What a difference a few days make… at last the grass has started to grow. We have really noticed the late spring and have been desperate for grass for the animals. We got down to our last 4 hay bales! With the various groups of sheep, the horse and cattle, we were going through around 7 bales a day this winter; eek, if we had to buy that in we’d be looking at over £100 a week. We planted the future crop of Christmas trees in early April and in the space of the day it snowed, hailed, blew and was so warm we had to take our coats off.

Welcome to all the folk who have joined our farm newsletter group in the last few months. There have been several new recipients, perhaps as a response to the Country Smallholding magazine article, so we thought we had better explain how the newsletter came about: A friend used to farm up in Cumbria and sent a newsletter for all their meat customers and friends, and we really enjoyed reading about what they were up to as they were so far away and they rarely had time to visit or speak with us owing to the demands of the farm. As our menagerie grew, we found ourselves in a similar situation, running all the time with little time for keeping up with letter writing (do you remember that?) so started the email newsletter to keep in touch with friends, family and customers - to let you know that we are still thinking of you and keep you up to date with what we are up to. So, its not intended as a great marketing machine, that’s not our way, we simply don’t have time to keep up on social networking sites - blog, tweet, or run a facebook page as we are too busy actually doing rather than talking about it! If there is the odd sale as a consequence of it then that’s good, but its not the main purpose.

Shorthorns at rest - some of the new South Yeo herd

So, what have we been up to?… the cattle went out to grass in early April and immediately filled out and looked a great deal happier - and cleaner. Both cows calved on their own and we have 2 lovely new heifers, one a chunky Hereford-Shorthorn cross and one a lovely white roan shorthorn, named Sorrel and Buttercup (had to be done!) It has been fascinating watching the interaction between them all; the yearlings are protective of the new calves and have even been seen grooming them.

The Balwens lambed pretty much on their own with only 3 needing assistance and more twins than the scanner had identified... They were slow to get going, then one not-to-be-repeated night as Ian lay blissfully unaware in bed, 1/3 of the flock decided to lamb at once. I was wandering around the farm at 3am by torchlight trying to find hurdles, pallets, anything I could use to make bonding pens for new mums and lambs. By the end of the 24 hours, 1/2 of the flock had lambed and the barn was bursting! Thank goodness the weather was nice as it made the night-time checks bearable. They all lambed within 3 weeks so the rams had been quick at their work and it meant we could get back to normality quickly.

The 2 Gotlands lambed first and last around the Balwens and their lambs are utterly adorable, they are so friendly it is as if they had been bottle reared, although after today’s mass sheep sort, they are always in the way and will happily lie down right under where you are trying to work! We accidentally acquired another 2 ewes from Gloucestershire and have ordered another 5 to join the embryonic flock later in the summer, including a ram. Hands up who didn’t see that one coming?...

Spring

All the ewes and rams were shorn last week which is a relief as with the warm weather they were looking very hot and uncomfortable and at ever increasing risk of fly strike. The Shropshire ram was so heavy in wool he became stuck on his back several times before being relieved of his 5Kg fleece, he is much happier now.  If you remember from last year we had sold some fleeces to a film company to dress a film set? It was the new Russell Crowe ‘Robin Hood’ film, so we thought we’d go and see it and try to spot them... we managed a basket with a few fleeces tumbling out in a couple of scenes but made us realise just how much it must cost to dress a set and make films.

We weaned the Shropshire ewes and lambs a few days ago and registered the ewe lambs with the breed society, and for the first time this year are running some of the Shropshires through one of the Christmas tree plots to eat the grass down between the trees. We shall keep the ewe lams to increase our flock numbers. In July we are collecting a new ram for them from a breeder in Shropshire and will use him with a few of the ewes in the autumn, and use our existing ram in August for the last time before trying to find a home for him.

Gem’s puppies (that were arriving as I wrote the last newsletter) grew on very well and have gone to their new homes this week. I do feel a little like there is something missing now as they have been so much part of my life for the last 2 months. We deliberated for ages as to whether to keep one but reasoned that 2 dogs are hard enough to control around sheep when they don’t want to listen but 3 looks more like a pack and potential trouble. She again had a lovely mix of colours, the usual black and white, some tri-colour and one brown and white, several have gone locally so it’ll be nice to see them occasionally.

Aww...

Chicken update… lots… I counted 44 different houses on the go this morning. That’s 44 different feeders and waters that need filling each day and not to mention the cleaning out - eek! It takes me a good 1.5 hours each morning to do the rounds at the moment. We are hatching every week and might have accidentally on purpose and maybe slightly underhandedly added a few unscheduled breeds… oops… some very pretty but completely superfluous Lemon/Citrus Millefleur Sabelpoots (really, that is their name) and a mix of more useful Indian Game to rear for table birds. There was a period a few weeks ago when I had a real glut of eggs and simultaneously several broodies, so I set lots of eggs under hens poked in every nook-and-cranny I could find. Trouble is, when they started hatching I needed somewhere to put them, so now we have resident hens and chicks in both the greenhouse and potting shed! The gosling hatches have not been a roaring success this year; not sure why but we’ve only managed to hatch a handful but have orders for many more so will be teaming up with a few friends with West of Englands to get unrelated groups together to sell. A fox has been making night-time visitations so I am keen to get them off to their new homes before he can make off with them. The first evening we have been out in months we came back (before dark) to discover he had taken one of our rare Ixworth hens.

The pigs are well and enjoying themselves in the sun and wallows. We are down now to our lowest numbers in years. We have just one sow, who’s visiting boar has just gone home having done his job - we hope - and 2 young gilts from the March litter we have kept back to breed from. We have managed to track down some rare bloodlines and are planning on getting a new boar later in the summer.

Ducklings on the lawn

The training schedule has been working well with 2-3 courses a month and some lovely feedback. Upcoming dates with spaces include: 17th July - River Habitat Management for Otters & other wildlife (including building an otter holt), 28th August - Sheep Keeping, 11th Sept - Poultry Keeping, 9th October - Wildlife Pond Creation & Management, and a couple of new dates - another Intro to Pig keeping on 3rd October and a Living Willow Sculpture course on 5th December

Tractor bit…By Ian... Now those of you who know us understand that I’m not obsessed, just ‘interested’, and recently the Devon wing of the David Brown tractor club visited one evening to hold their monthly meeting at the farm. Now this group are slightly different from most ‘vintage vehicle’ groups, no zipping of anoraks here, they arrive like the ‘A’ Team in a fleet of Land Rovers. With overalls on, they flock to the workshop and descend on the casualty one has provided. This time the DB 880 had problems with its hydraulics and they fixed this in about an hour. We all learned how it was done too. Next the cab was taken off the DB 770 so that is now ready for the workshop and restoration when I get a moment (ha). 

Now having just run a Tractor & Machinery course, I was wondering if anyone would be interested in an evening of a bit more in-depth tech stuff and spanner wielding on whatever needs fixing? I was also thinking about a combine evening to show folk in detail how the thing works (or not as the case may be) and getting some help with restoring the DB 990 which just needs to be put back together and painted. What do you think?  I’m sure that beer might be involved at some stage and costs would be minimal. Perhaps let me know.

…and on that note, we’ll leave you until the autumn. Here’s hoping for a fine hay-making summer, you know, an old fashioned one where you could rely on the weather and actually have a BBQ!

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