For the first time this year, I have had the pleasure of working at the farm again, being one of several farm volunteers who help out over the summer, along with those who also cover the weekends and other holidays throughout the year.  It is evident that a lot of work has been carried out by students and staff over that last academic year and the farm is looking great.  As it is a while since either myself or Pete has had the chance to write for the blog, here is a brief update.

Crackle Summer 2019


Crackle is now retired and enjoying a quiet life in her paddock.  She still loves to be made a fuss of and welcomes a rub on the head.





The hens continue to lay their delicious eggs regularly.  There are two groups of chickens.  One consisting of 7 hens and one of 4 hens with a cockerel (Simon)



Penny, one of Crackle’s piglets became our breeding sow a couple of years ago and is currently expecting her third litter of piglets. Penny is very vocal and like her mum enjoys plenty of attention.



The ducks are as vocal as ever and enjoy a clean pond in the morning when they are released from their overnight accommodation.  Some of our Khaki Cambell ducks are getting on a bit now and sadly we have lost a couple recently.  They continue to amuse us though.



The ewes produced many lambs this year. Seven of the ewe lambs have been kept and will hopefully produce our lambs of the future.



The polytunnels and planted beds are full of produce including tomatoes, sweet corn, and runner beans, and the current rain has been very welcome. Hopefully, though, the sunshine and warmth will return shortly.

Tree bumblebees


Recent I read an article about a new species of bumblebee to the UK – called the ‘tree bumblebee’. It first appeared in the UK (from continental Europe) in 2001 and has spread fast across our islands so that it is now widely distributed. In an interesting example of how knowledge opens your eyes I’ve now noticed a colony of such bees at the school farm.

They are living in one of our nest boxes (apparently one characteristic of these bees is that they like nest boxes) and are both numerous and active bumblebees (again, what they are said to be like). I think it’s quite likely that without first knowing about these bees I would have overlooked them.


11 Healthy Piglets for Penny


Crackle’s daughter Penny gave birth to 11 delightful piglets on Wednesday 30th May in the middle of the night.  Peter had been keeping an eye on her throughout the night for  a few days before, getting up at all hours to check on her.   She gave birth in the middle of the night with Peter watching over her.

This is Penny’s first farrowing and all went well.  She is being a great mum and the piglets are thriving.

Photographs will follow

One of our new Ewe’s Lambs


I never tire of doing the farm.  No matter what the weather it is always enjoyable.  Today was no exception.  I arrived about 7.30 to the sound of hungry pigs and sheep.  I fed the pigs first as they make the most noise and then the two new ewes.  Both Babs and Stamper were at the fence waiting as usual. As  I stepped over the fence to grab the container for their food, this little face appeared out from behind mum, followed by a second face.  Babs had had her lambs in the early hours of the morning and as a new mum was doing everything she needed to do.  Andrea always goes in at all times of the day and night to check on our sheep and because Babs & Stamper are first time mums has been keeping an extra eye on them but she had decided she wanted to go it alone.

The lambs are incredibly cute as always and I will post some photos tomorrow.

Breaking News – The Lambing Season at Abbrook is here!


I cannot believe it is twelve months since I last wrote about lambing at the farm.

Tuesday 27th February 2018:  This morning one of our Ewes “Prancer” has given birth to twin lambs.

  • Further update 10:20 a third lamb has arrived!
  • Two ram lambs and a ewe lamb


Thursday 1st March:  On a snowy Thursday morning. Mary gave birth to twin lambs, mum and lambs doing well in a lovely warm barn.

Friday 2nd March:  A very large ram lamb born to our Ewe Strimmer.

All Ewes and lambs doing well.


Saturday 10th March:  Sadly one of our Ewe’s Liz gave birth to twin lambs but they were dead on arrival.  She was given a dose of antibiotics in case of an infection and regularly monitored.  On Sunday morning the vet had to be called as she didn’t seem to be getting any better.  A third lamb was removed by the vet.  Liz remains poorly but we are hopeful that she will pull through, she has always been a very good mum.  In the meantime the Vet is going to get tests done on the dead lamb as a precaution.

Student Blog 2018


The Student Blog is back for 2017/18

Year 10 & 11 ELBS Students go to the farm first thing in the morning before they come into school and then give us an account of what they did and what they enjoyed at the farm:

Week Beginning 5 March:  Jake S:  I like doing all the jobs in the farm.  There is nothing I don’t like doing and the best thing I like to do at the farm is to collect the eggs from the chickens and the ducks.

JonnyChickens: We collect the chicken eggs from the chicken shed. We weigh the chicken eggs and put them in a box so we can take them to Teign School.  We cleaned out the chicken shed, taking out the dirty straw to re-new it.   Ducks: We collect the duck eggs from the shed and weigh the duck eggs and clean out the shed.  Pigs: We fed the pigs 1 1/2  scoops of pellets and then when they are eating we have to clean out the pig pen.  We shovel the straw and poo into a wheelbarrow and tip it in the dump.  Lambs:  We feed the sheep 1/2 scoop of ewe nuts and if the water has straw in it we have to clean it out and fill it up with water that is clean.  Geese: We just feed the Geese with chicken food.  

I don’t hate any of the jobs that I have to do, I just get on with it.  I like to feel that I am helping the farm and making the farm run nicely.

Week beginning 19 February 2018:  Emily H:  When I was at the farm I helped out with cleaning out the pigs, sheep and chickens.  I had a good time at the farm and can’t wait to go back.

Phillipa B:  At the farm I cleaned out the pigs pen indoors, also I cleaned out the chickens, I fed the sheep and did their hay and water.  I enjoyed my week at the farm and I think it was a good experience.

Week beginning 5 February 2018:  Ella:  I loved doing farm duty because it was a good experience and I loved looking after all the animals.  I would rate it 10/10.  What did I do?:

  • Fed and watered the chickens, twice
  • cleaned the chickens out, twice
  • fed the pigs/piglets
  • fed the sheep, twice
  • cleaned out the barn

I loved farm duty as it was a different experience and to connect with animals, and good for my later life experience.

Annie: On Monday we collected the eggs from the chickens, fed them, then cleaned out the first pen and the second one.  On Tuesday we did the same but cleaned out the third section. On Wednesday I fed the piglets then cleaned out the back barn stable, well we started it, so it is clean for after half term for lambing season. On Thursday I fed the piglets again then we finished off cleaning the back barn. It was a great experience, I love doing it and can’t wait to do it again.

