One early October morning we rose just as dawn broke, to watch a magical golden sun break through the heavy autumn mist. The Landrover was loaded with a flask of tea, wellies and a bobble hat, and off we went rambling through the country lanes.
The morning was still, with just the sound of the throaty old Landrover rattling through potholes and knocking dew off overgrown hedges. After just a short drive we landed at our destination, a proper Devon farm made up of a variety of make-do-and-mend buildings, tucked away in a steep hillside. Unassuming and easily missed.
The wobbly old farm overlooked the most magnificent undulating valley, stretching as far as the eye could see. Pockets of woodland, tree-lined avenues and wild hedgerows disrupted the lush green grassland, forcing it to conform into a tapestry of goats, sheep, dairy cows and our guest of honor, the reason for the mornings early rise; Geese. On this two-generation family farm, we rear a gaggle of properly free range geese for Christmas.
We met Nigel in the courtyard of the farm, he had been up even earlier than us, beginning the lengthy process of drying off his herd of dairy cattle for the winter. We shook hands, leaving that familiar signature of a dairy farmer in my hand. His warm smile encouraged us in, and we wandered through the farm, heading towards two practical tin sheds that housed our flock.
As the barn doors flung open we watched the geese rise and stretch from their straw laden beds. They fell into a formation, like a group of young soldiers, slightly unsure of their position, but understanding the need to find a place in line. They marched towards the dew-laden fields, honking as they maneuvered the well-worn path. Once their webbed feet hit the lush grass the honking intensified and like some slightly ungainly ballet the most magical symphony of wing flapping commenced. Pure joy, as simple as that.
The flock took flight across the field, honking and screeching as they flapped. The sleepy valley was suddenly punctuated with sound and movement, it was as if the farm had suddenly come alive.
That's the thing about geese, they are not the quietest bunch, they lack the grace of ducks, the curiosity of chicken and the innocence of turkey, but they do make up for it with their imperious nature. There is no choice but to like them, their fixed intense gaze really doesn't give you an option, and if you step out of line, they are happy to let you know with a short sharp hiss.
Once landed the geese settled into a routine of scratching and pecking the green grass in total contentment. The honking, still apparent in the background, had become less intense, and the farm seemed to drift back into its former calm state.
We leaned against the fence for a while and watched the golden sunlight bounce off the birds downy feathers. Nigel was rightly proud of this year's flock and telling us just that. They looked stunning. Healthy, content and completely at home on this mixed family farm.
With a few more months left to grow until the geese reach natural maturity, we know they are in safe hands and will make the most wonderful centerpiece for many families to share over Christmas. There is something very special about a family like this one rearing food for other families to share. Christmas feels like no better time to celebrate the bringing of food, people and joy into our homes.
Family farms just like this one make up the rich tapestry of Pipers Farm. There is nothing that gives us greater joy than to see both people and animals thriving as part of a real rural landscape.
When we sit down to tuck into our festive fare, we'll raise a glass to Nigel and his family, and to all the other families that make up our Pipers Farm jigsaw puzzle, for the food they have worked hard to provide year-round for our table and yours.