"After the Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001, our farming and tourism businesses had suffered very badly, like so many others. My business partner and I sat in the farm office determined to get through the financial strife we found ourselves in, due to no fault of our own. We looked at all aspects of the farm and Cotswold Farm Park searching for ways to add value or increase revenue to claw back our serious losses.
One idea suggested to us by a friend was to run horse fun rides. We set out a 12-mile course, meandering around our beautiful farm set in the rolling Cotswold hills, banked by deciduous woodland and divided by a limestone stream. We took advice from Chris Hall, a well-known event rider, over the construction and positioning of jumps to suit all abilities and the Cotswold Farm Park fun ride was launched.
Eight years on and our rides, which run every three weeks, are still proving as popular as ever, despite the economic downturn. This only goes to show that people are still prepared to pay for their hobby when they are rewarded by quality and good value for money."
“We’ve had the most fabulous growing week – warm and sunny, with some decent showers of rain.
The Hubbard chicks are starting to get their feathers, so the heat lamp is now turned off during the day and on at night. By next week, if the weather is good, I would hope to have them off heat and outside. Although they have short lives, about 12 weeks, we do try to give them as natural and healthy one as possible. Although they are indoors at the moment, they have a straw-bedded run, with ad lib chick crumbs and fresh water. Now that they are a bit bigger, they have their soil tray and this week, hanging greens. So far, they have had comfrey leaves and some spare cabbage plants – hung up at beak height rather than on the floor where they will simply trample them into a green mush and the chicks spend ages pecking away at them. Good food, exercise and entertainment all in one!
I’ve seen Foxy again – looks like a vixen or youngster to me – but we’ve had no losses this week. Last week’s sick hen has now fully recovered; she’s not laying yet, but she’s otherwise back to normal. We have a broody Black Rock; I’m not convinced either of our cockerels are “working” so I’ve got some pure Light Sussex and some Light Sussex x ex-battery hens eggs from a friend to put under her. She’s very happy in her broody coop. I make her go out for a few minutes three times a day to eat, drink and poop, but she’s always desperate to get back to her eggs again.
The sheep have not only been wormed, but sheared as well. They do look much happier, although I find it hard to tell them apart. Their fleeces are different colours but their skins are all black, so they are much more alike now. Even their lambs didn’t recognize them! Things went from bad to worse with Lyra; by Tuesday, she couldn’t bend her back legs and was very stiff. The vet thought she had some kind of joint-ill and gave her a cocktail of antibiotics. By Friday, she was much better and got another shot then. She’s much better, but not 100 per cent so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for she doesn’t have a relapse.
The pigs are spending a fair bit of time wallowing – all three are covered in mud and from the contented grunting, I think they are really enjoying it.
Unlike last week, Stirling Show had a lovely day yesterday. I didn’t manage to get along as the Smallholders Association had a grassland management course running through Oatridge College. It was very interesting and gave those who attended lots of food for thought. Grass is such an undervalued crop – sometimes it seems to be more bother than it’s worth – but it’s a very valuable crop for Scotland. The lecturer was able to give me some helpful pointers for our small area of grass – if you are very lucky, I will pass them on to you over the next few weeks and let you know if our grass is growing better.”
"As we approach our 50th year, you would have thought we'd have got used to the show season springing up on us, seemingly without warning, EVERY year.
However, clearly we haven't! I have only just stopped laughing at the alarming shade of green that Catherine in Sponsorship has just managed to turn herself with the realisation that the Derby begins in just 14 days from now; that was after a tirade of abuse and accusations that I was lying and winding her up on purpose and that it was still three weeks to go! Her (greening) face, upon examination of her calendar, was nothing short of priceless!
But 14 days it is, and the showground is a hive of activity. Due to the very seasonal nature of our job, a lot of the immediate preparations for the shows cannot begin until the fortnight before, so what was just a relatively peaceful corner of the Sussex countryside on Sunday evening, has nearly been transformed into a marquee covered metropolis, as we ready our trade village. Likewise, Rocky (Royal Concorde, Shane Breen's winner of the 2008 Hickstead Bunn Leisure Speed Derby) is looking most put out that his winter grazing and favourite field now has nigh on 1000 temporary stables covering it.
As all Hickstead regulars will concede, our highly efficient, well-oiled super machine of a Secretary's Office, can at times resemble a slightly chaotic Piccadilly Circus at rush-hour. This seems to have begun slightly earlier than normal this year as Emma, Amanda, Ada and co. get to grips with our very snazzy new online entries system.
