Somehow I found it hard to start writing this ‘Summer’ Newsletter when we've had the wettest summer on record. I was so incensed with the drought order in the spring, when we were convinced we’d had the wettest and muddiest winter ever, that I bought a rain gauge. I have subsequently become a bit of a rain-gauge obsessive! I read it each morning on my way out to do the chickens; two weeks ago we had 5mm of rain in the time between reading the gauge and me finishing the chicken rounds. I was just a little soaked. The last week of sun has been a blessing.

The weather had begun to cause us some stress as, a fair way through the year, we still hadn’t had the right conditions to cut any grass for hay or haylage for the animals this coming winter. All is calmer now as we cut just about everything we had last week and Ian is stacking the last of the bales now. With the fields ‘shut up’ for hay, we have been short of grass now for animals as ordinarily they would have been more spread out across fields once they’d been cut. We are very grateful for some land that we now rent nearby and the Shropshire flock, being tame & trustworthy enough to follow a bucket, have spent most of the spring ‘away’. It was the strangest feeling to leave them the first day on someone else’s ground. The Shropshire lambs have been weaned and the ewe lambs we aren’t keeping have gone on to their new homes, while the first of the male lambs are booked to ‘go’ this week. The ewes have put weight back on (some too much!) and will be going back to the ram in a month.

The Balwens after shearing

With all the wet, we didn’t shear until well into July which is a first. The sheep have to be shorn in the dry and we are ever grateful that the only 24 hour dry period we had our shearer chose to come to us rather than someone else, only finishing at 9:30pm as the light faded. We bought him fish and chips as a thank you, along with some friends who came along to help roll and pack fleeces.

Two day old 'Jubilee'

We had another calf in June (in the middle of a Pig Keeping course) so Firethorn now has company and boy how they are both growing. 'Thorny' really does look promising as a bull; it is just a shame that he is too closely related to most of the heifers as we’d love to keep him. Ian has been working like a Trojan to complete our new cattle handling area in the barn. Having viewed a number of handling facilities and attended a couple of beef events, we have gone for a North American design that emphasises calm handling and uses the natural following behaviour of the animal to lead them quietly through the chute to the ‘crush’ where they can be safely restrained while they are ministered unto. We decided to build it under cover next to their winter pens so that if they needed to be handled in the winter it is convenient, but also so that we and the vet will not have to stand in the rain for ages during regular tb testing!

The pressure has been on as we plan to artificially inseminate (AI) them this week as we don’t yet have a bull. There are 7 to be AI’d at this time, and another 2 out of phase later in the year. The vet has been helping us synchronise them so that they all come into season together and can be ‘served’ at the same time and consequently should all calve within a week next May. We want to calve in the spring to take advantage of the early grass, but not so early as it occurs during lambing as well as I am stretched far enough then thank you! We’ll keep you updated on progress. If it all goes to plan I will be amazed.

 

The chicken are beginning to slow now in their laying thank goodness. I seem to have been a slave to eggs this spring but have enjoyed every hatch. There are a good number of broodies either sitting on eggs or running with their chicks in the nursery on the lawn. With every hatch there is another house occupied; the current count is 61 houses and consequently it takes me some time to get around them all each day morning and night! I set the incubator with what I hope will be the last hatch, so from now on the numbers should gradually get less as they are sold.

if I see another egg...

Skylark the sow (named after her bloodline, not her likeness to a small twittering bird) had a superb litter last weekend. We brought her up from the wood and settled her in the farrowing shed a few days in advance, but she caught us off guard and farrowed on her own a day early. I discovered her grunting away happily with her litter at 6am and felt a little lost as I always sit with them as they farrow incase of any problems. She always does her litters very well and already they are growing quicker than other litters. We’re not sure yet when we’ll put them back outside as it is still so muddy in their run that the little ones would be lost in the mud! Blossom is due in September and the 2 new older gilts have entertained the boar several times but as yet have not produced anything, however, there has been no interest for a couple of months so we could be in for a glut of piglets shortly. Fingers crossed. We also have a Skylark daughter (as yet unnamed if you have any suggestions) who will go to the boar for the first time in a few months.

Meg our red collie has been on a planned 'visit' to a blue merle dog (unceremoniously in a horse box) so we have our fingers crossed for puppies in a few weeks. We have not had her scanned to see if she is in pup, but from her behaviour we are fairly sure she is. I am banned from keeping another one but I suspect this litter could be rather pretty… shall have to start work on Ian now!

Meg amongst the wildflowers in the hay meadow

Our September 'Smallholding School' week-long course is booking up and will definitely run which is very exciting. We’re both really looking forward to this one but it will be a lot of work. We are due a litter of piglets in early September and 2 more calves around that time, with month-old puppies as well, there should be plenty to see and do.  If you know anyone thinking about starting in smallholding who would like a week in Devon to learn the basics and get hands on, then please pass on our details.

All this means we have had little chance of a break nor prospect of one. For the last few years we have blanked out a week, shut the gate and camped on the farm which has been surprisingly restorative. This year’s camping though was rained off and when it did come dry we were fran tically cutting and making hay so no chance of stopping now until November I shouldn’t think!
We still have the Gotland sheep and horse for sale if anyone fancies…!

Gotlands looking for new homes...

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