On the edge of the forest, in a fold in the hill, high above the River Wye and at the foot of an ancient castle: there you will find Cinderhill Farm.
Cinderhill Farm is a new project and a work in progress, started in the autumn of 2011. Ecologically sympathetic self-sufficiency is our goal, with much delight in all that the land and animals have to offer in the process. We are working to carve spaces for others to visit to share the many pleasures the farm has to offer.
At Cinderhill Farm the animals have green grass under their feet and the open sky above them, with cosy shelters to rest in and fresh, running water to drink. There’s space for them to run and jump and play, and they have learned to trust people, to enjoy having their tummies tickled and heads stroked. Buzzards fly overhead and deer (black and red fallow deer) visit the ponds, springs and stream most nights. The fields are rich with meadow grasses and wild flowers. History pops up daily in the soil in the form of iron smelt. There are views across the valley to Wales, and mile upon mile of forest stretching as far as the eye can see. And a little house, which we call home.
Cinderhill Farm is home to Neil and Deborah Flint and their grown-up children - as and when they need a base to return. Toggenburg Goats, British Saddleback Pigs, a small flock of very friendly Black Welsh Mountain Sheep, Aylesbury ducks, Light Sussex hens, Springer Spaniels and a Tonkinese cat called Budz call the farm home too, and in doing so make the farm a real farm.
The animals serve a number of roles. First and foremost, they are kept for food. Being rare and traditional British breeds, grown using traditional methods, our meat production is entirely within the spirit of the Slow Food movement. “Eat Them to Keep Them” is the slogan we saw early on in our planning. So, Rare Breeds and Native Breeds are our animals of choice. As well as raising animals for our own purposes, we have started offering Pig Livery, raising pigs to freezer size for people who wish to buy meat that they can meet in person. After only a few short weeks, and to our amazement, we already have a waiting list until spring 2013.
We have sought to invest time and resources in Eco-friendly technology and materials, fitting – among other initiatives – a wood-burning boiler for our heating and hot water, PV panels for energy, organic raised beds built from locally sourced larch, employing rotational composting to feed our soil and extensive farming to protect our animals from disease.
The maze of organic raised-beds, now providing us with over 60 square metres of prime growing space, attracts a great deal of attention from visitors, as well as providing a plentiful supply of delicious fresh fruit and vegetables. One day, we hope to have sufficient produce to be able to sell the excess to our visitors.
British Saddlebacks are a rare breed, no longer at risk but still a minority. They are known for being hardy, gentle, good mothers, excellent pork as well as bacon pigs and particularly good for outdoor rearing. The Cinderhill Sows are two pedigree gilts, born in May 2011 to good friend Sue of Garden Farming, We have grown to love these pigs. Lady Penelope is really the Queen of Cinderhill Farm. Boss pig, now weighing in around 250kgs, she had her first litter of 10 piglets in June 2012. Margot, who is Penelope’s cousin and like her, of the Grand Duchess pedigree line, was delivered of 11 beautiful piglets 12 days later. We now offer a pig livery service for those wishing to keep a pig but without the space or time to do it for themsleves, as well as growing piglets for our own use and with a view to selling some top quality pork products in due course.
The straight Toggenburg is a Swiss dairy goat from the Toggenburg Valley of Switzerland at Obertoggenburg. They are credited as being the oldest known type of dairy goat. Toggenburgs are medium sized, sturdy, vigorous, and alert in appearance, being slightly smaller than the other Alpine breeds. The does weigh at least 120lb/55kg. The British Toggenburg (BT) – as found at Cinderhill Farm – is a separate breed of goats. Founded initially on imported Toggenburg goats mated to cross-bred goats of mixed Swiss origins, it is a breed “made” in the UK in around 1925 and is, in fact, quite different from the pure Toggenburg. The BTs have similar markings to the pure Toggenburg, but are larger (does weigh up to 70kg), milk better, have shorter coats and a wider range of colours from light fawn to dark chocolate. They retain the familiar white Swiss markings such as the lighter coloured ears, the two white stripes down the face from above each eye to the muzzle, white socks from the hocks to hooves on the hind legs and from knees downward on the forelegs, and, most important of all, a white triangle on either side of the tail. The ears are erect and carried forward. Facial lines may be dished or straight, but never Roman.
