This Spring 2011 Newsletter is dedicated to ‘Aggie’ our lovely Buff Pekin hen, given to us as a wedding present in 2004, kept as a pet, and sadly taken by a fox last week. Even though we rear lots of birds, sheep etc., some touch us and have a special place in our hearts. Aggie was one of those, on ‘meet and great’ duty in the last few months, living in the yard and ignoring the dog’s attentions as she bustled about her business. All I have to remember her is a few feathers… and the knowledge that it was completely avoidable as in my lambing tiredness I forgot to shut her house at dusk. Her companion was untouched but found wandering in the yard at 3am when the dogs (sleeping indoors) kicked off. They will be outside on guard from their kennels at night now the weather is warmer. Other livestock that have made an impression and you may have met on visits here are ‘Leopold’ the Dorking cockerel, still handsome and going strong after 5+ years; ‘Cronks’ one of our first Balwen ewes, who-knows how old, no teeth left but a super chaperone for newly weaned lambs as she leads them through gateways around the farm, and ‘Belinda’ one of our Large Black sows, gentle natured and mother to 70+ piglets now. On to the news…

A very busy 3 months.  The Shropshire sheep lambed in mid January giving us a good crop of lambs, now huge great bruisers as they still try to suckle from ever-devoted mums! They have lived in the river-side fields until last week when we trotted them up the road to graze off the lush grass between the moveable chicken arks. We ran another successful Lambing course in January & had them on camera when we were not in the shed with them - naturally none performed on the day, lambs dropping like flies immediately afterwards!

Shropshire ewes & lambs eyeing up the garden

The Balwens, Gotlands, lone remaining Kerry Hill and young Shropshires are lambing now. All-together there are 70 lambing this year. We are more than ½ way through in just 9 days which promises to be a quick season again. Seven lambed during the night before last to keep us on our toes (and awake)! We put the Gotlands to our Shropshire ram in the autumn in the hopes of getting a slightly chunkier lamb with luscious curly grey fleece; so far all have curls but are white! One of the Balwen rams escaped for ½ day a week before intended and evidently did his thing as we had 2 balwens lamb early and a Shropshire… interesting that that cross also produced a white set of twins, we had imagined that the black would be dominant, but they have lovely latté coloured spots on their rumps - to match the spotty horse! Trying very hard not to be tempted to keep any of the cross-breds…

'Firefly' the surprize Portland ewe lamb

In the last newsletter we mentioned that we were going to find a few other breeds to add to the collection for use on our Sheep Keeping courses; so now have a very smart and friendly Norfolk Horn (would love a small flock of those if I can sneak it past Ian), a huge and woolly Poll Dorset, a neat little Castlemilk Moorit that looks more like a deer, and a couple of pretty little Portlands - one of which it became evident was in-lamb herself (unbeknown by the breeder we got her from) so we also have an additional Portland ewe lamb born in early March. We have on order a Whiteface Dartmoor, a Wiltshire Horn and a Zwartbles to be collected in the summer when weaned. Because of all the new additions, we are cutting down the Balwen flock from 50 to 40 as there are more mouths to feed. We took back another 2 fields from our tenant this year, so have the majority of the farm under our control now; they just have the largest 2 fields left for the moment.

Owing to the good weather (and fact the straw was running out) we got the cattle out onto grass again early. They look so much happier outside and are loosing their shaggy winter coats already. The horse and shetland pony are running with them and quickly integrated into an inseparable herd, moving around the field and laying in the shade together, a big pile of spotty roans. We will be sending off the first of our cattle for beef boxes in a few months, likely July time, so are now taking orders for 10Kg beef boxes which will include a mix of joints, steaks, stewing beef and mince. Having yet to try Shorthorn beef ourselves (a slight oversight) we bought a selection box from a fellow breeder and were very pleasantly surprised; it is a real taste of the past, the way Sunday roast beef used to taste when I was growing up, before super-sized quick finishing continental breeds had such an influence on the British beef scene. Very much looking forward to trying our own grass finished beasties…

'Buttercup' our pin-up-girl!

The young pigs that we kept for fattening moved outside again during 2 days of ‘Beginners Pig Keeping’ courses in early March, participants being able to get hands on and watch with baited breath to see if they made a bid for freedom through the unfamiliar electric fence (only 1 gave it a brief go).  The sows and boar out-wintered and were amazingly cosy in their ark during all the cold weather. Our home-bred gilt ‘Blossom’ farrowed her first litter of 8 piglets 3 weeks ago and has managed not to squash any so far. Her mum ‘Belinda’ also farrowed on the weekend too. We have a selection of pork, sausages and bacon back from the butcher to replenish the freezer - a welcome relief as we had had to buy bacon having run out ourselves several months ago - not a patch on our own. Phew! More pigs will be going off in just over a month too which is great as the food bill is horrendous just now. The new Defender boar ‘Rusty’ has worked out what-is-what and Skylark is due in a month or so too, so all is well in pigville!

