Open day for new members: 11th April 2015

New Sheep We have a few vacancies for new members at the farm this year and so are having an Open Day on Saturday 11th April for new families to come up to the farm and find out more about getting involved. We are a community farm providing pork, lamb, geese, turkeys, honey, milk, cheese, eggs, fruit and veg to around twenty families in the area. Members are involved in all aspects of running the farm, from lambing to butchery and from sowing to harvesting our veg boxes. Whatever your interest, whether beekeeping, making jams and chutneys, growing fruit and veg or animal husbandry we have something for you to enjoy!
At the Open Day you can meet our existing members, have a tour of the farm (starting at 10am) and enjoy a cup of tea and slice of cake at the end of it – hopefully around 11-11.30am. If you would like to come along, please email or call 01954 261775 and we look forward to meeting you and showing you our slice of ‘the good life’ in the Cambridgeshire Fens.

For more details about becoming a member of the farm, please visit

Looking back on 2014

This year has seen some changes at the farm – not least the departure of our two old sows, Priscilla and Tallulah who produced an absolute mountain of sausages for members and Friends to enjoy. We have produced more pork this year by buying in weaners (eight weeks old) from Rosegate Farm in Swavesey and have started to do our own butchery, also using the facilities at Rosegate. This has given us much more control over the process and we are now producing some really fine, slow grown, outdoor reared pork.

lambs2014 also saw the arrival of our first sheep, a group of cade (bottle fed) lambs. It was a lot more work than I was initially expecting, with their demands for bottles at all hours of the night. We unfortunately lost two lambs in the early days – not uncommon as they’ve had such a rough start to life. The remaining little flock have grown well on the grass in the bottom paddocks and we are looking forward to enjoying the first Hempsals’ roast lamb very early in the new year. With the addition of the sheep, we are finally using up all the paddocks on the farm and eeryone has enjoyed the experience so much we are looking to get a small ‘starter flock’ over the winter so we can produce our own lambs next year.

kidsIn late spring, two of our goats, Cyndi and Clementine, both had kids and we ended up with three boys! We were quite pleased with this outcome as we have plenty of milking goats at the moment and it will mean an extra helping or two of goat curry in spring 2015 when the boys are grown up a bit!

The most disappointing and difficult part of the year was when a virus almost wiped out our young turkey poults. After a lot of disinfecting and care, we have managed to save nine birds. We had to buy in some older poults to make up numbers and are very happy to be able to offer Christmas geese and turkeys to members and Friends again this year.

august produceWe also had a better year for vegetable growing, seeing lots of cabbages and broccoli for the first time and our soft fruit bushes have started to produce good crops. The warm weather in early spring and mild start to autumn has meant that the our veg boxes have been huge and healthy for much longer this year. We also saw the onset of mechanisation at the farm with the new potato machinery which has allowed us to grow more potatoes much more easily than in previous years.

open dayWe ran a number of special events through the year, starting, almost a year ago with a very popular ‘petting stall’ at the Willingham Feast organised by Matt and Caroline. A cheese tasting session for the Willingham School Association in January was very well attended and we’ve been asked back again next year. We also ran a ‘How to handle half a pig evening’. Last week also saw a really successful Open Day, where we welcomed around eighty visitors to the farm who all had an enjoyable and hopefully interesting time.

toddlersFinally, the farm continues to be a positive force in the wider community, we have successfully run hatching programs in two local primary schools, had farm visits from Scouts and Rainbows groups and welcomed regular Saturday visits from a number of disabled ladies from the supported accommodation centre at Wilford Furlong in Willingham. Jenny has also brought a toddler group to the farm regularly over the summer and we’ve had two teenagers working at the farm for their community service part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s award. I’ve also given a number of talks about the farm and our activities, most recently at Scallywags pre-school in Oakington and an evening talk to the Houghton and Wyton Horticultural Society.

