And Then There Were Sheep

As the title suggests, we now have sheep! It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since we got them and I’ve probably experienced the hardest month of my smallholding journey so far, so it’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts and feel like I want to write them down!

This blog post aims to detail my sheep journey so far and a bit of an insight into how to try your hand at shepherd(ess)ing, from being a complete novice. As we did, always consult professionals, either experienced shepherds or reference books (Tim Tyne’s The Sheep Book for Smallholders and The Haynes Sheep Manual by Liz Shankland have been a great help). I would also recommend joining online forums and social media groups, in which you can chat to people in the same position as you (but remember many of these like myself are by no means experts!), but you will appreciate their support and kind words when it goes wrong and also encouragement when it goes well! There’s a lot to think about before getting sheep, so do your research!

Orphans

On 18th April after much deliberation and searching we bought four Devon Closewool orphan lambs from a local breeder. Two ewe lambs and two wethers (castrated males). The plan was to keep the females for breeding and raise the males for the freezer. When we first looked into getting orphan lambs, there were lots of people who advised against it. It is hard work, they don’t often make it, being weak from the start and you end up becoming too attached.

Despite all the warnings, there were people who said it was one of the most rewarding things they have done and having tame lambs, especially in a larger flock can prove useful. After weighing up the pros and cons, we went for 4 orphan lambs, thinking that if we did lose any to illness or disease, that we would have ‘spares’. Oh the irony!

One of the reasons we opted for the Devon Closewool, was that not only was it a breed native to the area we were living, but that it is also a rare breed. We currently have rare breed Large Black pigs and also a couple of Silver Bantam rare breed ducks, so it made sense to maintain the current theme of our livestock. They are reportedly great sheep for first-timers, hardy and docile, described as an ‘easy-care’ breed. Also, they are the cutest looking sheep we could find, if you were to imagine ‘Mary’s Little Lamb’ these would be it!

So with a dog crate in the back of the 4×4 I drove to the breeder’s farm to collect them. They were being raised inside a barn on an ‘ad lib’ feeding system, a bucket with multiple teats so they can feed as and when they want to, ‘little and often’ much like they would with their mum. They were all varying sizes, one fairly big boy and one considerably smaller girl, the other boy & girl were somewhere in the middle. They were all around 20 days old (give or take a few days either way). They were a bit mucky, particularly a couple of their back-ends, something which I questioned. I was told that because they were in a barn, they are prone to lay in theirs and each others poop, so it was nothing to worry about.

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Once I got them home, I posted on social media my excitement of receiving new lambs and a few people commented on their mucky bottoms and that I should get it checked out. I cleaned the ones which seemed to have the worst bottoms with a Hibiscrub solution and monitored to see if they continued with scour. They didn’t, so at this point I was happy and considering they had never seen grass before, let alone eaten it, this was also going to have an effect on their digestive system, so something to keep an eye on for sure.

The smallest girl had a case of ‘orf’, a disease similar to that of the common cold sore, very contagious to the other lambs and humans. In order to treat it with antibacterial spray, we needed to get the vet out for a site visit. She was happy with their condition, prescribed Terramycin (wonderful stuff!) and suggested that we worm them and start them on the Heptavac P system (will discuss in detail further down).

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Feeding Time

The first few days of feeding took a bit of getting used to. We were in the process of moving house, so the lambs were placed in the portion of land behind our ‘soon to be’ back garden. We hadn’t quite finished the fencing yet, but we made an enclosure from several lambing panels which was more than sufficient, a temporary solution. Orphan lambs at 3 weeks of age need a milk formula (powdered milk mixed with water) at least 3 times a day (if not on an ad lib system). We bought a bottle rack feeder which you could fit four bottles in and a bag of Lamblac. They need about 2 pints a day, split into 3 feeds, so at 08:30, 14:30 & 20:30 I was prepping four bottles and driving them over to the field (about a 5 minute drive so not too far!). What I realised very quickly is when you are mixing up Lamblac there are some essential tools that you need:
– A mixing bucket, preferably with a pouring lip
– A whisk
– A measuring jug
– Weighing scales
– A bottle brush
– At least 1 extra set of bottles & teats!

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Mixing Lamblac with cold water has a tendency to get lumpy if you don’t mix it into a paste first. Gradually add the rest of the water into the paste solution, constantly stirring with the whisk. I know this sounds as if I’m teaching you to suck eggs, but it took me a while to get the perfect consistency so it helps to know you can’t just whack it all in and whisk it, it won’t work!

The other thing I hadn’t quite prepared for was the lambs to be fussy over teats. The teats that came with the bottle rack pack, did not seem to do the job and none of them were feeding properly for the first 24hrs. I went to Mole Valley and purchased some alternative more rounded teats and this seemed to do the trick! Turns out lambs can be as fussy as humans when it comes to bottle feeding!