At times it's hard to tell whether Emma's flushed complexion is still as a result of a particuarly nasty case of sunburn last weekend, or because she is about to deposit her computer system into the sprinklers in the main ring. We are delighted to be the first show now completely up and running with online entries, and despite a few initial teething problems, the sytem is running very well and heralds a very modern new era in show organisation - one that is hopefully more efficient and less time consuming for both organisers and competitors alike.
A few of the old (sorry boys!) Hickstead favourites have popped in over the last few days, bearing flowers and chocolates and pretending they've just come for a visit. Naming no names (Geoffrey Billington, William Funnell and Shane Breen - who really has no excuse as he lives about four minutes from the office!) we saw through them immediately and realised that they were just buttering us up because none of them had remembered to do their entries on time. You can rest assured that they are now all entered and this year's rivalry promises to be fiercer than ever, with more than just a little banter already being directed at William for his - shall we say - 'graceful dismount' at the bottom of the Hamburg derby bank this year.
So, stay tuned in for the exciting lead up to the Derby over the next few weeks, and I hope that many of you will be able to attend the meeting itself (tickets still available online at our website below), or if not be able to watch it on H&C TV. In the next few days, I should have more information about a very exciting project lined up with the amazing Phil Packer, who recently completed the London marathon having been injured in Iraq, and confirm the line up for this year's celebrity scurry."
“On Sunday, I went to see my good friend Julian Stoyles. Julian is the deer park manager at Houghton Hall and has worked there for three years now.
I met Julian when he was the deer keeper at Holkham Hall, and we have worked on various projects together over the last few years, including a chef’s visit with the Craft Guild to Houghton Hall, to look at game and deer management, and I’ve also helped him with new ideas for his extensive selection of game products.
Houghton Hall is one of those fantastic, beautiful stately homes tucked away in Norfolk, owned by the sixth Marquess of Cholmondeley. The estate is beautiful and is the home to the Houghton Hall International Horse Trails, which takes place every year in May.
Julian manages a herd of some 500 fallow deer on the estate and part of that herd is very special. Houghton has the largest herd of white fallow deer in the country; they are a sight to be seen. These stunning animals can be found roaming around the grounds, adding to Houghton’s special ambiance. The rest of the deer roam around a massive area of enclosed park land and every now and then as you walk through the park, you will get fleeting glance of them as they prance away from visiting humans.
As well as the fallow deer, there are red deer and some more exotic species such as Pere Davids. Pere Davids are one of the largest and most endangered deer species in the world and were nearly extinct in their native China when a herd of animals were brought over to Woburn. These animals have been bred and returned to the world.
As well as the deer in the park, Houghton also has a large amount of wild fallow; Muntjac and Roe roam through the countless acres of woodland that makes up a large part of the estate. I have helped Julian stalk deer in these woods to fill the larder and as part of a book I am writing on game. Houghton produces some of the best venison I have ever tasted. This is due to the dedication of the people that work there and many of the surrounding restaurants feature Houghton venison and game on their menus.
Julian is passionate about what he does and has developed some stunning products, such as his smoked venison, game, sausages, fresh venison cut to order and many other products from wild game to rare breed organic free range animals. Houghton products can be found in farm shops in the surrounding area and can be ordered directly from the estate at very competitive prices Houghton is quite literally a jewel in the English countryside.”
"On Monday, I hacked Harry (Azeb) and Brian (Opposition Express) and then went to the gallops with Bob (Good Sport II) and Flo (Charmed) – they went up twice and did well in the heat and have retained their fitness, which is excellent.
Tuesday was marked by dressage at Keysoe with Bob (Good Sport II), Jasper (Tankers Town), Bruno (Ultimate Opposition) and Kenny (Kenny).
My aim was to practise in the arena and produce some calm, quiet tests. Kenny won both of his tests so I was delighted. Jasper also won, with 74 per cent in the elementary and just slightly lower in the advanced medium.
Bruno was third and second and performed very good, solid tests. I worked Bob; he is a pleasure to ride and just picks up from where we left off last time – he has the most fantastic paces, so I hope to do some great tests later this year.
I had a busy day on Wednesday. I schooled Bob, Joe (Jorrocks Curtis), Flo and Beanie (Breeze IV) who all went very well, before leaving with Kenny and Brian for XC training. Kenny was good – he just needs to build his confidence at water fences and so we’re practising that.
Brian had his first trip out and was unbelievably good – he has such an excellent attitude. He was very settled, so I jumped a few XC fences, logs, ditches, drops and water and he was superb. He is such a good jumper and I am very excited about him. He is such a neat, tidy and natural jumper that it will be interesting to see if he turns out to be more of a show jumper than an event horse, although as he's so brave XC I’d say it will be the latter.
I then did some teaching for the Event Horse Owners Association (EHOA) for one group of three riders, followed by a little demo with Romeo over some fences.