Christmas Geese and Turkeys

We are selling Christmas geese and turkeys from the farm this year so do email us if you would like to order one now as we have limited numbers. Our geese will weigh in at around 4.5kg and cost £45 each. Our Norfolk Bronze turkeys come in a variety of sizes between four and eight kilos and cost £10/kg so do let us know what size you want when you order. We are asking for a £10 deposit to secure your Christmas bird and they will be ready for collection from the farm on Sunday 21st December when you can also have a glass of mulled wine and have a walk around the farm.
All our birds have been raised from one day old on the farm and live a free range lifestyle out in our fields being cared for by the farm members.

Children feeding geese

How to Handle Half a Pig

Open day SaddlebacksOn Monday 7th July, we will be having another demonstration evening – this time the farm members will be showing you how to handle half a pig. From curing bacon and hams to making sausages and salami we’ll show you all the different possibilities and of course, there will be ready made examples of everything to taste. The evening starts at Willingham Baptist Church at 8pm and tickets will be £5 including a glass of wine and all the piggy products you can eat!
half a pig

Lambs and a polytunnel

Our new lambsWe’ve got our first lambs at the farm, a collection of six orphans gathered from a couple of local farms. Three are about three weeks old and three are a week old. They are all getting bottles of milk (from our goats supplemented with a replacement milk powder formula) four times a day.
Unfortunately one of the little lambs has got joint ill, a bacterial infection of the joints and caused by him not getting enough colostrum from his mother to pass on her antibodies. Emma has had to inject him with antibiotics every evening – its difficult to find much muscle on the poor little fellow but he’s still feeding very strongly and getting about quickly on his swollen legs so hopefully he’s going to pull through.
Em with the poorly lambCovering the polytunnelOn Saturday we had our monthly ‘lunch workday’ from 10am-4pm and we had a big task ahead of us: the new polytunnel needed covering! The team were more than up to the task though, pulling the plastic cover tight and fixing it with batons to the frame before backfilling the side trenches to hold the end of the plastic down.
Happy polytunnel buildersWe’re hoping that this new growing space will enable us to provide lots of tomatoes, peppers, chilis and cucumbers for the summer veg boxes.

Spring Arrivals

So, spring is here on the farm – the daffodils are out, the bees have started flying again and its time for new arrivals to join us on the farm. We had our first Wednesday ‘after-school’ session of the year this week and welcomed three sets of new animals on to the farm.
new worms
First out were a pot of tiger worms. We have been donated a polytunnel frame from Sue who is giving up her allotment this year and wanted to see it put to good use and along with it came an old wormery. I’ve been itching to have a go with a one of these for a while now and so was really pleased to get one given to us. Jenny (who’s hand is pictured here!) has a wormery in her garden and has kindly donated a pot of tiger worms to get us started. One layer of the wormery has been filled with veg peelings (no onions, leeks or citrus fruit allowed apparently) and I’m watching carefully to see it slowly turn into a nice rich compost.

new cayuga ducks
Wednesday morning also sees the poultry auction near Mildenhall and this week I went along with Nick to see what early stock was available. We’d tried a test hatch from our Aylesburys and had zero fertility from them so top of my shopping list was a new drake. Fortunately there was a decent looking trio for sale which I got for a fair price and the following lot was a pair of Cayuga ducks looking fabulous with their iridescent green feathers. As I have a bit of a soft spot for ducks I allowed myself an ‘impulse purchase’ for the day and brought them back to the farm to join one of our existing flocks.

The final set of new arrivals were our first six weaners of the year – coming from David at Rosegate Farm – where they’ll go back to for butchering in four months time. This little lot are from a Large White boar and a Oxford Sandy and Black cross Berkshire sow and should finish to a good lean pork weight over the spring and early summer. Our plan this year is to rear smaller batches of pigs more regularly – we’re intending to be finishing two pigs every fortnight between about July and November both for our members and for Friends of the farm who want half or quarter of a pig. If you’ve not yet joined our Friends scheme and would like to get some pork this year, please do get in touch!
Unloading piggies

January Activity on the farm

polytunnel dismantling

We’ve been very busy on the farm over the winter months mainly concentrating on building the new chicken runs down in the woodland. Thanks to a huge amount of second-hand chicken wire that we collect from local thatchers (they take it off the roofs they are rethatching and would then usually throw it away) we’ve managed to get lay out five new runs in what had been a hugely overgrown thicket of brambles and small trees.

