Category Archives: Farm

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First steps on the sheep for Jess

Right from the first month we had Jess, and as soon as she was inoculated she was allowed to see sheep, just so she could develop an interest in them.  First she was shown them, then to follow them, eventually she was allowed to run with them a little. Some dogs are not that interested, some transfixed by the sheep and some are just mad keen to get hold of them! Jess was the latter and the most common type and this means I have to be careful at this stage to ensure the sheep are safe. One good thing about an introduction at this age is the pup has not developed enough of her adult teeth to cause a problem so if she does have a nip she just ends up with a mouthful of wool. Sheepdogs have wolf ancestry and herding is a part of the hunt and the part we need to develop but the killing part is also in there and needs to be totally suppressed so careful thinking and planning comes into the training when you have a pup like this.

The best way is to protect the sheep is in a circular pen so that Jess can run round them but not get close. Rachael our trusty shepherdess built us a nice one where we could encourage a few sheep in with a little food and then let Jess have a little run around them. One of the main objectives here is to get the pup to develop a desire to balance the sheep to me, what I mean by that is if the sheep are in the middle of the pen then I would be at 6 o’clock and Jess at 12 o’clock and if I move one way she should move to correct the situation. To do this we encourage her to run around the pen in both directions attempting to stop her when she is in the right place, here the lie down or stand commands will be required and the fruits of my labour at home will hopefully prove worthwhile. In one of the videos you can see this happening as she takes a command nicely and drops down, we are therefore getting somewhere but it’ll be a while before we try anything without the pen as she still has a desire to get at them given the chance.

Training a dog is little steps some forward but plenty back and as I take every lesson I look for little signs that we are progressing in the right direction, one such sign is the tail, in the first session it was held high over her back indicating a mischievous desire but in only the second session she was holding it low which indicates a more serious working attitude and that’s a real plus. That’s about all for now apart from saying that whilst all this running around is going on I will also be starting to introduce the directional commands that most will be familiar with;

“Come Bye and Away to Me”

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd at COAM


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Jess the sheep dog at 15 weeks

Jess at 15 weeks

Well Jess is continuing to grow at a pace and weighing in at 9.6 kgs, she is pretty much toilet trained and is becoming less of a full time job and more an integral part of the family. Socialising now is the priority as she is a bit limited with the current COVID situation, so, plenty of walks and chances to meet other people and dogs. She seems to love people as long as they are not to “in her face” she then tends to keep her distance for a while until she builds up courage. Dogs however are a bit more scary and she’d run a mile if she wasn’t on a lead so the more chances to meet them the better. Yesterday, she met a tiny puppy about the same age as her and was scared to death at first but a bit of perseverance and she soon overcame any fear and was rough and tumbling and realising what good fun it was.

Sheep dog puppy walking sheep up path

Now over to her main purpose in life, being a sheepdog! Over the last couple of weeks she has been to see the sheep at feeding time and is developing a mild interest so it’s important to keep nurturing it steadily. Today we needed to move the sheep to pastures new as we have recently wormed them and they need fresh grass so it seemed an opportune time to let Jess get a little more involved. All dogs are different and as a trainer I need to recognise what sort of temperament she has and how will she work sheep, some won’t develop a desire to work for many months, others dive straight in and attack ( this is the wolf ancestry hunt and kill instinct that ultimately drives them all to work).

sheep dog puppy observing sheep with head it's head in a bucket

Jess seems to be in the middle somewhere with quite an interest but a bit wary so it’s vital she doesn’t get put off by an angry sheep as this could affect her for life. Many pups don’t do anything at first particularly if the sheep aren’t worried by the dogs’ presence and don’t move away, the pup just ends up confused and unsure what to do. What we need is moving sheep to bring out the chasing instinct and this change of pasture seemed ideal. Starting with the lambs who have been grazing off the Hidden Meadow (our piece of chalk downland) I let them go past her and proceeded to follow them with Jess on an extendable lead, the video was taken by Rachael our shepherdess and you can clearly see Jess getting very excited, nipping at their heels and even showing a desire to want to go round them and head them off. These moments are without doubt my favourite part of training a working collie as you get that flood of relief that your new acquisition has something in her that we can work with.

