Late Autumn Newsletter 2014
Issue no. 31

A gloomy afternoon has presented itself as the perfect opportunity to sit down and write the next South Yeo newsletter instalment. Long-awaited as we seem to have missed the Summer one, many apologies if you noticed, there's been so much on we just didn't seem to have 5 minutes to rub together.

Riggit Galloway calf Fraser

This was the summer that happily never seemed to end, going on well into September. The only down side is that the grass kept growing, and growing, and growing and our animals couldn't keep up with it so we made LOTS of hay. It was getting to the point that we didn't want to see another hay bale! All safely in the barn(s), even some stored in a friend's sheds as we ran out of space here. The weather has turned now though and that is good, our springs were running dry so we had to barrel water to sheep, poultry and use the bowser for the cattle again. We made heaps of lovely round bale hay for the cattle in June and stored it temporarily in the big barn (where the cattle spend the winter). Now the time is drawing close that they will need to be brought in, we need to get it moved. To create space, we applied for planning permission to build an extension to the cattle shed out the back as a hay/straw store. After a few delays, permission finally came through and Ian has been racing to get it built. It's turning out to be a sturdy construction but the rain has turned the site into a mud wallow! The tin roof is on now so ground conditions inside have started to improve…

We had our last calf of the year last week, a Devon x Shorthorn heifer we've called Grace. She was several days early and caught us by surprise; literally, Ian came out in the morning to find her busily suckling from mum. I was away for 36 hours so missed it completely! But in a way that's a good thing as I find calving very stressful so didn't have the associated worry. The calves have done really well on the plentiful grass and we've several heifers we'll be keeping for breeding but also enough now that we'll be looking to sell a few at weaning in February too. All the cows (apart from the one who calved recently) have been AI-d and most confirmed in-calf. Those that were too early to tell when the vet was here have not been seen 'bulling' again so we have our fingers crossed they've held to service. Interestingly, a couple of cows have been bred and calved on exactly the same dates as previous years and wouldn't be pulled forward to calve any earlier. As long as we have healthy calves we don't mind, and prefer to calve in the summer months once mum has been out at grass for a bit, rather than in the murk of winter inside where it's harder to keep conditions spotlessly clean for them.

Multicoloured shorthorn & galloway calves

We now have an officially prize winning Beef Shorthorn herd! Each year the regional branch of the Shorthorn Society has a herd competition where a judge visits all the herds who have entered on their own farms so it means we don't have to halter train and haul animals to a show which would be stressful for us & them. There are categories for best small, medium and large herds, plus individual animal classes. Judging usually takes place over a weekend in September. We were completely surprised and overjoyed to come first in the small herd class, plus win a 2nd and 3rd for Crumpet and Gloria in their cow & heifer classes - these individual animal awards are particularly exciting as they were judged against all other animals entered across the southwest, not just those in the other small herds. Our line up of rosettes means we now need a board on which to display them and we have a silver cup for a year too! Woohoo!

Having had a run of orders recently, I've spent a couple of days making an inventory of our knitting wools and creating labels for some of the balls of wool. We now have white Kerry Hill, creamy Shropshire, brown Balwen and grey Gotland wools in a variety of weights from 2-ply to chunky, and in balls, hanks and cones. In addition we've been selling raw fleeces to spinners and felters for several years and have washed and carded gotland fibre available too. I am determined to knit a sweater using a mix of our own naturally coloured wools this winter. If you know someone who knits, we can always post wools as Christmas gifts…

Gotland wools

The sheep have been divided into 2 flocks of winter and spring lambers. Very roughly, the white sheep will be lambing early and the coloured breeds later on. They seem happier divided by colour and naturally group themselves this way. The new Shropshire ram appears to have worked well and has covered all his ewes and not revisited any in the last couple of weeks. We have fingers firmly crossed after last year's rent-a-ram didn't work so well. As an experiment, we've popped a young Shropshire ram in with a few of this year's well-grown ewe lambs. January born, they were ¾ their adult weight already by tupping time so should be able to cope OK. We've bought a super young Coloured Ryeland ram from a friend and he seems a little more secretive in his work, so we wont know how he's got on until we pregnancy scan his ewes next month. The Norfolk ram has become restless and after servicing his ewes he has taken to bashing fence posts and breaking them for fun. We are not impressed with the added urgent repair list as you can imagine!

