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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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Building Project Progress – Jess Eyre

Since my last blog, there have been a few developments on the Building Team. The most challenging of them all being the boss’s two week vacation in the middle of the month, leaving me in the driver’s seat!

Before he left for sunnier climes, headway was made covering the stacks in Glory Mill, as per my last blog, and the cherry-picker has since arrived for the insulation application. Stationed at the top of the cherry-picker is Colin, a stonemason who has worked with the museum for a number of years.

Cherry-picker-200pxIn the last month, I have had the opportunity to go away and work with him on some of his ‘live’ jobs which has been both incredibly interesting and challenging at times.

These external ‘placements’ have included repairing stonework and render on a blind, 14th Century, church doorway and painting the timber on a medieval granary.

I joined Colin and his laborer Kieran on their last day at the granary, so the photographs I was able to get are limited.

They show the lime washed panels, which Colin and Kieran had already completed, and the extent of the timber work to be painted with black linseed oil paint.

Tusmore-Estate-Photo-600pxIn contrast, I have been assisting Colin at the church since his first day on site, so I’ve really had the opportunity to get stuck in and see how his tasks generally evolve.


Cookham-before-200pxAt some point in its past, the church doorway has had a cement render and slurry applied over the soft chalk, or clunch, stone beneath. Where cracks and holes have appeared over the years, moisture has seeped in and created a loss of adhesion with the underlying stone. The telltale sign of this was the hollow sound when we tapped the render, and the slight bulges in places. The ivy growing behind the cement was a big giveaway too!


Cookham-15th-Sept---12-Jess-200pxOver a period of four days, we have removed the failed render and started replacing it with lime. Ideally, the entire doorway including archivolt mouldings, jambs, columns and hoodmould, which have been slurried or rendered with cement, would also be reworked in lime. However, the financial constraints that face any church when it comes to work such as this, means only doing what is absolutely necessary. As everything else appears sound, and more damage would be caused removing the cement, we are concentrating on three main areas: the quoins on either side, the right side jamb, and part of the archivolt.




One of the – many – jobs on the list for the volunteers and I to get started whilst the boss was away, was the new doors for the Caversham toilet block at the top of site.

The original timber doors had rotted in various areas and had been retired before I commenced my trainee programme. Solid wood doors based faithfully on the originals had been skillfully created by a local joiners and were awaiting a lick of green paint and the addition of the brass door furniture. Progress was slower than I expected while we were left to our own devices, although the hinges had been cut and were almost millimeter perfect. Almost!

Things have certainly sped along since the boss returned, and both the doors have nearly had their three coats of paint. Caversham-door-painting---Jess-2-200px Cutting the mortice for the lock took about two days due to the 7” depth, but we are now on the final stretch and even all the brass work has been Brasso’d…and brown sauced.

Photos to follow as and when the doors have been fitted.

By Jess Eyre
HLF Buildings Trainee

Image of Tusmore Estate © Jonathan Thacker






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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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Jess-300pxAllow me to introduce myself, I am Jess, the third and final Heritage Lottery Funded Buildings Trainee to walk through the COAM gates.

I am only about a month into my Traineeship, so have almost the full 18 months to look forward to and I’m excited at the prospect of what I will learn in that time. In these first few weeks, while I find my feet, I am under the watchful eye and expert tutelage of the Buildings Manager, John. He and the Buildings Team volunteers have all made me feel very welcome and been very patient with me.

As this is my first blog post, I will let you know a bit about me as well as what I’ve been doing on site these past few weeks.

Firstly, I’ve moved down from Milton Keynes to begin this traineeship. Not too far in terms of distance, but I do feel a long way from the grid system and concrete cows at times.

My previous relevant building experience includes six months spent at the Tywi Centre, South Wales in 2015, where I learnt basic carpentry, lime plastering/rendering/science, and dry stone walling. I found during this time that I was particularly keen on working with timber and subsequently took myself on multiple framing courses, which I loved and which taught me so much about the possibilities of working with this material. I have also undertaken brief introductions to blacksmithing and other metal work/welding, although these further confirmed my interest in timber and trees.


