Wishing you a very Happy New Year! …and let’s hope it’s a drier one… We have gone from slopping around in mud to slipping around on ice in a short space of time and are looking forward to a ‘normal’ year! Ha!

Low pressure

What news since the Autumn? Lots of change (as always)! Having decided to give up on keeping our Kerry Hill sheep, we have sold all but the last few; most went to folks just starting out with the breed and our ram went to the people we bought our ewes from initially so it feels like things have gone full circle - I’m glad he has gone somewhere where he may be taken to the show ring, as even I could tell he was something special. We are left with one ewe who has run with the ram but had mastitis so is likely to need extra help rearing on her lamb/s (she had triplets last year & is my favourite so I’m not too disappointed she is still with us…) and the last few ewe lambs that we are rearing on a bit longer before selling.

Our winter ice-rink... makes work a little tricky!

The Balwens have run with their 3 rams and are now all back together as one flock and the rams are back in their pre-tupping harmonious group. I did manage to sneak in 2 new sheep under the wire… companions for the horse… 2 lovely and tame Gotland ewes. They come from the Baltic Island of Gotland and are a grey-black sheep with long legs and lovely soft curled wool. They are a delight to have around and seem to get on well with Sundance - often seen sharing the hay net together in a nativity scene.

The Shropshires are due to lamb from 12th January so its action stations again. Ian spent a day last week from dawn to dusk (literally) replacing 2/3rds of the tin on the sheep shed roof to stop the ever increasing volume of water leaks, while I prepared the lambing box and made lists of essential supplies we still need. The girls are looking huge and spend most of their time laying around munching looking uncomfortable; we brought them inside today so they have a few days to get settled. We had them pregnancy scanned this year so know how many lambs we are expecting, our job is to make sure they are all delivered healthily and stay alive.

We have run 2 Introduction to Keeping Sheep courses in the last few months so thought we would also (foolishly?) run a lambing course in late January as well - doing it now in advance of most flock lambings and also before our main flock lambs where we wont want to be distracted. Having sold on the Kerrys we plan to breed up the number of Shropshires instead.

We also decided the time was right to sell on some of the pigs, so 2 sows and the boar went to an open organic farm near Paignton as a breeding group, leaving us with one in-pig sow and a few youngsters. The plan being to bring in 1 or 2 gilts and a young boar in the spring from another couple of rare bloodlines. Having sold breeding stock for the last couple of years we thought we’d bring in some fresh bloodlines to the area. Ian fixed the roller-mill and has been milling the barley we harvested in the ‘summer’ to feed to the pigs and they seem to love it and are thriving - so phew, that was all worth it!

Also… as we bring the pigs in during the winter, by having fewer to look after, we can make use of the shed they usually live in to make space for our newest arrivals…  due in the next few days, a group of 5 Shorthorn cattle, 2 in-calf cows and 3 youngsters!!! Yippee! Finally. We have been wanting to get cattle right from the start but didn’t really have the barn space; so, the plan for 2010 is to take down the old cow kennels that Ian’s father built in 1966 (shouldn’t take much as a good gust of wind could do the job for us) and to build a decent stock shed that will not only be useful but will tidy the place up no end.

Shorthorn heifer calf

Work on our office/training room barn is just about complete so we wouldn’t want Ian to be twiddling his thumbs for too long…!
We have deliberated for ages over what breed to go for (native, rare, traditional etc.) and settled on the Shorthorn for the time-being as they are mild natured, attractive to look at and not that common in this area (not wanting to do what everyone else does…) BUT, the long term plan is to develop a herd of Speckle Park… a breed new to Britain (only 6 in the country at present) but developed from 3 of the native breeds we couldn’t decide between - Shorthorn, Angus and White Park. Currently the only way to obtain stock is by fertilised embryo transfer, hence needing some host cows to start with. They are black and white but look like Appaloosas with a white top-line, speckled white and black rump and mottled legs and face - and variations there-of. They have been winning carcass awards in Canada, Australia and beef awards in Ireland so have a promising future and will definitely be different! Watch this space…

The chicken have started to lay so I already have the first few batches of eggs in the incubator to test for fertility, the first lot hatched over New Year, so we’re off again. All the young birds from new breeds we hatched in 2009 are looking fantastic and are beginning to lay too. We just need the time to update the website with all the new breed information; the complete breed list and prices have been uploaded in the meantime.

Over the last 10 years as we have settled into running the farm, an annual pattern has developed, with the ‘slow’ period being from October to December and this year we actually managed to get away for a week to somewhere warm and dry for much needed relaxation - with a HUGE thank you to Harriet who made it all possible by staying at the farm to look after the menagerie and minimise stress on the dogs. We couldn’t have asked for the animals to be looked after better - and in such awful weather too…

The sheep don't seem to mind

Finally, the last few snippets; we didn’t advertise Christmas trees this year as we had so few left (the rest being 12ft plus ‘wildlife’ trees now) but still sold a few. I have today ordered some new tree seedlings so when they arrive in the next week we will be planting out around 250 new trees for future years. In addition to our usual Norway Spruce, we have some Nordmann Fir (the non needle-drop type) and Blue Spruce coming which will be interesting to see how they do.

We have started to harvest and sell this winters colourful willow cuttings and are running a course on Creating Living Willow Sculptures in February if interested…
I think that’s it for now, do keep in touch and if you need any pork / bacon / sausages, the next batch will be coming back form the butcher in February/March time.

PS. For the second newsletter in a row I can report (very quietly) no more tractors!

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