The Shropshire flock

We hosted the southwest annual Balwen inspection again and had a jolly day with the growing number of other Balwen breeders. The weather always seems to be kind to us and we had a BBQ under the grape vine. For the first time since we've bred them, I've not kept any of our Balwen ewe lambs this year as we make space for some of the new sheep. The Balwen and Zwartbles rams will go in to their ewes in November. They are so far quite calm but I'm sure they will become restless in a week or two as the testosterone starts to kick in!.

We've just run a couple of Sheep Keeping courses back to back and the Ryelands stole the show. Many of the people attending went away determined that Ryelands were the breed they'd be starting with. I don't regret getting them for a minute, just need to be patient so we can increase their numbers from within. They are great to spend time with at the end of a busy day. We've had them for a full year now but this will be our first lambing with them, so I will be interested to see how they get on.

Through Twitter, I have been chatting with a sheep breeder up near Doncaster who over the last 25 years has been developing what she hopes will be a new British breed of sheep. Using a rare occasional throwback in Jacob sheep she has created 'British Lavenders' using the rare 'blue' colouring from the Jacob and crossing to Poll Dorsets and Suffolks to improve the shape of the sheep and remove the tendency for horns. To move the breed on, she is now ready for new keepers to take them up the challenge. I couldn't resist (anything different and particularly blue) so recently collected 3 in-lamb ewes. They have blue-grey faces and legs and an off-white lavender coloured fleece (much the same colour as Skye, one of our collies) but also have the white blaze, socks and tail tip of the balwens and zwartbles, although this last marking needs some work. The next move would be to cross them to a zwartbles to try to fix this head/socks/tail marking and to bring in new bloodlines to help reduce in-breeding. Something we can do now with our young Zwartbles flock. Hmm… so if you've been counting, that now makes six different breeds of sheep. Yes, I'll admit, I do have a sheep habit! Good job we've taken on some extra winter grazing from a neighbour so we'll have plenty of young grass here in the spring at lambing time.

We usually try to run down the numbers of young birds kept over the winter so there is less cleaning out to be done when its rainy and wet and they make their houses dirty so quickly.  I find late hatched birds never seem to do so well outside either in the wet and mud. This year though I stopped hatching in June as I 'had' (*ahem*) to go to Hawaii (awful hardship) for my brother's wedding and wanted to minimise the amount of work for Ian who stayed here to run the farm. I set the incubator just before I left so it would hatch when I got back, then also set all the eggs Ian had collected while I was gone. Oops… There wasn't enough room in the hatcher for them all as fertility was higher than expected. The hatch was 140 in total but will mean that we'll have point-of-lay birds available in January and February when we normally receive many enquiries from new chicken keepers [Hawaii and the wedding were superb by the way, but a blooming long way and slightly tinged with guilt at leaving Ian to do everything].

Too many eggs!

I've just collected a couple of Gloucester Old Spot weaners at the weekend to rear for pork and bacon ready in March time. They'll join some saddlebacks already in the wood, soon to be feasting on fallen acorns. We're quite enjoying experimenting with other native breeds of pigs again. The Oxfords were very tasty and didn't run to fat, but were a little too pushy for our liking. I've ordered some British Lops next for spring time, we've not had those before, so will report back.

As we approach Christmas (sorry to remind you!), we'll be sending off a couple of our grass fed Ruby Devon bullocks for beef, ready to come back from the butcher at the end of November/early December in time for winter warming meals and celebratory dinners. We sell our beef direct to customers from the farm as 10Kg or 15Kg mixed selection boxes which include a variety of joints, steaks, stewing and mince and would fill 1 to 2 drawers in an upright freezer. If you want to try some and would like a particular joint or size of joint included in your mix, let us know and we'll see what the butcher can do. We have a few boxes yet to reserve and they can be delivered locally, collected from here or we can courier in chilled polyboxes by overnight delivery around the country.

Until next time…

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