Week beginning 29 January 2018:  Lilli S:  In the mornings I have cleaned up the ducks/chickens.  I didn’t mind doing it as it was easy to do.

Week beginning 22 January 2018:  Loui J: What I liked about helping up on the farm is the pigs and sheep. I like cleaning them out and also helped with the chickens.  It has been a good experience for me and I would love to go again.

Week beginning 15 January 2018:  Rhianna:  My week at the farm was excellent.  I experienced new and exciting things.  I got to clean out the ducks and chickens. I fed the sheep and gave them fresh water and hay.  I also fed the chickens and collected their eggs.  It was all in all an amazing week.

Week beginning 2 January 2018:  Katie:  My time on the farm was fantastic because I was looking after the pigs.  I had to feed them and get rid of all the old hay and clear out their poo!  I loved every bit of my experience it was amazing.  However, on the first day the weather was awful but you can’t help it.

Molli B: My time at the farm was very fun as it’s nicer to be out doing something with animals than being in a classroom not doing much!  There is always something to do at the farm so you are always busy helping out by either cleaning out, feeding or collecting eggs.  I have really enjoyed my experience at the farm as I love working with animals and it gives me a good start to the day.

Charlotte A: This week at the farm I started off by helping out with the sheep on the first day. I watered and fed them and checked some of the ewe’s feet and I had to help feed the pig called Crackle.  It was really wet and muddy down there!  The next day I helped out with the sheep again and I like doing it because you are beginning to understand what needs doing in the mornings.  The third day I started by cleaning out the other pig called Penny and fed her, which was good.  After that I went to do the sheep again and moved some hay and straw.  I have enjoyed the experience this week but the weather has been not so great, but whatever the weather the animals still need to be cared for.

Week beginning 8 January 2018:  Quentin: Great week at the farm, moving animals, feeding animals and odd jobs around the farm.  I reckon the best bit was moving the pigs around.  One of them was running around the place like a mad thing!  Overall it was worth doing it.  Thanks Pete & Andrea for the week, I hope to do it again.



There have been some stylish butterflies on show at the farm recently – autumn should see high numbers with both home breed and migrated numbers at a peak. Three different sort, (left to right: Red Admiral, Common Copper and Speckled Wood), have been seen, with Red Admiral’s the most abundant.

What is also interesting is what butterflies we’ve not seen. No Small Tortoiseshell or Peacock (which have been common in the past nationally) and no rarities like Large Tortoiseshell or Painted Lady.

Looking back a little and then looking forward


We are back at school again, and as ever after the summer holiday there is a lot of catching up to do – it seems even more so this year.

Last year our tomatoes were damaged by an infestation of white fly. This year we spotted white fly early and, again, sourced some parasitic wasps. The wasps seem to have done their job because there are fewer white fly (though this might be weather related) and if you look at the picture you can just see where we think the wasps have parasitised the white fly larvae and pupa. Normally the larvae and pupa are white or translucent but if they’re parasitised by the wasps they go black.

In June, when it was dry and hot, there was very little grass for the sheep and lambs, and they were not doing well; now there is an abundance of grass and the condition of both the sheep and lambs is much improved – the ewes are a little too much improved as they are getting rather ’rounded’! Some of this year’s lambs were sold recently at a market and made a very good price – we were lucky and had picked a market day where there were lots of buyers trying to buy limited numbers of lambs, which tends to push prices higher. In the next few weeks we will be getting two new mule ewe lambs and then a few weeks later on a ram.

Crackle is now in retirement (lucky her) and we have kept a daughter ‘gilt‘ of hers (yet to be named) to become our new breeding sow. She looks to be another quiet, calm, intelligent animal – we hope she will have piglets in the first half of next year. We also have three other pigs, bought from another farm, in the barn – but they have to be kept away from these two so that we are sure they don’t pass on any infection, or indeed vice versa.

Finally, we’ve also got five new chickens (called pullets at this stage) that we hatched from eggs, and rather fine they look. They should lay lots of eggs over the next year, especially when the days start to get longer next year as this encourages chicken to lay eggs.

Student Blog 2017


The Student Blog is back for 2017/18

Year 10 & 11 ELBS Students go to the farm first thing in the morning before they come into school and then give us an account of what they did and what they enjoyed at the farm:

Week beginning 3 July 2017:  Shanny F:  On the farm this week I have been cleaning the barn and feeding the chicks and the guinea pigs. I have been helping Dan wash the eggs and weighed the eggs.  I also helped Dan to feed the ducks and chickens.  I had to lead the sheep into the pig area and we lost them.   This was hard for me.  I enjoyed my time at the farm and I would like to do it again.

Dan S:  This week doing farm duty was really good.  I fed the chickens and the ducks and collected their eggs ready to go to the school.  I fed the pigs and Crackle and I helped Pete to move the sheep.  I’ve been with Shanny through my farm duty and really enjoyed it.  I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Week Beginning 17 June 2017:  Robbie: This morning I went to the farm.  I am always excited to go to the farm to feed the animals and do any extra jobs.  The farm is always fun and exciting because you may do any extras while there.

Week beginning 5 June 2017:  Chelsea:  I really enjoyed this week at the farm, I helped Pete to move the sheep to another area and fed all the pigs.  I also watered all the plants in the poly tunnel and cleaned/fed the chicks and guinea pigs.  Pete and Andrea were really nice like always and helped us out if we got stuck with something. 🙂

Jeff: During my farm duty this week, I have each day, filled a bucket up with chicken/duck/goose feed, filled the correct feeders and collected eggs from the chickens and ducks.  I have also refilled the water for the chickens when needed.   Once I have got the eggs, I put the dirty eggs inside a water bucket.  Any eggs that were clean only needed the shavings rubbed off before moving on to weighing.  Then, the weight data must be recorded in the correct book, under the date of the day and stating if they were duck or chicken.  Then the dates must be written on the eggs with a pencil. Any cracked eggs must be removed before the egg box(s) could be sent away.

Jack H:  I really enjoyed doing the farm.  On the first day I cleaned out the pigs and fed them.  Then I fed Crackle, then we moved the sheep to under the pylon.  On Tuesday I cleaned out the chicks, one tried to escape and they pecked me and I did the pigs again.  I had a really good day.

