Book Review – Till The Cows Come Home by Lorna Sixsmith

Till the Cows Come Home blog tour banner

I have been very privileged to not only get a sneak peak of Lorna’s 4th book, Till The Cows Come Home, but also feel honoured to be asked to write a book review as part of Lorna’s blog tour.

The book is described as ‘Memories of an Irish farming childhood’ but the book is so much more than that. It transports you from modern day farming right the way back through the decades, even centuries. Lorna’s storytelling enables the reader to experience a multi-faceted world, like you are watching an episode of “Who do you think you are?”, discovering secrets from Lorna’s family history, and the history of the local area. Then you’re taken back to the present day, as if you’re immersed in an episode of ‘BBC Countryfile’ learning about real dairy farming and all the ups and downs that come with it.

Aside from technological advancement, the farming traditions haven’t changed much over the years and that is heart-warming to know. Lorna and her family have honoured certain customs and passed down priceless knowledge through the Sixsmith generations. The people whom she describes with fondness and nostalgia are all real people, but they could be characters in ‘The Hardy Boys’ and ‘The Famous Five’, books of Lorna’s childhood. You can picture them clearly and get a firm understanding of the way of life back then.

The camaraderie that is demonstrated from family members, fellow farmers, neighbours and the local community is reassuring and certainly reflected in what I have experienced since moving to the rural countryside. Everyone really does muck in and although Lorna had the same reservations that I did when I moved out to the sticks about being so isolated, I actually seem to interact with people and the local community more than I ever did in the city. There is a real sense of pulling together and learning from each others mistakes. Despite being accustomed to farming life, Lorna and Brian still made mistakes. Although you might think you know about animals, they will continue to surprise you and defy all the odds. Sometimes it’s not always a happy ending but you always learn something from the experience and it is a testament to Lorna and Brian that they continue to do so with such positive attitudes.

My favourite parts of the book are when the animal’s personalities come into play. As a smallholder myself, I understand the need not to ‘name all the cows’. Although my livestock numbers are much smaller than Lorna’s, I haven’t named all of my 23 chickens. I also never name the pigs for the freezer. The ones with personalities tend to stand out and I enjoyed where Lorna describes grumpy goats, stubborn heifers, fighting bulls and the very familiar ‘escape artists’ (there’s always one!). But my all time favourite character has to be Sam. Dogs really do become such a huge parts of our lives, whether they’re pets or working animals, but Sam in particular sounds like an absolute beaut of a dog.

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One of the reasons that I loved ‘Till The Cows Come Home’ so much is because I could draw a lot of parallels with my own life. Up until a year ago I lived in Southampton for 15 years, I would also enjoy long walks in the New Forest. I too miss the structured 9-5 days sometimes and the predictability of weekends off and holidays away, but I would not change a thing about my journey. Lorna returned to her roots, she grew up as a farmers daughter. I did not, although I grew up in Devon in a small village and now I’ve returned to Devon and it does feel like coming home. I think what Lorna and Brian have done is amazing and the legacy they have left for their children and the memories they have given them will be treasured forever. I love the feeling of contentment that you get as Lorna tells her story and the fact that it is now a book that she can share with the world is extra special.

Lorna-Colour (c) Damien Carroll low res

This book has a bit of everything for everyone. Whether you are a well established farmer, keen historian, a budding smallholder or just someone who enjoys people who take a bit of a risk to live their dreams, then this is the book for you.

Lastly I am so pleased that Lorna included the recipe for Biscuit Cake in the book, I am certainly going to try my hand at creating such a widely revered treat!


Double Trouble

This week I’ve had some time off work and it’s flown by. I had visions of me sat with a couple of good books, cups of tea and several packets of biscuits. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen.

Last weekend, we did a bit of local exploring. We went to Exebridge and a lovely pub called the Anchor Inn, right on the river. It was a lovely sunny day and a great spot to stop for some refreshments. Currently one of two new favourite places, The Fisherman’s Cot in Bickleigh is a close second.

