It’s good to talk

Tomorrow is 1st February and it marks the end of a very long, wet and muddy January, the beginning of longer days and (hopefully) warmer weather. It is also a day to raise awareness for mental health. Time to Change #timetotalk is aiming to promote taking the time to talk about mental health and help break the stigma.

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I am lucky that I have never been diagnosed with mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and depression, but that does not mean that I have not suffered with symptoms that point towards these things. I know many friends and family that have, diagnosed or not, which is unsurprising when 1 in 4 of us experience a mental health condition. That’s a pretty high number right?

Farming is one of the industries where mental health is not talked about as freely, mainly because it is such an isolating environment. I read recently about a suicide of a young farmer, who was 24 years old. Farming has one of the highest suicide rates of any occupation, with one farmer a week taking their own lives, which is a shocking statistic, but very much a reality.

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Right before I moved to Devon to start my ‘farm life’, I lost a very close friend of mine to cancer. I’m not sure I properly grieved for her, because I had so many other things going on in my life at the time. Trying to pack up our flat by myself, trying to find a job, trying to sort out tenants for when I moved out, travelling every weekend back and forth to Devon to see my other half and for interviews which I was constantly being knocked back for.

In Southampton, I had an excellent support network of friends, colleagues and a brilliant, often busy social life. I knew that moving to rural Devon would be a massive change for me, but I didn’t realise how much. The job I have now does not involve an office full of people, it is just me and the family of 6 I work for (who are super lovely and nice, but it is not the same). When I am not at work, it is just myself (and the animals) during the day and I see my other half at night. Occasionally I bump into the other people that work on the estate (about 5 in total, one being my other half) and I take every opportunity to talk to them when I can. But it’s momentary and fleeting and I certainly wouldn’t start spilling my inner feelings to them stood in the rain in my wellies and waterproofs.

By no means am I alone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get lonely. I didn’t realise how much I relied on my friends until I didn’t have them around me anymore. My other half has been brilliant and has noticed and picked up on changes in my behaviour and forced me to talk about it and confront these issues.

Those that know me, probably would describe me as quite a confident and outgoing person. But recently I’ve shyed away from many things that would involve taking a risk and possible failure. I’ve been very cautious and dare I say, clingy. On the outside it probably looks like the opposite, but social media, as we all know, can tell a different story to reality. Plus, it makes you feel good to share the successes in your life, why would you focus on the failures? No one wants to be ‘that’ person who moans about everything, when actually I’ve got everything I’ve ever wanted and live in virtual paradise right?

And I do. I try to remember that when I’m feeling these things, that aside from being a bit lonely and scared of the unknown, I am very lucky to live here and do what I do. And I am happy, happier than I’ve ever been. But at the same time, I have moments of lowness that I struggle to shake.

But I’m here to tell you that despite this, I’ve found a way to cope. I use social media in a very different way than I used to. I’ve joined many Facebook groups relating to ‘smallholdings’ or the various animals that I keep and recently gained a new-found love for Twitter, following many people in the same situation as me. I’ve actually made new friends, online and in person! One by joining a local charity fun run and one who I started chatting to on Twitter and realised we lived near each other, and we’ve since met up. It is such an invaluable form of communication, because when you’re having a bad day, it’s good to know someone else has been through it and come out the other side, even if they are managing a herd of Llamas in the Highlands of Scotland! I’ve been so pleasantly surprised about the friendliness of absolute strangers and their willingness to give limitless advice and guidance, which I have found so helpful and reassuring.

The friends that I left behind in Southampton have also been amazing. Even if they wouldn’t know the first thing about tagging a pigs ear or dealing with an egg bound chicken, they have all been so supportive of me, and many have made the effort to come out to visit. They still text and call and haven’t forgotten me, which I am eternally grateful for.

So today, I’d just like to help raise awareness with this piece by encouraging people to talk about their issues, or issues that they know other people are going through. Make time to talk, or even if they don’t want to right now, just make it known that if they do feel like talking, you’re there. Because I am, for anyone that needs it. It can be a lonely world out there, especially in the rural countryside, but you only have to ask for help and people will surprise you. #timetotalk

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New Pigs and Old Enemies

A very belated Happy New Year to everyone. Christmas 2017 was hectic but good fun. It marked my first one as a Mid-Devon resident.

It also was the first time I cooked Christmas dinner for over 20 people in my new job. I think it was a success! I then had a week of organisation and tidying of my own house, as well as visiting friends and family around the country, before having the parentals over to stay for actual Christmas. Christmas Eve was slightly overshadowed by the glass of our wood burner cracking and falling out. Obviously being a Sunday and Christmas Eve, nowhere was open. So we persevered and heated the house with an open fire, not ideal considering the flue is the wrong shape, so most of the smoke did not escape up the chimney. Cue a collection of sore throats and stinging eyes, not the ideal way to spend the festive season. Despite that, we did have a lovely time, filled with lots of lovely food, good company and far too many presents.

