"The toilet block was clean and the showers were lovely and hot."
The Brown family came to Halse Farm in 1994 having previously farmed at Simonsbath. There had been a campsite on the farm since 1954 when Exmoor became a National Park and the Bakers who lived here then were asked if they would open a field in order that people didn’t park up and camp all over the moor. In those days there were no mod cons, just a tap in the field. When we came here there was one gents toilet, one ladies toilet and one shower in a shed next to the house. The present toilet block was built the following year.
On the farm we started with black and white Hereford cross cows for our suckler herd along with a Charollais bull. We produce calves for beef but sell them on at a year old for someone else to finish. We now have a mixture of cows including a few Hereford crosses and quite a lot of grey coloured Belgian Blues, still with a Charollais bull. We calve at the same time as we lamb in the spring and the cows go out to grass in May (my favourite day, seeing the staid cows frolicking with joy) During the summer the bull runs with the cows.
Our sheep are Suffolk crosses (black faces) and North Country mules (grey faces). We have pure Suffolk rams to compliment the mules and Texel rams (white faces) to compliment the Suffolks. The rams go in with the ewes at the end of October so that we lamb from the end of March. We scan the ewes in January by which time they are probably indoors. This tells us the number of lambs each ewe is expecting and we can sort them accordingly. Lambing is a very busy time and we keep an eye on the ewes and cows around the clock. The bulk of lambs are born over three weeks but there are always a few ewes that leave it late. The ewes and lambs go out of the shed as soon as the lambs are strong enough and sucking well. We aim to send every ewe away with two lambs so will adopt spare lambs on to ewes with only a single lamb. Our lambs are all finished on grass and gone before Christmas. The sheep are sheared towards the end of May depending on the weather (warm and dry is what we need). Until recently Jeremy and a friend used to shear all their sheep between them but we now get some local shearers in. The fleeces go to the Wool Board at South Molton where they are sorted. In years gone by it was said that the money from the fleeces would pay the annual rent on a farm but sadly these days it barely pays for the shearers. Throughout the summer the sheep come back to the yards for various things like weaning, worming and fly strike prevention. In late July the lambs are weaned and as they get big enough will be sold from then on.
In June we hope to make our silage but is very weather dependent so an anxious time and once we start we hope to get no hold ups either with the weather or the machinery. We also make hay which requires an even longer drying period. The silage is our entire winters feed for both the cows and the sheep and must last from when the cows come in in September or October (again depending on the weather) to when everything goes out in May. Most years we will find a red deer calf or two hidden away in the silage grass. After the machinery has finished we have to sheet the pit (we make clamp silage rather than round bale) which is probably up there with my least favourite jobs.
In order to earn a bit more Jeremy goes to work for other farmers, helping with putting up lambing pens, hedge laying or trimming, silage or indeed any job that requires an extra pair of hands. Luckily for him he is too busy here to have to help with lambing.
There is a rhythm to the cycle of the year on a farm. Things vary from year to year but the events are the same, the bones on which our lives are ordered. For me spring has begun once I’ve seen the first swallow, heard the cuckoo and come upon an Exmoor pony foal and looking up the valley watched as the trees unfold one by one. Summer is very green until relieved by the purple of the heather. Autumn is the reverse of spring, watching first as the trees turn to glorious copper and then one by one turn bare once again. Winter can have its own beauty given less wind and rain and a crisp blue sky day is a joy. All the while we share our lives with the animals we care for and their rhythm.