Inconvenient Ponies

Why is it that if ponies, sheep or cattle are going to escape they have to do it on a Friday afternoon (or over the weekend)?  So it was today that we learnt that the ponies were ‘in a hide’ at Druridge Pools.  It was quickly ascertained that while not actually in a hide they were close by and not in the field where they were supposed to be.  They must have crossed the broken fence to get away but they seemed very reluctant to do so in the opposite direction.  Eventually they were persuaded but the fence still needed an emergency repair – not a very neat and tidy job but functional.  Hopefully they will stay where they are supposed to be until the next inconvenient time to get out!

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Emergency Friday fence repairs

Wonders of wool

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Looking at the end of the carding process

The fleeces from our mixed flock have always proved to be a bit of a problem to get rid of.  Up to now a select few have been passed on to a some of those we know who are into woolly crafts but the majority end up getting a few pounds through the normal Wool Marketing Board route.

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Checking some carded wool

So last Thursday we had a trip to see whether we could make a little bit more of this product with a visit to Halifax Spinning Mill (which is actually near Goole).  We had a fascinating look around, seeing the process from carding through spinning to the final balls of wool.  Spindle spinning and ‘rope’ making were also little asides to the tour.

Our trip culminated in us looking at the quality of our own Flexigraze fleeces to see whether they were good enough to turn into something we could sell.  A few unwrapped fleeces soon indicated that we actually have some good quality wool, particularly from the rare breeds such as Shetland and Manx. We also have a few tips to help us get clean, quality fleeces from the sheep we shear this coming season so that an even better batch can go to be processed next year.

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Using a drop spindle for spinning

In the meantime we look forward to our first batch of Flexigraze yarn as well as some garden twine made from the lesser quality wool. We will be selling this locally to help fund conservation grazing in the North East along with the meat that we already have on offer.

It was a fascinating day out and thanks to Paul at the mill for showing us around and passing on some of his knowledge and enthusiasm to us all.

Please check this web site for further details of the wool when it comes back from the mill and is available to anyone with a knitting, crocheting or other woolly pastime to pursue!

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Checking over one of our fleeces

Winter water

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Cattle and ponies on the shoreline

It was a wet and wintery day at Prestwick Carr today.  Fortunately all the livestock is on the higher ground and they all (except the sheep) seemed to be intrigued by the large lake that has appeared.

Of course this large lake is the site doing exactly what it should be doing.  All the water stored here is going to take time to get out into the Rivers Pont and Blyth so helping to keep river levels more manageable.  If all this water was being drained from the site as quickly as possible someone, somewhere downstream would be bound to suffer the consequences.  Management of land like this to store floodwater is one of the techniques that need to be put in place to help reduce flooding throughout the UK; it has the advantage of being a natural solution and one that is good for wildlife too.

The management of this site is designed to accept the flooding that occurrs, we just have to be careful that all the livestock is safe with high ground to escape onto.

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A temporary lake…

 

Two days training

Gathering sheep ready for the training
Gathering sheep ready for the training
Fleece folding
Fleece folding

Stephen spent two days this week training some staff and volunteers working on Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Magnificent Meadows Project.  This HLF funded project is managing some important grassland areas in south Northumberland, particularly those on the Whin Sill and other ‘calaminarian’ sites along the River South Tyne.  Some of these sites are being grazed by Flexigraze.

A sheep is caught
A sheep is caught

The day was used to introduce those attending to handling sheep, shearing them and general sheep management.  The two Exmoor ponies on the site were also brought in to consider the different needs of these larger animals.

There were plenty of chances for hand’s on as well as more theoretical aspects of grazing.

Jess enjoys the company
Jess enjoys the company

The course included getting to grips with the terminology used in sheep farming, all the names used for different ages and stages that confuse most non farming folk.

Jess had plenty to do gathering and helping out but also enjoyed the company when not on duty!

Nine deer grazing

Racing Exmoor ponies (c) Duncan Hutt
Racing Exmoor ponies (c) Duncan Hutt

Livestock checking continues through the holiday period.  Today’s visit to Prestwick Carr was certainly a fruitful one from a wildlife perspective and a successful one in ascertaining all the livestock was OK.  There are 4 new Exmoor Ponies although it was the resident 6 that had a good race around a new field as they were let out to wander further afield.

Roe deer (c) Duncan Hutt
Roe deer (c) Duncan Hutt
Short-eared owl (c) Duncan Hutt
Short-eared owl (c) Duncan Hutt

The wildlife sightings are certainly worth a mention.  There was a herd of 9 roe deer gently grazing and about 12 snipe flew up from the rushy sward.  Redwings and starlings put in fly-pasts and a buzzard circled overhead.  It was, however, a short-eared owl that put in the most impressive show, flying up from close by then circling before settling in a hawthorn along one of the field boundaries.

Happy Hebrideans at Hauxley

Hebrideans at Hauxley enjoying some winter sun
Hebrideans at Hauxley enjoying some winter sun

Our Hebrideans have been grazing a small meadow area at Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Hauxley Nature reserve.  This is a very floristically diverse patch of grassland which has begun to start to lose its richness over recent years so hopefully the introduction of grazing should help improve this area for the future.  The sheep have further grazing jobs to do on site over the months to come but the more tricky areas will have to wait until the New Year.  This was also an opportunity to look at this area and the results of the grazing as an example of what could be repeated for Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Magnificent Meadows project.  In this project the grazing would be on even rougher ground but the ease at which these sheep can be herded might make some very difficult sites possible.

Sheep get starring role

The Community Foundation’s LEAF fund promotional video features Flexigraze as one of its supported projects.  The video features some of our sheep, volunteers, Stephen and Jess.  The LEAF fund was a great help to us when we were starting up and the fund has helped a variety of other very worthy environmental projects over the years.

 

 

Spiders in the mist

Spider in its dew covered web
Spider in its dew covered web
Exmoor Pony being nosey
Exmoor Pony being nosey

Prestwick Carr was emerging from the overnight mist during this morning’s stock check.  The sheep, cattle and ponies were well spread out around the Carr and thus took a long time to find but all were present and healthy when they were found – unusually it was the sheep that were easiest to find today.  

Reed buntings, a flock of goldfinches, a kestrel and a buzzard were among the birds to be seen while a roe dear leapt out of the way past the ponies.  It was, however, the spider’s webs that were most impressive with their beads of dew and the spider sitting tight in the centre.  

Racing for a snack

A Bakethin sheep has a quick snack
A Bakethin sheep has a quick snack

The sheep are back in the Capon Field at Bakethin Reservoir, this is a mixture of Hebridean, Manx and Shetland, which should be well suited to the less than lush pasture. They are visible (or are at times visible) from the Lakeside Way – the path around the lake.  Checking of them is made much easier by the fact that they will come when called if there is a tasty snack available for them, just enough to make them come to the call and not enough to stop them eating what they are here to eat.  Sure enough they came racing down the field the other day to enjoy their reward!  All were present and correct.

Racing for food
Racing for food

 

Wild Creatures

Soay sheep at Linton Lane nature reserve.
Soay sheep at Linton Lane nature reserve.

The Soay sheep at Linton Lane were contentedly resting in the late morning warmth.  They looked a little like wild antelope on the savanna glimpsed between the scrubby gorse and hawthorn.  All seemed to be content and oblivious to the group of visitors gazing at them and the birds on the pond behind them through binoculars.