Craig and Ryan Baxter, Share Farming Partners on the Rural Estate

Whilst nature has been winding down for winter, with turning leaves, cooling temperatures and darkening nights, farming on the Rural Estate has far from slowed down. Autumn is a busy time – most notably perhaps the rams re-join the ewes to pave the way for spring lambing, symbolic of the very start of another year in the farming calendar. 

Of course, the rams going out is actually the culmination of a flurry of activities all aimed towards preparing for this point again. The lambs were weaned from the ewes over summer, and with that we must re-assess the flock and ensure that we have fit and healthy ewes ready to breed again. 

It has been a tough year for the sheep and cattle – grassland is their dining table and there was a notable absence of anything green over the summer. Much of our work this year has centred around supplementary feeding of the animals with haylage and hay from the previous year, and the hot weather necessitated some very early starts to the day’s shepherding (4:30am!), avoiding bothering the sheep and cattle during the hottest part of the day. With a little TLC, the sheep do look fit and ready for another year. 

The first year of calving Red Devon cattle out on the Rural Estate has gone well. They have proven their worth as docile, easy calving animals that work well in conservation and grass-based systems. In addition to that, and whilst we may be bias, they really are beautiful animals which are a pleasure to look at each day and see mothering their young. 

Aside from the day to day, we have been planning for and effecting further expansion of our farming reach across Nene Park’s Rural Estate, and with that comes the excuse for a few westerly excursions to the Lleyn society sheep sales. Further sheep have joined the flock from sales at Welshpool, Ruthin and Ross on Wye and have adapted well to grazing the flat land of Peterborough! In addition, we have further expanded the herd of Ruby Red Devon cattle, which now runs to 50 cows. 

The spring should see the Devon cattle appearing on the meadows to the north of Ferry Meadows – Long Meadow, Short Meadow and Heron Meadow. This is of course the beating heart of Nene Park and sees many more visitors than the parts of the Rural Estate which we have farmed now for two years. We are very much looking forward to seeing the cattle grazing with greater prominence, and hope that in time they become synonymous locally with Ferry Meadows. 

Haymaking is another annual feature in the farming calendar and has taken place since we last wrote. This year it was of course a doddle with no rain to speak of! Once again, we supported on cut and collect at Ferry Meadows and around the rowing lakes, as well as making hay for winter forage for the cattle and to replenish the slightly depleted stocks that we came into the year with. The river meadows held out well in spite of the dry conditions, so whilst the yield was down on the previous year, we go into the winter with a reasonably full hay barn. 

We have also been busy more recently to the south of Castor and Ailsworth, readying the newly established legume and herb-rich pasture for the arrival of livestock. Fencing has now been erected, mains water installed and as I write, bases are being set for the water troughs. So with somewhere to stay, something to eat and something to drink, this land will soon be alive with sheep! 

In spite of a tough farming year to date, there is lots to look forward to and we can of course rest assured that in farming, no two years will ever be the same.