British Toggenburgs perform best in cooler conditions. They are noted for their excellent udder development and high milk production, with their milk averaging a fat content of 3.7 percent.
We get asked many questions about the goats. here are some of the most popular, and their answers:
Goats differ from sheep in that the goat’s tail is shorter. The goat’s tail is short, bare underneath and usually carried upright. The male goats (“billy”) have beards, unlike sheep. Male goats also have a characteristic strong odour that is produced, particularly during the rutting season. The female goat (“doe”), which has smaller horns than the male, is called a “nanny” goat rather than a ewe and the young are called “kids” not lambs. The male goat is called colloquially, “billy” goat. Our goats have straight hair that lies flat against their bodies. Most sheep are woolly individuals. But worldwide, goats are as often kept for their wool as for their milk or meat, so trying to tell them apart by their hairstyles isn’t always that easy. Goats’ hair, however, does not have any waterproofing, unlike a sheep’s wool which is commonly rich in lanolin. Many goats have toggles or tassels under their chins, which sheep do not. These toggles are just soft, hair covered cartilage serving no practical or biological purpose. Here at Cinderhill farm we have decided they are the goat equivalent of earrings.
Goats are kept for meat and milk production. Many parts of the animal are economically valuable for a variety of purposes, such as the hide for leather and the pelts for rugs and robes, but here at Cinderhill Farm we are some way off using them for such purposes. From summer 2013 the three does we have will be milked once their kids are weaned. The plan is to produce cheese for sale on a local scale, as well as being able to provide fresh goats milk to those who are lactose intolerant here in the neighbourhood.
Goat milk tastes like cow’s milk when milked and stored hygienically. It is closer to human milk than cow’s milk, making it significantly better for those who are lactose intolerant, as well as tasting more like cow’s milk than grain-based milk substitutes such as soya milk. The meat is delicious, delicately flavoured, and remarkably like lamb in flavour, providing the animals are housed, selected and despatched with the right care. Goat meat is leaner and contains less cholesterol and fat than both lamb and beef. Goats’ cheeses vary from tasting as mild as mild can be, to ferociously strong and smelly — whatever floats your boat, goats’ cheese comes that way!
The Cinderhill Flock began in April 2012 when we brought home 4 yearling Black Welsh Mountain (BWM) sheep. They were bought from Heather, a lovely lady who bred them and reared them herself on her smallholding outside Cardiff. Neil piled the van so high with straw for the journey back that it was rather like a lucky-dip, taking the sheep out when we arrived back home. The two sets of brother/sister twins were just a year old and in fine health. To begin with, Cinderhill Farm was a somewhat large and frightening place for them, but they soon settled into their new home. At first we gave them a relatively small pen to live in, but now the sheep have the whole of the “Back of Beyond” field to themselves.
A few months later, in July 2012, our kind neighbours David and Margaret introduced us to their shearers. Each of our huge, soft, brown and fluffy sheep, in less than 2 minutes, was turned into a shivering shadow of their former selves! We were left with very black sheep – as is normal with BWMs – who we could then see were somewhat chubbier than they should be, so they were put onto a bit of a diet and given a larger space in which to exercise and live. The sun bleaches BWM sheeps’ wool, turning it copper colours mixed in with the black. It is beautiful, soft wool with a rich luxurious texture, and warm, comforting smells.
Now the flock is growing, and we have plans to add to the flock further by running two of our first ewes – Summer and Autumn – with a ram with the hope of the first Cinderhill-born lambs arriving next spring. The yearling weathers, Henry and Curly, will have Thyme (who arrived in July) to keep them company, and three more of Heather’s flock - two 2012 ewe lambs and another yearling weather.
The sheep are consistently welcoming to visitors to the farm, even braving the 15 four-year-olds who came from St Briavels Primary School for cuddles and little hands-full of lamb treats. We will be able to keep a flock of between 12-20 sheep on the farm. They will provide us with wool for warm, brown jumpers, and meat in due course, though we plan to keep the original and very friendly foursome as pets for visitors to the farm to enjoy cuddling.
