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hens in their chicken coup

Meet our animals

bee hive

BEES

We think that our bees are the hardest working animals on the farm. As soon as the weather warms up, the workers are out and about looking for pollen and nectar to take back to their hives. We give them a bit of a hand by providing lots of different flowers for them across the season. From our willow catkins in the spring, followed by apple blossom and then the summer flowering herbal leys. Even the weeds which pop up provide food for the bees!

We have about 40 hives, and each one contains over 50,000 bees – which means we have about 2 million bees on the farm.  Our bees are honeybees Apis Mellifera, most are worker bees, all sisters, and their mum is the queen.

Did you know?

  • Bees put an enormous amount of energy into making honey – they fly 55 000 miles to make each and every 1lb jar of honey

  • A bee can fly up to 15 miles per hour, and travel up to three miles, collecting pollen from up to 100 flowers at a time

  • Worker bees only live for around 6 weeks, and produce about one teaspoon of honey each

BIG BIRDS

We have two kinds of big birds on our farm – rheas and emus.  Rhea are large flightless birds who are native to South America, distantly related to the ostrich and emu. They are omnivorous, preferring broad-leafed plants and clover. However, they eat a variety of foods and in the wild that can range from fruit to frogs and snakes. Emu are the second largest bird on earth, after the ostrich and is native to Australia.

 

Their eggs are huge – rhea eggs are cream and the emus lay green eggs. We incubate the fertile eggs so they hatch into chicks which we sell to other farmers and small holders. And we “blow” the infertile ones and they make fantastic decorations.

Did you know?

  • Emu eggs can weigh around 600g (that’s the same as 10 chicken eggs)

  • Our birds can lay two of these each week during the season

  • You can eat them, if you don’t mind boiling it for 9 hours

  • Emus can sprint at 30 miles (48 km) per hour for a distance and can jump 7 feet (2.1 metres) straight up!

Rhea looking through a door
hens at Solsgirth Home Farm

LITTLE BIRDS 

We don’t just have big birds, we have lots of little birds too – and we love the rare breeds. You’ll see the little birds outside in the fields most of the time (we let them come indoors if the weather is bad).

Our Araucanas cockerels are impressive with a good range of colours, while the girls look less colourful but do lay beautiful blue or olive eggs. 

The  Hungarian Appenzellers golden chickens are quite small, with spikey hair styles and good sized white eggs. We rear both breeds to produce pullets that we sell at Point of Lay (about 6 months), and we also sell the eggs at our markets.

Our turkeys are Norfolk bronze birds whose special skill is to gobble over anyone about to speak. We’re building a netted run to let them scratch in the trees and keep them safe from foxes (and bird flu) They started laying early this year, to produce lots of great birds to sell on as poults around 10-12 weeks, or to finish for Thanksgiving & Christmas. Once we’re past breeding season turkey eggs are also popular, especially poached!

Our Indian Runner Ducks are very well trained, they hop out to the pond during the day and come inside every night, which is always good to avoid foxy loxy! We incubate the big blue duck eggs and rear the ducklings to sell on. Duck eggs are always sought after at our market too.

 

Did you know?

  • We get blue eggs from our Araucana hens and our Indian Running ducks

  • When standing still, Indian Runner ducks can be up to 30 inches tall!

PIGS

We have several different breeds of pigs at Solsgirth Home Farm. Saddlebacks are from a hardy and adaptable pig breed known for their ability to thrive out of doors. They are black with a distinguished white ‘saddle’ over their shoulders. Gloucester Old Spot are  another traditional sturdy breed, covered in black spots.  Piertran is a very lean and muscly breed, originating from Belgium.

 

Our Belgian boar works well with our traditional sows to make great piglets, covered with spots and stripes, producing perfect low fat pork.

Did you know? 

  • Most of the Solsgirth pigs spend their time out in the woodlands

  • Pigs are very good at clearing dense undergrowth and bracken

  • We always make sure the pigs have shade and some mud for wallowing in

Pigs in the woods
Ewe with twins
SHEEP

We have around 100 commercial lambing ewes, many of which we have bred ourselves. The ewes are mostly hardy mules (which is a traditional cross between a hill sheep such as Scotch Blackface or Cheviot and a lowland Leicester). Ours are mainly Cheviot mules that we keep outside on grass most of the year.

