Farm Diary

Feathered Babies and A Delighted Toddler

The start of the summer holidays brought the usual summer rain but it didn’t stop us packing our wellies for a week of fun down at Little Comfort Farm.

In the space of a week, and under the expert guidance of her Auntie Jodie and Uncle Jeremy, my increasingly adventurous two-year-old came face to face with a swallow chick who was having trouble staying airborne, fed chickens and collected their eggs, patted lambs, spotted several fish cruising around the lake and learned to differentiate a blue tit from a woodpecker.  Not to mention getting deliriously happy and mucky splashing in puddles and building castles in the sandpit by the river.

Given the time of sunset at this time of year, sadly she wasn’t able to stay awake for Jeremy’s bat walk but the other lucky children staying at Little Comfort that week were treated to sightings of the farm’s nocturnal residents and a cup of hot cocoa round the campfire.  The calls of the owls and night jar didn’t wake her either so we all slept very soundly with the trickle of the River Caen in the background.  

Instead, she saved her energy for a bracing walk along the glorious beach at Saunton Sands, where she collected an impressive selection of rock pool and shoreline treasures.  On and off came the rain coat but we were noticeably over dressed compared to the classes of older children learning to surf that day.

As we drove down to visit Jodie and Jeremy this time, the media reported on the latest study to conclude that the public are losing touch with nature and the countryside.  A shockingly high percentage of those questioned were apparently unable to identify an oak tree or a barn owl and a third said that they did not know enough about nature to teach their children.

We are so lucky that our daughter will have the opportunity to experience so many wonderful adventures in nature at Little Comfort Farm.  Jodie and Jeremy have an infectious enthusiasm for wildlife and numerous ideas about how to further improve the natural habitat of their little slice of the countryside.  It’s a work in progress but with so much to offer already, I for one can’t wait for our next visit.

Searching for Little Comfort’s Flying Elephants and Tigers

Next week we are very excited to be welcoming back a regular guest who happens to be a lepidopterist (a good tongue twister after a few sloe gins…!). To be a lepidopterist you have to have a fantastic memory, a very keen eye for detail and delicate fingers. We have great respect for these naturalists who specialise in butterflies and moths (from the insect order ‘Lepidoptera’).

We will be setting up a moth trap, hopefully on two different nights (fingers crossed for good weather) to find out what types of moths we have at Little Comfort (there are at least 2500 different species in the UK so we could be busy!). Moth traps are set up overnight and use light to attract moths which then collect in cavities (often upturned egg cartons). Early the next morning, the egg cartons are inspected and the sleepy moths identified and released.

Moths play a vital role in our ecosystem. Adult moths and their caterpillars are an important food source for all sorts of animals, including bats, birds, toads, lizards, hedgehogs and spiders to name a few. They also play an important role in pollinating flowers, both in the wild landscape and in our fields, pollinating our food crops. The diversity and number of moths in a given area is a great indication of the health of our environment, and one of the reasons we are so keen to do at least annual monitoring at Little Comfort.

As with much of our wildlife, moths have suffered enormously through the use of pesticides, intensive farming practises and air pollution. Climate change is also affecting moths and many are not able to evolve fast enough to keep up with the unprecedented speed that our climate is changing. This is another reason why organic farming (traditional farming without the use of pesticides and other chemicals) is so important, along with minimising our carbon footprint.

If you are interested in helping moths, try some of the following:

  • Garden organically without the use of pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides;
  • Tidy your garden a little less! Encourage some ‘wild’ areas and minimise man made surfaces like decking and gravel;
  • Choose organic and local produce;
  • Minimise your carbon footprint and air pollution – more on this in a later farm diary!

In the next farm diary we will report on our moth discoveries but until then, here is a suggested beginner’s top 20 moths to get out and find. Good luck!