The food was particularly a hit, mainly because of the pork, including sausages and bacon all from our very own rare breed Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. I know I am biased, but the flavour of our hand reared meat was second to none. Making your own ‘pigs in blankets’ for Christmas dinner was certainly an achievement, which we remain very proud of. Also, lots of people received bacon and sausages as Christmas presents from us, which although unusual, I think were received well.

One present that I received, I have to mention, mainly because it involves a future addition to the menagerie. The other half has agreed that at some point this year I can take on an orphan lamb (or two) for fattening. Eeek! It will involve bottle feeding 4 times a day in the beginning, but the cuteness will certainly take over the inconvenience. I’ve asked if it can move into the house temporarily, but this has been met with a firm ‘no’, so it will probably end up in a barn and then out to graze perhaps with our friendly neighbours’ pygmy goats. So watch this space!

The first week of 2018, unfortunately brought us some sadness. Our beloved rare breed Silver Bantam drake, whom we affectionately named ‘Yoda’ due to his beautiful green head, was taken by a fox. This happened in the middle of the day. We had him about 4 years, he was our only unrelated male and life-partner to Princess Layer, our white Silver Bantam female, so we were all devastated.

A few days later, 4 of our chickens also disappeared in the middle of the day. There were so many feathers left behind we were almost sure they’d also all been taken by the fox. I spent a good hour searching nearby fields and although I did find lots of chicken footprints in the mud, alas no chickens were to be found. One of the missing was my favourite cockerel Bow, a massive Cuckoo Maran, but his feathers were the most left behind. I feared the worst and assumed he died trying to protect his girls.

The next morning I was getting ready and I heard my bantam cockerel Rocky conducting his morning crow, and I thought to myself that I am going to miss him and Bow’s duet. Every morning they would have some sort of X-factor battle, trying to out-crow one another. Bow’s crow being much louder and erratic than Rocky’s, almost comical. As if by magic, I then heard Bow’s distinctive crow in the distance! I genuinely thought I was hearing things, but I threw on my coat and wellies and went off to follow his call.

I found him in a neighbouring farm’s barn, proudly stood on a stone wall, crowing in all his magnificent glory. By some miracle, despite losing an awful lot of feathers, he seemed unscathed and only had a couple of scratches on his comb. I think he was happy to see me and calmly let me scoop him up and I reunited him with the rest of the flock. About half and hour later, we then got a phone call from the person who owns the nearby barn, who said she had spotted another very cold looking chicken perched by her car this morning. I went to where she described and sure enough, there was one of our missing Gold Laced Orpingtons, shivering on the floor by the parked cars. Unfortunately she seemed a bit more shaken up than Bow and was not as pleased to see me. After about half an hour of trying to guide/chase her back to our garden, I resorted to using a fishing net to catch her. Whilst carrying her back, I distinctly heard another cluck from a nearby field. Sure enough, missing chicken number 3, one of our buff rock bantam girls, was also in the hedge of the nearby field. Another half an hour of crazy chicken catching, and I had recovered 3 out of the 4 missing chickens! I was so happy! They were clearly chased and dispersed by our familiar old enemy, and I imagine that the remaining missing Black Maran, was not quite fast enough to escape Fantastic Mr Fox.

The next few days we kept the entire flock (now reduced to 18) inside their enclosure, whilst we came up with a plan of action. We considered electric fencing, but it is expensive, not completely fox proof (nothing is!) and also would not only electrify the foxes, but also the chickens, ducks and our inquisitive dogs. Woody our lab cross is already petrified of the pig fence (after being shocked a couple of times) and won’t go anywhere near the woodland, I don’t want him scared of going into his own back garden. Luckily (or unluckily) a few nights later, Mr Fox did return, for the last time. Whether that fox was the fox that killed our chicken and duck, we won’t ever know, but what we do know is that there is more than one fox out there, but there is now one less. I appreciate that we are living in the foxes territory, I appreciate that they need to eat. But there are so many pheasants, rabbits and other rodents to feed them in their natural environment, they do not need to take our livestock. It is an emotive issue so I won’t say anymore on the subject.

Finishing on a lighter note, the New Year brought us new pigs. Three Large Black weaners. These rare breed native pigs are rarer than the Siberian Tiger, with less than 200 breeding sows in this country. They are often referred to as the Cornish Black, as the breed’s origins are from Devon and Cornwall. They are also referred to as the ‘elephant pig’ because new born piglets resemble tiny elephants because of their large ears and straight tails. Their hair is unusually fine, soft and silky in comparison to other breeds of pig.

We have wanted this breed ever since we decided we wanted to keep pigs, but we found it difficult to obtain the pigs locally. We still had to travel over an hour to get these ones, but I’m sure you’ll agree they’re absolutly worth it. We have had them about a week and they have settled in nicely and are getting used to the electric fence, but they are loving snuffling around in the undergrowth and are already fans of belly scratches. I have spent most of the last week in bed with the flu, so I am looking forward to getting better and spending a bit more time with my baby elephants…I mean pigs!