Shallowford Farm is a high moorland Dartmoor farm of about 50 acres. We border the West Webburn river beside which is a beautiful marshland managed for the benefit of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly through advice from Natural England. The land rises up steeply from the river to the border with Rowden Ball and open moorland.
The fields are well managed by Paul our farmer, a well respected member of the team. He currently runs a herd of 20 beautiful South Devon and Aberdeen Angus cows that calve at the farm during March. He runs two flocks of sheep: a commercial flock of 40 Llyen and then 30 Roughfell that graze the moor. They lamb in the fields during April under a watchful eye of all the team.
The two Gloucester Old Spot pigs produce a good litter of piglets each year, a source of much hilarity as they rush around the field! Then there is Penny, the old chestnut horse and her two smaller Dartmoor pony friends, Petal and Queenie both of whom love a good cuddle.The ducks, geese and chickens complete the farm animals along with the two farm cats and of course Timber the dog.
Each year Paul is helped by a willing team of Londoners to plant and care for a field of swedes and cabbages, a good source of food for everything on the farm throughout the winter.
What happens at the farm?
A window into a week at the farm…
There have been few shadows on our day at the farm. In some ways pure joy. Introducing young people to animals and the greatness of the natural world was once again an enriching thing. The chickens wandering with freedom and without fear, the cockerel strutting his handsome self; the three ducklings living in the protective darkness of a shed; the strident geese sitting hopelessly but hopefully on their eggs and shouting at whoever passes or looks in; the two litters of piglets, twenty in total who wriggle and race, and squeal and hide in noisy joy around and away from their more taciturn mothers. In the same field are two rams, one who has squatted at the farm for several months, and who none of the farmers have reported missing. He came in the autumn, and maybe he will father some lambs for next spring. There is a new puppy in the house, Timber, a flat-coated retriever, adored by all, except less surely by the two cats, now named Lost and Found; Lost because she always hides away from crowds, and Found because he is always reappearing after some adventure, self-composed and assured, and ginger.
Then there are the bigger animals. Penny and Nettie were fetched from the fields to meet the horse dentist and have their overgrown teeth filed down. Later in the day a cow had lost its calf, and a new one bought in to suckle; but mother appeared to reject it. The plan was to bring the young one down in the tractor bucket to feed; but the cow wasn’t happy and the calf escaped capture. So they were both cajoled down to the sheds. The cow was installed in a “crush” while feeding on nuts, and calf put to the teats, hungrily; but still the mother kicked and shrugged off. Give it a couple of days like this, …..
Today was a photography day. Debbie from East Shallowford led the young people out around the farm, and along by the river, and while Debbie led the group to pause and watch with interest nature at work, Andrew encouraged the photography, to capture natural images, animals, interesting shapes. It was a very productive day, which was followed up by endless checking the pictures on the Mac in the farmhouse and selecting the best; so that each person ended up with a collection of prints and preparing pictures for a Providence House display.
In the evening as we looked again at a slide show of pictures, we reflected on the gladness of the natural world, and the delicacy of design and shape.
Walk from Mel Tor along Doctor Blackalls Drive above the Dart valley on a glorious summer’s day with the birds singing, skylarks piping, a flock of gulls flapping above the gorge.
Looking back this was an enriching experience for each of these young people. All of them are keen to return and soon. Antony may return as early as next week to help with the preparations for the Shallowford country fair. Each has individual needs and in their different ways they all found their level.
I find it astonishing that in a short space of time the farm can become such a special place for people, and over repeated visits it can take on a sense of home and where you belong. In no small measure this is down to East Shallowford staff, following on from the work of Elizabeth Braund and Rosemary Bird, but developing in their own style and character. The slogan for Providence House 50th Anniversary was ‘ Part of our Lives’ . This could equally be said of Shallowford, and of course has been.