For now that is about as far as I will go with her, just regular visits to see the sheep to build up a real burning desire to herd them, we’ll wait until she is big enough and fast enough to out run them before we start the serious business of training to commands etc. She will however be getting home schooling on the basics, walking steady, stopping, lying down etc. and of course coming back to me which seems to be our biggest challenge at the moment!

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd at COAM


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Jess the sheep dog at 13 weeks

Well it’s been almost three weeks now and Jess is growing fast, she has gained 1.6 kgs and is noticeably bigger. Dogs are like children but the whole growing and learning thing is accelerated so that a few days can see a dramatic change in behaviour and attitude. She is now allowed out for walks having had her vaccinations so we are learning to walk to heel and getting used to traffic and strange people, she has a bit of a fascination with cars going past so I have to keep a tight hand on the lead and try and distract her as they whiz past. At home we are getting her used to living with a family and knowing her boundaries, plenty of trips to the lawn are paying off as the little accidents lessen off and she is starting to go to the door when the urge is there.

Jess the sheep dog puppy meets the sheep

 

A few days ago I took her to meet some of the museum staff and to have her first look at sheep. She was well accepted by all so I’m sure she will become a special volunteer in everyone’s hearts. It does somewhat depend on how she turns out as a sheepdog, some of which will be down to my training. Rachael (COAM’s Farm Assistant) and I took her to the sheep for a first look and she wasn’t too keen but they are pretty big. Regular visits will eventually bring out an interest and sometime in the next few months I will let her have a free run to encourage her to herd them we hope.

For now it’s just enjoying her young days being cuddled and played with to hopefully make a friendly happy dog!

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd

Other blog posts by Steve

The circle of life
Jess the sheep dog


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Jess the Sheepdog

A new volunteer for COAM

So a mild enquiry about sheepdog pups that might be available after Christmas resulted in me being told that an old friend of mine who is a top sheepdog trials man might have some puppies, he lived in Sussex so not too far. I called and had a chat telling him I wanted a pup after Christmas if possible. Unfortunately he didn’t have anything currently although he knew of a pup at a neighbours and his dog was the father. I expressed mild interest and asked for some details and pictures to be e-mailed to me.

My old dog Ted was a rough coated, tri colour male dog and that is what we intended to get again as we liked that look, the puppy being offered was a Black and White, short coated bitch! Surely this would not be for us? The picture arrived, not the most appealing picture, they obviously weren’t into marketing!! She did however appear to be nicely marked.

Having established that she did indeed have two eyes I responded that we would like to see some more and a video if possible, inwardly I was not convinced. However when the better pictures arrived we were warming and had pretty much made up our minds to pay them a visit for a proper look, a visit to Sussex was quite appealing, it was a bit of a shock to find out that my old friend had moved to Devon when his neighbour sent the address of their farm!! So were we to go all that way just to see a puppy that was not what we intended to get and at least 3 months too soon. Suffice it to say it didn’t take long to have made arrangements to drive down and see her, stay overnight in a delightful little B&B called the Old Bakehouse in Chulmleigh Devon, go back and collect her the following morning and wend our way back home.

Our trip down was excellent and we arrived early afternoon to be greeted by the owner who led us to a farm pen, opened the door and out ran the sweetest little dog you could imagine, scooped up immediately by my wife Sue who exclaimed “we’re having her” My chances of a good deal had just gone down the drain! Our fate was sealed and after a very pleasant evening in Chulmleigh we found, ourselves back at the farm the following morning collecting our new charge. Money’s changed hands, papers sorted, a supply of her current puppy food obtained, popped in her travelling crate and on our way back home we went. Well talk about a change, our adorable soft little pup turned into a screaming howling wolf cub as she experienced car travel for the first time, we knew what to expect but with a 3-4 hour trip ahead it didn’t bode well. Fortunately after about half an hour she was a little sick, made some mess from a couple of other orifices and then settled down. The rest of the journey was quiet and Jess as she was now called was settling in to life with us.

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd

Other blog posts by Steve

The circle of life
Jess the sheep dog at 13 weeks


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The Circle of Life

The problem with dogs is that they don’t last long enough, it is said that one man year equals seven dog years, whatever the answer I know that every fourteen or so years I have to say goodbye to one of my closest friends. A month ago I said goodbye to fifteen year old Ted, when finally his body said I’ve had enough. So it was with a heavy heart that we took that all too familiar trip to the vet and saw him drift away peacefully. He was a great sheepdog, naturally gifted with genetic material passed down over decades, and highly trained over years to do a job that cannot be done by any other animal or machine. He served the museum well herding and holding the sheep for various tasks and thrilled the visitors with his skills in our working displays, he even pitched in with a spot of acting when the film crews were around, most famously in Downton Abbey when they filmed in the farmyard in series two.

