ONE WOMAN & HER DOG
A passion for rare-breed sheep and responsible farming are behind this award-winning organic farm
Calling out with a noise that’s somewhere between a whistle and a yodel, Jane Kallaway deftly demonstrates the symbiotic partnership between a shepherdess and her dog. As Flute, a flat-coated collie, speeds in from behind a frosty water trough, Jane follows, crook in hand, delivering a few phrases of encouragement. Moments later, her flock emerges over the brow of a nearby hill, apparition-like in the early morning mist. Together the sheep trot, picking up the pace as they near a heavy wooden gate, on the other side of which fresh grass beckons. With their resilient, lanolin-rich fleeces and magnificent curved horns, the herd looks more suited to a Viking settlement than a field in the midst of the Wiltshire countryside. But these are no ordinary sheep – these are multi-horned Manx Loaghtan, a primitive rare breed born and nurtured in the sweeping pastures of Langley Chase Organic Farm.
Noses to the ground, the group grazes contentedly, glancing up every now and then to cast unblinking eyes in the direction of Flute, who’s poised ready for her next command. Surrounded by lush wild-flower meadows and ancient hedgerows – where bluebells, milk maids and cow parsley will soon be flourishing – Jane is an advocate of responsible farming and a reciprocal relationship with the land. “It will be here for a long time after we’re gone,” she says. “I see myself as more of a custodian than an owner, helping to preserve the landscape for future generations.” An ethos of sustainability is one that permeates every aspect of Langley Chase, from rejecting the use of pesticides and herbicides (mole hills and worms are encouraged here) to adhering to the strict stipulations set by the Soil Association.
Jumping into her Land Rover, with Flute taking a well-earned rest in the back, Jane makes her way to a neighbouring hay field just as the first droplets of rain start to patter against the windscreen. In a far corner, under the splayed branches of a majestic oak, a group of lambs shelters. Born only last week, the youngsters may be black now, but the combination of a free-ranging lifestyle and the sun on their backs means it won’t be long before they transform from dark- to milk-chocolate brown and then, finally, a deep golden colour to match their parents. “The flock graze at their own pace. They just trundle along,” Jane says, stopping to jot down a few observations in her notebook. “They’re not confined and have got lots of space, which makes all the difference. They’re happy sheep.”
Many might associate lambs with new beginnings, but, for Jane, this time actually marks the end of the shepherd’s year. “It’s bittersweet when you see your flock,” she says wistfully. “You feel pride that you have reared a batch of such good-looking animals, but sadness that you can’t keep them for ever.” As the clouds give way to dappled sunlight, Flute is back to work, weaving in and out of the tall grass with practised speed and agility. Working on the land throughout the year, Jane has grown to love each season – whether it’s shearing in early summer or setting up hay stations on crisp winter days – but admits there’s something particularly
special about lambing. “You’re on high alert, but there’s a real sense of excitement and anticipation,” she says. “When they arrive, it’s like opening a present. Seeing them take their first few steps, looking healthy and strong, well, that’s just extraordinary.”
Following the BSE crisis of the mid-1990s, Jane decided to use her acreage to raise her own livestock for meat: “I wanted traceability and to know what my family were eating.” After deciding that Dexter cows might be a little too hard to handle, she settled on something she felt was much more manageable. “With sheep you can get away with whipping a few hurdles together,” she says, laughing. “Cattle, on the other hand, are a completely different kettle of fish.” Jane undertook some extensive research, tracking down experts at Bristol University and the Scottish Agricultural College (in addition to a selection of specialist butchers) to ask for their advice. Discovering that many species in the UK are either hybrids or cross breeds – bred and born to be on the plate within four months – Jane wanted a variety that had been native to our shores for hundreds of years. “Manx Loaghtan are much more time-consuming than commercial varieties. They’ve got to live a natural life outdoors – you can’t just feed them up,” she says, stooping to pick up a straggler who’s wandered off and is now bleating for his mother. “It takes a lot longer to get them to the right size, but it’s worth investing that time because the end result is so much better.”
With a rich, dark meat that’s gamey in flavour, as well as being naturally lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, Langley Chase’s organic lamb and mutton has plenty of fans. The farm’s award-winning offerings (which range from traditional roasting joints to sausages, burgers and even salami) have also impressed luminaries including Hugh Fearnley-whittingstall, Rick Stein and even Prince Charles. And, while Jane freely admits it’s difficult not to get too attached to certain characters – “Some even raise a foot to say ‘hello’ when I pass,” – she remains philosophical about the outcome: “You are raising them
PREVIOUS PAGES The farm’s ancient pastures support a wealth of wildlife in addition to Jane’s flock. Born on the farm, sheep will live here their whole
lives THIS PAGE Langley Chase was originally built in the 18th century – Jane manages it in a sustainable way, ensuring its future for generations to come
Jane’s Manx Loaghtans are given time to reach maturity naturally