Winter newsletter 2013-14
Issue no. 29

Well, what can I say? Its blowing a storm outside (again) so I'm taking this forced indoor opportunity to write our (late) Winter newsletter. The fires are burning and the house is warm, we can't complain really. We haven't suffered the floods like the poor folks of Somerset but the ground is completely saturated with all the restrictions that that brings. We've certainly had several floods this winter, one higher than Ian can ever remember and even deposited a salmon at the high tide mark on Christmas eve! The farmyard and house are well above any flood level.

Pigs in their element!

The sheep are doing amazingly well considering. The Balwens went to the ram in November in better condition than they've ever been before owing to the late grass growth. We had them scanned a couple of weeks ago and all but 1 are in lamb. So they don't puddle up all the fields around the farm as we rotate them in these wet conditions, we moved them onto our driest (ha! perhaps I should say best draining) field with non-stop hay until they come in for lambing at the end of March; sacrificing one field but saving the rest. The Norfolks are due to lamb from the weekend and are all expecting twins except one and we are hoping for better lambing than last year when they lambed OK but then just looked at their lambs and didn't lick them. If you remember how cold it was last April, we had their lambs under lamps and in the warming box of the rayburn.

The Shropshires have finished lambing. They haven't done so well. The rent-a-ram left us with disappointing results, with 1/3 not in lamb and more singles than normal. We put those 'empty' ewes back to our Norfolk ram after rent-a-ram left and they are all now expecting their cross-bred lambs along with the Balwens. The main group started to lamb in mid January and have done well, the lambs are finally outside as the weather was wet for their first week of life. They're now in the field on the driveway with the field shelter and they use it readily. I am amazed how quickly the lambs grow and become robust tubby little things.

In December, when we went to collect back our Zwartbles ewe (who'd been back to her breeder for a romantic liaison with a Zwartble ram), unbeknownst to Ian, I had arranged to also collect 2 Zwartble ewe lambs as his Christmas gift. He is not particularly enamoured with sheep but on several occasions has remarked how he likes the Zwartbles and genuinely seems taken with them (although on the way home did comment that he knew they were for me really - rumbled!) Having had single ram lambs every year, our ewe is scanned to have triplets, so she has been instructed that they should all be female for 2014! I've also added another couple of Coloured Ryelands to the fledgling flock, so hopefully will be able to breed them and increase their numbers over the next couple of years. The ewe lamb I mentioned in our last newsletter has been a great hit on our Sheep Keeping courses as she is so tame and will follow like a dog. Several participants have gone away muttering that Ryelands are the breed for them! We intend to cut down on the 50-strong Balwen flock to make space for incoming Ryelands and Zwartbles although I am finding it hard to choose who goes as they are still our favourite. There will be ewes with lambs at foot available in April/May time.

January Shorthorn calf 'Chris'

We've taken back the last field now from our tenant, so have the whole farm back in our control. There is much work to be done to 'fix' the field, primarily fencing the perimeter and footpath to avoid walkers' dogs running amok amongst our livestock or leaving their messages to contaminate the ground. As we are in a High Health scheme for the cattle, we need to minimise any potential sources of infection from outside the farm, so the footpath is a real concern for us, as who knows what is being carried by ramblers on their shoes from farm to farm or by their dogs. There are several ailments fatal to both sheep and cattle that can be spread by dog faeces, so it is dogs that make us most nervous about the footpath on our land.

Shropshire ewe wathces over her newborn lambs

Our Shorthorn heifer Daisy (who had been ill with redwater at the time of our last newsletter) went on to calve a beautiful white shorthorn bull calf to our bull, Firethorn, so Crumpet is now a grandma. Lovely to start having our own cattle family trees. We had promised our vet that any calf Daisy had would be named after him, as the chances of it surviving to be born after her illness were slim, so Chris he is!

After a nervous 2 months, Crumpet, who had been inconclusive on our annual Tb test in November, was re-tested in late January and to our great relief went clear so we are Ok for another year. We purchased a yearling white shorthorn heifer in January along with 2 roan steers as companions. As most of our shorthorns are reds, we are unlikely to have many white or roan calves, so the addition of a white in the herd means we now have all the shorthorn colours. We have housed our 4 young Devons with friends 'down the valley' for the winter as they are keen to start keeping cattle but were unsure if it is for them. Evidently it is as they have already ordered some for the spring!

After the wettest winter on record, the ground has been so soft that moving the poultry arks every other day has become difficult and the birds paddle the ground to mud within an hour, wrecking the field in their wake, so we cut some trees for logs and chipped the brash to provide chippings for the chicken runs. All the birds are now happily scratching away on the bark with clean runs and clean eggs, oblivious while I slip and slide in the mud tending to them each day! Roll on spring… I have tried to reduce the numbers of breeds to make things more manageable but somehow the incubator is already full with no space for more eggs already.

As you may remember, we have given up breeding pigs for a while but still have a few weaners at a time for meat and our Pig Keeping courses. The 2 Saddlebacks who gorged themselves on acorns in the wood back in the autumn went for bacon recently, so ending our bacon famine and have been delicious. Its been lovely to try different breeds again as they really do have varying natures. I do fancy trying some Middle Whites (the pigs that look like they've run into a wall at speed) but Ian is not so keen. We are looking forward to some Oxford Sandy and Blacks next.

Our first cow hide for sale

So, to the New Year. Our plans for 2014 include extending the cattle shed to provide more storage space for straw and hay, replacing several miles of fencing (literally) and Ian finally has the red David Brown 770 (the tractor in our logo) in pieces in the workshop for restoration.

For sale:

  • We have a selection of lamb skin rugs and our first chestnut red Shorthorn cattle hide rug available. Lovely for floor rugs, wall hangings, cot liners or backs of chairs
  • Taking reservations for fresh beef, lamb, mutton and hogget boxes through the season
  • Hatching eggs - bantam, large fowl, ducks and geese by collection or post
  • Balwen ewes with lambs at foot (from late April/May)
  • Spun wools in cream, brown and grey from our own sheep. 50g balls, 100g hanks & cones.
  • A selection of poultry feeders, drinkers and supplies. Details coming soon

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