Some different sheep at the magical Challacombe

I was up at Challacombe Farm yesterday afternoon for a site visit to see and discuss the work of Naomi Oakley and Mark Owen who farm this Duchy Farm. It was a field visit which was part of a 2 day workshop entitled ‘Locally led agri-environment schemes – from a farmer’s perspective.’ I’ll report back on the workshop at a later date – in the meanwhile here are a few photos I took at Challacombe.

Naomi showing the extent of her farm and its large number of associated archaeological features.

Reporting back on the bracken management project

The slopes of the valley showing the Mediaeval lynchets – see here for more details on these.

From the barn up the valley to Hameldown Tor

In the barn Naomi shows of three different breeds of sheep which are being kept for their wool – the little dark one at the front is a Black Wensleydale – a very rare breed – see here. The white sheep at the back are Wensleydales – see here.

The sheep with the black and white faces are Zwartbles – famous for producing  an excellent fleece – really good to see wool coming back into profitability again (assuming you use the correct breeds) – see here for more details.

Here are a few Wensleydales out on an in-bye pasture.And this a hardy Welsh Black Mountain Sheep – small but very efficient at grazing around the Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

We also visited the amazing Rhos pastures at Challacombe –  wet valley mires – in the summer they are buzzing with life – I’ve written about these before – see here and here.


Finally …. can really recommend this book – tells the amazing story of sheep in Britain – from the times when wool created the country’s wealth right through to the dominance of sheep for lamb. The last chapter won’t be to everyone’s taste as Philip Walling is clearly very angry of the recent controversies regarding ‘overgrazing’ and the subsequent reduction in the national sheep flock. The book though does give a wonderful introduction to sheep breeds, where they came from and where they now survive.

A great afternoon at a magical place.

6 thoughts on “Some different sheep at the magical Challacombe

  1. Good to see this Adrian, I am certainly picking up a growing attitude that ‘sheep bad for nature, cattle good’ amongst many people. We need to move beyond such overly simplistic approaches.

    Julia Proctor
    National Trust

    Land Choices Project Manager
    Food and Farming Adviser, SW region
    01626 870552/07796190184

    • Thanks Julia – my views on overgrazing etc are changing enormously as result of my PhD reading – ok there have been eras of unsustainable grazing and periods of over burning but the problems in the uplands today are being caused by atmospheric pollution, climate change and heather beetle – I will do a blog on this building on previous ones in the future. A

  2. As a very incompetent spinner, Wensleydales’ beautiful, long staple wool is beyond me, though it is often mixed with shorter staple wools to make a stronger yarn, but I have used Black Welsh. It is lovely to spin – medium to fine, dense, soft, 8 to 10 cms. long and a good colour. There is a bit of kemp, but it is not a problem. Not come across Zwartbles, but I gather they are from Friesland, Holland, and originally bred for milk, cheese and meat rather than wool. I’d love to know the attributes for which this breed was selected. Many of our own native breeds are in need of a boost and we had a terrific variety of staple and quality in years gone by – surely a sheep for every use.

  3. Outwintering single suckler cows in Uplands

    Tools that would enable quality pasture to be dominant in the uplands again. Use of outwintering cattle to using solar electric fences to control grazing in 2/3 hectare areas .

    Use GPS mapping of bracken in winter to weed wipe safely with asulox in Mid summer. ( Geoff Eyres) or spray with Helicopter (£15 per acre has been quoted)

    Free soil analysis to identify lime deficient areas where glyphosate needed to restore suitable hill grass and clover mix by surface drilling. ( Vredo. Type drill)

    Conservation grazing research with traditional breeds of cattle with sheep and ponies being researched by Dr Fraser, IBERS. Results in February. 2017. Advice from Mariecia and Scottish Research leave 30% for low feed value winter feed graze early to control (july too late)

    Vice chair of Dartmoor Commoners says cattle will not go into thick scrub and bracken areas
    In summer so outwintered stock have to begin regeneration in Winter. Smaller grazing area of summer pasture means erosion is caused by humans and cattle access paths between scrub.

    Spring born Shorthorn cross calves in Galloway cow and calf moving to molinia
    October 1500ft under Plynlimon from heather Exmoor

    Morebattle Angus 1400ft near Kelso Galloways at Gidleigh winter feed

  4. Its really interesting that we have no recent research recognised by Professor Phil Murray at North Wyke, Okehampton (Rothamsted) on management of hill areas like Dartmoor.
    George, the previous Chancellor , told a meeting of Plymouth Chamber of Commerce that more money would be spent on Agricultural research. This was followed up by Oliver Colvile MP who had a letter from George Eustice to say Dartmoor Farming Futures are carrying out research .
    Has anything been published?