Ian’s parents came to stay for 2 months and have been a great help. His dad completed no end of small jobs that have been on the to-do list but so far down they keep getting put off - hung gates, painted, fixed and tidied - while Ian’s mother worked tirelessly in the kitchen so we had only to down-tools and eat without thinking of what to muster up. They left a couple of weeks ago and we had a gaping empty-cupboard situation having not thought about food for so long! Other help this spring has come in the form of a 2 week study placement for a Bristol Uni Animal Behaviour student who was around to assist at the start of lambing and endless chicken feeding/watering, and we were also visited by a customer from Kent who wanted to get his hands dirty with lambing before venturing into buying a smallholding of his own. Many thanks to all.

Ian topping off the new shed with a weathervane

How I have managed to write so much without boring you about chickens I don’t know… We have hatched 11 batches already, the first couple were really not much success as the weather was not very kind, but now the incubator(s) are full (currently giving us 420 setting capacity & full…) for the next few months with hatches due every 2 weeks. We receive numerous calls for folks wanting Point Of Lay in the spring and I have to patiently explain that to get POL now the eggs would have to have been set in Oct/Nov when the birds naturally stop laying to moult. I don’t like the idea of keeping birds under light to keep them laying so 9 weeks old is the best we can do at the moment! The first goslings have hatched too and are growing quickly and there are more duck eggs under a broody - so much easier for her to look after them as growing ducks make such a smelly mess. We’ve hatched a few Sicilian Buttercups to start our new breed pen, and ordered some bantam black Croad Langshan to replace the Large Fowl version that went last year. We have a veritable daily egg mountain to shift so if you know anyone wanting hatching eggs, do pass on our details! When I get a moment I plan to clear out the old stable (aka dumping ground for anything that doesn’t have a home) to set up a brooding area and storage for all excess poultry paraphernalia, to organise it all into one place.

The new livestock shed looks superb, see photo (although I say ‘livestock’, Ian seems to have filled it with tractors and machinery already - ahem). It’s all but completed now, just awaiting a new concrete floor (and 2nd mortgage to pay for it), but has tidied up the appearance of the farmyard no end. Ian topped it off with the weather vane I had made for him several years ago - a David Brown 770 tractor of course, what else?!

Eggs and more eggs going into the incubator...

A few moments of fame this quarter include a small editorial piece about us in the Southwest ‘Landsman’ paper, a photo of some of our birds on the cover of Country Smallholding magazine and also in the new Your Chickens magazine, a photo of our Shropshire sheep included in a new book published by Storeys on wools and a picture of our roan heifer ‘buttercup’ in the Shorthorn Breeders calendar! Our very own June pin-up girl!

In an attempt to keep with the times, we have started a Twitter stream under the name @SouthYeoEast, just managing to squeeze 140 characters to keep folks updated on what we are up to between lambings and newsletters every now and then! Do follow us if you'd like to see whats new more regularly …

The courses have been full bar one the last few months which has been great. Upcoming we have in May: Poultry for Beginners on 11th, a new Incubation course on 7th, Sheep on 21st; in June there is Intro to Keeping Pigs on 7th, Tractor & Machinery Maintenance 12th, and new ‘Land Management’ 25th; in July more Poultry 10th & 13th, a new Combine Harvester evening 7th, and Otter holt building on 23rd - so we will still be busy once lambing is over!

Slot aerating the grass fields to improve growth

It has been a super spring and a relief to see grass growing again - we’ve been so nervous after the freezing winter and last spring’s slow start. One day in February on his way to feed the pigs, Ian discovered the pond absolutely churning with spawning frogs making the weirdest noises, full of the joys of spring themselves.

Well, that’s it for another few months, we do hope you have a lovely spring/summer and do pop in to see what we are up to. We hope to get the poly tunnel up soon so we can actually use it this season - it’s been on the to-do list since 2006…

Taking orders for:
10Kg Shorthorn Beef boxes @ £85 (collected from the farm) or £95 (nationwide delivery) available from July-ish.

Shropshire ½ or whole or lamb boxes (£50/£95 respectively) available for collection or to be couriered probably in June, 5 left

Various pork, gammon, sausages and bacon in early June

Shropshire and Balwen lamb skin rugs £45

Training courses @ £45 each or 50% discount up to July if living in the Southwest, smallholding and having a defra holding number.

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