Last weekend was a little different however. We’d very kindly been offered a polytunnel – on the proviso that we go down to the allotment where it is currently standing and dismantle it. Five of us headed down there bright and early (and in a couple of cases slightly hungover) and set to work. Fortunately, the tunnel was in fairly good condition and after a fair bit of digging we managed to get it down and rather precariously stowed on to the back of the farm truck.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, Karen was leading a team clearing out our existing polytunnel and starting the first sowing of lettuce in anticipation of spring. They also got a couple more doors built for the new chicken runs and continued with what feels like the endless job of putting up fox-proof fencing.
lunch in the clubhouse
Being the last Saturday of month, we are working on the farm all day with only a break for a ‘bring and share’ lunch in the middle of the day. It’s on occasions like this – cold outside but warm inside – that the benefits of the new clubhouse are really felt. Today we were sampling a couple of dishes made by members from their home-made chorizo from the last batch of pigs last autumn, including a fab spicy soup and quiche.

lunch in the clubhouse

New members for 2014: 4th January

Hempsals Community Farm in Willingham offers you the chance to:

• Grow your own vegetables, using organic priniciples, without the commitment of an allotment
• Raise your own free-range pigs, goats, ducks, turkeys, geese and eggs without the daily responsibility of animal feeding duties
• Get fully hands-on in a smallholding, with other like-minded people, on a Saturday, knowing that the day-to-day upkeep is managed by someone else

We are a group of 20 families who share both the workload and the harvest on our smallholding in Willingham, and enjoy the satisfaction of eating our own seasonal organic vegetables and free-range meat, eggs, cheese and milk.
We have a small number of openings for new members to join us from January and will be offering these places on Saturday 4th January 2014 when interested people can come and look around and join in with activities such as building nest boxes for our new chicken runs from 10am-1pm.

There will plenty of opportunity to talk to existing members over coffee and cake, meet the animals and ask any questions you might have.
Please could you contact Emma on or 01954 261775 if you are hoping to come so we can cater accordingly. We look forward to meeting you then!

Our experience of hatching chicks

Hempsals Community farm often hatches their own chicks, mainly to replenish the flocks of egg laying hens. Our children were very keen to see eggs hatch and watch the chicks grow, so in mid september we got a batch of eggs and an incubator from the farm. We were finally going to get a chance to incubate, hatch and care for our own chicks.

Eggs in the incubator<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

These eggs needed to be incubated for 3 weeks before the chicks were ready to emerge. We arranged the eggs in the incubator and placed it on the rocker and off it went, with its steady whirring fan, maintaining the temperature at 37.5 °C, and hourly clicking rotation.

There was a limited amount we could do during the incubation, although we could ‘candle’ the eggs to see if there was anything going on inside. This involved using a torch to shine a bright light into the shell in a darkened room and seeing if there was anything inside the egg. Developing eggs absorb oxygen and moisture from the environment through the shell (and dispose of carbon dioxide), therefore blood vessels develop over the inside of the eggs, a little like a primitive placenta. The first of these blood vessel can be seen at around 5 days, which was much easier to see in the eggs with white shells.

At about 10 days I could more clearly see which eggs had developing chicks in. These eggs had a distinct mass which blocked the light. I judged four eggs not to have chicks in, and I threw two away; the children wanted me to mark the other two to check they didn’t hatch, which is what we did. The candling was fascinating and could carefully be done until close to hatching. We saw more blood vessels developing and towards the end of the incubation period could see the chick moving inside the shell.

After 19 days of waiting we removed the bars, which stopped the eggs bumping as they rocked, and took the incubator off the rocking base. Finally we felt like something was going to happen soon.

