About the Farm
At the heart of Pennyhooks is a 100 acre organic grass land farm. It has been owned by the Otter Family for over 60 years. It has beautiful views and water meadows with orchids, otters, water voles and a wonderful meandering brook. There is a herd of about 20 Aberdeen Angus cows plus their calves, as well as a flock of hens, some donkeys, goats and pigs. The cows have an important role in the care of the conservation on the farm, as by their carefully managed grazing, the species rich grassland is maintained.
Conservation & Archaeology
Pennyhooks ancient valley is protected as a county wildlife site and currently by being part of the Natural England Higher Level Stewardship programme. Neolithic flints have been found here as well as old field systems and it also has a limestone tufa spring within a reed bed woodland.
It needs constant care & attention to ensure that the significance of this special farm is maintained & if possible enhanced for the well being of future bio-diversity here. The sense of well being & a balanced ecology also often benefits those who spend time here. Recent research supports the perception that being outside in a natural environment has positive effects for mental & physical health. See the Care Farming UK website for further info.
Pennyhooks is a Soil Association Organically registered farm (Reg no. G2623). It also has Red Tractor status and sells its eggs and meat under these marques.
Pennyhooks Farm Year revolves around care of its cattle and care of its grassland. Calves are born throughout the year, suckled on their mothers for 9 months, and sold between 1 and 2 years old either as store cattle or finished cattle. We have our own pedigree Angus bull.
Activities outside on the farm include:
- Harvesting of our own weaving willow in January & February. We use the supple green wands to make plant supports & basket handles for our Plant Sale.
- Thistling in January using hand/foot diggers to remove thistles from the grassland.
- Muck spreading in February, using contractors & their machines.
- Laying woodchip on the paths through Little Wood from February onwards, to keep a way open for people to enjoy their walks.
- Hedging in March, with the help of experienced craftsmen to maintain our woodland & hedges by appropriate trimming, laying & weeding.
- Fencing from January to April, ongoing checking & repairs to be ready for the cows.
- Checking the fields for any stones or rubbish before the grass grows, that might damage mowing machines or get into the cows stomachs.
- Turning out the cows in early May, carefully managed to keep them well, over 3 weeks. We all enjoy watching them run & jump when they are first let out! (see our video).
- Moving the cows at grass during May & June; the students help in using electric fences to protect the growing grass.
- Silage making in June, local contractors help to turn grass into silage bales for Winter feed. Sometimes we have to patch the bales to keep them from spoiling, after the crows have made holes by using them as tables to stand on & pluck corn from the ear, from corn they have picked in our neighbours fields.
- Raking off the toppings on the meadows in June & July. We top the creeping thistle & reeds with the tractor. The toppings would put too much nitrogen back & prevent the wild flowers from growing so the students help to rake it off.
- Hay making in July; using our own old fashioned machinery to lessen the compaction on the water meadows, we make about 200 small bales of sweet smelling meadow hay to feed the donkeys, goats, pigs & any cows in special need. Making hay is a recognised way of helping to maintain & enhance the meadow flower species, by spreading the seed further afield. We spend a lot of time in the meadows monitoring the numbers of species of flower & insect & also will cut & spread extra areas with our own flowers once they have set seed.
- Harvesting in August & September. We buy our straw locally as our farm is not suitable to make our own; we watch the giant combines all around us with pleasure knowing that corn is coming in safely for another year. Our own harvesting is done in our hedgerows, creating a wealth of tastes to enjoy at ourHarvest Meal in October, such as blackberries, bullace, crab apples, elderberries & sloes. We also harvest & prepare fruit & vegetables from our own gardens to share too, such as runner beans, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn, & beetroot.
- Pollarding & stacking of logs. Between November & March it is time to care for the willows; we have 35 ancient trees by the brook, that need regular pollarding by a tree surgeon. We help by stacking the logs, some as habitat piles & some to keep us warm in winter.
- Winter Care of the Cows. They need cleaning, bedding up with fresh straw & feeding with hay & silage each day, jobs shared out with the students. Other Cattle Jobs include calving, tagging, dosing & testing the cattle annually for TB.
- Ongoing care for the donkeys, hens, goats & pigs, Everyone shares in the cleaning feeding & general care for the well being of all our animals. Including training of the donkeys in the Spring Term to be ready for taking part in the Palm Sunday Procession in Shrivenham.