 

Sunshine, bountiful berries and haymaking

Exactly two months since our arrival at Little Comfort and summer is well underway! The garden is heavy with juicy raspberries, redcurrants (which Roux hoovers up) gooseberries and blackcurrants. We have been making addictive batches of jam including rhubarb, gooseberry and ginger (our experiment with demerara sugar resulted in a deliciously treacly jam) and red currant and rhubarb, which are going down a treat in the farm shop.

We’ve cut two of the hay meadows to feed our Ruby Red cattle in the deepest darkest winter months. Cutting the hay also helps create a diversity of plant species and prevents the growth of brambles and woodland which would shade out the grass and herbs. We will keep the majority of fields uncut and lightly grazed until late summer.

We continue to appreciate our guests’ help feeding the animals and collecting the eggs. There’s lots to see on the farm at the moment and Jeremy was pleased to have a farm walk described as a ‘lekker tour’ by our guests from South Africa this week (I’m told there are few ways that a South African can better portray their satisfaction than with a passionate “lekker”)!

We have been working closely with our architects to brainstorm ideas for Little Comfort. We are really happy to have the help of Gale and Snowden Architects who specialise in environmental design and permaculture. Their ecologically minded approach to design is refreshing and inspiring (watch this space!).

Our new booking system is up and running and 2018 dates to be released soon! We will be in touch shortly with all who have made provisional bookings for next year. In the mean time, we still have a couple of weeks available for summer holidays and autumn breaks and Caen End is now available until Spring of next year. Do come and see us!

Birdies, eagles and plenty of bogeys

When my wife, Val and I visited our daughter, Jodie and son in law, Jeremy at Little Comfort Farm back in May we were reminded and staggered as others are by the beauty and tranquility of the place. The fact there is a Championship Golf Course less than 5 miles away made me believe this is truly a little heaven, a description often used by visitors. I took the opportunity on that visit to renew my acquaintance with Saunton Golf Course which I hadn’t played for over 10 years. I had a brief chat with the Secretariat and discovered that I could become a country member for £500.00 a year, play as often as I wanted and any playing partners would enjoy half price green fees. Val and I discussed this over a cream tea outside the club house restaurant and I didn’t need much convincing as we watched the smiling faces of the golfers as they returned from both the East and West courses. It was good to see so many people using the restaurant and Val was impressed by the very well stocked Pro Shop and needless to say the credit card was put to good use. 

So… when we visited LCF again last week I decided to drag my Son in Law Jeremy and his house guest and good Australian friend Dan for 18 holes around this Links Course. Saunton is only 15 minutes from Little Comfort, the shortest but not necessarily quickest route is via Georgeham. This route gives you views of North Devon which are incredible but the narrowness of the roads can slow you up if you meet other holiday makers or tractors. The route via Braunton and the coast road had us at the golf club in good time and there is plenty of on site parking. I had decided to become a ‘Country Member’ and so I paid my dues which meant Jeremy and Dan played the championship course for £35.00 each. We all hired trolleys (in hindsight buggies might have made more sense in that heat) everything was readily available including a brand new set of Titleist clubs for Dan to hire.

The East course didn’t disappoint and was in superb condition. Some of the holes came back to me but I was still glad of the course guide since there are a lot of blind shots and much long grass. We visited the rough a few times (where Jeremy delighted in finding snakes), but still managed to complete in just over 4 hours, our only stop was for refreshment from the cart en route. How grateful was I that my lovely wife insisted I apply sun cream before playing. My two Australian playing partners didn’t believe the UK sun could be a threat – but they were wrong and suffered!

Never have a couple of beers at the club house been more welcome!

We returned to Little Comfort Farm for cool showers and an opportunity to regail our partners and friends of our day at the ‘links’ as we barbecued some of the farm’s own organic, pasture fed beef steaks, sausages and burgers, overlooking the river and the lake as the sun went down.

Didn’t want to go home.

Have you seen the emeralds in our meadows?

