Breaking with tradition, we are trying to get this newsletter out to you before the main Balwen lambing begins, and the reason… we are simply ridiculously busy and want to get it to you before we hit stratospheric busy!

So, what have we been up to? Since Christmas, we have had 9 hatches of chicks and the first few batches have gone on to their new homes. We have taken delivery of a few more poultry houses to bring us up to our target 30 breed pens and have sourced some of the new breeding stock already. The geese have started laying, so we have the first of their eggs in the incubator now too. New this year we are keeping some birds for fattening to be able to offer dressed chicken for the freezer by late summer.  There are hatches now most weeks as we hatch for poultry orders and monitor how the breed pens are performing fertility-wise. But, it is the hatching egg sales that have kept us on our toes. With so many breeds now it is fun trying to keep all our customers happy with eggs from the right breeds when they want them. We are getting around 60-70 eggs a day and send out only the best for hatching, so those that are too small, wonky or not the right colour for the breed go for eating eggs - and we have mountains! Ian is getting fed up with egg recipes… I will have to get egg stealthy, suggestions welcome…

Outside the nearly finished office training room

We couldn’t resist, and Gem has been to see her ‘boyfriend’ again and is expecting puppies on 11th April (right in the middle of lambing). We used the same dog as last time as the combination seemed to result in superb well balanced (ahem!) offspring. 2 are already spoken for, so if you know anyone who may be looking for a collie pup around mid June when weaned, please put them in touch. In addition, (in the middle of lambing) we are expecting our first calf from ‘Bramble’ our red Shorthorn heifer. She is improbably huge and well beyond her PD due date. Fingers crossed. And of course there will be the inevitable march of chicks and goslings arriving too (in the middle of lambing - getting the picture?!) Eek. No pigs due to farrow thank goodness!

Willow course participants beside newly created arch

Our training courses in the new training room have been a roaring success so far this year (none planned for the middle of lambing). We have run 2 living willow sculpture days, a lambing course (followed swiftly by our vets who used the barn for their own lambing evening - and I am glad to say didn’t include anything we hadn’t already cover with our group), and 2 Introduction to Keeping Pigs courses. AFTER lambing there are several Intro to Poultry courses planned along with some new evening courses to see if folks with less time are attracted to come along. Do see our website training pages for dates and details if interested. We were lucky to secure some funding through Duchy College and the VTS scheme to make the courses only £20/person to attend; hopefully this funding stream will continue for eligible participants.

Most excitingly, we had a 3 page spread on us and what we are up to in the April edition of ‘Country Smallholding’ magazine. It has led to several sales of eggs and orders for sheep so hopefully the exposure can only be good.

Ian finally took delivery of a digger so we can start work on clearing the pond, sorting out trampled-in ditches etc. but the ground has been so soft and waterlogged he hasn’t been able to do much other than sort out the ditch along our made up farm track! A frustrated man indeed…

Shropshire 'Summer' with her month-old twin lambs

The Shropshire sheep lambed in January (brrr) and we kept them inside for some time as if you remember the temperatures were rather inhospitable. The lambs are growing on well now and we have several new ewe lambs looking promising for adding to the flock. As we have used our ram now for 2 lambings, he will be moving on this year and we have sourced a replacement from Shropshire. Thank goodness the grass has finally started growing and there is something other than hay for them to eat.

We had the Balwens and remaining Kerry Hill ewe and 2 Gotland ewes scanned to get an idea of how many lambs to expect which makes their management so much easier. Both Gotlands are expecting twins, so fingers crossed for females… I am quite looking forward to seeing what their lambs will look like as they are naturally short-tailed and have a lovely curly grey coat. The Balwens tend to have mostly singles as they are a true Mountain breed and this year we are hoping for a better male:female ratio, having had only 25% females last year. I was more scientific in which ewes I put to which ram in the autumn too, looking at size, fleece colour and quality, and blaze markings, so will be very interested to see if it has made a difference. I love lambing time - do I say that every year? It must be the broodiness coming out in me.

The cattle have been a delight to get to know. A couple are more reserved than the others, and some actively seeking out a rub now. We made an outside yard for them during the dry spell (remember that?) and they seemed to blossom being able to get out in the sun. We are so much looking forward to letting them out once the grass has got a bit longer and the ground doesn’t resemble a bog.
Ian has been waging a personal war on moles over the last few months. They were quickly beginning to make inroads into every field on the farm and the bare soil they turn up is partly to blame we think for the problems we had with some of the lambs last year - as they ingest it when grazing and any pathogens contained within. It is also not good news if the soil becomes incorporated in the hay or haylage as it can spoil. He has mastered his trapping technique and has managed to clear a couple of fields now much to the amusement of passing neighbours.

Blue pekin in the snow

…oops, in the time we’ve been sitting on this newsletter before sending out, we’ve had our first lambs - one of the Gotlands had twins on day one - really long legged active lambs and the rest look imminent so its off to the lambing shed I go…

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