The months since the last newsletter have flown by; life seems to have stepped up a gear - we often hear comments from visitors like ‘I don’t know how you fit it all in’ and are beginning to question that ourselves. Its all fun though. Here’s what we’ve been up to…
Lambing dragged a bit, having started in a rush, the last few ewes held on and had monster twins about 4-5 weeks after we started. We now have a great crop of lambs munching their way through the fields that thankfully are now growing again after the recent rains. The lambing period enjoyed fabulous weather and the grass really got growing in the warmth, then slowed as the lack of rain opened up cracks in many of the fields. After last year’s slow start to spring we were nervous but thankfully we have managed to make a cut of reasonable hay already. Enough to be getting on with but more needed before we can contemplate actually selling hay again (its been a few years since we’ve been able to do that). As I write we are still waiting for the shearer to materialise and have had a few ewes with flystrike so are nervously watching the others every day and pouncing at the first signs of discomfort. We’ve got the Shropshire flock close to the house as they seem most prone with their heavy fleece that takes longer to dry out than the others. [update: shearer has now been - relieved ewes and us!]
We ran 2 full back-to-back days of ‘Sheep Keeping’ courses in May and interestingly the Norfolk Horn ewe and over-friendly (or greedy) Gotlands were the stars of the day. this was all the excuse I needed to inadvertently order a few more Norfolk Horns for the summer and an unrelated ram for next year… oops, how did that happen? I am sure another tractor will materialise to compensate. A young Gotland ram will be joining us too in August so we can breed them pure this year. The Gotland x Shropshire experiment worked well (although I am forbidden to keep any of the offspring apparently), the lambs have grown on better than pure Gotlands, with more bulk, but they all turned out white rather than grey and have a lovely long curly fleece coming through; should be great for spinning.
The first batch of January born Shropshire lambs have already been sent off to the butchers and we had one customer phone us in the middle of his meal to say that it was the best lamb he’d ever tasted - always worried when customers ring straight away having got home with their meat but that was lovely to hear. There are a few left to go along with the first batch of the April lambs.
The Pigs are doing really well. Both Belinda and her daughter Blossom farrowed in April, although Belinda went on hunger-strike beforehand and, although seemingly happy, became worryingly thin. I started talking her for daily walks along the lane to keep her interested. Both litters have been weaned and most have moved on to their new homes now and Belinda is recovered. Skylark has just farrowed her second litter to our new Defender boar ‘Rusty’ so he works (phew!) and they seem to be growing faster than other litters we’ve had. Rusty’s sister is with our second boar and they seem settled together and evidently the deed is done, piglets due in September. We had some issues with selling the weaners this time, having taken more orders than weaners, and consequently turned customers away, when I called customers back to confirm once they had been born, frustratingly all but 2 orders evaporated so we now regrettably ask for deposits for all animals booked to avoid being left with stock we thought had sold. Not the way we like to do business but sadly necessary.We’ve been hatching every 2 weeks and selling lots more hatching eggs this year. The adult birds are now all moved over to the moveable arks and youngsters going out into the permanent pens above the house while they grow on. I bought another second hand incubator for hatching goslings as goose eggs are so large and take longer to hatch they bung-up normal chick hatching operations. There was an occasion when we had 500 eggs in progress at one time; we aim to stop hatching in August this year as late hatched growers never seem to do so well and I can cut down on the number of houses to feed/manage each day - current occupied house count is 53 so I’m a little busy... and we collected a quartet of lovely Croad Langshan bantams today to replace the large fowl Croads we gave up on last year as they are too big to confine in an ark; thats 54 then...
We were chuffed to bits to see that our wildflower meadow is a riot of colour this month. We normally make late hay in one particular river-side field, allowing the flowers to set seed and spread. This practice over the last 10 years has resulted in an increase in orchid numbers among others; BUT more excitingly the yellow rattle has spread to 2/3 of the field now from just 1 plant. It is an indicator of ancient pasture and is parasitic on grass which ultimately means less hay but a corresponding increase in other wildflowers that can grow without the grass for competition, and subsequent increase in bees, butterflies etc. We are hoping to make hay in this field slightly earlier this year, turn it as little as possible, and bale it so that as many ripe seeds are trapped in the bales which we will then feed during the winter and hopefully will spread to another field we have in a ‘very low input’ option in our Stewardship agreement. In the orchard, we took down the 2m x 2m fenced tree guards around the 2002/3 planted trees as they quickly filled with unsightly and difficult-to-get-to nettles. The trees are well grown and all bearing a good amount of apples, it looks so much larger now. We are grazing through periodically with the Shropshires who have been leaving the tree bark well alone.
In the garden we have 5 productive raised beds on the go and finally, after years of waiting, put up a poly-tunnel - which we planted within 24 hours! During construction we had a dramatic event; a micro-lite came flying low and fast overhead as we pulled the plastic over, and proceeded to crash land in our top field. The dogs and I rushed up to find the pilot OK, but understandably a bit shaky. He’d apparently had engine failure and bent something vital on landing, so packed it up and came back the next day with a trailer to collect it. The dogs were delighted after years of chasing overhead helicopters and planes to finally down one.
We have saved the most exciting news until the end… Surprise new additions to the cattle; meet Fiona a yearling Riggit Galloway heifer and her field mate, a dun belted galloway steer. Let us explain: you may remember in our winter 2009/10 newsletter that we discussed our plans to ultimately develop a herd of Speckle Park cattle from our Shorthorn base. Well, after a chance meeting at the 2010 SW Beef Event, we were immediately drawn to a couple of unusually marked black and white ‘line-backed’ heifers that resembled the Speckle Parks in markings but are entirely native and an ancient throw-back that practically became extinct but for the efforts of a few dedicated breeders, the Riggit Galloways; more appropriate to our rare and native ethos. You may have seen Black, Red, Dun & Belted Galloways on Dartmoor, but as chance would have it, there are a few breeders also trying to revive Riggits alongside their established Galloway herds in the Southwest. Riggits occur in both black and white, and red and white and there are only around 40-50 in the country. All being well, we will also be getting another in-calf Riggit heifer in August. They don’t necessarily breed true yet, so it will take some years of careful and dedicated breeding to get well marked Riggits from pure Riggit to Riggit matings. In addition to the Riggits arriving, later in July they should also be joined by 3 more young Shorthorn heifers, one hopefully in-calf. So, 2 herds of cattle… And now we are broke! We will be taking back another field from our tenants soon to accommodate them all… With all the incoming cattle, the time has come for some outgoing; our first Shorthorn steer is booked to go in late July so there will be Shorthorn beef available from August.
Coming soon: hay making (we can dream), weaning of the lambs in mid August, new cattle arrivals July/August, the next 2 litters of pigs are due in September; upcoming training courses in July - Combine evening (7th), Keeping Poultry (10th), Otters & River Habitat Management (23rd), & Sheep Keeping (29th August).
In stock we have: pork, gammon, bacon, sausages; shropshire creamy white lamb skinsTaking orders for: ½ or whole lamb boxes (for collection/delivery from July-November); 10Kg or 15Kg beef boxes
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