 

We have started rotationally grazing fields, which means that the sheep only spend a few days on each part of the field, so we avoid a mud bath! When it comes to lambing we bring them inside, just to give the lambs an easier start – avoiding the worst of the weather and easier to catch if we need to help with the lambing.

 

We have a couple of Beltex tups and one Leicester (called Larry) to give us good strong lambs that the ewes manage to lamb without our help. Some ewes are kept in with their lambs in case they need a top up of milk.

We clip in June to keep the ewes nice & cool for the summer.

Did you know? 

  • In ancient Egypt, sheep were believed to be sacred. Some were mummified when they died.

  • Sheep have rectangular pupils. This gives them a wider field of vision allowing them to spot predators better.

  • Sheep have a good memory and can recognise up to 50 faces of other sheep.

  • Newborn sheep can walk within minutes after they are born.

CATS

It’s not a farm without a farm cat (or two).

When we first came to Solsgirth, we found a fairly ferocious cat in the greenhouse with her new babies! Once her kittens were weaned, we made sure to get the mama cat neutered before releasing her back on the farm. We kept the kittens, naming them Kitkat and Oreo.

Kitkat is now all grown up and she’s now mum to her own kittens.

Did you know? 

  • Their collarbones don’t connect to their other bones. This acts as a good shock absorber when they jump from a height.

  • Cats rough tongues are used for grooming and also stripping meat off bones.

  • Cats purring may be a self-soothing behaviour, as they make this noise when they are ill or distressed as well as when they’re happy.

black and white kittens
hedgehog
HEDGEHOGS

We have been re-homing rescued hedgehogs from SSPCA on the farm. The UK’s hedgehog population have been in sharp decline (down between 30% and 75% since 2000) in rural areas. Some of the losses are a result of road fatalities, though loss of networks of habitat are thought to contribute. As their name suggests, they like hedges, undergrowth and wild areas.

 

Our plan includes restoring dilapidated hedges on the farm to provide better cover and wildlife margin networks to forage. We are hoping our spikey friends will help keep slug numbers under control.

Did you know? 

  • A group of hedgehogs is called an ‘array.’

  • Hedgehogs have very poor eyesight and rely on their smell and hearing.

  • Hedgehogs actually have small tails, we just don’t notice them under all the spikes.

CATTLE

Our Blue Grey cattle are a cross between Galloway, Angus and Shorthorn. This is a good combination for a hardy breed in our climate, who produce adequate quantities of milk even on poor grazing. They are great mothers and calve easy. Our cows calved in the cattle sheds before heading out to our herbal lay.

Did you know? 

  • They don’t need much sleep. They only sleep around 30 minutes in deep sleep that is divided into 6-10 short periods.

  • They have a strong sense of smell. They can perceive smells at a distance of up to 10 kilometres (6.2miles).

  • Besides ‘mooing’ cows use their body language, such as position of the head, limbs and tail, as well as facial expressions, in order to communicate.

Cows in a field
White peacock
PEACOCKS

Our male peacock is an Indian Peacock with amazing metallic blue and green plumage and a distinct call, and the females have all-white plumage. They can often be seen roosting high up in their pens or scratching around the ground looking for food.

 

Did you know?

  • Peacocks are omnivores eating plants and insects

  • They can live up to 20 years 

LLAMAS

Our two Llamas at the farm are called Delia and Delilah. They are lovely ladies and have settled in well. They are part of the camelid family along with camels and alpacas, and are very social animals who live in herds. They eat a variety of vegetables, grasses and plants and can live up to 20 years of age!

 

Llamas are probably most famously known for spitting. They only do this as a warning and usually give you other warning signs first. If you are unlucky enough to be on the receiving end though it does smell awful!

We are hoping that the llamas will become part of the farm experience and that we can use their wool.

Did you know?

  • Llamas come from Peru and were used by the Incas for a source of food, clothing and fuel (their waste….not the llama!)

  • A baby llama is called a “cria”

Llamas at Solsgirth Home Farm
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