Arthur's Blog: Our Rare Breeds

3rd March 2016

Arthur's Blog: Our Rare Breeds

This past half term saw, to my delight, the setting up of pens and the scattering of straw in the factory courtyard with the arrival of a visiting ewe and her lamb and a sow with her lively litter of spotted piglets, celebrating the launch of our rare breed farmyard mugs which have been illustrated by Matthew.

As a nation we fell out of love with many of our heritage breeds after World War 2 when British farming changed rapidly. We needed to farm more and more land to feed a growing population. The days of back gardeners and smallholders having poultry and pigs became a rarity as farming became a more industrial and alien concept to the public. Hybrid animals produced higher yields and took the place of our traditional breeds which were left to slowly vanish, being unable to compete with these new, machine-like animal producers.

If it was not for a few dedicated people who chose to keep a few breeding animals during this age of progress for the sake of progress, then many such breeds would be extinct today and it is only thanks to organisations such as the Rare Breed Survival Trust who are also coming to the factory this week, that we still have many of our native farm animals. The charity ensures that breeders are linked together to help with individual breeds genetics so that breeders can connect with one another easily to exchange livestock and holds important data bases which records individual populations.

Each year a large rare breed’s sale is held at the historical Melton Mowbray cattle market – it’s well worth getting up especially early to attend, as almost every variety of hoofed and feathered farmyard breed is to be seen. Visit Chatsworth Farmyard and Adventure Playground this spring to see both commercial and rare breeds at first hand (and, indeed, at large) – it opens from the 19th of March and is an hour’s drive on a good day from the factory. Its founder Her Grace Deborah Devonshire originally set the farmyard up as she noticed the lack of connection that both visiting children and adults from both town and country had with the food upon their plates. I’d love to have a farmyard at the factory full time, but for now all I can ensure is that we have lots of chickens strutting about; alas I have to have them confined to the garden!

Oxfordshire Sandy and Black Pigs

Emma and Matthew have two of these pigs. They arrived at their farm as piglets and both are now very large sows who have so far resisted any advances from the summer visits of a pedigree bore. The Oxfordshire Sandy Black was almost extinct twenty years ago, but today it has gained popularity as a pig for beginners, being docile in temperament and maturing quickly with flavorsome meat. All pigs love to wallow in mud on hot days; as pigs cannot sweat they have to do so as a way of keeping cool. A mother pig will make a nest of straw instinctively, shortly before giving birth to her piglets. The ones visiting the factory belong to < a href="" target="_blank"> Park Hill Farm .

Jacob Sheep

Jacobs are the most stylish of sheep with rounded horns and dotty, woolly coats marked with deep dark chocolate brown. They are thought to be one of the oldest breeds of farm animals, mentioned in the Old Testament book of Genesis and native in fact to Northern Africa! These sheep are very hardy with the ewes rarely needing to be given help during lambing – which for some sheep breeds can be a traumatic experience. The fleece of a Jacob sheep makes a beautiful rug and their meat is very lean and of intense flavour. Matthew and Emma have a very beautiful flock of jet black fleeced and curved horned Hebridean sheep, no prizes for guessing their native origins!

Hereford Cattle

The Hereford Cow is a British beef breed, thought to have been bred by the farmers of Herefordshire in the 1600s. They are large but generally docile and sweet-natured beasts. I am delighted to tell you that we have had our first calf born on Emma and Matthew’s farm this week – it is a little Hereford cow and both mum and daughter and her two aunts, whom are also expecting, are doing very well. The cows are kept in an airy, straw bedded stable over the winter so that they do not churn up their summer grazing fields. They have to be moved several times over the summer to new areas of the farm so that they have fresh grass to graze.

Hamburg Chickens

Hamburgs are very elegant, flighty chickens with their silver feathers, blotted with black. They look constantly poised and alert running around on their blue legs. They come in silver and gold and were originally bred in Northern England. The hens lay a white egg but rarely choose to incubate them themselves, as they are often too nervous in their moods to sit on their clutches for the required 21 days of incubation! I hatched some hens of this breed last year at the factory. These went to live at Sarah Raven’s garden in East Sussex at the bottom of her vegetable garden, and look very beautiful this spring having matured into adult hens.

3rd March 2016