Summer 2013 Newsletter - No.27

Hey hey! Look at this, a newsletter in season and on time! What a difference a few months makes. Who could possibly have known our 12 months of rain would be followed by a delicious hot dry summer? It has been such a relief not to trudge in mud and all the animals look so much better for having sun on their backs. We've had far fewer problems, feet, flies etc. with them this summer. No complaints here at all, optimism in fact! The only difficulty with the dry weather is that all our springs (which feed the livestock drinking troughs) have dried up so we (well Ian really) is running around with bowsers every 2 days filling tanks and making sure there is water everywhere for whom ever wants to drink it.

First time mum Dehlia licking her newborn calf

As mid-summer looms we are looking at weaning the lambs in a few days and consolidating the flocks a little. We have kept back 5 of the best of our Shropshire ewe lambs to enter the flock and the remainder are going en-masse to a lady in Scotland. We are just awaiting the arrival of the transporter to take them. We are hiring in a Shropshire ram this summer to breed with the ewes and he arrives towards the end of August for late January lambs. We have a few Norfolk horn ewe lambs who will all be kept and perhaps a few of the nicest marked Balwens too. After Balwen inspection, a small starter flock of registered ewe lambs and an unrelated ram are planned to go to France.

The cattle are looking superb at the moment; their coats are shining and animals that looked fairly sad at the end of the winter are now blossoming and almost unrecognisable (thank goodness). We've had 3 calves so far, a Devon, Shorthorn and a Hereford, and as I write, my favourite Riggit Galloway, Fiona, is overdue and I am sure she is fed up with me checking her every 2 hours, probably wonders what all the fuss is about. We are about to start artificially inseminating next week to give us calves in early May next year which hopefully will be after lambing has finished and once the grass is growing again next spring. We have had a bit of a set back on the Galloway breeding. Our new bull, who you may remember from the last newsletter was in quarantine, tested positive for one of the cattle diseases we'd rather not introduce to the herd, so has been isolated and went 'off' this week to the butchers. Neither of us are sorry to see the back of him, he was a little too feisty. We are just so glad we played it safe and didn't just pop him straight in with the girls. It means that we will be Ai-ing all the Galloways this year. Some of the shorthorns will also be AI-d and then run with our young home-born shorthorn bull to hopefully catch any who come cycling again. At 15 months he is beginning to look quite impressive and has already proven himself, Daisy being confirmed 3 months in-calf to him. [addendum: Fiona very sadly had a dead calf, we had to have the vet assist to pull it off as it was huge, we are all none-the-wiser as to why it died]

Before and After of the barn being restored

In the good weather of July we've managed to make some lovely hay, both conventional small bales for the sheep and larger wrapped round bales for the cattle. We have 'shut up' 4 fields again in the hopes of getting a second cut later in August/September to top up and hopefully give us enough home grown forage for the coming winter. The field we re-seeded after the pigs had been on it which was looking pretty dire and waterlogged all winter, has really come into its own and grown so much grass this spring/summer that we have to keep putting the sheep on it every couple of weeks to keep on top of it. At the moment it has most of the cattle and sheep chomping away at it. We couldn't cut it for hay, even though the grass was long enough, as so many stones had come to the surface during the winter they would damage the machinery - we couldn't press them in either as the ground went from frozen hard to dried out concrete with no slightly soft period in-between to get on with the roller, so that will have to wait until next spring.

After having had him advertised for a year, we managed to find a lovely home for Sunny the horse and his Shetland companion. We delivered them together to a farm on the edge of Dartmoor in June and they instantly looked at home. I do miss them, but know it was the right thing as I just didn't have time to ride him and now we have an extra field to use. I do miss cheeky Jack the Shetland though… We knew when we built the stable that it may be vacant soon but has had broody hens and growing chicken in it almost as soon as the horses went outside! I don't think it will ever be empty, small sheds are so useful for isolation or nursery areas.

Ian putting his restored tractor through its paces

The pigs are probably the most comfortable animals on the farm this summer. They are loving their shaded woodland pen, have great muddy wallows and have barely used their ark, preferring to sleep outside since it's been so warm. Having resisted the decision for some time, we regrettably are cutting down the herd numbers for a while. After last year's mud, we just cannot afford the damage they make of our clay ground which takes years to fully repair. We have the boar and two of the sows for sale.

The chicken are doing well, no new breeds to report (I don't think). After a slow start to hatching, we have had many youngsters working their way through the system. The fox has been a constant and unwanted visitor this year, taking all my reserve breeding cockerels in one two-hour frenzy. As we have some quite rare breeds, I like to keep a second breeding cockerel of each in case one should prove to be infertile, die or not work for whatever reason. I try not to bring in live birds to reduce the risk of importing disease, so to loose all these birds at once has been a bit of a blow. I've subsequently had to hatch and rear on replacements of each.

Southern marsh orchids in the hay meadow

We've hatched just about all of the eggs from our pair of Blue Swedish ducks and have a wonderful assortment of colours of offspring, most of which are drakes! Duck for the freezer anyone?... Needless to say we will be keeping all the females ourselves. All the young ducks have been hatched by broodies outside as they get so messy so quickly, it's better to have the mess out there! The incubator has been turned off for the last time but we will still hatch if broodies present themselves.

We have more beef available than planned for this year so if you fancy trying a 10Kg or 15Kg mixed beef box just let us know. There are still a few unspoken for due to come back from the butcher at the end of August, and a further batch in November. The first lambs have hit the freezers too and looked superb! They grew really well this year, almost catching me by surprise, I turned around and suddenly they were of a good size and ready to go. The next ones will be coming back in early September if you fancy a ½ or whole butchered lamb for winter roasts and stews.

All that is left is to say 'thank you' for reading our newsletters and for your support during the years, it is much appreciated, and enables us to live this crazy non-stop life of the land we have chosen! Enjoy the good weather while it lasts.

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