After moving back to MK slightly earlier than planned, I found historical building work pretty thin on the ground for my basic skill level. As a result, and in an attempt to keep up to speed with the industry, I started an MSc in Historic Conservation. This has been put on hold whilst I complete my training here and I will resume immediately after completion in January 2019. So a busy couple of years ahead!


Getting back to the work here at COAM, there have been a few little projects on the go, including a general workshop tidy. It was here that I put my hard earned Fine Art degree to good use with the creation of a rather spiffing shadow board!

The Buildings Team have also been busy covering the rest of the workshop in Glory Mill with tarpaulin. Glory Mill is a Museum building used as a workshop and as a storage facility for the collection of historic buildings that are waiting to be reconstructed at the Museum. There are about 15 buildings stored flat pack style all waiting for funds so that they can be reconstructed on the Museum site.


This tarp is to protect the contents of our Aladdin’s Cave from the effects and over-spill of spray-on foam insulation. The front of the workshop has already been treated by my predecessor Sam, John, and some volunteers, and the rest is penciled in for very soon.


I’ve taken a photo, for anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, of the line in the ceiling where the existing foam meets the bare corrugated ceiling.

In other news, I have also made a small wooden box which has been used to house an external RCD socket. I have taken an exciting number of photos of the building process as it was my very first project…














…if you’re still here, thank you for taking the time to read my first blog. If you’re on site and see me around, pop over and say hello (the orange hair means you can’t miss me!) and I look forward to showing you lots of photos again next time.





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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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Heritage Building Trainee 2016 – 17 reflections

Reflections on the last 18 months of my traineeship

When I applied for the role of heritage buildings trainee I didn’t know quite what to expect. For a year and a half I had worked doing building repair work in Devon mainly using traditional materials such as cob and lime. I loved using my hands and the sense of history in the places so the opportunity to work in a museum dedicated to these old methods of construction seemed ideal to me. What exactly the museum would be like, however, I didn’t know! Fortunately the day long interview/ assessment, far less grueling than it sounds, gave me a great feel for the place and the people and what my role would be. Forward eighteen months and I can look back at what a great opportunity it has been to try my hand at such a broad range of trades and skills.

One of the first jobs was laying a chalk floor in the Iron Age roundhouse. We regrettably had to take up the old cobble floor as the cobbles were getting kicked up by lots of small feet and so the chalk was a replacement. It was a good lesson in how much the site and buildings are put under pressure by the frequent footfall (good for the museum of course) and how compromises, like replacing the cobble floor with chalk, have to be found. Some of the other jobs I carried out include thatching, blacksmithing, leadwork, lime plastering, and carpentry as well using the white earth material wychert, local to the area, to finish the garden wall of Haddenham cottage.

building a wychert wall

As part of my training I was also able to go on courses and work placements away from the museum. These included the green oak timber framing course at the Weald and Downland. It was fascinating and made me realise this was something I wanted to carry on with and learn more about. I later worked on an Elm barn in Hertfordshire, a cruck frame in Oxfordshire and learnt some timber repairs while at Orchard Barn in Suffolk and on placement in Twyford with IJP Owlsworth. So lots of good practise; unfortunately with timber framing it appears the more you learn, the more you realise there is to find out!

It was tricky at times to get the balance right between learning elsewhere and getting work done at the museum. However, the two things definitely complemented each other. For example I went on an electrical course which allowed me to do some basic wiring at the museum.

It also helped when I found myself faced with covering for the buildings manager at the beginning this year. This was always going to be a steep learning curve but what made it a more daunting prospect was that we had just started two fairly large jobs, repairing the sill beam of Thame vicarage room and replacing a supporting post in Skippings. Both were quite technically challenging jobs so the timber framing experience I had developed made it possible to tackle them.


I ended up covering for more than three months and while it was difficult, it was definitely a high point for me being able to put things into practise and leading the team (who were excellent and very patient I should say!) with whatever jobs we had on.

In summary, it has been a really rewarding experience working at the museum. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting involved in everything, from timber framing to digging foundations and even setting up for the Halloween scary walk. My thanks to everyone here for making it so special.

Sam Rowland-Simms
HLF Heritage Building Trainee


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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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