Happy New Year to one and all! As I write this on New Year's day, the sun is shining and there is a strange sense of optimism in the air. I can hear Ian in his workshop tapping away restoring a David Brown 990 tractor he has had in pieces for several years, and he is dangerously close to actually driving it out in the next week or two. I am sure it wont be long before its place is taken by another needing attention! He has been so busy on various projects around the farm and keeping up with the day to day running of it, that actually finding time to work on the 990 has been difficult. He is a happier man for it now though. I am having enforced indoor rest having had a bad back over Christmas but am finding it frustrating as I can't sit still for long and miss tending the animals. This is not the first time I've had a back twinge, but has been a bit of a warning and really hope it doesn't necessitate changes in our farming.

Since the last newsletter we have had our annual compulsory cattle Tb test and we were greatly relived to receive the all clear again even though there were a few alarming lumps which came up at the test site on their necks, luckily not the 'bad' lumps. At the same time we had the vet pregnancy diagnose them and were delighted that all but 1 are in-calf. We seemed to have problems with a couple of them and our AI chap has been a frequent visitor to the farm; we were beginning to despair so this is great news, I walked around with a permanent grin for a few days. Since then, we have AI-d a couple more and shall have them checked in a few weeks. So, all being well, there will be several Shorthorn, Devon and Galloway calves this year, born between early May through to early October.

The cattle feeding

Other cattle news: we have a lovely thickset roan shorthorn heifer who we purchased as a youngster in 2009 but was unregistered. Having managed to track as much of her parentage as I can, we have been able to get her added onto the shorthorn register, so although she will never be regarded as pedigree, her offspring can be registered down the line. In November we attended the annual South West Beef Shorthorn lunch and awards, and were delighted to receive a 3rd in the 'Small Herd' category of the herd competition. Small beginnings! We have a lovely rosette to add to the growing collection.

The sheep are doing well despite the weather and saturated ground conditions. The Shropshires are due to start lambing in 3 weeks and are beginning to look quite large and uncomfortable. I have to admit being somewhat anxious in the run-up to lambing owing to the nationwide spread of Schmallenburg disease which is spread by midge bites and can result in stillborn or deformed lambs. The ewes themselves don't appear to exhibit any symptoms, but if bitten in the first month or so of pregnancy can result in the deformed lambs and problems actually passing the awkward lambs. By the time of the next newsletter we will know whether it has affected these early lambing sheep and will be on our guard for our later lambing flock and calving.

Our Shropshire ram, Hunter, was selected as one of only 15 animals to have DNA samples taken for an RBST funded project looking at the genetic diversity of the breed. He is from a traditional old bloodline, so it will be interesting to hear the results.

We have 6 Norfolk Horn ewes, a breed not found this far west, so had arranged to hire a ram for them this year but a week before we were due to collect him, we learned of some ram lambs for sale near Stratford-on-Avon, so arranged to go and purchase one instead. On arrival, the seller indicated she really needed to find a home for both quite urgently, so we came home with the pair for little more than we were going to have to pay to hire just one. They are good natured keen chaps and we used one for 3 weeks, then swapped in the 2nd.  A little overkill for just  6 sheep but we should be able to use them for a couple of years as we plan to build the flock to 20 ewes.

Norfolk Horns

We have brought the pigs inside for the winter as the ground conditions were pretty saturated and they were up to their knees in mud. The sows came in readily, being used to being caught up and transported to the yard each time they farrow, but it took Ian a week to entice the boar into the trailer. They are now all happily in the dry in their shed until March when they will go back out into a new area of the wood.

Repeated flooding in December

The poultry have all moulted and some have even begun to start laying again. I have the first batch of eggs in the incubator to test for fertility before we start selling eggs again, although the number of enquiries is increasing so I can tell the new season is kicking off! In November I went with a friend to a large waterfowl dispersal auction by a well respected breeder in Shropshire. I wanted to buy a couple of Cayugas to bring new blood into our flock; the quality of birds on offer was outstanding and the final price of £125/bird was sadly out of my reach! I did however come home with a beautiful breeding pair of Blue Swedish ducks which I have long admired, so will be breeding up their numbers come April. We also went to see the big Federation Poultry Show before Christmas and met up with several friends, including the editor of Fancy Fowl magazine. Other poultry news; we were late shutting up the birds one night as we were out at the annual DASH dinner and in the morning discovered that a fox had taken my only Black Swedish hen who came from eggs brought in from Scandinavia, leaving me with just 2 cockerels, so we'll have to start that project again this year. New for 2013 we have added Vorwerk bantams to the list, and if successful, may concentrate on those and loose the Vorwerk large fowl we've had for a number of years to make space.

Kenro & Kracken the 2 Norfolk Horn rams travelling home

We had the horse advertised for sale for most of last year, and after only one enquiry, decided we would need to build him a stable over winter as the field & shelter he normally lives in would no longer do as the damage to the ground takes too much to repair each year. To our knowledge he hadn't been stabled for at least 2 years before we got him so were a little anxious at his reaction to being cooped up; 2 days before Christmas it was completed and we brought him and his shetland companion in out of the mud and rain. I am sure if they could talk they'd have said "what took so long". They've both settled to the routine and seem to quite enjoy watching what is going around the yard. It of course has added another 45 minutes to the daily routine, but I do quite enjoy it.
In the media this quarter, we've had a couple of our sheep pictures published in Jack Byard's new picture book 'Know Your Rare Breeds'; a photo of me proudly carrying our new Blue Swedish drake appeared in Fancy Fowl magazine, and Countryfile magazine recommended our Poultry & other courses in a January feature on Top 10 rural courses

Ian delivering a Christmas tree for the village square

So what does 2013 hold in store for us? Hopefully a drier and therefore easier farming year. We plan to keep any Norfolk Horn ewe lambs to build that flock, but aim to retain all other sheep/cattle/pigs at roughly the same numbers. We were short of grass and winter forage last year, partly owing to the poor growing conditions, but also as we were a little over stocked for the area of land we have. 2013 should be better as we've taken back another 2 fields from our grass keep tenant in December and have given them a year's notice on their last field, so this time next year we will manage the whole farm, plus some ground we have also been renting nearby. Our training program continues with the addition of a couple of courses by guest tutors on spinning and on dairy goat keeping; we have also added more evening courses for those with less time to spare to attend a whole day. As if all this isn't enough… I have relinquished my duties as Advertising Co-ordinator for the Devon Association of Smallholders but have subsequently taken on the role of Chairman from January! Exciting times!

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