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The next thing you have to consider when feeding orphan lambs, is they tend to gorge on milk. They’re hungry little souls and when a large amount of milk is given to them, they just want to gulp it all down. This can cause lambs to ‘bloat’ and in severe cases can cause death. It is good practice to interrupt their drinking, I did it every 10-15 seconds. They don’t like it and will try and jump on another teat if available, but breaking up their intake of milk is similar to what they would take from mum anyway, so completely natural behaviour.

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I gave milk to my lambs up until they were 8 weeks old. They were getting some creep feed as well, about 4 cups twice a day at this point. At 7 weeks I dropped their lunchtime feed and then the last couple of days, they just got an evening feed. Some people recommend stopping bottle feeding abruptly, but this method worked well for us. Ours are 10.5 weeks old now and mainly on grass, but with creep and a salt lick supplement. At 12 weeks I plan to stop their creep and keep them as purely grass fed lambs.

The salt lick is something that sheep need because as ruminants they lack salt in their natural diet and need this to thrive and have a healthy immune system. They can also have additional mineral licks, specific for the type of sheep you have (breeding ewes etc) so it’s good to research which ones would be best for you.

Sick Bay

Sheep are prone to picking up different types of diseases from the ground, so as a rule it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their worm count, use preventative treatment for flystrike and consider immunisations for clostridial diseases, such as the ‘Heptavac P’ programme. This is the one that we used and it seems to be the most widely used and effective.

Although we started off with four lambs, we currently only have two left. The first lamb we lost was the middle ewe lamb, who I noticed was acting strangely when I went to feed them their lunchtime bottle at around 5 weeks old. She didn’t come to drink her milk and was very restless. Lying down, standing up, standing hunched over and her stomach looked quite swollen. I immediately thought it could be bloat and phoned the vets. They recommended that I bring her in.

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They took her into the examination room and I waited in the car whilst they treated her. After about 10 minutes the vet came and got me and explained, although they too thought it initially could be bloat, it could be something else, something which this vet had only seen in cows. There were various options, including surgery, but at this point he wasn’t entirely confident that surgery was the best option, considering they weren’t sure what it was and whether surgery would actually rectify the situation. They had already given her some pain killers and then decided on giving her an intravenous injection to help ease the swelling in her abdomen. They shaved her neck and tried to find a vein on one side but couldn’t, so had to try the other side.  The whole time you could see that she was not doing well, but I just wanted the vets to help make her better.

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Lambs and sheep can both die from stressful situations and this situation was particularly stressful for all involved. As myself and the vet were discussing what was going to happen next, in terms of the next dose of injection, one of the veterinary trainees noticed the lambs tongue had gone blue. They rushed her off the table and into another room to give her oxygen, but by that point it was too late. I burst into tears like an absolute sap, surrounded by 2 vets, 2 vet nurses and 3 students. They were all very nice to me and offered me a cup of tea. I agreed to have an autopsy so that we could establish what she had died from. The vet reported back that it was clostridial disease, a common disease of many strains that can be picked up easily by lambs, particularly by orphans that had not been given any immunity from their mums’ colostrum.

Heartbreakingly, this lamb had been given the Heptavac P (an immunisation against clostridial diseases) initial injection by myself about 5 days previous, but they don’t actually get immunity until the second dose, which wasn’t due for another 3 weeks. I think they call that bad luck. So I lost my first lamb and it hit me quite hard. I kept thinking about all the things I had done, all the things I hadn’t, but you can’t beat yourself up about these things, you just have to learn something and move on.

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Unfortunately my run of bad luck hadn’t ended and the biggest of the four lambs, affectionately referred to as ’38’ as that was the number he had spray-painted on his side, suddenly dropped dead overnight at 7 weeks old. We had started to wean him, only because he was the biggest and having spoken to the breeder, they had begun to wean their biggest lambs. They had suggested giving him a bottle with just water in, which seemed to keep him happy whilst his siblings still had milk.

Bucket

He had been experiencing a little bit of scour (diarrhoea) for about a week, which I was growing concerned about. Again, a call to the vets and they suggested that I take in a faecal sample to be analysed. There is a disease called coccidosis which is another deadly disease, but it is treatable. The vet analysed the sample and said although there was trace amounts in the egg count, around 15,000, the level of concern is usually when the count hits 100,000 or more, but in order to rule out this as a reason for the scour, she prescribed a course of treatment for ’38’ and also his siblings, just in case. This was an oral liquid treatment given on the Wednesday.

