As spring was so late arriving it seemed only fitting that our newsletter should be too... Sound like an excuse? Yes, well, it's been a very hectic and busy spring but the light is finally at the end of the tunnel. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how wet it was last year, but on the back of that, the long bitterly cold spring has been especially hard on us, as it has on all farmers. It has meant that our poor cattle were housed for over 6 months before finally being able to go back outside a couple of weeks ago once the grass finally started to grow. For us it meant we have had to buy in additional straw and feed to keep them in, stretching finances a somewhat.

Clearing out the cattle shed after the long winter

All the sheep have now lambed. The Shropshires lambed very successfully in February with no losses and 2/3 of the lambs being female. They are growing on very well and will be weaned next month. We put the ewes and their young lambs out into a field close to the yard with the old horse field shelter and it was lovely to see them all emerging dry in the morning and voluntarily taking cover during the relentless rain.

The girls finally out at grass

The Balwens and Norfolk Horns lambed in the bitter cold of April with mixed success. We housed them before and during lambing as there was no grass for them and the bitter wind meant lambs would quickly be at risk of hypothermia if born outside. We had a superb lot of well marked Balwen lambs but the Norfolks proved to be tricky mothers, several of them lambing then not licking their lambs dry at all. We revived some in the Rayburn (with the help of Meg who went into super-mum mode and licked one dry) and used heat lamps for other newborns in the shed. The main problem this season though has been the unwelcome attentions of the fox, who has made off with at least 6 lambs; a first for us. After loosing 3, each a day apart, we moved the ewes and lambs down to the field next to the yard; they ran 2 fields, and at night we would shut them into the field with the field shelter to give them more safety. Rather than put ewes with their 2 day old lambs straight outside as has been our practice before, we created a nursery area in the shed for them for another 3-4 days so they could become stronger and more aware of who mum was in a group in the hopes that would give them more of a chance. This seemed to work but the fox began to run off with them during the day too. Hopefully now they are all of a size that he has given up trying [addendum: he has given up on the lambs but this week had a killing spree and killed all our reserve breeding cockerels, 15+ birds lost at once].

Meg licking dry a lamb

Ian has been very busy in the early months of the year as we could finally get onto the fields with machinery without damaging the ground. He spent weeks laying new drains and clearing ditches and there are areas of fields we haven't been able to even walk on for a couple of years now baring our weight - and growing! We had an advisory visit from an agronomist one particularly depressing wet day and took soil samples from our cutting fields. The results were surprising, showing deficiencies in trace elements particularly vital for livestock health which may partly explain the difficulties we had during AI of the cattle last summer. To redress this, we have applied farmyard manure, a trace element mix, lime and a tailored fertiliser to the cutting ground to ensure we have enough conserved forage for the winter. We have come to realise that these few fields have to work hard for us while the grazing ground and hay fields are kept as natural as possible.

Norfolk Horn ewe with her twin lambs

In addition to drainage, one major task in the last month has been patching and re-fencing the 14 acre field we have taken back in-hand from our tenant. Years of non-repair and recent flooding had destroyed most runs of fencing and this needed tending to before we could turn the cattle out. We also want to avoid them accessing the river for drinking to protect the riverbanks but also to minimise the risk of them picking up nasties from upstream, so have constructed a watering point which taps into a spring that rises on our ground. We turned out most of the cattle together but kept back a few that were due to calve soon, our young shorthorn bull and a companion and a couple due to go off for meat shortly, so they will be easy to bring in without having to disturb the main group. Our most recent addition is a young Riggit Galloway bull, Fergus, who is currently in quarantine in a shed in the yard. He is proving to be a little feisty which is not ideal; we have only a short time to quieten him before he can join his girls in mid July.

Jack & Sunny's new stable

The poultry have had a tough start to the year too (those that have survived the unwelcome visitations from the fox). The wet didn't suit them, nor did the months of cold. Fertility was low for the first few months as the cockerels were reluctant to work (can't blame them) but all seems better now and we have a large hatch just emerging in the incubator. We have sold far more day-old chicks than previous years as other people evidently were suffering the same and needed additional chicks to keep lone hatched birds company. In the nursery we now have several broodies sitting on eggs and others with goslings, ducklings and chicks too. We can never have too many broodies! A planned addition for later in the year arrived rather earlier than expected courtesy of a dear friend; a pair of Hawaiian Ne Ne geese. I have hankered after some for several years, having seen them on holiday in Hawaii in 2007 and learning just how rare they are. They have become used to me working around them but are protective when strangers or dogs come close.
In other news; The pigs had a couple of litters in January & February and are now all back out in the wood. We have extended their pens and they are enjoying rummaging around and so far have not barked any trees. After 5 years in pieces in the workshop, Ian finally found time to complete the restoration of one of his David Brown tractors. No sooner had it rolled outside and been given light duties, another has taken its place!

It won’t be long now before you receive our Summer newsletter so had better finish here or that will push on into the autumn as well! Fingers crossed for a summer to write about too…

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