Week beginning 21 May 2017:  Shanny:   This week I fed the chicks and I fed the guinea pigs and I did the flower beds with Dan.  I held one of the chicks which we incubated in the classroom for a few weeks and they are now at the farm and in a happy place.  One of the chicks has hairy legs!!  I have enjoyed this week because I got to feed the chicks and the weather was nicer than last duty I did.

Dan: This week I have been doing farm duty with Shanny.  I mucked out the pigs, fed the chickens and ducks, collected chicken and duck eggs to be ready for the school, fed the Guinea pigs and the chicks and if we had time we watered/weeded our veg beds.  I have really enjoyed farm duty and would like to do it again.

Week beginning 14 May 2017:  Eve D:  I really enjoyed my week at the farm.  Seeing the cute baby piglets and lambs.  One of my favourite jobs to do while I was at the farm was feeding the chickens and the ducks, then collecting their eggs.  I did enjoy all the jobs I did, like cleaning out the pigs area and feeding the sheep but collecting the duck and chicken eggs was better.  After you got the eggs you would clean them and weigh them.  I loved the week and can’t wait until I can do it again.

Week beginning 24 April 2017:  Charlie T:  I really enjoyed farm duty this week, we cleaned out and fed the piglets, we collected the eggs and fed and watered the chickens and ducks.

Corey M:  This week at the farm, I have collected chicken and duck eggs and refilled their food bowl and water.  On that day I was wearing shorts by accident.  On Thursday I had to clean out the piglet’s area which was okay, it just stank a bit!  To improve the week I wished that the whole group was doing it because we were missing Will.

Week Beginning 17 April 2017:  Lois W:  I loved working at the farm this week.  On my first day I fed the chickens and ducks and collected the eggs, as well as washing them to pure perfection!  Not a mark on them!  The next day we helped Pete get the sheep into the paddock which was great fun.  The next day I proceeded to clean out the pigs as well as feeding them to keep them occupied and out-of-the-way.  It didn’t last long.  But honestly, it was great fun and we had lots of support from Pete and Andrea and I can’t thank them enough! 🙂

Week Beginning 13 March 2017:  Alex B: I have very much enjoyed farm duty, looking after all of the animals and being helped by Pete and Andrea.  They were very helpful if we were unsure of our task.  I looked after the pigs, hens and ducks for my week.

Jake H: I really enjoyed farm duty as Pete and Andrea made it fun.  We did the sheep, pigs and poultry.  It was fun!

Louis B:  I enjoyed my weeks of farm duty, I fed the sheep, pigs and poultry.  Pete taught me about spotting healthy and unhealthy pigs and how to try and make them better.  Overall it was a good experience.  Very fun!!

Week Beginning 6 March 2017:  Jeff W: I collected the eggs from the ducks and chickens each day, I fed them and replaced their water when necessary.  I then weighed the eggs, cleaned them and wrote the dates on the eggs.  I enjoyed looking around and finding the eggs, however I disliked having to find the eggs in the mud and the smell in the barn.

Chelsea D: I thought farm duty was good.  I fed Crackle and cleaned her pen, refilled the food bins and sheep water and a few more jobs.  My favourite part was when I held the lambs.

Grace M: I really enjoyed my week at Abbrook Farm.  I fed the sheep, made sure they had water and helped to clean them out.  I also go to feed the guinea pigs.

Jack H: I love working at the farm.  On Tuesday I put new hay in for the pregnant Ewes and put in fresh water and fed them.  Wednesday, I cleaned out Cracks and got to see the new piglets and fed and watered the guinea pigs, Gandalf and Shadow and dug up the compost.

Week Beginning 27 February 2017:  Dan: When I did farm duty I cleaned Crackle’s pen out each morning.  It was a bit smelly but after a few seconds I got used to it.  After I did that I would shovel it on to the dung heap to get rid of it all. On Thursday I helped Shanny clean the chicken and duck eggs ready to be sold and/or given to the school.  I enjoyed doing farm duty and would like to do it again.

Shanny: On the farm this week I did the chickens and ducks.  I picked up the eggs from the ducks and chickens and I washed the eggs in cold water and dried them and weighed them.  I fed them animal pellets and water.  The chickens are still inside and the ducks are outside.  The ducks enjoyed being outside in the hot sun and not getting pecked by the chickens.  This morning two of the chickens were laying an egg while I was in the poly tunnels and eggs were warm and not cold like the others.  The ducks had six eggs this morning and Miss picked the egg up from the back and got stuck in the duck house!!

Week beginning 20 February 2017:  Callum M:  My week at Abbrook farm was fun.  At the farm I had to fill up the lambs water and feed the lambs. I also had to clean out the ducks and the chickens.  I collected the eggs every day and fed the ducks and chickens, then I had to feed the geese.  My week at the farm was good and there was nothing I hated and I would definitely do it again.

Seth: I had a great time at Abbrook Farm.  I had to feed and clean out Crackle, the pig.  Also I had to clean out the chickens/ducks.  My favourite part of the week was collecting the chicken and duck eggs.

Week beginning 6 February 2017:  Corey M: During my time at the farm I have learnt new skills, how to work as a team and I had so much fun.  When I was there I had to feed Crackle and the sheep.  The sheep were funny to feed because it’s harder than you think!

Charlie T: It was good fun.  On our first day we cleaned out the chickens and ducks and collected their eggs and then fed them.  The next day we fed the sheep and then Crackle (The pig!) and cleaned out the paddock bit for the sheep.  Pete and Andrea were a great help.  Day 4, it was very wet though.

Kieron W:  At the farm we do lots of things like feeding the animals and you can fix things like vegetable beds.  And there are many other things to do.  What I like about the farm is there is a lot of team effort and there is always something to do.  Something that can be improved at the farm is how things are explained to us all.

Week beginning 2 January 2017: Alex B:  We started off with cleaning out the ducks and chickens and feeding them.  Then using the spare food we fed the geese.  The next day we fed the sheep and filled up the water buckets and put hay in the field.  We then repeated this for the other two days of our duty.

Louis B:I started by feeding the sheep which I did for 3 days.  It was fun even with the sheep trying to knock me over.  Day 4 I fed the chickens, ducks and geese.  Andrea and Pete helped lots, it was pretty cold though.

Jake H: It was great fun.  We fed the sheep, pig, ducks, chickens and geese.  We cleaned out the chickens and ducks.  Pete and Andrea were a great help.  The only thing that could improve was if it wasn’t so cold.

