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