The following morning we came down to the sound of tiny cheeps. We carefully looked at the eggs and found that 2 eggs had pipped and had a tiny hole in. We topped up the water in the wells of the incubator and waited. And waited, it seemed to take ages to see any progress in the eggs cracking. During the day two more eggs were pipped, but still there was little progress in the first two eggs. Ben assured me this was normal and that eggs often take around 12 hours to hatch. Finally at about 6 in the evening the first two eggs hatched and out popped a white chick and a ginger chick with black strips. By 10 in the evening two more chicks had hatched and the incubator was starting to look very full of chicks and eggs.

Chicks in cage

We had a large cage with a heat lamp, water and food trough. It seemed to be time to move the first two chicks who were now dry and fluffy. The heat lamp is need to keep the chicks warm like the mother hen would do, but we had overestimated the sense of our little chicks. In the morning we found them in the opposite corner to the heat lamp, the two chicks were very cold and still, although they were still alive – just. Their chances looked slim, but we moved them back into the incubator to warm up. To our surprise after an hour, the chicks looked more life-like and after two hours they were back on their feet. It was time to put them in the big cage again, this time using the water container and food trough to keep the tiny chicks near the heat lamp.

Chicks in incubator

By the follow morning, day 21, we had seven chicks; four in the big cage and three still in the incubator drying off, it took about 6 hours for them to fully dry and start standing steadily. This left two pipped eggs, on carefully examination one of the chicks had died. It is common for a chick not to make it out of the shell. We still had one little chick cheeping away in its shell. We watched this egg periodically, the crack was getting bigger and at about 2 in the afternoon there was a claw and beak sticking out. Half an hour later there was more head showing and shortly after that a chick. It was curled up like an egg, wet and looking like it thought the egg was a better place to be. But again, it wasn’t long before he was standing, peering out, looking for his friends who were all now in the large cage.

Chicks beak and clawChicks headNewly hatched chick

We had hatched 8 chicks. The incubator was left on for a further 12 hours, but no more eggs pipped or hatched. When I re-candled the eggs, it appeared another two eggs had not been fertilised and three developed eggs did not hatch. So in summary of the 18 eggs we received six were not fertilised, three developed but did not hatch, one died during hatching and eight healthy chicks hatched. This is quite a typical success rate with incubated eggs.

The hatching was only the start of the fun. While the children had been fascinated by the eggs, candling and hatching, there was very little they or I could do, but now we had 8 little chicks to watch, handle and feed.

In the first few days the chicks were very sleepy. They would come and see us when ever we were near and would called to us in their cute little cheeps. But after a short while they would go back to the heat lamp and crash out literally, splat on the floor. To start with they ate and drank very little, although they needed chick crumb available all the time, which had the bonus that they did not smell, yet.

3 day old chicks in cage

The chicks developed very quickly – by the time they were 3 days old their wing feathers were growing, by 5 days they were stretching their wings and by 8 days old they could fly/jump out of the cage (the lid to the cage became essential). As quickly as the chicks grew, our children’s understanding of them also grew. The children become confident handling the chicks and talking about them. For the children, “Tiger”, the only one we named, developed personality and become the central character in their play and stories.

Originally I had said we would take the chicks back to the farm when they were 8 days old, but seeing how the children were enjoying having them, I relented, cleaned them out for a second time, and agreed to keep them until 12 days. ….. They continued to grow feathers….this will be extended.

We have really enjoyed keeping the eggs, watching them hatch and the chicks develop. I found the candling gave me an amazing insight into how the chicks really develop. The children have loved watching the chicks grow quickly, taken many photos and learnt so much. We all hope the hens go on to happy and productive lives at Hempsals farm, where we intend to continue visiting them for several years.

Country Living – April 2013

We’e been being featured in Country Living magazine this year as they follow the farm through the seasons and they have now very kindly given us permission to publish the articles in pdf format on our website. Here is the very first instalment from April 2013 featuring lots of lovely pictures of the farm in springtime and a few of my tips for starting a Community Supported Agriculture project of your very own!
cover apr2013