Sheepdog, Ted at Chiltern Open Air MuseumChiltern Open Air Museum proudly owns one of the few flocks of Oxford Down Sheep in the country, a breed established around 1830 in the south of England originally in the Oxfordshire area. My job at the museum is volunteer shepherd, something I’ve done here for 23 years and it’s because there’s a saying “there’s no good shepherd without a good dog” that I find myself about to embark on the long struggle towards the perfectly trained sheepdog once again.

Don’t think for one minute I don’t enjoy it, there are few thing’s I like more than the early stages of sheepdog training, trying to assess the latent potential, working out the best way to overcome the problems etc. All dogs are different, like children, and need a slightly different approach, although you can generally categorise them and use tried and trusted methods for each. So, I can’t wait until my new charge is about six month old and I can begin to introduce her to the flock.

So who is she? Well ‘she’ arrived several months too early! As a family we planned to wait until the new year before taking the plunge but a chance conversation with an old friend uncovered a single pup left from a litter from good working dog stock, the sire has competed in the English National Sheepdog Trials. Quickly we organised a trip with an overnight stay in the West Country and collected our new charge, many names were bandied about but ultimately it was Jess that was chosen. So I know how my spare time will be taken up next summer and you maybe lucky to catch a training session at the museum sometime (the early ones can be a bit over enthusiastic).

Steve Stone
Volunteer Shepherd
Chiltern Open Air Museum

 


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Countryfile and Harvest

Chiltern Open Air Museum to Feature on the BBC’s Countryfile

On the 19th September the BBC’s Countryfile visited the Museum to find out more about Harvest and its traditions.

At the heart of the Museum is a working historic farm with arable fields and livestock that is run (as much as possible) using traditional methods and equipment. The farm has the equivalent of two full time staff and is supported by a large team of wonderful volunteers.

Countryfile Filming at Chiltern Open Air Museum

Countryfile presenter, Helen Skelton, interviewed the Museum’s Farm Team to find out how they restored a beautiful pink 1947 Ransomes threshing machine and the role the machine would have played in farming history.

The programme also features our apple orchard, where each tree is a different heritage variety. Helen chatted to volunteer, Keith Baggaley, about the different types of apple and how they are harvested and then pressed into apple juice that is then sold at the Museum.

Apple orchard at COAM

Our red tin chapel, from Henton, was decorated in beautiful straw plait sculptures made by straw plaiters and volunteers, Heather Beeson and Veronica Main. Helen chatted to Veronica about the art of straw plaiting and the important part it played in a traditional Harvest.

Helen Skelton and the Countryfile crew were absolutely lovely to work with and really friendly and genuinely interested in the work that the team here do.

You can watch the show on BBC iplayer

Straw Sculptures

 


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Museum Inspires Author

Vix J Cooper, known as workshop leader and farm volunteer Jane at the museum, talks about how her time at COAM gave her inspiration when writing her book Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed. She says…

My senses are always given a treat by the wonderful landscape at COAM through the different seasons. This, plus time spent in the buildings, listening to visitors recounting their past experiences, and having a go at traditional technology and techniques is not only informative but inspires some of my writing too, such as regarding the impact of WW2 and traditional washing methods.

It feels a privilege earning the trust of the museum’s animals and getting to know their particular habits, likes and dislikes. The cats are usually the first to greet me when I’m on feed duties. They’re nicer than the cat in my story Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed, despite them crunching rabbit by my feet in Borehamwood! The cows tolerate my random singing when I’m grooming Clementine, and the hens normally respond to my clucks. Often, after I’ve finished a morning feed, I’ll sit on the step to Borehamwood with a cuppa and watch the birds and clouds, rain or sunshine dancing across Hill Farm barn roof, or fallen leaves racing around the site.

