The heat wave of 2018 leaves a hay shortage

Posted on August 18th, 2018 - Fiona

So this week it feels as though the heat wave is over and England is back to standard summer weather. Here on the farm we have had the usual mix of sun, showers and comfortable temperatures for being out and about. For our guests, there is plenty to do both indoors and out and the farm run resumes a leisurely pace as we no longer try to beat the rising temperature of the day. The animals are up and about and happy to greet us instead of lolling around in the shade and it is back to wellies for the guests with flip flops reserved for the beach. The grass has responded and begun to grow once again, a relief for feeding the animals, though a hay shortage in making is concerning.

Hay shortage implications for Coombe Mill

The heat wave meant the grass stopped growing and left the farmers unable to make hay. While it is now growing again, it is doubtful there will be enough to cut, dry and bale for the animals this winter. So far we haven’t found anyone in Cornwall in a position to sell locally produced hay. Farmer Nick is getting creative on our 30 acres moving animals around the fields with our little helpers and contemplating silage as a backup for some. Thankfully we should have enough land to see us through to spring with careful grazing, but I fear not every farm will find it so easy with the hay shortage. Just as well the animals themselves are content to just live day to day in the safe knowledge extra food will arrive each morning with the sound of the tractor.  

Morning Tractor ride to feed the animals

tractor and trailer

4 new fawns this summer will add to the hay shortage dilemma.

Deer and fawn running


The goats are very happy with their maize breakfast supplements

Hand feeding Pigmy Goats


The ponies will always beg for carrots however much grass and hay they have.

Skippy the Coombe Mill Holidays pony

Listening to Farmer Nick on how to help move the sheep to the next field.

Listening to how to move sheep


On the plus side our holiday bookings for 2019 are looking encouraging on the back of the heat wave this summer and all the animals are currently looking in excellent condition.

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Pond life explored creatively

Posted on August 17th, 2018 - Fiona

Activity hour fell on the most beautiful day and I had wondered it all the families staying might just have headed to the beach forgetting to come back and join me. I needn’t have worried; there was a steady gathering of little ones eager to discover pond life with me.   


Pond life explored creatively


As everyone gathered I explained all the things we were going to do, beginning with a little frog explanation. Our farm path had been overrun with froglets that had fascinated the children, and so exploring the frog life cycle seemed a good starting point.


Frog Life cycle explored


Next we had a look in our ‘where animals live’ book for photos of animals and creatures we might see around the pond.  


Where animals live Book


With pond life identification sheets, fishing nets and magnifying glasses we headed over to the top lake on the farm. There is a little slipway there with easy access to the lake and the children cast their nets in to see what they could find.


Pond Dipping at Coombe Mill Family Holidays


I had a large tub prefiled with lake water at the ready and we added any catches to this from our nets. From the safety of the slipway the children could peer into the tub and study the pond life inside.  We could see water boatmen and smaller creatures darting across the tub.


Studying pond life in a tub


Damselflies were all around us with their vivid blue bodies hovering over the water and sunning themselves on leaves and rocks.


Damselfly by the Coombe Mill Lake


When everyone had tired of seeing the activity on the water we began to fill our collecting trays with nature around the lake. Only foxgloves were off limits as they are poisonous to eat and little ones have a habit of putting fingers in their mouths. These were the prettiest flowers around the pond but we found plenty more things to fill our tubs.


collecting nature around the Coombe Mill Lake  


Back over the river I taped a giant piece of plain wallpaper to the path and asked the children to re create the lake and it’s surrounding using the paints and the nature they had collected.  Even though the ages went from under 2 to 7 everyone joined in and creativity flowed.


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I was so delighted with the finished result I tried for a team photo before hanging it in our games room.


Team pond life collage


It was certainly a creative way to explore pond life and a perfect introduction for the children.


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Studying Caterpillars and Butterflies for The Big Butterfly Count

Posted on August 10th, 2018 - Fiona

In mid July when the buddleias are at their peak, the butterflies flock around the farm. We have the most beautiful bush up behind our Pencarrow lodge with a perfume so sweet and distinctive. An unappreciative Farmer Nick was about to chop it down as it isn’t so easy to mow around, but I was up in arms as the butterflies adore it and I had plans for our activity hour around the scented bush. Thankfully I won, the bush remained and we had a beautiful afternoon butterfly hunting there for the Big Butterfly Count.


Studying Caterpillars and Butterflies as part of the Big Butterfly Count

Butterfly Watch for The Big butterfly Count 

We talked about how shy butterflies can be and the need to creep up to the bushes to spot the different varieties. We had been on stealth patrol earlier in the day and taken photos of all the different butterfly types landing on the Buddleia and surrounding ground. These were complied in a table with labels for the children to tick off when they saw them. The children did a great job on all but being very quiet and managed to spot them all. I was slightly concerned about the lack of Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Red Admiral this year, though there were lots of Silver-washed Argynnis Paphia which I’d not seen in the past and the Common Blue and Small White are reappearing in numbers again.


Big Butterfly Count at Coombe Mill

Creative Caterpillars

Butterflies spotted, the children were keen to see what crafts I had planned for them. I wanted to vary things from our butterfly studies in previous years and came up with something quite original. We began by making caterpillars from card circles and pine cones joined with paper clips and wool.