At Cinderhill we keep Light Sussex hens which are known as dual purpose hens, providing around 250 eggs a year each and also growing well for the table. In the morning the poultry climbs out of its housing at dawn (electric doors operated by light-sensitive switches are SO worth the investment!). Marv, our cockerel, was named after the Mickey Rourke character in Sin City on account of his roughed-up looks when we were given him free - it was moulting time. Marv takes his job as Commander-in-Chief of the chicken run very seriously indeed, and never more assiduously than when the gates open at midday for them to free-range the farm for the rest of the day (egg collecting is easier when you know where they are being laid each morning!).
Easter 2012 we added ducklings to our menagerie. Duck Whittington turned out to be the only female, while Miranda, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee all transpired to be drakes. These are Aylesbury ducks, and as such rapid developers both in size and character. They are pictured here at around 5 days old.
In the early summer of 2012 Cinderhill farm’s chicken population was increased by 3 by hatching some of the hens’ own fertile eggs in an “Electric Bottom” in the utility room. The Fluffets that emerged have grown into strapping teenagers as this is written, with one cockerel and two hens with which to begin a new hen house.
Cinderhill Farm has a wonderful flat piece of land carved out of the hillside, envisioned by a previous owner as a manège for horse dressage. It is fast-draining and firm underfoot as under the shallow soil and grass is builders’ hardcore. What seemed at first a redundant piece of land for the needs of traditional home farmers rather than horse people, was transformed in the wave of a biro on the back of an envelope into the perfect site for productive vegetable and fruit beds… One of the first weekends after Neil and Deborah moved in to the farm was Transition Newent and Forest of Dean’s Eco Open Homes 2011. Among the properties visited was the home of Ken and Ann Allen who encouraged, at this early stage, to look into organic, no-dig, raised beds for growing the produce.
Taking Ken and Ann’s enthusiasm and success with their raised beds to heart, Neil and Deborah started to read up and talk to other gardeners and smallholders about their experiences with raised beds, organic produce and no-dig techniques. Out of these a design plan grew which, in the early part of 2012, was brought to life despite the iron-hard ground and sub zero temperatures.
There are now 16 beds measuring 4000mm x 1250mm x 600mm a-piece with various height uprights to allow for protective netting/fleece etc to be draped relatively inexpensively over the crops. Each bed is made of locally-sourced larch, 30mm thick, and spaced 1300mm apart – wide enough for a wheelbarrow or wheelchair to pass by in comfort. Free ranging ducks and hens wander and play in the grid or maze (depending on your height) made by the beds, kindly removing slugs and other little creatures for us as they go about their business.
Neil builds the beds in situ, with hollow bottoms, resting on the grass and weeds which are suppressed using plain, uncoated cardboard. Farm manure – from the pig, chicken and goat pens and arks – is loaded thickly into the beds providing a warm underblanket to the bed above as it rots down over time. On top of the layer of muck, soil and compost are shovelled in more or less to the top of the bed. Once nicely moist (the summer of 2012 has been generous with natural water provision, so the hosepipe has not been much needed) Deborah either plants the beds straight away, or covers them with black plastic to prevent moisture loss, and to suppress any weed seedlings.
The produce has been prolific to date, and healthy, encouraging investment in more beds for even more deliciousness next year. Growing from 8, to 12, to 16 beds in the space of 6 months, this area of the farm has attracted such interest from visitors and encouraging comments from far, far more experienced gardeners that there is a dangerous possibility that the number might grow higher, and the excess produce be sold at the farm gate. There are some challenging tasks ahead – such as the propagation of fruit bushes and storing produce to span the winter months. But some of the beds are bobbing again with seedlings for winter and spring produce, and the rest are being winterised, looking forward to the period of rest that should come with the blanket of winter.
From above, the manège now looks like a small harbour with a flotilla of colourful little boats. Instead of numbering the beds, they are being named. It’ll be a pleasant, indoor winter job, making the name plates on wooden battens and attaching them to the “prow” of each bed.
Open for Visitors - hours until wintertime are Entry is free. Groups and schools visits are by arrangement.
In due course we plan to have homemade refreshments and produce available for visitors. Details will be posted when these are open.