Crackle Farrows 3 March 2017

Crackle has this morning given birth to 8 piglets.  Our dedicated farm technicians have been keeping an eye on her at various hours during the day and night for the last few days. Both Andrea & Pete were there again watching over her during the night last night and finally getting to bed at 4am!! Photographs will appear over the weekend.

cracks-piglets-2017And, just four days later, eight noticeably more plump, contented piglets enjoy the heat lamp and yet another nap….

Day eight…

Day fifteen…

Spring 2017 – Lambing season arrives

18 March 2017:  Twins born today.  These are the last of our lambs due this year, bringing our total this year to 16.   Most of the lambs are out in the field now. More photos to follow.

14 March 2017:  TRIPLETS!!!  One of our mules has had triplets.  Mum seems to be coping well with feeding three and they all seems to be getting plenty of milk but just in case, we have the bottles on hand to top them up.





11 March 2017:   We have had another two Ewes lamb this morning.  One had a single lamb, the other twins.




8 March 2017:  Two of the  mules have had their lambs today.  One gave birth to a large ewe lamb the other a large ram lamb.

3 March 2017 – Whilst Crackle was farrowing, Strimmer was giving birth to lambs a very productive and busy night.


2 March 2017:  Our smallest LLeyn ewe “June” has today had a ewe lamb.

27 February 2017: Liz has today given birth to two ram lambs.


Lambs 4 days old


The first of two lambs born today.  The lamb was on his feet within minutes of being born

22 February 2017:  One of our older ewes, Mary today gave birth to a ram lamb.  “Mary had a large, ram lamb, his fleece was black as coal.”  A photograph will appear here shortly. Her daughter Liz (from a couple of years ago) is due to lamb in the next day or so.


Mary’s lamb 9 days old


New born lamb – he now on his feet and bounding around


As school starts again after half term the farm is starting one of its busiest times of the year. We are expecting both the sheep to lamb and Crackle to farrow within the next two weeks.

As and when things happens we’ll be posting updates!


Christmas Greetings

The Animals and Staff at Abbrook Farm would like to wish everyone a

very Merry Christmas and a Happy & Prosperous New Year.

Merry Christ

We would also like to say a HUGE thank you to all the volunteers who have helped out during 2016.

Autumn 2016 at Abbrook

Autumn at the school farm seems to start out with plenty to do and just get more so.

Our attempt to deal with ‘white fly’ failed abysmally – the tiny parasitic wasps appeared to have no effect at all! So, while in most autumns we have products from the poly tunnels available well into November, this year the plants were so damaged that there was very little. Next year the wasps are going to be introduced much earlier in the hope they will establish better…

ramThe sheep were brought back from their summer holiday a few miles away early in September. After some routine sheep maintenance (feet trims, general health checks, worming, applying fly deterrent) they were ready to be put with the ram for ‘tupping’. We collected the ram we hire during October and put him with the ewes, this year he is wearing a harness ewemarked(visible in the pictures) that hold a marker block – which we change to a different colour each week. When an ewe is mated she gets marked with that week’s chosen colour. Last year the ram was in poor condition and failed to get several of the ewes into lamb, this year he was in tip top condition and all the ewes seem to be in lamb. You can see various coloured marks on the ewes in the picture, we used light colours first (because they would overprint better if the ewes don’t get pregnant straight away). It’s clear that they came into season steadily, and that each one is in lamb first time (no mixed colour marks), so lambing should be spread over a few weeks rather than it being more haphazard as it can be if ewes don’t ‘catch’ first time.

Thankfully its not been one of those autumn when it rains incessantly so we’ve been able to get on with plenty of those outdoor maintenance jobs wet weather can hold up. Our ELBS students have been busy helping us repair our vegetable beds, repair fences and keep a close check on the lambs health and growth rate.

turkeys1Latterly we’ve been preoccupied with keeping our Christmas turkey2turkeys happy and growing well. They seem to have done well this year, perhaps because the weather has been kind, perhaps because we wormed them, or perhaps because our decision to bed them on straw rather than just sawdust is more to their liking.

And the pigs? The last pigs of the litter from earlier in the yearcr31216 are now gone. We sent two of them to market and they fetched a good price. It turns out pigs are in short supply at the moment – when that happens selling pigs can be relatively easy as stock market demand and prices respond quickly to too few or too many animals for sale. Crackle the sow has been to meet the boar and, hopefully, will produce piglets in March – though it is too early to tell if she is pregnant and we wont be sure until the new year. All you can say from the picture is she isn’t obviously not pregnant…



Tiny but troublesome

We need to have a varied mix of animals and plants at the school farm, but this can leave us trying to keep an eye on many things.

White fly on the underside of a butternut squash leaf

White fly on the underside of a butternut squash leaf

The last month has seen fine warm weather – it’s often been hot inside the poly tunnels. I checked the tunnels two weeks ago and noticed tiny white flies on the leaves of both the tomatoes and the squashes. They are, unsurprisingly, called ‘whitefly‘ and are a pest of crops in both greenhouse and poly tunnels, and they like warmth. Within a few weeks, if the conditions are right, there can be thousands of them – the conditions have been right and there are thousands of them! White fly larvae damage crops rather like aphids do – they suck the plants sap and that weakens, even dries out, the plant. As you can see none of the plants look perfectly healthy. Weak plant then are vulnerable to other diseases and problems, ours now have sooty molds growing where white fly has caused damage.

Encarline wasp pupae can just be seen as the black blob on the card

Encarsia wasp pupae can just be seen in the black blob on the card

There are options for dealing with white fly, either chemical spray or biological control. We don’t like to use chemical spray, so I turned to biological controls.

White flies are white and tiny. But even they have their own pests – tiny little (harmless) parasitic wasps called ‘Encarsia formosa‘ – they’re so small they’re hard to see. You can buy these wasp, which come on a little card that you hang in the plants with the wasp ready to hatch on them. The wasps hatch within a few days and seek out white fly larvae, they then lay their eggs on the white fly larvae and the wasp larvae eat them. Great! But, it takes time for that to happen and, this year, the damage to our plants may well be done.

Tiny Encarline wasps - about 1mm long.

Tiny Encarsia wasps just hatched – about 1mm long.