On Thursday, I hacked Jasper – something I don't do enough of – who is wonderful to take out whatever the weather, and then I jumped Kenny, Joe, Harry and Flo. They all jumped well, especially Kenny who improves on a daily basis at the moment. I trotted Flo up afterwards and I think, devastatingly, that she is not happy with the current level of work and needs a holiday. This is so sad as she is a serious 4* horse – I do hope she won't need too long off. I then left for the gallops with Dave (Mightaswell) and Romeo who both went up twice – I am hoping to get them super fit.
I schooled Beanie while Tiffany rode a couple too before we left for Little Downham with Valerie (Tiffany’s horse), Harry (to work), Joe and Kenny for the Intermediate. Both Joe and Kenny did good tests; Joe had a disappointing score as his test was better than a 38, but Kenny had a 33 and is improving all the time now. Joe jumped superbly in the show jumping and also went well XC for a good clear. I am really delighted with his performance and he came fourth in the Intermediate, which is brilliant. Sadly the ground was needing rain, so I went a good speed but it felt quite jarring and as a result Kenny had two down show jumping so I withdrew him.
On Sunday at Little Downham, Romeo did a good test for a 35 and Harry did a lovely test for the best mark in the section - 30! The rain then came down hard, but all that happened was we that had firm, slippery ground – not ideal! Romeo show jumped well but had one down in the middle of the combination and Harry jumped a beautiful clear. I decided not to run either of them XC, which was a shame as Harry would have definitely won.
Richard Maxwell then arrived to help me with the start box with both Jasper and Bruno. He firstly did some groundwork to help them relax and follow him so hopefully reducing the chances of any desire to not move forward. We then used the start box to practise with, and tried to make the experience quiet and calm, without stress.
Both were very good and I ran Bruno around a few fences so we're all set for Bramham. When I got home I unpacked the lorry as quickly as possible so I could watch the Apprentice, which I've really enjoyed watching and was quite surprised when Kate didn't win."
“I’m guiding; It’s June and I’ve got four anglers under my wing - all pretty good, experienced and desperate for a tench. I take them to the Lobster Pot, one of the star lakes at Kingfishers. It’s only tiny – not much bigger than a couple of tennis courts rammed together – but it’s crammed with tench. We put out the bait, and soon the bottom end of the Lobster is absolutely boiling with bubbles.
You can’t miss tench bubbles; they come up in tight clusters and when the fish are really ‘on’ they fizz so loudly that you can hear them when the wind drops. This is what it’s like now: everywhere you look there are explosions of tiny, frothing tench bubbles. The lake’s gone mad.
But three hours later the boys are still sitting here without a bite. We’ve tried every single trick in the book; a grain of corn; two grains of corn; half a grain of corn; a pellet; a hair rig pellet; a piece of luncheon meat; two pieces of luncheon meat; a shred of luncheon meat; a worm; a bunch of maggots; double and single maggot; bigger hooks; tiny hooks; long hook lengths; short hook lengths; float; feeder.
In the end, we simply give up and go after carp in an adjoining pit. There are times, it seems, that no matter how avid the tench are, no matter how ravenous, they are just in a different loop. They’re probably the most infuriating fish that swims sometimes. Tinka tinka is the Latin name for them. Aptly named, tinka tinka is just about the sum of their nature.”
"After the most wonderful May imaginable with the Royal Windsor win and my May Masterclass Tour, it's down to earth with a bump in June with rainy weather and masses of office work that has to be dealt with. It's not all bad though when you come across a note like this from a happy owner whose horse we loaded at the Brooksy demonstration:
"I cannot put it into words and say thank you enough at the result last night, I could have cried with joy and to see the smile on Charlotte's face when her pony loaded was priceless. You have given us what we have been trying to achieve for years without success and that is to load Millie and to give both Charlotte and Millie the chance to experience life outside our yard - joining pony club, participating in competitions and, more importantly, having fun.
We have been walking around today with massive grins on our faces; anybody would think we had won the lottery! I practiced loading Millie in our lorry this afternoon and she walked up the ramp as though she had been doing it for years - perfect pony. Everyone is amazed at how good she is and relieved that they will not be suffering with back pain again after helping to load her.
Thank you so much again for your time and expertise: huge credit to Kelly and you all, this never would have happened without your help and I am so grateful words can not explain.
I will look forward to your next tour. Thoroughly enjoyed it."
How lovely is that? There might not be sunshine outside at the moment but an email like that gives me a real sunshine feeling! It's so appreciated when owners take the time to give us their feedback. At a demonstration in Carlisle last year, three people in the audience that had previously brought their horses for Monty and I to load in a demonstration, came up to us to say how well their horses had continued since the demonstration and that they are still experiencing the benefits years later.
