Winter Newsletter 2014/2015
Issue no. 32

The winter has been reasonably kind to us so far. There have been only a handful of days when the waters in the cattle shed have been completely frozen necessitating blow lamps to get the water in the pipes running again. We have had to use all the penning space as the herd is close to the maximum size the barn can house and juggling who is to be housed with who is an interesting task now undertaken by shuffling names on post-it notes until a reasonable lay-out is attained; mums with calves, bulling heifers away from the young bull, grumpy away from bottom of the pecking order, similar sizes together etc.  The cows seem very settled in the shed and have quickly got used to the daily routine of being shut back so we can scrape out their loafing area, then shut forward with new hay so we can bed them up safely without risk of being trampled. The 2 year old bullocks particularly get rather frisky when new straw is laid out and bounce around alarmingly; 500+Kg of excited beef bouncing in close proximity can be dangerous, so all of these operations are done from behind the safety of closed gates. Our straw and hay supplies are good for now, more straw is on reserve for us to collect now there is more space to store it (new sheds always required!) We mentioned in our last newsletter that an extension was in progress, no sooner than Ian had it finished, the hay bales were moved in and the cattle came inside the main shed. It has been brilliant having the hay stored just around the corner, making a very short trip to collect and bring it in with the tractor each day. The final bit of cattle news is that we had our annual Tb test in November and are all clear for another year. A HUGE relief. The first calves are due from mid-April, so fingers crossed the weather is good and they will have gone outside onto grass by then.

Lambing time is approaching. Two of the 3 new Lavender ewes have lambed and the third is improbably large and expecting twins so likely to drop any minute. The lambs are a beautiful slatey-grey colour. They’ve had ewe lambs so far, I am actually hoping for a ram lamb that we can put to our Zwartbles to increase the numbers quickly. I did go back and buy an additional 3 Lavender ewe lambs in December too. All our existing ewes have been scanned and confirmed in-lamb apart from one young ewe who didn’t get in lamb last year but was given a second chance and was not in-lamb again this year so sadly has gone off for mutton (should you ever fancy any get in touch & we can keep you on ‘the list’).  All the February lambing ladies are inside in readiness for their due dates and receiving extra TLC and feed. I do enjoy it once they are in the shed, I can waste many a moment observing them. The Balwens and Zwartbles are due in April so are still outside until mid-March.

Our first Lavender ram lamb

We have one Jacob ewe who each year is crossed to a different ram of ours, and every year I am really impressed with the size, growth rate and fleece quality of her offspring, so persuaded Ian that we needed more. You know what I’m going to say… January saw the arrival of 4 in-lamb Jacob ewes, due in March, so fingers crossed for ewe lambs to increase the flock from within!

The new Jacob ladies enjoying a breakfast treat

Ian is never happy unless he has a project ongoing, so this winter’s venture has been knocking through from the lambing shed into the shed below to make extra space, improve ventilation and access. This means I have an additional lovely new penning area for ewes and lambs to bond before going outside, and access to the straw stack from within the shed too. It’s all getting scarily efficient!
The chickens are surviving the winter and haven’t made too much mess. I have continued to cut down on breed numbers to make things more manageable and have even sold on some of their arks so I won’t be tempted to fill them again. Our current breed list includes: Large Fowl - Andalusian, Cream Legbar, Lavender Araucana, Lakenvelder, Cuckoo Marans, Copper Black Marans, Salmon Faverolles, Welsummer, Vorwerk, Ixworth, Silver Grey Dorking and Double Laced Barnevelder; Bantams – Vorwerk, Cuckoo Marans, Pekins, Orpington in Blue and Chocolate, and Sabelpoots in Porcelain and Lemon Millefleur. Ideally I’d like to lose another couple so that we have just 1 row of arks in the field, but am finding it harder and harder to decide who goes.

Each day new pens are starting to lay so the hum of the incubator is ever present again until June. I won’t hatch later than June like last year, the birds don’t do so well and losses are distressingly high. For the first time ever, we had a go at showing our Cayuga and Blue Swedish ducks at the SW Waterfowl show in November. It was a great experience and we even got some prize cards, marred only by the fact that a b****y fox ate them 2 weeks later, along with some cracking Cayugas I had purchased to add to our bloodline. We’ve had a super new duck house made as their modified garden shed is soon to fall apart and rats have chewed up through the floor.

Preparing for the show, ducks on clean bedding

As you know we run a schedule of smallholder related training courses throughout the year. After meeting Grant Brereton, poultry writer and editor of Fancy Fowl magazine, I have been trying to persuade him to come down to visit. He’s doing one better than that, on May 30th/31st weekend, we are hosting an event that Grant is running on Poultry Breeding and Genetics. It promises to be a fantastic day for anyone remotely interested in poultry colour inheritance and general breeding. We are hatching some specific crosses for illustrative purposes on the day, there will be give-aways and discounts too. For further information or to book a place, see Grant’s website www.gbpoultry.com

The last little bit of news is that we have some other 4-legged new arrivals at the farm. For those of you who have read our newsletters over the years, you will know that we managed to find a home for Sunny, my Appaloosa horse, and his Shetland companion. I really did miss Jack but realise I don’t have time for riding, so 3 weeks ago 2 little Shetland fillies arrived. One, Copper a spotted chestnut, we’ve bought and the other is on loan until we find a permanent companion for her. They’d not been handled so after 2 weeks of patient work, I now have them on the halter and leading. Very cute, and something to play with in-between all the farm ‘work’! 

New arrival, Copper, a spotted chestnut shetland filly

So, there you have it, no rest for the wicked as usual!

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