Tomato leaf plastered in white fly scales

But, we’ve learnt a lesson and next year will be introducing the wasps before the white fly get out of control! The last picture shows how out of control they have got, a leaf covered in white fly scales ready to hatch…

Delightful ducklings

At the school farm we’ve had quite a bit of success artificially incubating chicken eggs (with two batches of growing pullets to show for that effort) but rather less success with duck eggs – sadly, they often don’t hatch. It seems duck eggs are more sensitive to the conditions they are incubated in than chicken eggs – it may be our incubator isn’t sophisticated enough.

But, one of our chickens recently went ‘broody’, just like one of our farms wild bird in the spring she would like a clutch of eggs to sit on, to incubate and then hatch. We wondered if she would sit on duck eggs, so we swapped the various hens eggs she kept trying to sit one for some duck eggs.

It takes 28 days for duck eggs to incubate, but the hen was diligent and sat contentedly on the eggs. Thursday 9th was day 28 and we were surprised and delighted to find 3 lovely duckling with a very proud hen watching over them!

We don’t think the hen will take to water, but it’s clear the ducklings do – they were happily splashing around within hours of hatching…




Mother Hen and her brood of Ducklings

Breaking News -Piglets arrive today

Crackle has today given birth to 13 piglets, 3 were stillborn but the other 10 are incredibly lively.  She started to farrow at about 10:45 this morning, the last piglet arriving at 13:35.  Pete and Andrea had been popping up at regular intervals during the night, as we knew it was going to be soon.


Crackle’s 10 piglets feeding 5pm 27.05.2016

Crackle is a very content pig and so are her piglets

Day 2: Today the piglets were vaccinated with Iron. Piglets need iron supplements because they have a low iron reserves at birth and a high grow rate. Crackle’s milk covers about 10% of the iron they need so an iron injection is the most common way of giving them the supplement they need.

Following their injection they were all playing together prior to another feed and plenty of sleep.  Very contented little pigs!!!

Sunday 29th May 2016:  Piglets all looking well and lively, including going outside the comfort of their nest.  Although we have a lamp set up for them to lie under they are preferring just to lie on top of each other in they hay.  Crackle is looking well and being an incredibly good mother, as always.

Our first lamb of the season has arrived, more to follow……

Breaking News:  14:01 Tuesday 12th April, the first lamb of the season was born at Abbrook Farm.  We will update you with further news and photos as the day progresses.


2016: First born Ewe lamb



There are several Ewes due to lamb in the next couple of weeks.





Wednesday 13th April:  Twin lambs born


Thursday 14th April 2016:  Mary has had twin lambs again this year: (pictured below)

Tuesday 19th April:  8:32 Liz had her first lamb followed by it’s twin at 9:13, one ewe and one ram lamb: 


Twins born 19.4.2016 – Liz

Wednesday 20th April:  Triplets born with the assistance of “Midwife Andrea”. The first was born backwards, the second was born normally and the third had it’s legs pointing backwards so Andrea had to assist with triplet one and three.  All three lambs were on their feet within 20 minutes of birth and are lively and vociferous. This evening Andrea had to tube feed them colostrum.


Triplets born 20.04.2016 to 7727

We are now patiently waiting for our last Ewe to lamb (pictured below)

Her lamb was born Thursday 21st April 2016


Once we know the lambs are feeding okay we let them out into the field with the other lambs and ewes.  It is lovely to watch them running and jumping around with the other lambs.

Student Blog 2016

Year 10 & 11 ELBS Students go to the farm first thing in the morning before they come into school and then give us an account of what they did and what they enjoyed at the farm: Students are given a questionnaire to complete with the following questions: 1. What you did during your week on farm duty? 2. What you enjoyed?. 3. What you didn’t enjoy? 4. Your favourite animal and why? 5. What was the weather like? 6. Did anything out of the ordinary happen? 7. Any comments you would like to make.

Week beginning 27 June 2016:  Liam: This week at the farm I have enjoyed everything we did eg. feed the pig, chickens etc. because it is something different and I enjoy working with animals.

Henry F:  I really liked feeding the pigs because it reminds me of when we used to have pigs on our land.  When I got to the farm on Monday I got asked to empty out the bags of feed into the proper designated feed bins.  I also go asked to feed and water the chickens then collect and weigh the eggs.  I got shown the correct feed for the rabbits, guinea pigs and ducklings.  I managed to feed them all properly and not to forget to feed them.   Yesterday, myself, Liam and Tom helped Miss put boots up into the hay loft to tidy up for the ELBS BBQ while talking about fertilizer and bailing.  Overall, I had a great time at the farm this week.  Who knows what could happen today!

Tom D:  Overall I enjoyed my time at the farm, I particularly enjoyed feeding the piglets as they also seemed to have a taste for my boots!  I also found it quite amusing watching Liam feed the young cockerels had it in for him and kept attacking him.

Week beginning 20th June 2016: Chloe A: On Monday I did the ducks, chickens and geese.  I also watered the plants.  Personally Monday was the worse day because it was raining a lot.  On Tuesday I cleaned out and fed the piglets and the other two pigs.  I really enjoyed sitting with the piglets however Wednesday was my best day because I got to do the lambs and the small animals which I loved.  On Thursday I did the ducks, chickens and geese again.  I learnt how to tell the duck and chicken eggs apart which is really helpful and as the week progressed the weather warmed up which was really nice!

Lucy Partridge: On Monday I cleaned out the pigs.  It was raining so I was glad to be inside.  The piglets were trying to eat my feet! I climbed into the pig house and cleaned out the trough.  On Tuesday I fed the ducks, chickens and geese.  The smaller chickens attacked me.  On Wednesday I cleaned out the pigs again.  On Thursday I fed the guinea pigs, rabbit and chicks.  I also put the guinea pigs into the outdoor pen.  The worst bit was the heat, the best bit was holding the guinea pigs and rabbit.

Kimberley M: On  Monday I fed the guinea pigs, rabbit the ducklings and the baby chicks. Later on I watered the plants in the poly tunnels.  I then went to feed the chickens and ducks on a later day, after I cleaned out the pigs and watered the plants.  I enjoyed my week at the farm but Monday was my best day.

Week beginning 13 June 2016:  Emma W: Monday & Tuesday I fed the lambs and got the eggs.  Wednesday: I got the eggs and watered the plants.