By Friday it seemed some of 38’s poops were starting to harden up, so I was hopeful that the treatment seemed to be working. All three lambs had their bedtime feed and the next morning I woke up to find 38 dead in the middle of the field. I was devastated, not another one! His eyes had already been pecked out by birds, so we had to move him to a place where he was safe from scavengers. We arranged with a local kennels for him to be disposed of legally, but this time decided against an autopsy. It was likely that the scour was an indication of something wrong, perhaps not what the vet initially thought, perhaps he had multiple things wrong with him, perhaps he died from the same clostridial disease his sibling had a few weeks earlier. Who knows. But as the old saying goes, where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock. Not very comforting, but a stark reality when farming or running a snallholding.

It took me a while to shake off the feeling of dread when going to check on the lambs, although it is still there a bit most mornings. I know raising orphan lambs is hard, everyone says it is, but I didn’t realise how hard. I think I have also been terribly unlucky and as a first timer and I have certainly experienced a very steep learning curve.

The Survivors

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The other two lambs, Peanut (ewe) and Rambo (wether) seem to be doing well, although hopefully that hasn’t jinxed it! I have trained them (sort of) to the bucket, which hopefully means that moving them about is much easier, in theory anyway!

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They are both full of character and incredibly tame. They have zero fear of our dogs (not ideal) and just want to play with them like puppies would! They love cuddles and scratches, and enjoy giving you a good sniff and checking you over for anything tasty. Buttons and shoelaces are a favourite to nibble on, but obviously I don’t encourage that! It’s lovely having them so close to the house, but if they hear my voice in the garden, they do tend to ‘baaaa’ the place down!

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I genuinely didn’t think I would have so much affection for sheep as I do, so much so, we’re planning on getting some Exmoor Horns to add to our flock next week, so watch this space!

 

 

 

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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!

 

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

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!

Famous Five Minutes

The last month or so has absolutely flown by and although I’ve been mega busy, I don’t have a lot to show for it! Although I did find an amazing reference book which has some useful and equally hilarious chapters!

Obviously aside from working hard, cooking and housekeeping, I have also spent some time seeing friends and family. I’ve been to Wales for a wedding, Liverpool for a hen do and Southampton for a general visit of friends. There have also been multiple visitors who have come to visit us here on the farm.

It’s great fun seeing their reactions to the remoteness, how beautiful it is (we’ve been lucky with the weather on most visits!) and how much our lives have changed. I feel very privileged to be here and the other half certainly works his butt off every day to ensure we remain here as long as we can.

I have continued to try and be adventurous where I can with my cooking, and it all seems to be going well. I even tried flambéing some beef the other day. I was initially terrified it was going to leave scorch marks on my bosses’ recently painted kitchen ceiling, I was relieved when the flames were slightly smaller than I had anticipated, but impressive nonetheless!

I have yet to make any produce yet in relation to my side-line business idea, but I have booked myself onto Food Safety course in a couple of weeks. I am hoping to confirm most of the knowledge I already hold, learn some new skills and get a certificate in the process, so that I am able to sell any produce I decide to make.

Aside from that, there have been some animal antics which have been keeping me busy. A few weeks ago, a beautiful stray cat appeared in the farmyard. It was a very thin, but very affectionate Bengal. An expensive stray, so we were convinced it belonged to someone. We began feeding it over the bank holiday weekend, as it was desperate for food, but the plan was to take it to get scanned at the vets for a microchip on the Tuesday. It turned out the cat had been stolen from Worcestershire and when the receiver/buyer of the cat in Tiverton found out the owner had contacted the police, he helpfully let the cat out and of course it ran off, completely disorientated in a foreign environment. Luckily it found our yard and as one of the guys that works there already ‘sponsors’ a stray farm cat, Lucy the Bengal (we later found out her name to be) obviously thought it was a safe place to stay! She was such a friendly cat, thin due to a rare kidney condition, so we were only happy to return her to her rightful owner, although a little bit sad to say goodbye.

My involvement with ‘Women Who Do’ continues, I recently wrote a guest article for their blog focused on the theme ‘Taking a Chance’ and I described my life as ‘Somewhere between Downton Abbey and the Good Life’ which I think is a fairly accurate reflection! If you would like to read the article and in the process check out how WWD are connecting and supporting business women in your local area, then please click here: www.womenwd.co.uk/single-post/2017/09/01/Somewhere-Between-Downton-Abbey-and-The-Good-Life

Lastly, the article I interviewed for in the Autumn issue of Practical Pigs magazine has been published. Despite being quite a niche audience, I got an incredible amount of support, not only from family and friends who rushed out to buy copies (you’re welcome Kelsey Publishing!), but from fellow members on social media forums, even strangers on Instagram who tagged me in their post, describing my journey as ‘inspiring’. Also, someone attending the house where I work, recognised me from reading the article as they had bought the magazine with a view of getting pigs.It made me all warm and fuzzy on the inside, thinking that I may have helped to encourage just one other person to raise their own animals for food, or even just to reassess their own food buying habits, and think twice about the journey their food has been on before throwing that packet of meat in the trolley.

