Taking time to stand and stare at Woodlands

Shepherds with a philosophical approach: Stella and Bruce Easterbrook. Photo (MIKE DAVISON): SG100412-15MD

Shepherds with a philosophical approach: Stella and Bruce Easterbrook. Photo (MIKE DAVISON): SG100412-15MD

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ANDREW Dennis and his shepherd at Woodlands Farm Bruce Easterbrook are coming up with poets’ names beginning with the letter ‘r’.

It’s not a game they play to pass the time, but the way they name the bulls that are kept on the organic farm at Kirton, each one named after a writer Andrew and Bruce consider “great”. In previous years these have included Lorca, Meshach, Novalis and MacNeice.

Last year, they didn’t keep any, but if they had it would have been named (in a ‘p’ year) after the Russian writer Pushkin.

Similarly, the rams are named, this time after classical composers, and Bruce cites Woodland Glass as one name that has been used this year after one of his favourite composers.

Classical music and poetry don’t necessarily sit naturally with the dirty, heavy work involved in farming and livestock, but they are loves shared by Andrew and his shepherd of nine years, Bruce.

“We have the same interests in art and music,” agreed Bruce, whose tastes range from the classics to heavy rock and roll. “I don’t play, but I can read music. We both love poetry. I have always liked John Clare.”

Bruce’s wife Stella, who looks after the poultry, explains: “Being a stockman, most of the time he’s very solitary so he has a lot of time for reading and listening to music. We like the isolation of being here. We are not town folk and we were both brought up in the countryside and have never known any other.”

She describes the peace that can descend during lambing, recalling: “I came over one Sunday morning and the head was out and it was lovely and peaceful and so quiet and the rest of the sheep were just watching us and she was content because we were keeping her calm.”

It is surprising that the pair can find time for this kind of reflection with 180 sheep to look after, including a flock of 70 Lleyns, some from Prince Charles’s farm, as well as the rare breed, Lincoln Longwools, and over 100 lambs at the time of our visit.

Bruce also looks after just over 100 Lincoln Reds, 35 of them calved when we were on the farm – four delivered in the night before we visited.

Andrew says: “What singles them out are their values. They are people for whom the farm is their way of life. They have an implicit understanding of and empathy with it. Bruce also happens to be very well read, has a great knowledge of classical music and is a cognoscenti of wine.”

When the animals are giving birth, Bruce does the night shift until 3am and Stella takes over at 5am and in this way Bruce has been able to catch a little sleep. He’s so experienced though he says he can tell what’s happening in the animals’ sheds “just from the noise they are making” and is familiar with the their different characters and traits.

While Stella helps with lambing, her main role is looking after the poultry and she has about 50 breeding turkeys who are starting to lay eggs. Stella, who also looks after the rare breeds of chicken, says next month she will start incubating and the farm will have about 500 turkeys for Christmas. She also feeds the curly coated pigs at weekends – a boar, three sows and ten piglets – as well as helping to pack the organic vegetable boxes ready for delivery to customers.

She, too, understands her stock and says the turkeys are very inquisitive, although Bruce’s view is that they are not very clever and will hide from a fox “behind a blade of grass”.

The couple, both 60 and originally from Cornwall, also share Andrew’s commitment to conservation and say they have noticed an increase in wildlife since Andrew planted a lot of hedges and trees on the farm.

“I like Andrew’s vision,” says Bruce. “He’s a great innovator and I think you have to keep innovating to keep ahead, and it’s been good. Andrew and I seem to gel very well.”