Lucy C:  Monday:  On Monday morning I arrived late at the farm and forgot my farm cloths so I had to wear some spare overalls and they were so big I found it difficult to walk. I quickly went down to the bottom of the farm to feed the pig (me and my friend Emma) then went to feed all the smaller animals, starting  with the little chicks.  Their food came in a big bag and I had to fill their small chicken feeders with it, which was difficult because if I poured the food into the feeder it would spill everywhere but if I took handfuls and placed it in the feeder it would take a really long time.  Then I fed the rabbit Blue and the two guinea pigs.  Tuesday morning started with me and Emma giving the two lambs their last bottle of warm milk which  they downed instantly.  Then I went to go and feed the pig and all the small animals again but this time I had to feed the chicken and the three duckings that were put together in one small cage and that made it really difficult to collect their food bowl.  Eventually I needed Emma’s help as every time I opened the cage door the chicken would walk right up to block the entrance whilst the ducklings were all sitting on top of the food bowl making it impossible to grab hold of.  After a lot of poking and pushing we finally fed and watered the chicken and duckling.  On Wednesday morning I only had 20 minutes down the farm because I had to get to school early so I quickly fed the pig, fed and watered the rabbit and guinea pig.  Thursday was my last lime doing farm duty, I went to collect the chicken and duck eggs then feed and water them (whilst getting attacked by a chicken) then give the leftover food to the geese.  Then I washed and weighed and labelled the eggs (having broken two), watched my friend Emma get surrounded by piglets nibbling at her clothes and feed the rabbit, chicks and guinea pig then top up their water.  Didn’t have to feed the chicken and ducklings because they were made a nice new pen so they could have more room to run around.

Week beginning 6 June 2016:  Chelsea:  At the farm I fed the new lambs and all the other animals.  I also looked after Crackle, the pig.

Week beginning 9 May 2016:  Ella H:  Monday – I fed the chickens and put water out for them, collected the eggs and washed them and weighed them  Tuesday: I pretty much did the same thing as Monday.  Wednesday: I did the pigs, fed them and also Crackle.  I fed and watered the rabbit and guinea pigs.  Moved the big ducklings into a new home. Thursday: I bottle fed the lambs and carried them into the garden.  I fed the pigs and Crackle.  Fed the rabbit and guinea pigs  I enjoyed this week.  My favourite thing was bottle feeding the lambs, also having nice mornings as well.  Thank you.

Chloe M:  I don’t like to feed the ducks because they are smelly but this week I have really enjoyed doing the farm because of feeding the lambs.  I didn’t realise how heavy they actually are and how strong their grip is on the bottles.

Week beginning 25 April 2016Amber F:  My week helping out at the farm has been amazing.  I get to spend time with my best friend and also find more information about animals.  We have so much fun and laughs at the farm.  My favourite bit is feeding the baby lambs and also feeding the pigs.  I don’t really like feeding the ducks and chickens because they kept chasing us!

Chloe G:  I really enjoy the farm.  We had really good weather and I love doing every job set but I really like feeding the lambs and I don’t really like doing the chickens.

Week beginning 11 April 2016 Emma:I fed the ducks and chickens and the guinea pigs and the rabbit called Blue. I got the eggs from the ducks and chickens and fed the pigs.  I did the same on Tuesday.  On Wednesday I did the same but there was a lamb and twin lambs born.  Thursday: Another set of lambs born.

Lucy C: On Monday I forgot I had farm duty for the week because it was the first day back at school after half term.  My friend reminded me and I quickly rushed up to the farm.  Once I got dressed into some spare overalls, I couldn’t do any jobs so Pete just talked me through how to feed the piglets.  Tuesday:  My partner Emma went to feed the pigs and I went to collect the eggs and feed the ducks, chickens, geese and chicks.  Once all the eggs were collected I went up to the barn to weigh, then record the weight and date the eggs.  Wednesday:  When I got to the farm I saw that three lambs had been born, one was born Tuesday night and the twins were born in the morning (I thought they were incredibly cute).  After I got changed I went down to feed Crackle (the mother pig) and all the piglets.  Unfortunately, I heard the piglets were nearly ready to be sent away but mine and Emma’s favourite piglet (the one with the black nose) who we called Emma will be staying which was nice to hear.  Thursday: When I got to the farm another cute black lamb had been born.  Me and Emma fed and filled the sheep buckets then I filled the piglet’s and Crackle’s buckets of food and came back up to the farm to weigh,clean and record the eggs.

Week Beginning 21 March 2016: Chelsea B: This week I fed the chickens, chicks, ducks, rabbit, pigs, Crackle and the sheep. We also weighed the pigs and moved Crackle outside. It was fun!!

Ben: Monday – Fed the pigs. Tuesday – weighed the pigs. Wednesday – moved Crackle. Best part – feeding the pigs. Worst – weighing the pigs..

Week beginning 7 March 2016:  Jess:  Farm duty this week was good. I enjoyed feeding the animals. I didn’t enjoy the weather when it rained.  I fed the sheep most of the week, I also fed the guinea pigs and rabbit.

Leah: Whilst we were at Abbrook Farm we have done a range of different things using different skills this week. I’ve been feeding the ducks and chickens then collected their eggs to be washed and put into boxes.

Charmaine C: Monday – I showed Connor how to feed the pigs at the bottom (field) and I showed him how much food to put in the bucket.  Tuesday – I fed the sheep up in the top field with Connor, I did the “cake” in the bucket and Connor put hay blocks in, scattered around the farm.  Wednesday:  I fed the sheep in the top field.  The I collected four chicken eggs and three duck eggs.  I fed the chickens and the ducks too.   Thursday – I helped Connor feed the sheep up in the top field, then we changed their water because it looked muddy.  We cleaned out the black one thoroughly because it had a layer of mud in the bottom of it.

Connor:  At the school farm I fed the pigs and the two lambs  I also gave them hay and spread straw around their pen.  I have also put straw in the top field for the sheep and watered them.  I also put soil from one bag to another to make them both half full.  I have also mucked out the chickens and in the process found eggs.  Whilst at the farm I have greatly enjoyed myself as it gave me more experience with the animals and farming.  There is nothing I would change about Abbrook Farm as it is a nice place and a pleasure to be at.

Week Beginning 29 February 2016:  Ella H: I really enjoyed this week doing farm duty.  I liked feeding the pigs, sheep, chicks and ducks, also cleaning out their areas.  I would do this every other week if I was allowed to.  It would be nice to have new animals maybe ponies, small cows and goats.  Also I love all the animals on the farm even if they do make a mess.  Thank you to Pete and Andrea.

