Lots of change since the last newsletter. We’ve lambed both the Shropshire and Balwen flocks and some of the Shropshire lambs are almost ready to go off they’ve grown that quickly.  Lambing has gone really well although we seem to have an excess of males this year! All the Shropshires are spoken for, both as breeding stock and meat boxes. We do still have fresh Balwen meat boxes available in the autumn. As we have had several requests for hogget, we’ll be keeping on some of the Balwen lambs through until next summer to ensure we actually have some to offer! The fields are bursting with lambs; we’re just waiting for the weather to clear up so the grass really gets going.

Firethorn, our latest arrival

We’ve made the decision to rationalise the sheep, so will be selling on the Gotland flock once weaned in the summer. They are fantastically friendly sheep, will follow you anywhere even without a bucket, but don’t suit our wet clay ground. Ironically they had far more ewe lambs than rams so we could have doubled the flock as was my original intention. We’ll still keep a couple for use on our Sheep Keeping courses. That leaves us with the Balwen, Shropshire and Norfolk Horn flocks; we think we’ve sourced a Norfolk Horn ram too, so will be able to breed them pure and start building their numbers to compensate.

The yearling cattle out at grass

The pigs have had a right old time this winter. As you can imagine with all the wet, the ground they were on has been well churned. Ian has spread muck from the cattle sheds onto their field with our new muck spreader in readiness for planting barley where the pigs were but at the moment it is doubtful whether we will get it planted in time as he’d lose a tractor if he tried to drive on it right now. If it gets too late we’ll plant it straight back to grass. We moved all the pigs gradually into new electric fenced pens in the wood and they’re loving it. They look so right there rooting amongst the trees, and so far not damaging them. You may remember we’d planned on sourcing a new bloodline to add to the herd. The breed secretary contacted us to let us know of 2 ‘Diana’ line 2 year old gilts that were going for slaughter and asked if we would take them on and give them a chance to try and breed them. There are only 6 of this bloodline left, 4 of which are over 6 years of age, so don’t have many breeding years left, and then these 2 being the youngest.  It is generally reckoned to be difficult to get pigs ‘in-pig’ once they get over a year old so it’s a chance. We chose to keep Large Blacks as a rare breed but also feel it’s important to try to assist some of the rarer bloodlines within it too. Our boar has recently served both of them and at the moment we are keeping our fingers crossed that they both took. So, we may either have a glut of weaners in late summer or a very large feed bill! Watch this space.

The cattle have seen the most change. After wintering in the barn, we turned them out a couple of weeks ago. We collected 7 pre-ordered yearlings in early March from the same breeders our existing cattle came from. We now have 2 more Riggit Galloway heifers, ‘Doris’ a black and white, and ‘Red Damson’ a red and white, plus a black and white belted steer; then 2 shorthorn heifers Emily & Electra, plus 2 more shorthorn steers. They all settled in together very well and will come to the bucket readily. The unplanned addition though, was 3 older Ruby Devon cows. A friend has bred them for years but owing to faltering health has decided to cut back on his cattle. His herd was all sold off bar these original 3 who have come to live with us for the time being. They are gentle giants who make the shorthorns look rather slim by comparison! The cattle herd has quickly grown to 19 animals now & has rather concentrated the mind on grazing & forage planning.

Even more exciting news though, Crumpet the shorthorn heifer we purchased just in-calf last summer has recently calved and produced the most beautiful bull calf. All pedigree registered shorthorns have to have names beginning with ‘F’ this year, so after much deliberation, we’ve called him ‘Firethorn’ after the plant which has white flowers and red berries which seems fitting. We have left him ‘entire’ to see how he grows on and I’m being encouraged to get a halter on him already so we can take him to the Calf Show in the autumn… maybe… The remaining heifers will all be AI’d later in the summer, so we’ll be on the way with breeding our own now.

Shropshire lambs in the River Meadow

Meanwhile, the chicken keep laying eggs. Thousands of them. I’m doing my best to keep up with selling them for hatching or hatching them ourselves but there are occasions when the egg mountain is a bit daunting! Not helped by the fact that someone stole our 'free range egg' sign from the top of the road a couple of weeks ago. We have been involved in an egg export to Australia; 7 different pens had to be blood tested for various strains of salmonella back in January, given the all clear, and eggs collected under strict conditions. They were then taken to quarantine in the UK, hatched, and it will be the eggs from the offspring of these birds that are exported to Australia, where they will also be hatched in quarantine and the resultant eggs finally released to the consortium who have organised it all. A 5 year plan costing rather a lot! Exciting though to think our birds will be going to a new continent to be foundation stock for breeds they’ve not had before.

Sadly I have decided to sell my horse and his shetland companion. I love him to bits but just don’t have the time to ride him and he deserves to go somewhere where he will be worked. He’s got many years left in him. He is currently happily grazing with some of the cattle and is so chilled he doesn’t even flinch when the heifers mount him optimistically! So if you know anyone wanting to give a home a 14.2hh blanket spot appaloosa gelding, please pass on my details.

Some of the pigs in the wood

In the press this quarter, there has been a nice article about us and our sheep in April’s ‘Smallholder’ magazine, and also a couple of articles in the local North Devon Journal about our courses and links with the Devon Association of Smallholders (DASH). For those of you who don’t know, I have been compiling the adverts for the monthly DASH magazine for the last 6 years and recently became their vice chair (not sure how I manage to fit it all in though…)

Balwen lambs fresh out at grass

Finally, we’ve had a bit of a break from running courses during lambing, but will be back at it shortly with our upcoming Incubation, Hatching and Rearing course, followed by Poultry then Sheep Keeping. We’ve had the first few bookings for our new week-long ‘Smallholder School’ in September which is exciting; we’re quite looking forward to running that. It will be a full packed week with a new topic each day covering Poultry, Pigs, Sheep, Land Management, Machinery and smaller modules on cattle and also goats run in conjunction with a friend. Lunches related to the training of the day will be provided and attendees have a couple of days off in the middle to catch their breath and go sightseeing. Tell your friends!

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