With the news this summer that Large Black pigs are now Britain’s rarest pig breed, we are doing our bit as we have just had 2 litters on the same day and are now over-run with them! Blossom had her second litter and ‘Prada’ (don’t ask) had her first & is proving to be a superb mum. These will be weaned in mid November to go to new homes as winter rotavators - if you fancy some… The 2 boars are clearly working well and once Skylark has farrowed in December, we will be selling ‘Boris’ (a Majestic line boar) along with in-pig ‘Prada’ (a Fashion bloodline) as a proven unrelated breeding pair, as she is related to the boar we intend to keep.

Last eggs went in the incubator in early September...

Poultry update… we turned off the incubators in September for the first time since December 2010, having hatched every 2 weeks continuously during the year, and I breathed a sigh of relief with the late warm weather and turned off the last heat lamp too (EDF will wonder where their main income has disappeared to!)  I’ve lost count of the exact numbers of hatched youngsters but there have been 30+ hatches in total, including chicken, ducks and geese. There are still many young birds running around as I decide which to keep for ourselves for breeding next year before selling the remainder.  As an experiment, we bought some Californian quail eggs to hatch and have some youngsters coming on. As yet the jury is out on whether we will keep them but they have certainly been different to rear; so lively and nervous but beautifully marked. They can apparently start breeding and laying from 6 weeks of age which will be something to see! Quail eggs for tea anyone?

Moving the arks to fresh grass every other day

We have just had several full weekends of successful Poultry and Pig Keeping courses, seemingly becoming popular at the end of the season. Both days were full of intelligent questions however I was somewhat embarrassed to show the breeding birds to newcomers to the hobby given most of the hens are moulting quite dramatically now with the ground carpeted in feathers daily. Perhaps next year we should schedule it in October once the pens are well on their way to re-feathering and are looking smart again. During the year we have raised a few new breeds which will be added to the available list next year including Croad Langshans, Porcelain Sabelpoots, Sicilian Buttercups, and Blue Orpingtons, all bantams. Having moved most of the breeding birds into arks, we made the decision that with 30 breeds there are quite enough now, so that if we (I) wanted a new breed, one had to go to make space, and that any new breeds would be bantams as it is not fair to keep large fowl cooped up. To make way for the new comers, we have given up on the Rhode Island Reds (too big to confine), and Chamois Polish as they were always at the bottom of the pecking order in a mixed hatch and we don’t have the space to rear them separately.
We have put together next year’s smallholder training course schedule (see the website) but in summary it is as follows:

Course Date
Lambing Jan 28
Creating Living Willow Garden Structures Feb 11 & Dec 8
Tractor Maintenance Feb 25 & Oct 27
An Introduction to Sheep Keeping Feb 29, May 27, Aug 11 & Nov 24
An Introduction to Keeping Pigs March 11, June 6, & Aug 25
Poultry Keeping for Beginners March 24, July 8
Small Machinery Maintenance for Smallholders (new course for 2012) April 7 
Incubation, Hatching & Rearing Poultry May 12
Poultry Keeping evenings (7:00pm - 9:30pm) May 16 & July 11
Tractor & Machinery Maintenance June 9
Land Management June 23 
Otter Holt Building & River Habitat Management July 21
Combine evening (7:00pm - 9:30pm): Aug 8
Wildlife Pond Creation & Management Oct 13
Poultry Dispatch & Dressing Nov 10

and a major new departure for 2012 is the introduction of a ‘Smallholding School’ from 22-28th September: This will be a week-long selection of our courses covering Land Management, Poultry, Sheep, Pigs and Machinery for the Smallholder, with additional modules touching on goats (visiting a nearby milking Golden Guernsey herd) and cattle, all with a few days off in-between to catch one’s breath and enjoy Devon. The idea is that folks can make a holiday of learning to be a smallholder as often we have attendees that come on several course. Local accommodation has been reserved for those coming some distance & lunches will be provided for all. Details will follow, but if interested, do get in touch for a chat. We are also adding a few day courses run by other trainers on topics we are not qualified to offer ourselves. The first is ‘Gourmet Mushroom Cultivation’ on 28th April, a fascinating course that Ian and I went on back in the spring that we think will appeal. We are also planning courses on Spinning, Knitting and Bee Keeping once we have settled on some dates with the tutors.

