As usual I shall open our autumn newsletter with a rant about the weather - best I get it over with. I don't need to tell you how continuously wet it has been, particularly here in the Westcountry (aka 'wetcountry'). It has made for a particularly difficult farming year. There were really only 2 periods suitable for making hay, although at the time we could hardly foresee that these really would be our only opportunities. Combining the barley was a disaster too as the field lay waterlogged almost as son as it was planted and again now as the new grass seed tries valiantly to grow. We made traditional small bale hay for the sheep and had the rest round baled as hay or wrapped haylage for the cattle. Because there has been so little sun though, the grass has not grown well so we will be short for the winter and will be looking to buy in feed at the back end. Fingers crossed for a forgiving spring (but we're not holding our breath). In addition, it meant that all the lambs appeared to be about a month behind in their growth, and from speaking with other farmers, we were not alone in this observation. As I write this in early October we really should have brought the cattle in as the ground conditions are totally saturated, it appears soggier now as we approach autumn than in the middle of winter last year, and we still have the winter to go yet. Enough!

A typical 2012 summer's day...

We have had the cattle in and out of the shed several times over the summer months for AI which has been disappointing in its success rate. But, because we've needed to get them in each time one comes in season approx every 21 days there hasn't been a period long enough to dig out the floor of the shed and to concrete it ready for them to come in for winter. We really cannot put it off any longer, so after the last lot of AI last week, they have been booted out into the rain and Ian is frantically digging and preparing it ready for several loads of ready mix to be delivered later in the week. As soon as it is set hard, they will be in for the winter, considerably earlier than usual owing to the waterlogged ground conditions and it also means that they will be tucking into their winter feed pile earlier than expected (there I go again…)

Now for some good news; we had a Devon calf born last week, 13 days past the due date, and another due next week. Unfortunately for them they will both live in the shed until the spring as the weather isn't good for putting them out before housing. We also added another Galloway heifer to the herd in September. We chose her last winter but left her to run with the bull before collecting. Welcome to 'Daisy Mae', outwardly White Galloway in markings, but by Riggit marked parents (and grand parents) so with luck, if put to a Riggit marked Galloway bull will also throw Riggit calves which will be registerable. Apparently a neighbour's bull hopped the fence though so she is actually in calf this time to a Welsh Black… oops, but a calf none the less! Of our AI attempts with our Shorthorns and Galloway, only 2 are confirmed in-calf as yet and we are watching like hawks for signs of 'bulling' when they come back into season, obviously preferring not to see any signs as an indicator they are in-calf. Several are looking hopeful. We have our compulsory Tb test in November so will get the vet to check the remainder when he is here then.

Daisy Mae

Remember the rare bloodline Diana pigs we brought back from Hampshire?... we found out why they are rare… Both were finally confirmed in pig and the first one farrowed last week but was so aggressive she trampled and attacked all her piglets as she had them. We managed to rescue one and bottle feed it but sadly it didn't make it through the night. We've never seen anything like it, it was utterly distressing and she was so dangerous we couldn't safely administer anything to her to calm her down. Regrettably she will go for sausages as we cannot be sure she will not do the same thing again. The second is due to farrow in the next few weeks so we shall be prepared just in case.

As we are short of feed for the winter we decided to sell on most of this year's ewe lambs so there aren't too many extra mouths to feed. They have all gone to some lovely homes and we've had various update photos and reports as they settle in. Our annual Balwen inspection was earlier this year and all but 2 ram lambs we put forward for inspection passed. Sadly we lost one of our older rams we had intended to breed a replacement from but still have several male Balwen bloodlines to choose from. Our Shropshire ram has been in with the ewes all of September and has evidently done his thing judging by the raddle marks on the rear of the ewes. They will be scanned in November and due to start lambing from mid January. In our last newsletter we mentioned our decision to sell on the Gotlands as they are difficult to mange in the same way as 'normal' sheep. Their exceptionally friendly nature won over a couple of new sheep keepers and all but 2 have moved on. We wanted to keep 1 for our Sheep Keeping courses and the other is too old to breed from now. Although, having said that, I have been working on drawing up family trees for all our Balwens (as the breed society keeps records of limited use compared with other breed associations) and we still have 1 ewe in the flock whose age I really don't know. She must be at least 12, has no front teeth left at all but continues to eat, keep up her body condition and rear a healthy lamb each year, better than many younger ewes.

Puppies! You may have received our earlier email regarding finding homes for some of Meg's August litter of puppies. Many thanks to those of you who passed it on. We have found homes for all of them now, all out of the county. Life just seems a little emptier without them, I really do enjoy having the puppies about. We had some lovely colours, including a gorgeous blue merle dog, who, if he'd been female would have caused much argument as I'd have liked to keep it.

Meg with her stunning blue merle puppy

Our first week-long Smallholder Training course was a roaring success. It was pretty full on with 6 days of tuition interspersed with 2 days off for us to catch up around the farm and for the course attendees to catch their breath and explore Devon as all were from some distance away - including one chap from the Congo! We provided cooked lunches around the farmhouse table using ingredients from the farm and cakes for afternoon teas supplied by some lovely friends. Altogether it made for a convivial and stretched out day, most not leaving until 6-6:30 in the evening each day. They surprised us with a lovely thank you meal at the end of the week at a restaurant in Hatherleigh. We will be doing it again next year, and have the new schedule of 2013 courses posted on our website now.

A final few notes: we sent off 2 beef bullocks this year and sold out straight away, shorting ourselves in fact, so if you fancy some galloway or shorthorn beef next year, let us know early! The final lambs are going off in batches over the next month or so too, then that will be it until next summer.

We've had 2 cats at the farm since foot and mouth in 2001 but neighbours down the road insisted on feeding 1 of them despite being asked repeatedly not to. In the end one of the cats decamped completely. The neighbours moved 2 months ago and since then the cat has been back, inside the house for the first time in 4 years. She seems quite content and its as if she never left.

Despite the rather negative tone of this newsletter (brought on by the non-existent summer), we really wouldn't be happy doing anything else. A holiday would be nice though… (think I've said that before too…)

Big bales of hay for stacking

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