Late Spring/Early Summer Newsletter 2014
Issue no. 30

We've just about given up hope of ever getting a newsletter out in the season its intended, so may I deliver to you our Late Spring/Early Summer newsletter 2014?! Lots to report already this year as its been a busy Spring (hence not getting the newsletter out…) Circular problem you see.

The weather has been in our favour at last and grass and animals alike are growing like topsy. The Shropshire lambs have been weaned, the ewe lambs we're not keeping have gone to a regular customer in Scotland to join their sisters from last year, and the males have gone to the butcher and a lucky two have gone on for breeding. They were ready a full 6 weeks earlier than last year which just shows what a difference good grub can make. We've managed to find a fine new ram not too far away and accidentally bought 3 ewes with ewe lambs at foot at the same time to go with him, so the Shroppy flock has grown to around 30 now. We're also swapping ram lambs with another breeder. I've been to a couple of Shropshire Sheep Council meetings now in my role as Council member & they're proving very interesting.

The hay meadow once again looking superb

We lambed the Norfolk Horn and mixed ewe flocks in March. It was all over in 10 days due to the quick work of the ram in the autumn. We had several surprises, 2 sets of triplets where we were expecting twins, but with a little extra feed, both mums coped well to rear the lambs themselves. One had an unfortunate helping hand when a fox ran off with one of the triplets, effectively leaving her with twins. But, so far as we can count (and that's tricky with so many scampering about) we've not lost any other lambs to Monsieur Reynard this year (the chicken and ducks haven't been so lucky).

Several Balwen ewes have gone to new homes up in Sussex with lambs at foot to make way for incoming Coloured Ryelands and more Zwartbles. A few more Balwen ewes are due to go at weaning too as we had over 50 of them and want to even out the numbers between the 5 breeds. They just seem to quietly keep multiplying and as they are so sure footed and lamb easily they rarely give us too many problems. Except for one… Lambing went well, it did drag on a bit, but we were all done by early May. The penultimate ewe lambed without event but had no milk so I have been left bottle feeding a nicely marked ewe lamb. As the final ewe lambed 2 weeks later, there was no hope of adopting her on as we would normally do. We had several offers to take her off our hands, but I have to admit a little soft spot for her and am not sure that I can let her go (see, that’s how the Balwens quietly multiply, a lamb here, a lamb there…) She had joint-ill (swollen joints & lameness) at a few days old, something we've never had before as we keep a clean lambing area; I suspect it was because she didn't get enough colostrum. It's hard to imagine it now as she races across the field to me at speed for her bottle. We have rams for all the flocks and are sharing a Ryeland ram with a friend for the first couple of years as we increase their numbers from within now. They really are the most desperately friendly sheep with a gorgeous multicoloured brown fleece. The only draw back I can see with them at the moment is they need the wool trimming around their eyes occasionally as they get a bit lost and cannot see.

Cuddly Coloured Ryelands

The cattle went out a full month earlier this year which was a huge relief after last year's prolonged stay indoors, and there is plenty of grass for them. We've had 7 calves so far with more due between now and October. We are particularly chuffed with the arrival of 2 heifers. One a roan shorthorn we've named Holly (the Shorthorn letter this year is 'H'), and the other our first marked Riggit Galloway heifer which is significant for us and the breed. There are only about 150 registered Riggits, so every new birth is important. The Riggit line-backed colouring does not yet breed true reliably; even riggit x riggit matings can result in mismarked or solid coloured animals. There is no Riggit semen available yet for AI so we have used belted or solid coloured Galloway bulls by AI, and have had 2 marked calves and 2 black so far. They are fully registerable as long as the sires are Galloways and until the herd book is closed, actually quite a good thing to do, bringing in a greater variety of Galloway genetics. There is no formal naming system for the Riggits, but we would like to keep the family names going for each of our registered calves, so as mum is called Red Damson, this calf is now Black Damson, and Fiona's all-black heifer is Countess Fiona (dad is Viscount of Glenturk). Two of the Devons have calved Speckle Park x calves. This is an experiment as we first saw Speckle Park at the Devon show in 2009 and fell in love, but then they were only available by embryo transfer which is expensive and required recipient heifers to get started.

Roan Shorthorn Holly & black Speckle Park x Devon Deacon

We've been hatching since January and have had much better success with the geese this year. I haven't been doing anything different, perhaps just paying a little more attention. The goose eggs are always in the incubator during lambing each year when there is plenty else going on and they just kind of have to get on with it on their own. As an experiment I put a particular pair of our Swedish ducks together, a lavender drake and a black duck, as theoretically this mating should result in all blue ducklings, and it did, all bar 1, rather than a mix of blue, black, lavender and white. We hatched several in the incubator then the duck went broody and hatched some herself which she is rearing now and is fiercely protective! I have made efforts to reduce the numbers of breeds of poultry now that we've built up the cattle herd (poultry and eggs bought cows, much to the amusement of one bovine vendor…) We've let go Blue Araucana, La Fleche, Blue & Silver Laced Barnevelders, Exchequer Leghorn and the Jungle Fowl. That still leaves us with 27 chicken breeds… plus their offspring which at the moment equates to 48 houses to feed, water, move, let out and shut up each day. Busy, busy…

As you may remember, we've given breeding pigs a break for a year or two, but we still have a few weaners at a time to rear on for meat for ourselves and customers. Once you've had your own pork, sausages or bacon, you can never go back to buying from the shops! The ground is in better condition for not having 3 sows and associated litters of up to 30 at a time trampling all over it. Its been fun trying out different breeds again, we've had saddleback, duroc x, and currently in residence, are a cheeky pair of Oxford Sandy & Blacks who've made the 1 acre pen in the wood very much their home, racing noisily from one end to the other through the undergrowth at feed time.

Oxford Sandy & Black weaners upon arrival

Finally, before I finish, we are sending off 2 Shorthorn bullocks for beef this month, now they've had a bit of spring grass, if you are interested in a 10Kg or 15Kg mixed box, do shout, as there aren't many left to reserve. The next beef will be at Christmas.
Have a great summer, I'm off to turn the hay!

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