Down on the Farm: Winter tasks and lambing season preparations at Church Farm Ardeley

Co-Farmer Ed with one of the chickens at Church Farm Ardeley.

Co-Farmer Ed with one of the chickens at Church Farm Ardeley. - Credit: Church Farm Ardeley

Amazon Prime Video documentary series Clarkson's Farm featuring Jeremy Clarkson has introduced a new audience to farming.

Here is the first of our new series of 'Down on the Farm' columns from Church Farm Ardeley.


According to an old farming proverb, ‘If December be changeable and mild, The whole winter will remain a child’ – mild weather is a definite bonus for those who work the land and farm. 

A quick introduction: Church Farm Ardeley is a small, Hertfordshire, not-for-profit, care farm, providing adults with additional needs structured, supervised programmes of farm-related activities on a real working farm. 

Care farming has a real purpose behind it; our Co-Farmers (attendees) make a meaningful contribution to the running of Church Farm, be it through animal care, food production or conservation.

Over the course of this year, we will share monthly updates of the highs and lows of farm life, so watch this space.

Winter brings a wealth of additional jobs which need tackling. Freezing temperatures mean the water troughs ice over so, for the animals to drink, the ice needs breaking.

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This is an ideal job for Co-Farmer Daniel, who has autism and sensory processing difficulties. Daniel is bursting with energy and cracking ice is right up his street. With approximately 20 troughs on the farm this can take most of the day!

After Christmas the goats, Hansel, Gretel, Gordon and George, provide a highly efficient Christmas tree disposal and recycling service!

Many of the popular Christmas tree varieties are a tasty food supplement, although in limited quantities.

Co-Farmer Ed with one of the chickens at Church Farm Ardeley.

Co-Farmer Ed with one of the chickens at Church Farm Ardeley. - Credit: Church Farm Ardeley

Our chickens also enjoy the recycled Christmas tree pine needles and branches. Co-Farmer Ed, who has Down Syndrome, visits the farm four days a week and is involved in all aspects of poultry care.

Along with his work colleagues, Ed ensures the pens are cleaned out, the hens fed, watered and, at the end of the day, lights are switched on in the hen coop to provide additional light during the winter months.

This month we scan our pregnant ewes to get an accurate estimation of how many twins and triplets to expect, vital information for planning the upcoming lambing season.

Preparation for lambing commences in January with Co-Farmers moving sheep hurdles, setting up lambing bays, and feeding the pregnant ewes extra rations and supplements.

Scanning day is a big day at the farm and Co-Farmers are always on hand to assist. Everyone helps bring the ewes into the ‘race’ (a single-file walkway) allowing the scanner to handle the sheep quietly and quickly.

As the ewes are scanned, Co-Farmers mark the ewes with coloured paint. Blue = 1 lamb, red = twins, and orange = triplets.

Fresh air builds the appetite, so time to sign off and tuck into sticky toffee medlar pudding made with last year’s medlars and walnuts – after all, according to the words of the wise Wendell Berry, ‘eating is an agricultural act’.