We thought it was about time we got on and sent out the winter newsletter before it has finished and we head into spring. Don’t know where the time goes these days! A very belated Happy New Year to you all. Our ‘slow’ time of year is usually October/November where we play catch up and take a bit of a break but that didn’t seem to happen last autumn either, seemingly going full steam ahead into winter. The weather and continuous mud hasn’t made life easy either. We are actually wishing for a cold spell to dry things out.

The barn before Ian filled it with tractors!

The cattle are all inside for the winter to save the ground. We Tb tested them (all clear) before bringing them inside which was eventful (breaking into the garden at one point) but they are now quite content in the yard and have got used to the routine. The new shed is working well and means we can do so much more in the dry; Ian and his brother constructed an overhang to cover the feed passage. Having the cattle inside means we can get closer to them and have managed to get a halter on the Galloway heifer, and tamed down the older of the new Shorthorns; a real feat as she wouldn’t let me get within yards of her for most of the year, now when I am in the pen bedding up, she constantly gets in the way wanting me to give her a scratch. She is looking quite round now as her calf is due in April.

Buttercup bellowing for company

We plan to add a few more cattle in the next couple of months, then that is it, we will breed our own from then on. We’ve been to choose some more Riggit Galloway and Shorthorn heifers and once they’ve been tested, they will join the others making a nice little herd. This year we will have both home-born shorthorn and Galloway beef available, probably in August and November once they’ve had a few months out on spring grass. If you are wanting lamb this year, please let us know so we can work out how many animals to keep back for ourselves.

There will be Shropshire ½ or whole boxes available from June and other breeds from August through into the autumn.
The Shropshire ewes are lambing now, all is going well although we did have a surprise when the first ewe had triplets having been scanned with twins. We have them inside over-night and let out during the day on dry days. The poor girls are getting quite large and uncomfortable. We had so much uptake on our Lambing course that we put on an additional couple of dates, and the girls seemingly waited until the night after each to have their lambs! There have been a few minor problems, but all are doing well and there are only a few left to go now.

Zoe the Zwartbles contet with her Balwen mates

The Balwens, Gotlands and other sheep were scanned a few weeks ago and we are expecting more twins than normal. It must have been all the excess grass going into the autumn that helped with fertility. I’m quite pleased actually as I regretted selling so many balwen ewes, so we’ll have just as many lambs but from fewer ewes. We’ve kept back quite a few of last year’s ewe lambs to make up. The Gotlands were shorn just before going to the ram in November and ran in a field with a barn to keep dry. Their fleece has re-grown very quickly but they do prefer to stay inside and they seem to suffer more with foot problems in the mud than the other breeds, so we made a pen for them in the new barn and they seem quite content inside on straw with non-stop haylage. I try to encourage them out on dry days but they wander out, look confused and head back inside of their own will after less than ½ hour.

The pig numbers are back to a skeleton crew over winter to make life easier (mud - you’ll get the theme of this newsletter shortly). Skylark had her third litter and has just been weaned and has gone back outside into a temporary pen on the barley ground until she’s regained condition and will go back to the boar. She did extremely well by her litter and we have both observed that they are a cracking bunch of pigs. The youngsters have gone off to their new homes and we are keeping back a few gilts to select one for future breeding for ourselves. We’ve also managed to track down a litter from the rare Dorothy bloodline to be born soon and have put our name on one as there are only 2-3 left in the country. We sold a boar and sow just before Christmas having kept them on for replacements that can be bred to our current boar. Owing to feed prices, pig breeders seem to be giving up frequently, so we hope we can hang in there for the long term. Our freezers are certainly full to overflowing - (hint) - got to eat them to keep them!

Unusual birthing partner

The fields have been wetter than we ever remember (here we go again) and moving the chicken arks has been particularly difficult, the wheels get bogged in the ground; the chicken manage a couple of hours on the new grass before they paddle it to mud which is not good for them or the ground, so we have moved them all onto 4” deep chipped bark for a month or 2 to allow the field to recover and keep them (and the eggs) clean. It was amusing to see their reaction the first morning they were let out, they soon got down to the important business of scratching around their new environment.

ITV crew at the farm on blustery night

Our La Fleche chicken were on ITV Westcountry TV before Christmas. They contacted us as they were doing a ‘12 days of Christmas’ feature and wanted to talk about the ‘Three French Hens’. It was to be a live spot just before the weather but unfortunately it was the foulest of nights and the live satellite link was lost part way through. Enough to be recognised in the most unlikely of places afterwards though!

We have started hatching again… a small batch the first week of January and more in the incubator. The poultry breed list continues to be tweaked; this year we’ll be adding Exchequer Leghorns, Copper marans (again) and Porcelain Sabelpoots. We ended up with a fair number of young birds in the rearing pens over Christmas, but have sold all but a handful now - a good thing as the gangway I use to service the pens is an absolute quagmire of mud from trudging up and down.

The cattle freshly settled into their winter quarters

We’ve been doing some hedging in the last couple of weeks, something we’ve not had much time for years. The hedge above the chicken arks has become very knotted and bare at the base, so we’ve coppiced it off and Ian is about to set to and cast it up before we fence it off again. I’ll be glad as lambs were constantly getting into the hedge and stuck behind the fence and running up and down demanding release seemingly from the thorniest section possible.

On a personal note, we have been trying to do a little more off the farm. Ian has taken up playing his bass guitar again after years of it collecting dust. He has joined a band, ‘Firefly’, and has already played several gigs and goes to regular practices. I’ve taken up knitting again and have been using some of our own Shropshire and Balwen wools to create winter warmers, and have been going to a local ‘Knit and Natter’ group.

I suspect the Spring Newsletter may follow hot on the heels of this one… until next time…

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