2 new shorthorn heifers 'Crumpet' and 'Daisy'

Concrete going down along the feed passage
of the new stock shed

As usual it seems now, life is rather fast paced and we couldn’t have got by without some help from visiting friends, work experience participants and volunteers. Thanks again go to Jude and family for endlessly painting around the yard - we are nearly finished and it is all looking much tidier, and to Jason and family too (although in this case we are painting over some of the children’s artwork...)

In the last newsletter we introduced our new Riggit Galloways. Sadly the second Riggit heifer will not be joining us having tested ‘inconclusive’ twice in a row on her TB test and very sadly having to go ‘off’, such are the rules. We do plan to have more but it will just take a little while. We did however bring on 3 more pedigree Beef Shorthorn heifers, one in-calf 2 year old and 2 yearlings. They have settled well in the new herd running separately from our exisiting Shorthorn group. I have worked on taming them (having flown off the trailer and raced to the end of the field where they watched us warily for 2 weeks) and have them all eating from my hand now.

While on the subject of cattle, we finally sent off our first ‘beast’ to the butcher, and *oh my* it is some of the tastiest beef we’ve eaten and we are so relieved after all this time and investment! Having been reared entirely off grass with no additional forced finishing, it is an old-fashioned taste of 1970s Sunday lunches. We marketed 10Kg & 15Kg mixed beef boxes including a selection of joints, steaks, mince and stewing beef, and sold out within a few days. Buoyed by this success, we have booked in the next bullock for early November and already have several orders, including two repeat orders! Don’t delay if you fancy stocking the freezer for Christmas as it looks like it will be all sold before being sent off.

The barn not quite as full of hay as we'd have liked

The sheep are doing well, some of the Balwen ewes had the wind up their tails this evening, running around like lambs. The Shropshires have been split into 2 groups and have run with the rams, due to start lambing in mid January in time for the Lambing course. The Gotlands really gave their all to their lambs, loosing quite a bit of weight before weaning but are putting it back on now on the lush grass with a bit of extra feed too. We sold some of the Balwen ewes to reduce numbers owing to the increased mixed flock; we have brought on more Norfolk Horn ewe lambs to breed next year (yes another flock… they really are stunning), a Gotland ram so they can breed pure this year, and have acquired a long-awaited Whitefaced Dartmoor ewe lamb, a pretty Shetland and also a Zwartble for comparison with the Balwens, then that is it! No more sheep breeds… They do make a lovely group though and are brilliant resource to have on the Sheep Keeping courses - we are looking more and more like Adam’s Farm, with several of his animals gracing our fields as well! We still have a few Portland shearling ewes for sale and if not sold by tupping time have found a ram to borrow so they will at least be bred pure. We plan to put the various rams in on 5th November to give lambs from 1st April and will likely be using every field on the farm for all the different groups now.

We seem to have got the hang of growing barley now!

The Balwen ewe and ram lambs were inspected last week; an event I always enjoy as we see how our hard work will pay off. We always keep the best marked each year to add to our numbers and its nice to have finally reached the point where we are improving the flock now rather than just increasing numbers.

Work on the new livestock shed has continued - having stored tractors for most of the year - we poured concrete along what will be the feed passage and have all the gates, feed barriers and internal hangings to install shortly before bringing the cattle in for the winter. We’ll leave that as late as possible as long as the ground conditions allow; to save on straw and mucking out! Talking of straw, the barley harvest went very well this year, the combine behaved and we have a lovely store of home grown barley for the pigs and straw for the winter.

I collected back some of our own Shropshire wools that we had spun from this spring’s shearing; its was processed at a local woollen mill, so in addition to the brown Aran Balwen wools we already have, we now carry creamy Aran and Chunky Shropshire in 50g balls and 100g hanks to sell and I have rekindled my childhood love of knitting. Guess what’s for Christmas this year?...

Until next time…

Stuck for Christmas ideas? (yes that time is fast approaching) then we have a few suggestions which we may be able to help you with:  Vouchers for training courses, lamb skin rugs, wools for knitting, gift certificates to put towards chicken, weaners, lambs or hatching eggs, or even a pork, lamb or beef meat box.

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