Week beginning 22 February 2016:  Liam F: At the farm every morning we had to go and feed the chickens, duck, sheep and pigs.  We also had to clean the pigs.  I liked it when we had to weigh the pigs because it was different.  To improve the farm they could have more breeds or different animals.

Tom D: I enjoyed my week on farm duty because I liked going to the pigs to feed them and I would throw it (the food) in the back of their house and they would go mad.  I also really like feeding the sheep their sheep nuts because they would try to nick it out of your bucket!

Week Beginning 8 February 2016:  Amber: My week doing farm duty was really fun.  I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it but I did!  My favourite thing was cleaning out the indoor pigs and feeding them, I also enjoy every minute of the farm.

Week Beginning 1 February 2016: Chloe A: I loved doing everything however, I really enjoyed collecting the eggs from the ducks and chickens and feeding them also.  I liked feeding the rabbit and sheep, cleaning out the pigs wasn’t fun to begin with but  as I got used to the smell it got easier.  Also carrying the food was a fun challenge, but overall I had a really good first week and I’m looking forward to doing it again.

Kim:   On Monday I fed the sheep and I weighed the duck eggs.  On Wednesday I went and fed the ducks, chickens and geese.  I got 2 eggs from the ducks.  I then cleaned out the pigs.  My week up the farm was good and I enjoyed it.

Week beginning 25 January 2016:  Lucy C: Farm duty was really fun at times because I got a bit of experience of how a farm is usually run.  We got to see and feed all the animals and collect the chicken and duck eggs, which was nice.  Every morning we had to clean out the pig pen and sometimes shovel all the muck onto the muck pile  But then the next day I got to feed all the animals which was nice, and still clean out muck.  That was my best day because I got to do a bit of everything even though it was raining.  My worst however, was the following day, Thursday when I got attacked by the geese twice, which made me drop the only egg I found that morning and I fell over in the mud pit outside when I was feeding the outdoor pig which got my whole left side completely wet and muddy.  Then on our last day we got to do a bit of everything again.

Emma W: Day 1:  Me and Lucy C clean out the pigs.  When Lucy C was putting the poo on the poo heap I fed the ducks and got 2 eggs but 0 eggs from the chickens.  Day 2: the same as Day 1.  Day 3: I was not there. Day 4: I fed the sheep and the lambs and the pigs, cleaned out the pigs and went to school!

Week beginning 18 January 2016:  Chelsea B:  Everyday I went to the farm and fed all the animals including pigs, sheep, chickens,ducks and geese.  I had a fantastic experience of working on a farm.

Ben C:  This week at the farm I have fed the pigs, chickens and ducks.  I collected the chicken and duck eggs and mucked out the piglets.  The best part was feeding the animals.  The worst part was cleaning the pigs enclosure.  I think that the farm should get lots of disposable gloves so that we don’t smell of pigs all day at school!

Jamie B: Monday:  Go to the farm and the first job was to clean out the indoor pigs with Ben, once we swept it,  we loaded up the wheel barrow and emptied it out onto the dung heap.  Tuesday:  Did the same as Monday.  Wednesday:  I wasn’t in school due to the ice.  Thursday:  Me and Ben went to feed the out door pigs which was a very messy job because the trough had tipped over and we had to put our hands in all the mud/poo about 11 cm deep and tip it back over.  Friday:  Went to feed the outdoor pigs and then we had to load up Crackle onto the trailer which took a while.  She started charging and refusing to go in the trailer  This week has been fun and I learned a bit.  I only worried with the pigs but it was good fun!

Week beginning 5 January 2016:  Jess A: My first week doing farm duty was fun, the weather wasn’t too good but I love feeding ALL the animals but the geese were very loud and annoying and there weren’t many eggs.  My least favourite part was cleaning out the pig’s pen because they smell and we had to keep them in the little box because they chew your boots!  Where the outside pigs are was very muddy and my boot kept getting stuck and I almost fell over.  Overall it was good and I can’t wait to do it again.


As we welcome in the New Year we would like to say a big thank you to all the volunteers (and their families) who have helped out over the Christmas, New Year Holidays and throughout 2015.   It has been a challenging time for us all this holiday having to deal with the rain and wind, especially feeding the pigs in the field.  It is like walking up the down escalator walking back up the field!! The pigs don’t seem to mind though.

It goes without saying that your help is very much appreciated.

On behalf of Abbrook Farm we would like to wish everyone

a Very Happy and Prosperous 2016.


Another look at our new pigs

gmudWriting something for the blog when the farm is wet and muddy, the days short and (so far this month) dull can be a challenge – even the ever alert geese have been caught napping and trying to ignore it all.

But, the sun did, temporarily, come out and there was a sharpness to the view and temperature, it’s time for a little inspiration.

One (at least to me!) interesting little topic is how characteristics are inherited in pigs – yes really, it is interesting. Over her lifetime our sow, Crackle, has so far had 6 litters (pregnancies) that produced 76 live piglets in total and she has reared 67 of those piglets ( with most of the losses of piglets in just one of her six litters). We have had lot of piglets to look at, and (from a farming point of view) piglets produced at the respectable rate of over 11 pigs weaned per litter. Gradually we can see how characteristics are inherited, at least by our pigs, and one obvious characteristic is their ears.

Crackle has upright ears that she can move around and a white and blue skin. When the sire, father, of her piglets was also of a white breed with upright ears the piglets (unsurprisingly) have had similar ears and skin colour to hers. wildboarFor a wild pig (pictured) having acute hearing with ears that can move (to better pick up and locate sound) and that carry high will mean a better chance of hearing any danger than if it had ears that flop down, and so such pigs will be more likely to survive and reproduce. And it is the case that wild pigs are very alert to noise and have upright ears that can move to hear sounds – it’s no wonder farmed pigs never miss the sound of food with such ancestors as theirs! But for some domesticated pigs it seems some things are a little different.

