Autumn 2013 Newsletter - No.28

We thought it was about time we put pen to paper as it were before Autumn races into winter. As I write it is blowing a storm outside. The fields are as saturated as last year but we are in good spirits after a fantastic late summer which really got the grass growing. We were able to make a good amount of fine second cut haylage and hay and are reasonably confident we have enough fodder for an 'average' winter. We brought the cattle in in the first week of November as the ground is now too saturated and they were beginning to damage the sward. The main group spent the year on the long riverside field which is one of the firmer fields on the farm and it has only just become too soft. There has been a bumper crop of mushrooms on that field particularly this year.

Coloured Ryeland ewe lamb

It's been a great year for the cattle. We used a combination of our young shorthorn bull and AI and the majority of the heifers and cows took to their first service; May will be busy next year. Crumpet and Daisy Mae both calved in August so have been bred a little later but we suspect they are also now in calf too. We will know for sure later in the week when we get the vet to check them during our annual Tb testing. The two calves are superb, a lovely roan shorthorn and riggit marked Galloway, both male but will be lovely to admire for a couple of years before they have to 'go' for beef boxes.

We had a bit of a shocker last week with one of the heifers. Daisy, who is due to calve in late December, went down with a nasty parasitic condition called Redwater spread by infected ticks and which is often fatal. She was really under the weather and we really thought we were loosing her but owing to quick diagnosis and treatment, she amazingly pulled through. We are waiting anxiously to see if she will hold her calf full term, the vet is not optimistic on that front, but at least we still have her.

The Shropshire rent-a-ram has been and gone, hopefully having done his thing. He was a fine looking chap but had some strange ways with our ladies. The scanning results will be interesting… Shropshires were featured on BBC1's Countryfile last month and resulted in several enquiries and orders for next year which is great. This year's Shropshire ewe lambs travelled to Scotland in luxury transport and are shortly to be followed by the registered Balwen lambs too, all going to the same farm setting up with various rare and native breeds. I have been approached to stand on the Shropshire Sheep Breeders Association council from next year which will be interesting. Along with being the Chairman for the Devon Association of Smallholders, and Ian on the Parish Council, I really am not sure how we fit it all in!

Golden Guernsey milking during September Smallholding School

We went to the annual Balwen sale in Wales in September and bought 2 new rams as we needed to introduce new blood. One is an older ram from a bloodline I was after, and the other a well grown young ram, both are nice natured and keen workers already. After one of the rams escaped and ran of up the road, we split the flock into 3 and put the rams in a few days early to avoid any more wander-lust. He was recovered with the help of several neighbours heading him off in the rapidly descending evening gloom. The ewes also disgraced themselves in October by escaping through a small hole in the fence where it crossed a ditch and into our neighbour's 30 acre wood. After discovering them missing, it took 5 hours to track them down and encourage them back. They had clearly been coming and going for several days judging by their tracks and the speed with which they returned into the field, but we had no idea they'd been getting out as they were always in the field whenever we checked them! A few choice words were aired…

The Norfolk ewes are running with their ram and he appears to have done his job within just 10 days, so fingers crossed their lambing will be quick too! After discovering Coloured Ryelands earlier in the year we have bought a ewe and a lamb with the intention of adding to their numbers next year and getting a small flock of them together. They are a super teddy-bear like breed, ever-so friendly and stocky little things, I can't believe I didn't find them before…

We've made the sad decision to stop breeding the pigs for now. It has not been an easy decision but we have managed to find a home for the sows all together and will have weaners back for fattening. We still intend to keep a few youngsters for our dedicated meat sales and to use on our pig keeping courses and currently have a cheeky pair of saddlebacks munching merrily on acorns in the wood.

New Balwen rams, Ffloyd & Davies

In poultry news, I am trying hard to cut down on the number of different breeds to make things more manageable, but it is just so hard trying to decide what goes. I have swapped our large fowl Speckled Sussex for their bantam version, but still have both bantam and large fowl vorwerks and Andalusians, I just can't let the larger birds go! Somehow I managed to sneak in a new breed of duck as well… we now have a small group of Britain's rarest native duck, the Shetland, which we hope to breed from next year. So much for cutting down…

Lovely Daisy, lucky to still be with us

Ian has been busy in the late summer running mole drains through several of the wettest fields to help improve drainage and it really seems to have done the trick, continuing to repair the damage done last year in the poor ground conditions. At the end of October, with the help of friends, Ian made a huge batch of cider from our apple trees and even a tank of wine from our grapes. Both cropped heavily this year and between the cider making, the pigs and the geese, there are hardly any apples or grapes left now.

Our week-long 'Smallholding School' was another roaring success this year. The group gelled straight away and it was hard to get a word in edgeways sometimes making the week very jolly. Participants came from as close as 20 minutes away and others from Southern France. All have been in touch since and it's great to hear of the progress they've already made. We put on a variety of livestock handling tasks plus a talk on bee keeping, woodlands and local vineyard tour, but the highlight once again was milking Pat's goats!

Shorthorn & Riggit Galloway calves, Marmite & Guinness

We even managed a week away in October, visiting family in Kent and Luxembourg. Although it seemed a lot of driving in a landrover defender, it was the break we both needed and we returned refreshed to find the dogs had barely missed us.

Finally, I must thank those of you who have bought our meats this year. It has been really rewarding to find that even through the recession, there is still a keen market for traditionally reared rare breed meat of known provenance. We bravely sent off 2 bullocks together back in the summer and in just 2-3 days it was all sold out. There will be more Galloway and Shorthorn beef in time for Christmas if you would like to stock the freezers for winter.

Once again we can't believe how quickly the year has gone, so if we don't see you before, wish you a very Happy Christmas!

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