volunteers can choose to bring their own skill sets to their role. They often volunteer in areas they have an interest in such as building construction or gardening. Others, as I have chosen, do something completely different to their skills and interests. And what is so encouraging is that the staff and other volunteers give you the time, patience and encouragement to help you learn new skills.

Working in a cold wet field on my own today is entirely my choice. The task needed completing and the farm is short of volunteers today. So I just get on with it. But I am not unusual. Far from it. The Museum has many volunteers working on the farm, maintaining the Museum’s buildings and gardens that will also be out working in all conditions to help run and maintain the Museum – and enjoying it!

Although there is no pressure, volunteers are very committed to the Museum and are usually more than happy doing something they might not really want to do. And when it’s done, they feel great!

Volunteering is critical for the successful operation of the Museum. Without volunteers there would probably be no Museum as funding would not cover the value volunteers bring. And this value cannot be brought. As well as skills and experience some volunteers bring, others just bring enthusiasm, dedication and determination.

So it is a win, win situation. Volunteers get to do something worthwhile which they enjoy and the Museum gets the additional resource it needs to maintain an enjoyable visitor experience.

So if you are interested in volunteering, to get an idea of the opportunities, visit https://www.coam.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering/ Maybe you will be joining me in the rain one winter – or on dry and sunny summers day!

 


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Goataly unpredictable

Goats at COAM

 

One of the pleasures for staff and volunteers alike at the Chiltern Open Air Museum farm, advises Farm Manager Conway Rowland, is taking the Old English Goats, Beverly and Crystal for their morning walk. Well that was what I was told as a rookie volunteer some months ago.  I guess he would say that to encourage volunteers to take their turn!

Goats were a feature of many traditional Chiltern farms of yesteryear supplying milk, cheese and the occasional meal. The Museum previously had rescue goats of varying varieties and behaviours. But a little after these had one by one passed on to cause trouble in a higher place than they had previously been able to reach, a decision was made to acquire two new goats.

But not any old goats. They had to be Old English, a breed that had been doing their job well for 5000 years only to be ousted from the late 1800s by higher yielding foreign goats from Switzerland, India and the Middle East and interbreeding became rife in the desire to improve goat productivity.

With low numbers of this traditional breed remaining, it was only right that the Museum’s goats, which arrived late in 2015, should be the Old English breed.

Visitors may see Beverly and Crystal in their night time pen outside of Hill Farm Barn, but more likely in one of the fields around the farm during Museum opening hours – assuming they have not escaped! So at sometime around 9-10.00am, someone has to escort the two young ladies on their daily walk from their pen to the field.

Goat Walking at COAM

With dog collars and leads secured, the walker is ready to depart on a circuitous route to what has in effect become a second breakfast opportunity for the goats, who have already demolished their buckets of dry food. The walk, at a relaxed pace (or not), gives the chance for Beverly and Crystal to enjoy, for much of the year, the nutritious hedgerow greenery including hawthorn, nettles and brambles. And even better, the late summer feast of sumptuous fresh blackberries and rosehips.

In fact just about anything goes, preferably from the most awkward place to get at and where the other goat and the walker do not desire to be dragged. Being dragged around is part of the fun of goat walking, particularly when Beverly wants to go one way and Crystal the other!

And watch out the goat walker who disagrees with Crystal. Those horns hurt! If she is in a mood and does not get her own way, a quick butt aimed at the offending goat walker can be delivered. So the walker must alert to deflect the offending horns and deliver a gentle reminder about who is (or thinks they are) the real boss.

Although Crystal’s behaviour is much better as she is maturing, a tactic of keeping Beverly between yourself and Crystal can be a good idea. And no, the reason is not to let Beverly be the recipient of a butt. Crystal would not dare as the smaller Beverly is the dominant goat. However, this tactic can have its problems when the larger Crystal decides to climb over Beverly to get at some tasty treat and the leads get tangled up. Trying to untangle two goats from yourself with absolutely no cooperation from the goats can be interesting!

goat walking at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Both Crystal and Beverly are friendly, gentle goats that on occasion can display nothing worse than a petulant child might. Well they are still ‘kids’ at heart! If they have had a late start to the day and should you come across them on their daily walk, do not be concerned. Well only for the walker!