Recently the boar we use has been of the breed ‘Large Black’ (and he is large and black!). Large Blacks also have floppy ears, very floppy ears. When he is the father we see changes to the piglets.

ears1The two litters sired by the large black have seen a mixture of piglet types. Usually there are about half black and half blue and white piglets and all the piglets have floppy ears. But, in the most recent litter four piglets have upright ears out of the eleven surviving. Surprisingly two of piglets even have one floppy ear and one upright ear. All very odd…

Now, several piglets did not survive so we don’t know what they would be like, but it does seem that colour inherits half from the mother and half the father (just like many ‘genetic’ characteristics) but that ear carry is rather different.

So why is this? Its probable floppy eared pigs in the wild are rare and the characteristic not often seen, but that over time farmers have clearly bred from pigs with such a characteristic (such pigs tend to have better temperament – well, they can’t see past their ears for a start…, so would be easier to keep) and it is likely the case once such a characteristic is in a population it will inherit in a more normal way (so floppy eared pigs can pass on such a characteristic to their offspring) even if one of the parent has upright ears and especially if farmers and breeders continually select for breeding pigs with floppy ears.

By this ‘selective breeding’, wild pigs have been changed hugely from what their wild boar ancestors were like and how their ears are is one easy to see sign of that change.



The piglets have arrived!!!

Crackle started nesting this morning.  Moving her straw into a comfortable place ready for her piglets to arrive.

Crackle nesting

Crackle “nesting”.

Under the watchful eye of “Midwife Pete” Crackle has this evening given birth to 11 live piglets.  The first piglet arrived at 16:35, the last at 18:55.  The piglets are various sizes, the smallest, who caused some concern for a while is now right in there with all the others, feeding well.

Piglet number 1 born16:35

Piglet number 1 born16:35

All piglets feeding well

Crackle is an excellent mum. Well done to Crackle (and Pete – you can mop that brow now!!).

Sadly Crackle did have 4 still born piglets, but that is not unusual with a large litter.  The live piglets appear to be very strong but obviously we will be keeping a very close eye on them over the next few days.

Watch this space!

A huge thank you once again to all who have helped out at the farm over the half term holiday and an advanced thank you to all doing the weekends leading up to Christmas.

Crackle, our fabulous sow is due to farrow again this week.  She is looking incredibly well and rather large, we hope all goes well with her farrowing.

Watch this space and we will update it as soon as it happens.



October farm update

It’s been a while since we’re posted any news so here goes.haws

ewespylonDry weather, after much rain, is making for a lovely autumn at the farm. The trees and shrubs are laden with berries and fruit and there is fresh grass for the sheep.

cracks915Crackle is expecting again, and is due to farrow early in November. After the unfortunate events of her last litter she’s been (if it’s possible) even better looked after this time – so far she looks to be in tip top condition. Windfall apples (one of which she is waiting to catch in the picture) are a great favourite of hers. We will keep a close eye on her over the next month.

The last three pigs from her last litter are nearly ready to go to be, well, turned into meat. The ‘sire’ of these pigs was a rare breed ‘large black’ – such pigs tend to be rather more fat covered and less muscled than ‘improved’ breeds. Look carefully at the two photos at the end of this post and you can see subtle differences between the three and two pigs from more ‘improved’ stock that we reared some time ago.

Our 8 ewes that were put to the ram produced 16 lambs this year, a ‘lambing rate’ of 200, and reared 16 lambs,lambs2015 a ‘lambing percentage’ of 200 – or an average, in both cases, of two lambs per ewe. Any commercial sheep farm would be delighted to achieve such results – but a farm with thousands of ewes simply can’t put the time and care (mollycoddling even…) per animal in we do. Nevertheless many sheep farms have a lambing percentage of 170 or more.

We are just starting to take batches of lambs to the abattoir. Lamb prices are lower this year than last, but we have more to sell and our rearing costs should be down (we’re learning more and getting better at shepherding each year) so we may make a small return.

In the poly tunnels the poorish summer meant it’s not been a good year for heat loving plants (melons, cucumbers, water melons) which pretty much failed to produce anything, but the tomatoes are still producing heavily and will probably continue to do so until the darker days, and more likely, dampness of later autumn is too much for them.


A Huge Thank You

We would like to say a HUGE thank you to all the volunteers who  helped out at the farm over the summer holiday. namely:

           Phil Spicer, Hannah Epps, Jo Slade, Lee Cheeseworth, Lynn Portsmouth,               Caroline Mitchell and Sarah Bushell.  Thanks also to their family members who help out with them.

We would also like to say a big thank you to  Amy Germon (School Receptionist) for all she does promoting the farm and the produce we sell.

Your support is very much appreciated!

A swarm of bees in May…

It’s been windy and wet today – swarm1not much of a day for the bees. I’d got on with the things that need doing around the farm until, late morning, I noticed a shape in the hedge some way off that caught my attention. The shape turned out to be a swarm of bees, a large ‘prime’ swarm – many thousands of bees.

Surprisingly I’ve not seen many large swarms in easy to view places – books on beekeeping may say something like ‘simply shake the swarm into a box and place into a beehive on a new site‘ but that’s not easy twenty foot up a house or tree… Sometimes, though, beekeeping happens as the book says.  The bees must have swarmed on Monday morning, when it was warm and sunny, swarm3and got caught by the weather before they could find a new home – probably the one that a beekeeper couldn’t get at (they’re canny bees are)…. Poor things, they’d spent the night outside, just their thousands of legs holding the swarm together, as the wind and rain battered down. And today it’s still windy and wet but there they are, literally holding on, wet, battered but looking surprisingly well.

Now swarms take honey with them (each bee carrying a tiny amount in its stomach) when they leave, but they need to find both a new home and be able to collect food if they are to survive and they can do neither in the wet and wind.swarm4

So, lucky for the swarm, I came along! I put a empty hive (prepared with honeycombs and a little sugar syrup as food) under the swarm and carefully cut it free, placing in on the box (the swarm wasn’t as heavy as I thought – they’d eaten much of their honey supply). Some confusion resulted but you can see the bees starting to ‘point’ in one direction – swarm5they know a good home when they’re plonked in one! All that remained to do was carefully put the roof on and job done!

But, bees are also contrary. You can put a swarm in a hive and if the queen dislikes it they’ll all fly off again. Would they stay? I watched what happened, slowly more and more bees went inside the hive, and they seemed to be getting on with sorting out a new hive7home. By mid afternoon, while the sun shone, they were busily doing what bees do – flying in and out with food. Then the wet and wind came back, hardly a bee to be seen – they’d all hunkered down in their new home.

Now all we need is the load of hay…

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