Making caterpillars


The really fun part was painting them. I’d brought out the spray paints to let everyone make their caterpillars unique with splatter colour.


Spray painting DIY home made caterpillars

Butterflies on boards

While the caterpillars dried in the afternoon sun we turned our attention to butterfly boards. My big bag of material scraps was used to create colourful butterflies. Simple rounds or rectangles were pinched in the middle and stapled onto cardboard. A felt pen completed the butterfly bodies and antenna. The results were quick and impressive which was perfect for the time we had.

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It was a lovely way to look at butterfly varieties, talk about their lifespan, habitat and create our own crafty butterfly varieties.  If you fancy joining in The Big Butterfly Count it is running till 20th August and there are some great downloadable identification sheets. I wish I’d checked this out before making my own!   

The Big Butterfly Count and Crafts:

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Caramel the alpaca loses his winter coat

Posted on August 4th, 2018 - Fiona

Caramel is our only remaining alpaca. Once we had Coffee, Toffee and Caramel, but today just Caramel remains. Alpaca are herd animals and poor Caramel is very lonely having recently lost Toffee through old age. Currently we are on the search for some new playmates for him and following up a couple of local leads.  Alpaca owners are proving to be very passionate about their animals and not keen to part with any, but listening to Caramel calling for his mates in the field is heartbreaking so our search will continue.  In the meantime he is making friends with the sheep who are turning into a fair substitute. Perhaps it is the common ground of losing their winter fleece that bonds them.  

Our shearer comes each year but we have to wait our turn as he covers the whole of the south of England and northern Europe. Thankfully the dry weather in the lead up to his arrival meant Caramel’s fleece was beautifully dry and ideal for shearing. To us Caramel can be shy and standoffish; however to Colin the shearer he is as good as gold. Colin walked straight up to him and brought him into the barn where we had a group of eager guests waiting to see the expert at work.

Colin is used to being watched at Coombe Mill and takes time to explain to the children what will happen and how he is going to tie Caramel down. By explaining that this is for the safely of Caramel and us and doesn’t hurt him everyone is more relaxed.

The process is so nimble and quick it is a delight to watch and in no time the children are stroking Caramel and touching his shawn fleece. Meanwhile Caramel has his teeth and toes filed wormer and fly protection administered before happily strolling out in the field with his friends the sheep.  

As for the 2 bin bags of fleece, we give them to local crafter Kay. She made wonderful shoulder bags with our Jacob sheep fleece, I wait to see what comes back from the soft alpaca fleece of Caramel.   

Caramel the Alpaca with full winter coat.

Caramel the Alpaca with winter coat


Colin the shearer explaining how the shearing will happen.

Alpaca shearing explanation


Children watching Caramel the Alpaca being sheared.

Shearing Caramel the Alpaca


Helping bag up the Fleece. 

Kids feeling alpaca fleece

Caramel the alpaca back in the field with his friends the sheep.

Caramel Alpaca and Sheep

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Campfire and bark rafts down the welly walk.

Posted on August 3rd, 2018 - Fiona

So what to do with a group of preschoolers at the end of a week on holiday in the heat wave? The group was boy heavy and I knew crafts in the sun weren’t going to excite them. They needed to be active and somewhere cool. I knew just the place where we could light a campfire, make and sail bark rafts and be at one with nature. 


Campfire and bark rafts down the welly walk.


I prepared a back pack with everything we would need and we headed off to the farm to follow the Welly Walk Trail.


Welly Walk adventure

Bark Rafts

A walk is always more fun with a little challenge. In this case the children were looking out for a tree with loose bark, a twig and a large leaf to make little sailing rafts. I have to say credit for the idea goes to an Instagram photo from Louise George.


Welly walk collecting bark and spotting frogs


The children hung onto their raft pieces as they came through the bamboo tunnel out into the open clearing at the end of the welly walk.


Bamboo Tunnel on Welly Walk


Here we assembled our rafts and floated them in the stream under the shade of the trees. It is such a beautiful cool place to be on a hot day.


Sailing Bark rafts at Coombe Mill

Many faces of an old oak tree

Next we made nature faces on the tree with pieces of air dry clay as the base. Sticks, moss, acorn shells and leaves gave the faces their unique features.


tree faces


The children settled to a little colouring of our lovely picnic blanket and bag while we lit the campfire. I must say in all the time I’ve been making campfires this was by far the easiest thanks to the long dry spell we had been enjoying.


Campfire and colouring


The sight of the marshmallow packet soon had pens being dropped and children crowding round.  There is nothing quite like a campfire to spark imagination. One little one told me as he left this was the highlight of his week!


All that marshmallow eating is thirsty work. Thankfully I had anticipated this and brought squash and cups along.


Drinks in the shade on the Coombe Mill Welly Walk

Catch those bubbles

Revived the children jumped up to chase bubbles.

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While the Grandparents sat and watched the stream


Grandparents watching the stream


There was even time for a little turn on the rope swing before heading back for the evening train ride.


rope swing on the Coombe Mill Welly Walk


It was a perfect way to spend a hot afternoon shaded from the heat of the sun on holiday. The cooling stream for a little paddle when needed was an added bonus.



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