Lambing by moonlight is magical with shadows of the clouds, trees and animals roaming. I’ve learnt to work out “who goes there” from the different eye shapes glinting and moving across the site for farm and wild animals. The quiet of the night amplifies masticating mouths, rumbling stomachs and belches of the sheep, as well as the hooting of owls and barking of deer. My own family groan when I, or the car, reek of iodine and worse when it’s lambing time. Post-midnight showers can become almost routine before crawling into bed after lamb – or kid – late shifts. While the ewes are reliably well-behaved, the same can’t always be said of the goats who can have me doubling up with laughter over their antics: Dotty refusing to go in the field so we engage in a tug of war with me holding onto her horns and her walking backwards; Crystal taking me for a walk, dragging me at the end of her lead or standing up on her back legs to eat foliage up a tree; and Dora climbing in the wheelbarrow I’m trying to get out of the field after refilling the hay feeder.

With many Coopers in the world, I added Vix to J Cooper because I admire foxes for their adaptability and I thought Vix, short for vixen, would be different. I originally wrote Crazy Pets and Secrets Revealed for children aged nine and above, but adults do buy it and anyone connected to the museum may just enjoy reading it to discover what and who inspired some of my characters and bits of the storyline. I’m currently writing a follow-up with the main character Hugo. I’ve also written a story, aimed at 3-7 year olds and currently with my illustrator, which should be published about September time. Traditional landscapes, plus my roles as workshop leader and forest school practitioner were certainly influential for this book. I’m restless if I go a day without writing, and special places such as COAM both sooth and exhilarate me.

Crazy Pets and secrets Revealed can be ordered from Amazon & other bookshops.


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No Lambs This Year – Just Kidding!

With the cold and wet weather, it’s been a challenging winter and early spring on the Museum farm. But our spirits have been kept up by the exciting news of this year’s planned new arrivals.

Winter arrived early this year when it turned up unannounced last year by gate crashing autumn and refusing to go away until the spring. It certainly tested the farm staff and volunteers’ resolve. But winter has its benefits for those of us still on site during this period when the Museum is closed to visitors.

A ghostly calm descends on the site. Walking around feels like a privilege when few people are about as just the staff and mostly farm and building volunteers continue working at this time. With the low winter sun or when gloomy mists descend, the eerie atmosphere can help you imagine yourself being transported back in time.

Winter is a vital time to conduct maintenance and those jobs that are best done at this time of year. But is a challenging time for the Farm Manager and his team, trying to complete seasonal and essential work before the Museum re-opens in the spring. A long list of must do projects are interrupted by the ongoing problems associated with any farm or estate coping with winter weather.

And this winter certainly directed a lot of ‘traditional’ winter weather at the Museum with long cold periods complemented by freezing winds and snow. But the farm team and volunteers just got on with the work as best they could.

One particular day to remember was clearing Blackthorn that was shading out a hedge that was in the process of being laid. Whilst many people across the South and East of England stayed put in their homes that day, three of us volunteers battled on in sub-zero temperatures to get the clearing done. And even though the weather was spiced up by a biting wind and heavy snow showers, it was still better than being stuck in indoors!

And then came spring and the Museum opened just before Easter. But as you probably remember, the heavens opened and the already sodden ground became even more saturated. The Great Missenden Food Event that had moved to the Museum site for Easter, that everyone was so looking forward to, was rained off.  The mud devoured anything that ventured on to the site’s fields. It took weeks to remove all that was stuck or buried.

This of course put more strain on the farm team which had to deal with the aftermath. The situation was helped by a local farmer who kindly brought in his modern farm equipment to speedily restore and seed the damaged fields.

But then the weather gradually improved with some fantastically warm and sunny days on which visitors could enjoy their visit. So it was all looking good for the Museum’s popular Enchanted Evening event, when low and behold, the heavens opened for the duration. But that is British weather for you and the many brave visitors still enjoyed themselves.

So what about the main event of the spring when we are all cheered up after winter by frolicking lambs being about the Museum? Visitors, staff and volunteers alike were disappointed that there were to be no lambs this spring. Spare a thought for poor old Daryl the ram who did not have the autumn he expected!

But sound operational reasons meant it was not practical to manage lambs, but they should be back next year.  And Daryl? He has been kept occupied by his two (delinquent) sons from last year’s lambs that have been practicing challenging to become top ram in the paddock.

However, there was good news on the animal breeding front as the goats, Crystal and Beverly, are expecting kids due anytime from late May. This was the result of the girls having been sent away for their first goat 18-30s type holiday during the Christmas and New Year period.

