For the next Farming Blog, we go to Litton, the village that is home to 3 different farming families and of course The Queens’ Arms Pub.
We are The Charnley’s, a family of four. We are tenant farmer’s and have lived in Litton for 15 years. We have just come through lambing time and have turned the sheep and their lambs back onto the fell above Litton. This clears the meadows ready for the magic to begin. Litton is home to some of the most beautifully species rich wildflower meadows, some act as donor fields where seed is harvested and spread on other meadows needing a magical boost! We have worked with the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust who source our seed and match it to the meadows in need. In the last 70 years, 97% of beautiful hay meadows have been lost.
We are lucky to host curlews every year and now we get to witness the families flocking together ready to fly back to coastal localities. Brown Hare are taking up residence in the meadows around the village and are noticeably moving further up the dale each year.
The valley bottom footpath runs almost parallel to the river Skirfare and is a lovely spot for observing the meadows.
We keep mostly horned sheep on the farm. Our Swaledale and Dalesbred sheep are a native breed to the area. They make excellent, hardy mothers and do a grand job looking after their young lambs on the fell all Summer. They thrive on the fells above Litton; the secret is to keep the right ewe for the view. We keep all the female (gimmer) lambs as replacements to join the breeding flock. These daughters learn how to shelter, find water and where the best pasture is from their mothers. They learn where their land boundary is and very rarely stray from their ‘heft.’ The male (tup) lambs are nearly all castrated at a day or 2 old and they are eventually fattened for the best lamb you’ll ever taste. These male lambs are cooked twice; once by the Summer’s sun and then again by the Chef. They are around 10-14 months old when ready for kitchen and because they are grass fed, they are very sustainable. We often supply The Queens’ Arms, meaning farm to fork the lamb only witnesses 30 road miles.
There is more magic on the fells to witness as they make popular nesting sites for Lapwing, Snipe, Red Shank and Plover. The beautiful Early Purple Orchid is a joy to see along with the scent and sight of wild thyme, bird foot trefoil and limestone bedstraw. The sheep and their lambs join these wading visitors on the fell around the 10th May each year. We ask for those able to climb and enjoy the fells to keep their dogs under close control & on a lead around livestock. Those choosing to explore any open access land must keep their dog on a lead. This prevents disturbing the ground nesting birds and the risk of mis-mothering sheep from their lambs.
We will gather the fells off for shearing in July. These hill sheep will have just enough rise in the fleece (where the wool starts to loosen up off from the skin) for the shearer to get to work. We shear our own sheep; we have a manageable number and take the opportunity to give them a full inspection and MOT whilst having the fleece sheared off. Very little monetary value in doing this graft thirsty task, but many welfare benefits. The risk of fly strike (maggot infestation) disappears, it is more comfortable for the sheep to have little fleece over the Summer and the new fleece that grows back is much more effective. Revenue for the wool last year was just a £5 – gone are the days when the wool cheque would pay your farm rent!
From the middle of July, we constantly pray to the weather Gods for 5 days of straight sunshine. The small hay bales are needed for Winter fodder and are stored in the traditional stone barn in the farmyard. They are perfectly sized to carry onto the fell for the sheep. We have a small suckler herd of Blue Grey and Belted Galloway cattle and when the long wintery days come, they love the taste of Summer to get them through. Again, we sell our boxed beef locally; not many miles travelled; cattle with the smallest carbon footprint.