    Dear Fairfax,
    Your email has been forwarded to me. Than-you for contacting us. With regard to your questions:
    My question : I was interested to hear if you have anymore news about Prior and similar deep,rooted grasses that might be used on Dartmoor for grazing and encouraging water absorption after heavy rain.
    Prior is now not available, the variety Aberniche is on the recommended list. As you are probably aware, we have had some success in the past in changing the hydrology under Prior in small plot trials. We have been studying the effect of sowing Prior in larger fields on the North Wyke Farm Platform, but it is still early days. We have only done this as part of a full plough and reseed and the implications of this must be taken into account when looking for immediate results. My colleague Mike Humphreys at IBERS is the expert on these grasses and he is probably the best person to talk to. I have copied him into this message.

    My Question: Have you done any work on mob grazing especially with spring calving traditionally bred cows on Dartmoor on areas that have become so overgrown with bracken , gorse and scrub that cattle will not graze it but prefer to stay on well grazed areas with minimal grass. We
    have not done any work on mob-grazing at North Wyke
    Is there any work that you have done to prove that cattle grazing tightly in winter months can trample bracken and brake up molinia to allow suppression of the grass after early grazing in spring and summer.
    I am not aware of any such work
    My Question: Is there also any research that has prevented hill land on Dartmoor being from liming which used to encourage better pasture for stock?
    I am not aware of any work in this area
    My Question :I understand that Dr Fraser from IBERS Aberystwyth is conducting Upland grazing trials, will you be involved in them?
    We are not involved in Dr Fraser’s trials, the studies at North Wyke are mainly focused on lowland grassland an animal production
    I am sorry I cant be more helpful, if you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me again.

    Kind regards
    Professor Phil Murray

  5. >
    >>> At the AGM of the South West Galloways on 13 February 2017, on Dartmoor. 16 farmers and graziers from Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin moor told us that they would like to keep their Galloway cows on the Moor in the winter.
    >>> . Overwintering costs could be reduced from approx £400 per cow ( including bringing in Haylage or silage and removing muck at the end of winter) to £100 per cow ( to include sugar beet or cereal cobs and crystallix blocks to encourage ruminate digestion and Haylage if necessary)
    >>> . Traditional hill breeds Galloways, Red Devon, Angus , Highland, Saler etc with wide pelvis ( can be measured as Heifers) calve better outside with little chance of cross infection scour between calves.
    >>> . Outwintering reduces scrub , gorse and trampling bracken can reduce bracken by exposing roots to frost. This increases areas of summer grazing and reduces erosion by cattle and walkers making tracks between small overgrazed areas . As seen on National Trust coastal belt in Wollacombe North Devon. Adam Henson demonstrated on BBC Countryfile 5 March 2017.
    >>> . Encouraging cattle to graze molinia ( more hectares growing than wheat in UK) can split the grass plants and provide low level nutritional value and controlled grazing can reduce to 40% ( research by IBERS Dr Fraser and In Scotland and allow valuable spring growth . ( Areas ungrazed need traditional March burning. )
    >>> . Controlled grazing of Woolacombe bay National trust with North Devons by using buried electric solar powered cable and cows with collars was also shown on Countryfile by Adam Henson.
    >>> . The use of lime to increase soil PH encourages “sweet grasses” and clover ( more nectar from clovers with higher PH for bees and biodiversity) . Adam Henson on Countryfile showed the importance of high lime content ground muscle shells aerial broadcast on high ground to produce better grazing for Romney sheep in New Zealand.
    >>> . More suckler cow herds are needed in the Uplands to restore better pasture .( 6% reduction in numbers last year.) Dartmoor Exmoor and Bodmin moor ( and Welsh uplands) are further South and the mild winters and wet summers have created impenetrable scrub and carcinogenic tick carrying bracken that farmers, graziers and cattle no longer use .
    >>> . In 2015 UK imported 222000 tons of beef from the EU. 3/4 from Southern Ireland and UK exported 20000 tons to Netherlands ( probably mostly Veal) and 32000 tons to Ireland which appears to be sent back in the form of another 34000 tons of processed beef ( sausages, burgers etc) . Our food deficit with EU is £50 billion.
    >>> . The NFU says UK is the best market in the EU for prime cuts of beef . UK needs to process its own poorer cuts of beef . Uk would benefit from an increased suckler herd to enable farmers to fatten off grass reared healthy beef all the year round with no antibiotics or growth hormones . Shorthorn beef bulls used as terminal sire produced record prices at Stirling sales.
    >>> . Disadvantages are that some gateways or feeding areas can become muddy or well covered with cattle manure. However the Welsh record for wild flower numbers is 140 in a field that has been grazed by cattle all the year round for 40 years. Adam Hensons approved electric fencing could fence of areas off reseeding, young heather and muddy gateways for tourist walkers!

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