On a walk in Little Comfort’s water meadows this morning I stopped to look at a small, gleaming emerald with 6 legs. The pictured green dock beetle, Gastrophysa viridula (De Geer, 1775), is a little lady and very pregnant – if you look closely you can see she has so many eggs they are pushing open her wing cases, she may have over 1000 to lay. Which she may do up to 6 times a year!

The green dock beetle shreds dock leaves before the plant flowers, and as such are a valuable biological control. They don’t shred all of them as their young (the larvae) are entirely dependent on docks to develop properly.  A perfect example of nature working in balance. We don’t use any insecticides at Little Comfort Farm, if we did, the insecticide would kill our green gems which to many would mean using herbicides to kill the docks. Altogether a far better solution to leave nature well alone, and see the wildlife flourish.

If you have green dock beetle in your garden and they are eating your rhubarb leaves, the easy solution is to be less rigorous with your weeding! Plant a little nature strip with some dock and they will rapidly move house as they will prefer the dock. Alternatively go on an emerald hunting mission and carefully translocate them to a meadow containing dock, they will be everso grateful and so will your local organic farmers!

North Devon bathed in sunshine – just perfect for barbecues!

Hurrah! After last week’s rain, which certainly helped the grass grow for our cattle and sheep, the sunshine has made a welcome return and we’re looking forward to a heatwave here in North Devon. So it’s just as well that we have lots of our delicious pasture fed, organic Devon Ruby beef in stock – the juicy steaks will be perfect on the barbecue and there’s burgers, sausages and chops too. Or for a morning BBQ you can collect your own organic eggs to go with the organic bacon sold in our farm shop!

Last week we took a delivery of locally produced charcoal from Courage Copse Creatives who are based near Little Comfort in Umberleigh. We love to support local Devon businesses where possible and this charcoal is not only sustainably produced,  it’s also very good for barbecuing. Barbecues are provided for each cottage so, with their own private enclosed gardens and dining furniture, we have the perfect recipe for al fresco dining and of course if our holiday cottage guests fancy a beer or a glass of wine there’s no heated discussions over whose turn it is to drive home!

Roux, our Viszla puppy, loves being outside in the sunshine and has really enjoyed the attentions of our guests over the last few weeks. She’s growing so fast, thank goodness she has finally had her course of vaccinations meaning we don’t have to carry her everywhere – it was becoming quite a chore as she is now a big bundle of legs and very wriggly too!

If you haven’t booked to come and stay with us yet and meet Roux (and us too of course!) then there is still some availability in June & July and even a week in Woodlark cottage for the school summer holidays; if you’re looking for a last minute break to catch this amazing weather then what are you waiting for? BOOK NOW!!!!

Half Term fun at Little Comfort

Family friendly holidays

My goodness the half term week went fast! Little Comfort’s 5 cottages were full to bursting with families and it was fantastic to have so many people helping collect eggs, pat (and cuddle!) the chickens and feed the lambs. An absolute delight to meet families that see Little Comfort as their second home and country retreat!

We couldn’t have picked a better welcoming party for the arrival of our tiny puppy, Roux. A little bundle of fluffy energy who loves attention and cuddles!

Here’s a few other things that happened during half term at Little Comfort:

-Our flock of ewes and lambs found an open gate, got adventurous and decided it was time to say hello to the goslings on the fishing lake.

-The new table tennis table was delivered to the games room so remember to pack your favourite bat!

-Talking of bats, our guests in the mill house helped us with a bat survey and we were not disappointed! We counted out 28 myotis bats and two serotine bats that swooped out and over our heads. Thanks for the help guys!

Marshfield Farm Icecream-Finally, a dozen different flavours of Marshfield Farm ice cream are now ready for tasting in the Little Comfort farm shop! Made with organic milk and clotted cream on a family farm, it is a real treat, perfect for enjoying in the sunshine by the river (we did a test run for you).

Tempted to join us for some puppy cuddles and ice cream testing? Keep an eye out on our special offers page for last minute availability!

Is there anything you would like to see us do at Little Comfort Farm or stock in the farm shop? Let us know!

