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Look at those lovely horns!

Look at those lovely horns!

Here at Mudchute, we are hosting the lovely Biddlesden Warrant. This handsome Whitefaced Woodland ram has a lovely temperament and gorgeous set of horns to match. Even more exciting are his genes. Whitefaced Woodlands are a vulnerable native sheep breed, which means there are only 500 – 900 breeding females in the UK. With such a small population, it is very important to ensure we keep our animals healthy and continue to breed to unrelated stock (no mean feat with so few individuals). With a carefully managed breeding programme and working closely with the RBST and breed societies, we hope to be able to help maintain and develop this beautiful hill breed and are delighted to have Warrant on the farm with us. So far he seems to be a hit with our ladies as well!

Warrant checking up on the ewes.

Warrant checking up on the ewes.

You may notice Warrant is wearing a harness. This device is a raddle, which holds a pad of paint or chalk. The raddle lets us know when the ram or tup) “covers” a ewe. Over the next few days you also spot him sniffing at the ewes with his top lip curled back, a behaviour called “flehmen” that helps him detect their hormone levels, which will tell him whether or not they will be receptive to his advances.

Rams are not the only ones who travel for a bit of matchmaking. Two of our Oxford Down ewes have been off to spend some time at Lambourne End with Hannibal the Southdown ram.

All the matchmaking seems to be going well and we hope to welcome lambs in the late spring. Ewes typically give birth after an average of 147 days (about 5 months), but won’t show many outward signs of pregnancy for quite some time as much of the fetal growth takes place in the final 1-2 months of gestation. With a bit of luck, we’ll be expecting at the end of Spring!


Preparing some of the hundreds of new plants.

Preparing some of the hundreds of new plants.

Today Froglife joined us on our wildlife ponds to continue to improve the area for wildlife. A few months since our big cleanup, the ponds are looking much better and teeming with wildlife. However, some of the more aggressive plants have begun to dominate the area and we can make the ponds even better for wildlife by encouraging greater diversity in our plantlife.

To help us do this, Vanessa Barber and Alex Draper from Froglife came down to help us plant up the ponds with a greater variety of native species. Armed with over 300 individual plants of many different species, we worked to add a range of textures and habitats to the ponds. Our aim is to create lots of different areas to the ponds, including open water spaces as well as planted areas along the edges (with great growth for emerging invertebrates like damselflies and dragonflies), as well as vegetation beneath the water to provide food, oxygen and shelter for aquatic life. Last but not least we can add floating plants, which wildlife can use as refuges and an anchor for their eggs.

We spotted lots of wildlife during the planting including frogs, newts, spiders, bumblebees, damselflies and beetles of all sorts. It’s great to see wildlife making our ponds home and we hope the new planting and other new wildlife initiatives will encourage even more wild creatures to take up residence.


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With warm summery weather on the horizon, it was time to get those fleeces off! Derek the shearer was back on the farm last week with clippers ready to shear our flock. It was a busy day and he will be coming back to shear our llamas and one of our alpacas soon. Shearing day was the hottest of the year (though we have since seen warmer temps!) and our flock seem very happy to have those fleeces off their backs.

Bonnie looking quite pleased to be having her fleece trimmed.

Bonnie looking quite pleased to be having her fleece trimmed.

We started with the mothers as their lambs don’t like being separated for too long at this age. First up was our first ewe to lamb, the Oxford Down ewe Bonnie.

Bonnie was an excellent model, sitting quietly throughout the shearing process. Her fleece was incredibly large and she must have been getting rather warm under all that wool. She’s a rather big girl, but much of that bulk was fleece as a slim and healthy ewe was revealed by the shears.

Bonnie after shearing and marked with the number 1, which also appears on her lambs.

Bonnie after shearing and marked with the number 1 to match her lambs.

It was fascinating to see the ewes and lambs reunited after shearing. The lambs know their mother by voice, smell and appearance. However, they seem to rely heavily on sight. There were lots of baas and reassurances required when they first saw their shorn mothers with the little ones looking puzzled. That sounds like my mum, but my mum is woolier than her! The hesitation didn’t last long though.

Bonnie reunited with her twin lambs.

Bonnie reunited with her twin lambs.

The lambs wait for their mothers to be shorn.

The lambs wait for their mothers to be shorn.

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You can find more photos of the first part of our shearing below and we hope you’ll agree our sheep are looking lovely with their new trims. They certainly feel better for it in this heat. We sell their rare breed fleeces to handspinners and we do have a number of fleeces and alpaca fibre available. The fleeces are sold “raw”, just as they come off the sheep and full of lanolin. You can find out more about them here and by email to farm_office@mudchute.org.