A pas­sion for rare-breed sheep and re­spon­si­ble farm­ing are be­hind this award-win­ning or­ganic farm

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by lau­ran els­den pho­to­graphs by cris­tian bar­nett

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

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