Little Comfort’s Nocturnal Guests

A couple of months ago, we spent a few days crawling around in the loft spaces at Little Comfort Farm in the hope of finding guests. We found some, and we were absolutely thrilled. These guests love our cottages, but unlike our lovely non-flying guests, these ones are nocturnal and unless you knew when and where to look, you would never know they were there.

With some help from Warwick University and their DNA analysis team, we already know that Little Comfort Farm supports a maternity roost of common pipistrelle bats (they live in the farmhouse with us) and roosts of three other bat species including some big beauties- the serotine, the barn loving Natterer’s bat and the much adored and photogenic brown long-eared bat.

The habitats at Little Comfort Farm are a paradise for our furry friends and we have been granted Higher Level Stewardship due to the farm’s importance for one of England’s rarest bats, the greater horseshoe.

We would love for our guests to help us with surveys over the summer and will be putting on regular bat activities throughout the year. For those who don’t know much about bats, we are looking forward to introducing you to these captivating animals! Have any questions about bats? Post them on our Facebook page – we’d love to answer them!

And it’s hello from us!

Ecology green holidays

We are delighted to be the new owners of Little Comfort Farm and so very excited about building on all the hard work that has been put into the farm over the last 17 years. Our huge gratitude and respect to Jackie and Roger for running this traditional organic farm and enabling this special valley to remain so beautiful and full of wildlife.

Jeremy and I are professional ecologists with a huge love and passion for native wildlife and the environment. It was our dream to find a place like Little Comfort and we still can’t quite believe we are here! Our hope is to nurture the beautiful river valley and do everything we can to enhance the habitats here and create new valuable refuges for plants and animals. The farm cottages will remain peaceful sanctuaries for our guests, nestled in nature.

After underestimating the size of our removal lorry and the relative size of the traditional Devon lanes, it took us rather longer to move in to the farm than we had anticipated! Several shuttle runs later and one week in though we are here, surrounded by boxes, still not entirely sure where anything is, but absolutely loving it and brimming with ideas. While writing this, basking in delicious sunshine, we are surrounded by busy bumble bees, birds building nests and the barring of lambs. Spring is a busy time of year for nature, and certainly for us too!  We can’t wait to get started and to meet you all.

Watch this space!

Jeremy and Jodie x

And it’s goodbye from us…

The Milsom Family

This is a very hard diary to write as it is my last. After 17 very, very happy years living and working at Little Comfort Farm, Roger and I have decided to enter a new phase in our lives, we are not sure what it is called yet, but definitely not retirement!

We arrived here in April 2000 with three young children, a dog, a cat, a horse, 6 chickens and 11 young cattle. Our worldly possessions were in borrowed horse boxes, pick-up trucks etc. goodness knows what a sight we must have made! Now those young people have grown and flown the nest, have wonderful partners, good jobs, happy lives and our first grandchild is the newest member of the clan. We have decided the time has come for us  to have  the next adventure with a horse, a cat, a dog and two goats to take with us!

We will be unbelievably sad to leave; Little Comfort is such a special place. The valley itself with its wealth of wildlife, the beautiful surroundings and wonderful coastline and the people of North Devon who are all truly fantastic. BUT… most of all it is the memories, the mornings in the lambing shed with Lily Rose, the wonder in the eyes of the children as they watch a chicken laying an egg, the dams in the stream, the willow houses, the swallows over the lake, the sound of birdsong, the family gatherings, two weddings, a golden celebration for Granny and Grandpa, the list goes on and on. We have enjoyed meeting so many wonderful people and all your stories and your lives have greatly enriched ours; we are going to miss you all.

However life, as they say, goes on at lovely Little Comfort with Jodie and Jeremy Ward taking up the reins. They are passionate environmentalists who are very much looking forward to their new life here and looking after all our visitors and they are going to introduce themselves properly to you in the next diary.

We send you all our very best wishes and to Jeremy and Jodie the best and happiest of life at Little Comfort Farm.