The leaves are beginning to turn and there is a definite crunch underfoot as I go from field to field checking the sheep now. I love autumn - when its dry that is… soon it will be time to divide up the ewes in to their separate groups to go to the various rams; who should I put with who this year?... such decisions!
We have had a summer of mixed fortunes. No doubt you will have noticed its been wet - again - but at last in early September Ian was able to crank up the combine (after literally 2 weeks of crawling around inside it fixing, cleaning, greasing and replacing hard to find bits) and cut some of the barley field. As last year, some of the crop went over as it was too wet and could have done with being harvested a month earlier, so we just cut and baled that portion to make a weedy straw that the pigs will love as bedding. The bit that was worth combining was also rather weedy which made harvesting a challenge... Conventional arable farms would spray the crop about 10 days before harvesting so all weeds would die down and be out of the way of the blades but we really didn’t want to use sprays - what is the point in growing your own crop that you know has had nothing on it, only to spray it in the last few days? - and you can’t tell me the chemical is not left on the grain…anyway, we’ll crack this organic arable lark eventually! We have a nice amount of barley in the newly installed silo that we will mill as we need it to feed to the pigs.
The dry September has also meant that we got more hay cut and stored away - really sweet stuff that we hadn’t anticipated making but because the grass had grown so long the sheep weren’t keeping up and we would have had to cut and do something with it; as it was, one of the fields had already been cut for hay in June and has now had a 2nd cut. Lovely stuff that the sheep and horse will love, and there is even a bit extra this year to sell.
So, what other news? Hatching has finished for the year as the numbers of eggs dwindle. I hadn’t realised how exhausting looking after so many different batches of birds was until the group numbers have started to decrease. Phew, time… its precious these days. The pigs finally farrowed, all 3 sows within 5 weeks of each other, feast or famine as it were, so it’ll be a few months now until fresh pork is available but there are still plenty of joints, sausages and bacon in the freezer… We have moved the freezers to the converted barn now as it is nearly complete so now everything is in one place - hurrah! - although you will have noticed the slipping opening date. We have decided now to stop postponing and just say that it will be next May time. That will give us time to finish off without any additional pressure and May is a lovely time for a party! The training room slate floor has been laid and counter top installed, along with a flushing toilet just in time - literally the night before we ran a course in there. Ian is currently sanding off the beams to remove any traces of water damage from when they were installed last (wet) summer, then the reclaimed floorboards will go down upstairs in the office - the last big job, then its fiddly bits like radiators, door latches - oh, yes, and painting the outside… forgot that. We have run a couple of training courses in the barn and have more planned soon (see the list below or our soon-to-be updated website training pages if interested: www.southyeofarm.co.uk/smallholder_training/index.htm)
The lambs have all grown on well and we’ve even sent off the first group to the butcher - and I have to say that we were pleasantly surprised at the Shropshire lamb - it was a good size and tasted fantastic (phew) - Ian’s father even liked it; in fact, said it was the best he’d ever tasted, which is saying something too as he farmed sheep for years and doesn’t normally like eating lamb. I’ve also attached our meat leaflet this time should you be tempted and to give you an idea of prices. We have lots of Balwen and 1 Shropshire left to go as lamb boxes, and can deliver overnight now using a courier & chilled packaging. We attended a Devon food event called ‘Flavourfest’ in Hatherleigh and took along lamb, gammon and bacon to sell which was very successful and was the first time we have sold ‘off-farm’ as it were. Nerve-wracking to start with though making sure we had complied with all the required labelling regulations etc but fine once the various officials had wandered by without complaint!
Unfortunately though, we have had some issues with the Kerry Hill lambs this summer; they haven’t been very well even though strangely they had been running with the Balwens and Shropshires all year and these others didn’t seem to be affected - we can only assume that they don’t suit our north facing clay ground. The person we bought the main flock from only 15 miles away has no problems with them, and having talked with our vet and others, have found that it is not uncommon for certain breeds to thrive while others don’t in a particular area, so it is with regret that we have decided to sell the Kerry flock and stick to Balwens and Shropshires for now - it will also make things easier as having 5 rams each needing a separate field at tupping time, plus one for the growing lambs and another for spare rams, means we are running all over the place with barely an empty field! Some of the Kerry ewes, ewe lambs and all the wether lambs have gone already and others are available for sale as and when we have enquiries.
The highlights of my sheep year are the Balwen inspection day and annual sale at Builth Wells in Wales. This year as we had several sheep for inspection (to register with the breed society) we arranged for the Society Field Officer to travel down and inspect our sheep at the farm rather than taking them up to Wales. Several others came and we made a lovely day of it, having an alfresco lunch under the pergola on a beautiful sunny day. We registered all of the ewe lambs put forward and 3 of 4 ram lambs, so will keep the best 6 ewe lambs for ourselves as future breeding stock and the others are spoken for. At the society sale, prices were very high but we managed to buy another 5 very pretty ewes from different bloodlines who have tamed down nicely and will now practically knock me over to eat from my hand.
Its all about sheep this newsletter… at long last we managed to arrange for the export of a Balwen ram born last year to France. The paper-work seemed interminable and our vet was exceptionally patient at filling it all out, but early one morning in late August he went off with his new owners for a journey of a life time in the back of their classic van. Luckily they only live about 45 minutes off the ferry at the other end. Still, having followed the process through once it should be easier should we need to export again (as long as our vet will still talk with us…)
The final event to report was a successful puppy reunion. Gem had her puppies in early September last year so we thought it’d be fun (or mad) to invite them all back for a ‘Puppy Party’ (the vet was on stand-by). It went without a hitch and 6 of the 7 puppies came back for a fantastic romp in the river, had a go at an agility course put on by one of the owners who uses their pup for agility, and BBQ for us. Several have asked for another puppy should we breed Gem again… so her destiny is set… counting the days now until her next season… poor thing! But sooo cute and fun…
And finally, an announcement… NO MORE TRACTORS!
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