We also drove up to Wimbleball Lake, an area within Exmoor National Park and part of the collection of South West Lakes. Not only is it a beautiful walk, there are several things to do such as fly fishing, sailing, windsurfing and other activities for the whole family. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Back at the cottage, there are always things to do. There are things to repair, things to build, things to clean, unpacking still to tackle and animals to look after. So instead of relaxing or doing any of those chores, I distracted myself with visitors. Much more fun.

I think I’ve mentioned we live opposite an organic dairy farm. It rotates its cows over several fields, and I was extremely pleased when the field next to my house was the field of choice this week. Cows are pretty inquisitive and mischievous. I may not have helped the situation by making friends with them over the fence. 

After that it wasn’t long before one hopped over to say hello. Well I can’t help being charismatic, to a cow at least. Since then the farmer has curbed their enthusiasm by putting up an electric wire fence. Party pooper.

We have actually discussed getting a house cow. Now this isn’t a cow that lives in the house (disappointing I know). Rather traditionally, they were kept in the yard and used as a source of milk for the family. There is a small breed of cow called a ‘Dexter’ (stock picture below of one next to a goat) which we’re considering. At the moment we couldn’t keep it in our current back garden (it might end up standing on a chicken) but there is room for negotiation with various bits of land nearby. We’ll keep you posted.

We recently seem to have adopted a local stray chicken. By all accounts she used to be part of her own flock, but one by one they were picked off by local predators. She’s the last one standing (we’ve named her Andi) and has decided she would much prefer to hang out with our ducks and chickens. She doesn’t stay all day, and sleeps elsewhere at night (despite us trying to persuade her otherwise), but we’re making slow progress. Hopefully she will eventually choose to be a permanent feature, but until then she’s welcome to use us as a bit of a chicken hotel. That’s her below arriving before I managed to let out our flock. Cheeky mare was waiting for breakfast.

Since being free range, our flock are loving life, some more than others. The ducks have been particularly troublesome in this area and our prize laying duck (Princess Leia) is the main problem. She has mothered two sets of ducklings over the last couple of years and she’s a great broody. However since gaining freedom, she likes to find awkward places to lay her eggs, despite us providing ample housing for her to do it safely.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had to navigate an electric fence to shoo her out of neighbouring fields, thorny hedges or bunches of stinging nettles. As much as she thinks it is a good place to hide, it’s not. She is leaving herself (and her unborn children) open to attacks from foxes, badgers, birds of prey and even stoats. All of these could easily kill a flock of ducks and chickens, let alone one bird and a bunch of vulnerable ducklings. 
Unfortunately our garden is not entirely escape proof and we don’t have the time (or the money) to make it so at the moment. In the meantime, we have to try other methods to encourage her to lay in a cosy broody box, and keep her in an enclosure to make sure there’s no break-outs. Her partner in crime Yoda (her mating other half Silver Bantam drake) appears to be her enabler, so he’s been locked away with her too. I currently view them as a feathery version of Bonnie and Clyde. They’re trouble. But also cute. So they’re currently in duck jail together, till we can come up with a more permanent solution. As you can see they’re not particularly happy about it.

We also got our first double yolker today! Hooray! Unfortunately there is no picture as I was making poached eggs for one of our guests, but I can assure you it was impressive. It came from one of our newer additions (we think the Splash Maran) who lays lovely chocolate coloured eggs. I wish they were real chocolate, but a free range egg is probably a bit healthier, and actually pretty damn tasty.

Lastly, the chicks are doing well. At almost two weeks old their wings are pretty much feathered and it’s only a matter of time until the rest of their fluffy bodies follow suit. 

They’re growing at such a fast pace, their food constantly needs topping up and soon they will need a bigger place to live. I have a dog crate on standby and if the weather warms up and stays dry, they might even be able to brave the outside in a week or two. Which will coincide nicely with the birth of our next batch of chicks! We got some hatching eggs from a local breeder and currently have six eggs cooking in the incubator (one wasn’t fertile out of the seven we put in there). 

I’m much more confidant than last time and I learnt a lot, so can’t wait to see the new breeds we will hopefully hatch. Currently rooting for three Gold laced Orpingtons and a Black, Blue and Cuckoo Maran. Fingers crossed! #15daystogo