Please visit them in their field. They both enjoy attention and a good chin rub can make you a friend. But watch out for the electric fence. It’s the only way to keep them from escaping. And please, do not feed them yourself, whether voluntary or involuntary!

And the evening’s walk. Nothing more than a sprint back to their pen where their supper awaits them.

By Julian Stanton
Museum Volunteer

 

 

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December on the COAM farm

Although the Museum was closed to visitors much of December, it was not a quiet month on the farm – far from it!

Like the rest of the Museum, the farm can usually enjoy some respite during the winter months, taking the opportunity to catch up with outstanding tasks, do some housekeeping and plan and prepare for the season ahead.

The goats, sheep, cows, horses and chickens still needed looking after and this meant that farm staff and volunteers had to come in every day of the Christmas holidays to feed and care for them all.

Cows at Chiltern Open Air Museum

 

Then there are the winter tasks that need to get under way in December such as hedgelaying. On many Chiltern farms of yesteryear, hedgelaying was an important task before the advent of wire fencing to keep boundaries maintained and stock in the fields. The winter months provided a little more time for the farmer and farm workers to complete this time consuming work. It is also the best time of year to avoid disturbing nesting birds (today hedgelaying must not take place from March until September).

So December is a great time to get on with this important job at the Museum and the farm’s volunteers have certainly spent some profitable time doing this, completing one side of an arable field. Good going in light of other disruptions!

Hedgelaying is not a quick and easy task and requires skill and patience. One of the characteristics of the Museum is the willingness of staff, assisted by experienced volunteers, to teach skills to new volunteers. So all members of the farm team and other Museum volunteers get the chance to take part in this popular activity.

Hedge and tree maintenance tasks including coppicing, are also best done during winter. This activity provides stakes and binders for hedgelaying, materials for hurdle making and logs for the Museum’s buildings’ fires.

The Museum also can benefit from skills brought along by volunteers. Farm volunteer, Steve Davis, who works in an unrelated full-time job, takes annual leave to come and help with tree maintenance. Steve has invested his own time and money in chainsaw use management.  His help significantly benefits the farm team in completing work that would take much time and effort using traditional hand tools or valuable funds if contractors were needed.

During December the farm was to experience major disruption. On a minor note, the chickens were confined to quarters for a month as a precaution due a new strain of avian flu that put all birds at risk across the UK. Not a major disruption, but the chickens were mighty put out by being shut away!

Goats at Chiltern Open Air Museum

 

Also not so happy were Beverly and Crystal the Old English goats. They were evicted from their home in one of Hill Farm Barn’s outer buildings. The two goats like to keep an eye on comings and goings around the farm from their prominent home, but they had to spend much of December in temporary accommodation in the more isolated lambing folds.

This was because of three weeks of preparation and filming that took place on and around the farm for a major TV drama. Farm buildings including Hill Farm Barn, were required as set locations. And the production company did not want Beverly or Crystal to have starring roles – their loss!

Few of the artefacts housed in Hill Farm Barn or around the farmyard were wanted for filming. So as well as not being able to get on with many of December’s planned tasks, the farm team spent days clearing out the barn and tidying up the farmyard. This required moving artefacts large and small including farm machinery such as the threshing machine, wagons and other machinery.

Although this additional work and restricted access to the farm disrupted farm manager Conway Rowland’s plans for December, Conway appreciated the benefits to the Museum from this opportunity stating; “Revenue from filming is a useful source of additional funding for the Museum. As well as underwriting the day to day running costs, it provides money for projects that help the Museum progress its plans. Hopefully the farm will benefit from some of this extra money!”

Although a useful source of revenue, the Museum wants to minimise the impact such activities have on the visitor experience. So with the Museum closed to the public, there was no disruption to visitors, the production company got the time and space they wanted and the Museum some additional funding.

So with animals and artefacts restored to their normal accommodation, the farm team is ready for January. And another major plus for Conway, “It made us give the barns a good clear-out and tidy up. With a busy schedule throughout the year, it is easy to put off such activity, but when forced to, you realise it was worthwhile!”

Written by farm volunteer Julian Stanton

Pictures by Charles Abbott

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