Pie is having a well earned rest after his tour. I'm just leading him out for long walks in the evening. We need to keep stretching our legs to keep 'ticking over', and we enjoy a good chat about our next adventures."
“While working with Jeanie, a Weimaraner, and her handler, I suddenly became aware of all the training aids and toys that Teresa is accumulating as we find ways to train and entertain Jeanie.
We started with a training crate to give the young dog a safe den to sleep and be left in for short periods of time, a slip lead to assist with heelwork and basic obedience, closely followed by a long line to ensure we can allow the dog to exercise under control. The long line gives the handler the confidence to give the dog some freedom, continue to practice recall and still be confident of maintaining control.
It wasn’t long before we needed a whistle and a variety of dummies, balls and general retrieving toys. A water pistol has been purchased and has proved to be very successful in stopping Jeanie from whining when travelling in the car, and the most recent thing that we have discussed is the use of a child’s super-soaker water spray to stop the dog from barking at people that walk along the path near her garden.
This last item was the prompt that made me add up all the things that we have used in these early stages of dealing with some of the less desirable behaviours that Jeanie arrived with.
While we are on the subject of amazing dog training toys, I have to tell you about my new dummy launcher; its purpose is to remotely fire a dummy enabling the trainer - that’s me - to create all sorts of interesting retrieves and training scenarios.
I have been taking the launcher at some of our show demonstrations and it has aroused a lot of interest from the boys. The reason for all the interest is simple: it looks just like a rocket launcher.
Do I need this piece of technology? Not really, but I am a real boys' toy enthusiast, so I will always find words to justify my need for this type of training aid. For example, it was essential that the Sparsholt students got to see the very latest in gundog training equipment, so the rocket launcher was absolutely justifiable!”
"The show season is now upon us. Some, like the two-day Cereals Event near Cambridge on the 10th and 11th June, are specialist events for the arable farmer, demonstrating the latest crop, agronomy, machinery and technology. Others, like the Three Counties Show at Malvern on the 19th, 20th and 21st allow farmers to show off their very best livestock, visit agricultural stands and meet like-minded folk.
Malvern is also a fantastic opportunity for the general public to experience a vast array of livestock, demonstrations, displays, retail stalls and stands exhibiting everything about country life.
The Three Counties has got to be one of my favourite agricultural shows and is well worth a visit. This year, the Cotswold Farm Park has a stand in the smallholder area, and I’m judging primitive sheep on the Sunday."
“Well, we’ve sure had the rain I was wishing for last week. The vegetable garden is now growing away nicely. The “plan” has been amended to include purple sprouting broccoli and kale. Normally, we don’t grow this because our fleece arrangement doesn’t cover it properly but our new hoops should be high enough to accommodate the plants.
The direct-sown runner beans are through the ground and all the peas are showing – two more rows to sow this weekend then we can stand back and wait for the harvest.
The Hubbard chicks are doing well. We lost one in the first few days – it looked like it had been squashed by the others, which is not something we’ve experienced before. They are still inside, but they have a run with straw and tray of soil to scratch around in and a box to climb over. I put the box of soil in yesterday and last night they all had dirty feet.
Unfortunately, we had a visit from the fox this week. Dan caught the fox with a Black Rock in its mouth; surprised, it dropped the hen, which ran away, but we found it dead the following day - from shock, I expect. We found one dead Legbar, but a headcount revealed than a second Legbar and four more Black Rocks had been taken. These were all young, inexperienced hens and would have been an easy meal for Reynard.
I have a sick hen today. She’s a Copper Black Maran, and quite young. She’s not displaying any real symptoms apart from being generally unwell. I’ve got an antibiotic from the vet, so I hope that works quickly. She’s not eating and only drinking her water (laced with garlic) if encouraged to. I hope she survives, but I’m not very hopeful.
The sheep are being wormed this week. I’ll do another worm test to see if it works. If not, I’ll have to use a chemical wormer. One of the lambs is poorly – we’re doing our own version of ‘Animal Hospital’ here – and has antibiotics. It’s Lyra, of course, our only ewe lamb. She’s a big strong lamb, so hopefully she’ll put in a good recovery. The shearer is coming next week, weather permitting, so the ewes will be better able to cope with the predicted hot summer.
There was no heat at Central and West Fife Show yesterday. Central Scotland Smallholders Association had a stand at the show to publicise the work of the Association and to attract new members. It was so cold; the rain was horizontal at times; keeping our gazebo on the ground was our main concern most of the time, because of the strength of the wind. We’re at Doune and Dunblane Show on 4th July if anyone wants to swing by and say hello. Hopefully, the long, hot summer will have started by then!”