Darren Stevens, Aspens' Estates Manager, gives an update and some surprising facts about the wonderful animals based at our Cornford Lane site in Pembury. We hope you can pop by to say hi to Valerie, Tessa, Tony, Rupert, Jackie, Teddy and friends soon!

Valerie, the heavyweight champion of Aspens

So named because she was found and rehomed to us on Valentine's Day, ‘Valerie’ is the largest of our five porky beasts here at Aspens. She is a British Saddleback sow, a breed created in the 1960s from cross breeding the Essex and Wessex Saddleback pigs. Valerie weighs in at over 250kgs and yet can move like a ‘Gazelle’ when she wants something, which is usually food based! Her ‘dainty’ cottage, which isn’t a word we’d use to describe her, was originally one of our old chicken coops which was restored into its present state in 2021 as it was deemed to be the only building that would house her. As you can imagine, the portion size for a pig this size is not for the faint hearted and her diet consists of pig nuts and copious amounts of fruit and vegetables twice a day.

Tessa and Tony - Small in stature but born to survive

Both ponies came to Aspens from different locations in Essex in 2022. Tessa (officially called Sheila) is a Shetland Pony and Tony is a Miniature Shetland. Thought to be over 4000 years old, Shetland ponies have survived due to their hardy nature. Although small in comparison to their larger cousins, Shetlands were used as work horses, usually for carrying loads, but also to harrow fields. Tessa and Tony are currently located in the old donkey field on the far side of the meadow on our site but 2023 will see them rehoused in  their own paddock close to the other animals. Tessa came from a riding school where she was used to teach children how to ride so is fairly approachable, Tony is more timid. Tony spent the early part of his life with his brother in a small paddock so although not related, tends to follow Tessa around as if she was his mother. Although they are small, we have to watch their feed as they will eat continuously if given the chance! The future plans for both ponies are to offer ‘Pony Walks’ so that the people we support and the public alike can enjoy being up close to these delightful creatures.

Rupert - Our old timer

It seems like an eternity since Rupert the goat first graced the landscape at Cornford Lane. He was notably a well known absconder back in the day and was often found out of his paddock, meandering through the meadow.

Those glorious days are a distant memory now as Rupert enters his later years. He may look thin and sometimes it appears a challenge to get to his feet but Rupert is actually doing well. He has worn joints like most of us when we hit old age but he receives medication when needed. He is old but seems to enjoy life sharing his home with Jackie the ewe and sometimes the Alpaca boys visit from the neighbouring pen. Rupert is a much loved, gentle member of the family like a lovable old uncle and as long as he gets his half of a pear everyday, he’s happy!

Jackie - The woolly ewe

Sharing the paddock and quite often his food, Jackie the ewe is perfect company for our old goat Rupert. Her diet does have to be monitored due to her love of goat mix however.

Jackie is a Ryeland ewe and the daughter of our resident ram Teddy. Ryelands are a traditional British breed that have been around for over 700 years. They were originally bred for meat on the rye grass pastures of Herefordshire hence their name ‘rye lands’. They are a gentle breed that rarely try to escape, they grow fast and reach maturity quickly which makes them great for farming. Ryeland wool was said to have been favoured by Queen Elizabeth I who after receiving a pair of woollen stockings made from Ryeland wool, insisted that all her stockings were made of the same!

Teddy - The boss

Our resident ram and boss of the paddocks... Teddy.

What else is there to say, Teddy is all ‘Ram’! He loves the ladies, so much so he regularly barges his gate open just to get through to the goats next door. Obviously this gate has since been reinforced to prevent him from being ‘friendly’ with everyone but we still have to keep an eye on him. On occasion whilst visiting his paddock, you may get a little head butt on the legs, just to let you know that he is the boss, but, on the whole, Teddy is a friendly chap. Being the father to Jackie the ewe unfortunately means that they can not be kept together. Tragically we lost another ewe which was to be introduced to Teddy but a replacement will be sought for him. Then hopefully the sound of tiny Ryeland hooves may be heard at Aspens in the future.

By Darren Stevens

Visiting our Cornford Lane site makes a fantastic day out. As well as visiting our wonderful animals, we also have a playground, beautiful woodland walk, outdoor gym and the Bluebell Cafe, which serves delicious meals, snacks and drinks. There is no charge to visit but we do ask that visitors consider leaving us a donation to help us maintain our site and support our work.  Find out more here.