Happy (belated) New Year! We hope this newsletter finds you well and full of resolve for 2009. Our list of resolutions is long but most of all I think we need to find time to relax (just a teeny weenie little bit) as we can’t keep on taking things on…
Having said that, the first piece of news from the last quarter is that after a lifetime of wanting a horse, the time seemed right and the ‘dream’ horse became available locally, so welcome to ‘Sundance’… a blanket Appaloosa x cob, 9 years old, lovely but also quite loopy. He hasn’t been ridden for over a year as his previous owner went off to Uni and it was left to mother to look after him. He has become a bit full of himself and needs to learn a few manners, but other than that, is everything I have ever wanted. We are working on understanding eachother before riding and he has a fine new field shelter and 3 lambs for company. After a couple of weeks of chasing the lambs around, he now lets them stand under him when it is hay feeding time and got quite upset when I took them out for a day to sort sheep.
On the farm, the annual cycle continues. The rams have been with their various ewes and hopefully done their thing; they are now running as a group of 6 together, tolerating each other’s company after an initial head-butting contest which always has me very nervous until they settle. The Shropshires will be first to lamb from 16th February onwards this year, followed by the Balwens at the end of March and Kerrys on in to the end of April. The lambs will run with their mothers until weaning in mid August at which point the ewe lambs can go off to their new homes as breeding stock, and the wether lambs (castrated males) are kept on for another few months to fatten for lamb boxes to sell for the freezer - or some are also sold as pet sheep to graze small acreages or orchards etc. We tend to keep the Balwen lambs on until Jan/Feb the following year before butchering as they are a smaller breed and need a little longer to mature, while the Kerrys go at around 8 months. With 64 due to lamb this year we can expect roughly 100 lambs in a 50:50 male:female split, so have a lot of meat customers to find! We sold our first chilled meat box by mail order in December and it seemed to be a fairly easy undertaking so can now send further afield for those that are not able to come to the farm to collect - although we would always prefer to meet customers face-to-face and let them see how the animals are reared, where they have come from etc. We are waiting for the lamb skins to come back from the tannery to sell too. You may remember from the last newsletter that we were also waiting for our wool to be processed, well, it has come back and we are very pleased with it. Unfortunately as the mill couldn’t tell us exactly when it’d be ready, we weren’t able to book in to any Christmas craft fairs so will have to rely on internet sales for now, so if you have any bright ideas as to how to market it please let us know - so far we have sold a massive 3 balls! (and at that rate we will be retired before we get our investment back!) It is all 100% pure, naturally coloured (not dyed) and in various knitting weights as balls, cones and some cleaned and carded wools for spinners.
The pigs are now inside for the winter as their field resembled the Somme with all the wet and mud and they appear much happier snuggled into a deep bed of straw. ‘Percy’ the boar seems huge now that he is inside and up close. After the non-combine event this summer, we had the barley field cut and round baled and are now feeding it to the pigs whole and they love it! It keeps them amused for hours, so all was not lost.
The 3 sows are phased so that we now get a litter of piglets every 2 months, wean the previous litter at the same time and put the sow back to Percy, and at 5-6 months, the preceding litters are mature and go off for pork, bacon, sausages or gammon. We seem to have settled in to a routine of using 2 different butchers depending on what we are having done with the pigs and if we have advance orders can let customers know when we will be bringing it back from the butcher so they can collect it fresh straight away. The rest is labelled, priced and goes into the freezer for sale whenever customers pop by. Once the barn is finished (fingers crossed this year) we will have all the fridges and freezers out there in a dedicated room/shop space. At the moment we have an average of 10 piglets each litter and tend to keep half for ourselves for meat sales and sell the other half at weaning for others to fatten or rear for breeding. As our customer base expands we hope to keep a greater number ourselves. If you have enjoyed our pork, please do tell your friends!
We had a busy December selling Christmas trees, both cut and rooted, chosen directly from the plantation. We sold nearly everything we had, so will be replanting in the next month or so. Ian thinned out the remaining trees which are now too big for Christmas trees (12ft+) and it looks like a proper bit of woodland now. I had my reservations about growing conifers - not native - limited wildlife value etc but a variety of habitats around the farm is beneficial and I have seen a little Goldcrest flitting around in there several times now, having not seen one on the farm since 2001. A fox also seems to have used the area which is not so good as he can creep along the hedge to the poultry run far too easily… I’m hoping he stays away from the lambs this year too as the only lamb we lost last year was to a fox. Other wildlife news - we have also seen a barn owl in the 5 acre wood several times recently so are hoping it will settle and nest in one of the barns. We still have the water voles to care for but the chap we are looking after them for is unsure that there will be enough contracts for us to continue for much longer.
Gem’s litter of puppies all found new homes quite easily. I loved looking after them and seeing their different characters develop. We kept one back and have named her Meg - typical puppy antics have prevailed as you can imagine, but she is very bright and has already started to show an interest in the sheep and geese… I am determined to take the time to train her properly with the sheep this time.
The chicken are starting to lay again after moulting and the incubator is hatching right now for the first round of chicks of the year. I hope to have a more regular hatching this year, setting the incubator on a set day each week enabling us to advertise day-old chicks on specific dates. We seemed to be playing catch-up with orders for most of last year and hope to be able to be ahead now we have the hatching capacity. We have decided to change some of the breeds we keep, so now have: large fowl Welsummer, Cuckoo Maran, Vorwerk, Ixworth, Old English Pheasant Fowl, Andalusian, Barnevelder, Lavender Araucana & Silver Grey Dorking; bantam Silver Spangled Hamburg and Blue Laced Wyandotte; Cayuga ducks and West of England Geese. I am planning on introducing Buff Orpington chicken to the mix during the year too to replace the Lakenvelders which just weren’t hardy enough to do well here.
I almost forgot, in December we took part in filming for a Channel 4 Gordon Ramsay programme and met the man himself during a food ‘credit crunch’ themed restaurant turn-around episode. It was an ‘interesting’ experience shall we say - apparently is airing this friday evening, so will watch to see if we feature. He is just as frantic in real life and quite exhausting.
Finally, we have set a regular schedule of training courses for smallholders this year with roughly one a month and in conjunction with Duchy College and the VTS scheme may be able to offer subsidised places; we should find out come the end of Feb. so if you know anyone that might be interested, please do pass on the information. Places are currently £35 per person on a first-come-first-served basis and discount for South Yeo customers. Further details are on the training page of the website.
I hope you will excuse the more explanatory newsletter this time, but we have had several customers comment that they didn’t realise we sold lamb for example, or when, so wanted to clarify the annual cycle of farm events and availability. That said, we hope that you have a super 2009 and look forward to keeping in touch throughout the year.
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