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

The approach of spring brings much anticipation and promise on the Rural Estate, following a quieter period of preparation over the winter.

Those who have been following our farming journey on Nene Park from the start will remember that during February, we pregnancy scan our flock of Lleyn and Hebridean sheep. Whilst last year’s results were pleasing, we had high hopes of making some positive steps towards the optimal scanning result where each ewe is expecting two lambs. A little extra care for the ewes to ensure they were in tip-top condition when the rams arrived in the autumn appears to have paid off, with a total of 473 lambs scanned in 267 ewes, up from 436 lambs scanned in 250 ewes last year. 

With lambing set to commence during the latter half of April, Normangate will soon be awash with the familiar sight of lambs skipping and playing. Early starts and long days ensue, with lambing being the most important part of our sheep farming calendar. Lambing naturally outdoors means the weather plays a big part in all of this, but of course as farmers we are accustomed to focussing on what we can control rather than the many factors we cannot. 

Aside from the excitement of over 400 new born lambs, 2022 marks the inaugural birthing of calves on the Rural Estate. 20 Ruby Red Devon cows have been scanned by the vet and are each expecting a single calf. The cows have been overwintered with a roof over their heads and straw underfoot, but have now arrived back at Tumuli Field (adjacent to West Holmes), with the first calves expected from mid-April. Overwinter, the cows have been eating silage made on the Rural Estate and bedded on straw baled on the outskirts of Peterborough, as we continue to focus on a farming system with low environmental impact using traceable, local inputs. 

Our previous blog talked about the establishment of a further 60 acres of legume and herb-rich pasture at Normangate, marking the next chapter of growth in the area of land farmed. Working with Nene Park, we have designed a seeding plan which sees the incorporation of two seed mixes with subtly different contents. We hope that this will further increase biodiversity, and a carefully designed grazing plan which will see each field being rested (not grazed) during parts of the main growing season should further improve this as a habitat for wildlife. With so much to do in the months to come, it is incredibly tempting to get the seed drill out now to get this seed in the ground. However, patience is an important part of farming and on the agronomist’s advice, we are sitting on our hands for the time being until some slightly warmer weather comes to aid germination. 

With more pasture will come more sheep. The pursuit of a ‘closed flock’ means that where possible, the growth in our breeding flock will be achieved through retaining the best breeding females and bringing them into the flock at the appropriate age. As well as bringing benefits for flock health, averting the need to bring sheep from breeders in Scotland and Wales in future years brings with it environmental benefits also. 

The ‘Park to Plate’ initiative is now in full flow, which brings high welfare grass-fed lamb boxes from the Rural Estate. Orders can be placed through Nene Park’s shop, and we are running monthly collection dates throughout 2022. It has been incredibly rewarding to be able to close the loop on our farming system, with lambs remaining under our care throughout their entire lives and being transported to the abattoir by us personally. Their welfare is of paramount importance and in fact this is what fuels our pride in what we do, ultimately putting lamb on local plates in an environmentally sensitive way. A big and personal thank you from us for those who have supported us so far by purchasing a lamb box! 

Looking ahead, 2022 will see further improvements at Castor Barn and we hope the addition of another (human) member to our team. We do have another addition by way of a Welsh Sheepdog puppy named Mist, although her current behavioural antics mean that she is letting the side down a little at the moment. To close on a piece of farming trivia, you will find that the majority of sheepdogs have one syllable names which is long engrained in the history of naming sheepdogs!