Goats can have up to three kids, so there could be six. Three to four healthy animals is more likely and would be ideal. However the thought of three additional Crystal offspring following in their sometimes feisty mum’s habit of butting the daily goat walker could liven up the routine even more!

So keep an eye on the Museum website, Twitter or Facebook for news of the goats. And come and visit the Museum farm to meet them once they have arrived.

So whilst the goats have experienced the ups and downs of mothers to be, the ewes have enjoyed a more relaxing winter for once. The new calf you may have seen last year has settled in well and is now nearly as big as Clementine. The harsh winter affected them as snow and strong winds caused damage to their temporary cow shelter with the tarpauling roof being literally torn off on occasions. A more permanent shelter is another project for this year.

Some tree damage also added to the additional winter work, but on the positive side, this provides material for use around the Museum, particularly for firewood.

One of the planned winter projects was to start coppicing and woodland clearance work. Hazel close to the Iron Age building has been coppiced and the materials used to repair the fencing around it. This has opened up the view across the woodland, where other coppicing and clearance has started and will be progressed next winter.

Work has also started on developing the ‘bodgers’ area in the woodland near Aborfield Barn to showcase more green woodworking facilities and the area will feature in this summer’s  Rural Life event when traditional woodland crafts will be demonstrated.

Let’s hope for a pleasantly warm and sunny summer for visitors to enjoy the Museum. Just a little rain for the grass and crops though please!

Written by Julian Stanton, Farm Volunteer


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Tractors, Tractors and Tractors

As you may have guessed from the blogs title, there is something I have become very fond of whilst being here at COAM……. TRACTORS!

Having very limited experience on tractors, but a keen interest since from when I can remember, I made a tractor driving course high on my priority. I attended a two day course at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester were I obtained my tractor driving and machine handing certificate. With my main interest in tractors of an older generation I was much unprepared when meeting what I thought was nothing short of a spaceship.

Fortunately my instructor on the course was also interested in older tractors and would often refer to them during the training. Over the two days I was able to understand the controls needed for most jobs from simple driving to using powered implements on the PTO (power take off).

Since then I have been very fortunate to use my skills during the process of planting of this year’s wheat. I was able to use a harrow after it had been ploughed, which is essentially breaking the bigger clods of soil into smaller ones. I was then able to harrow after the wheat had been sown to disperse and bury it and then roll it to complete the process.

A personal favourite of mine is the Fergusson TE35 we have on site. A brilliant little tractor and a real classic example of extraordinary agricultural engineering of times gone by.

A new additional to the farms supply of work horses is on the small size, in the shape of a Kubota B1620 which at its rather “cute”, size its ideal for jobs like getting through the woodlands narrow paths and transporting fire wood. A handy extra is the tipping trailer which we brought with it, meaning we can load and tip all sorts of things from brushwood to gravel.

I really do appreciate how vital a tractor is to running a farm, especially when seeing Rob working the heavy horses on site. It’s a reminder of the extraordinary extra amount of work that was involved before the introduction of tractors.

Written by Josh Hayes
HLF Farm and Site Trainee


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10 things that you might not know about COAM

Amersham prefab at COAM

10 things that you might not know about Chiltern Open Air Museum

  • The Museum has seen an increase of over 90% in visitors over the last 4 years!
  • Over 21,000 school children visited the Museum for school workshops in 2017.
  • The Museum has over 200 active volunteers and we couldn’t run without them.
  • The Museum has 14 buildings in store waiting to be reconstructed on the site, we just need to raise the funds so that we can do this.
  • The 14 buildings in store are all stored flat packed within Glory Mill, which is one of our historic buildings. It’s like our own historic Ikea!
  • The Museum is a charity and any profits go back into the Museum so that we can continue the valuable conservation work that we do.
  • The Museum currently only has 7 full-time members of staff, 8 part-time members of staff and 2 Heritage Lottery Funded trainees. Due to the increase in visitor numbers mentioned in point 1, this will be changing for 2018 so keep an eye on our vacancies page if you’re interested in joining our team.
  • The Museum’s farm was used for filming in series 2 of Downton Abbey.
  • The Museum has been used for filming 35 TV programs/dramas/films since 2011.
  • Our buildings are named after the place that they were rescued from.

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