At last we are beginning to feel human again after several weeks of checking on the sheep every few hours both day and night; about 2/3 of the lambs were born at night this year...but thank goodness the weather has been so good - much nicer to turn the new-borns out with sun on their backs than driving rain in their faces. We are down to the final 1 who seem to find it a challenge to hang on to her lamb for as long as possible! The majority of the flocks lambed all on their own, and our numbers have now sky-rocketed to 170+ sheep. Counting them is fun… who’d have thought we’d be here so soon after starting with just 6?
We had our first triplet this year, one of the older Kerry Hill ewes, and usually one would try to foster one of them on to a ewe with only a single, but the following few days only saw ewes with twins arrive; she seems to be coping with them very well - and amusingly is a sheep with an extra teat (perhaps she knew what was coming) and I have seen all 3 suckling at once! I shall never reject ewes with 3 teats again!!! It is such fun to watch as the lambs become independent and tear around the field in great gangs; running at full pelt in one direction then turning and running straight back again. The Balwen rams we bought at the sale in the autumn have made a huge difference this year with significantly more well marked and registerable lambs (phew!). We popped the Shropshires into the Christmas tree plot for the first time and they looked right at home - for about 3 days until the novelty wore off and they tested the fence in every way imaginable to get out. Their lambs are growing faster than anything I’ve seen before so will be interesting to see how long they take to get to ‘finish’. There will be plenty of fresh lamb boxes available this year.
The later part of winter was a challenge with repeated doses of snow. Being snowed in for several days wasn’t too much of a hardship, we just spent the days ferrying around hay to the various fields for sheep and topping up water for the pigs. We even got the skis out - to the bemused looks of the heavily pregnant Shropshire ewes whose field we were playing in. We found you can’t parallel turn over snow-covered mole hills though… the dogs naturally loved it and were exhausted at the end of each day. The puppy Meg is now nearly full grown and is bigger than Gem, full of puppy love and bouncy… she has recently discovered the delights of water - if ever we can’t find her we just look to the goose bath where she can be found stirring and growling at the water… mmm…
Ian actually sold several tractors!!! (lost leave of his senses?) in order to buy another one of course - a 4-wheel drive - we thought it prudent after last year’s bog-like conditions. It wasn’t until he was counting up how many he had left that he realised quite how many he actually had had…
I have been hatching, and hatching and hatching… the incubator splurts out chicks every 2 weeks now, I think there are currently about 200+ chicks under heat and another hatch due this weekend. We are finally making headway and catching up with orders. I accidentally (ahem - heard this before?) added another 3 breeds… Copper Blue Marans, Copper Black Marans and Cream Legbars. I have been up to the Salisbury poultry auction several times this year and on one occasion there were hatching eggs for sale. I hadn’t intended to buy the maran eggs but they were truly the darkest brown eggs I had ever seen… We have 2 broodies on goslings now too - a bit of a surprise for them when they hatched but they are both looking after them well - bets on as to how long it’ll be before the goslings outgrow their mothers?
Other than lambing, the greatest achievement since Christmas has been progress on the barn/new office. It really is coming on; Ian has been working like a trooper and has all the cabling in inside, ceiling up, outside rendering complete, doors and windows in and is currently building the surround for the upstairs wood burning stove. Next stop rendering all the internal walls and installing flooring slates, downstairs toilet (yeah!) and on to the 2nd fix electrics and plumbing. He actually said (himself with no prompting) today that the end was in sight. Hurrah! Five years of planning/work in our ‘spare’ time. I am naturally thinking of all the finishing touches inside, plants etc! We can’t wait to move the office in and get our spare bedroom back in the house.
The pigs went outside earlier this year because of the good weather and are merrily turning over a field below the farm - it is lovely to be able to see them from the yard rather than having to trudge up the hill. Ian spent several days preparing the ground and planting the barley on the field they were in last year - it is up already and looking great - apart from the overzealous attentions of the rabbits who have moved further down the farm and think the new shoots are rather tasty thank you very much!
We continue to run small holder training courses and once the barn is finished will have a dedicated space for training too. Upcoming courses include: Poultry Keeping for Beginners, Tractor and Machinery Maintenance, Otter Holt Building and An Introduction to Keeping Sheep - should you be interested...
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