Not a bad 6 page spread! 😉

Bake offs and Show offs

So far, unemployment has suited me very well. Apart from having no money (who needs that anyway right?!) I have spent the last few weeks since leaving my job with Lidl, mainly cooking. Researching meals, planning menus and preparing lunches, dinners and desserts. I’ve never been busier. It actually takes a lot more time than you think, especially when you’re not used to making everything from scratch. It has been fun though and I have I been trying out lots of different dishes. My other half has been loving life! This is not all for his benefit though, this is all for my new job.

The estate my other half works on as Head Gardener was looking for a new Housekeeper around the time I handed in my notice. Pretty good timing right? I always believe in seizing opportunities when they arise, so I put myself forward and was really pleased when I got offered the job. One of my main duties as housekeeper will be cooking for a family of six, in a lovely newly refurbished manor house. I can’t wait. I just hope my cooking is up to the challenge, bearing in mind one of them used to be a food critic! I have high expectations to meet, but I can only get better I guess.

Other than that, the animals have been keeping me busy and I got the opportunity to show off my rare breed Silver Appleyard ducklings at the Mid Devon Show yesterday. I recently became a member of the Rare Breed Survival Trust and offered to help out at their stand during the day. As part of the stand they like to showcase some rare breeds, so I offered up my ducklings as they are always a hit with people, especially children.


In addition to helping the charity out, I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to meet people, network and gain knowledge from people who keep and raise rare breeds, something that we are looking to go into in the near future.

The day before the show, in true British Summer style, it rained really heavily, which left the ground incredibly soft and wet. In no time at all, it was churned up into a complete mud bath. Luckily we recently acquired a 4×4 so it was perfect to transport the ducklings and myself to the show safely. However, I’d never really driven a 4×4 before, let alone used the four wheel drive whatsit, so like many others ended up stuck in the mud and ended up getting winched out by a tractor. Despite being slightly stressful, it was actually quite fun!


The ducklings loved the attention they got during the show and everyone who came to the stand was completely taken by them. I got asked lots of questions and people had a genuine interest, not only for the cute ducklings but also rare breeds. I met lots of lovely people and made some excellent contacts, from business networking to potential future customers! The stand also won second prize, so a great day all round. I even got to sample some local cider and cheese, so I was a happy girl indeed. Roll on next year when I think we will try our hand at entering into the poultry show! 


 

Farm dramas

I have just realised that it has actually been over four weeks since my last blog post, so apologies for the radio silence. Lots has happened, including quitting my job and currently being unemployed. Fear not though, there are plans afoot and I am in the process of being offered another job, with some side-line perks.

Our Oxford Sandy and Black weaners are now fully settled into the woodland and are loving life amongst the brambles. They were a bit more hesitant around us to begin with compared to the Lops, but they have certainly become a lot more comfortable in human company and currently enjoy a good ear scratch and back rub whilst eating their breakfast. Spoilt much?!

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We have also experienced our first pig escape. I was at work, so I missed all the fun/anarchy, but it just goes to show you need to be extra vigilant when it comes to ensuring the electric fence is indeed electrified. No harm was done, to the two pigs that escaped or the surrounding gardens, and I’m pretty sure they thoroughly enjoyed their little outing. One of the pigs didn’t actually escape and was visibly upset that she was left behind and missed out on the others’ adventures. Let’s hope she doesn’t initiate another break-out to see what all the fuss was about.

We recently decided to make our own sausages, out of the meat that we got back from our first lot of pigs. We bought all the materials and machine, and spent a warm summers evening sausage making. For future reference, don’t pick one of the hottest evenings of the year to make sausages, it’s hard work and we had to keep refrigerating the meat to ensure it didn’t get too warm.

When making the mince for the sausages you need 1/3 of fatty meat (such as pork belly) and 2/3 of lean meat (such as shoulder or leg). As our meat came straight from the butcher/abattoir, it wasn’t all neatly packaged and diced, ready for the mincer. We had to spend a considerable amount of time de-boning it and removing any excess fat or skin. The meat does not look anything like our pigs, but whilst trimming away unwanted bits, my other half came across one of the pig’s nipples, still attached to the bit of pork belly. Although sometimes it is good to distance yourself from what the meat once was (for emotional purposes) this was a stark reminder that our pigs gave their lives to feed us, so it was a sobering but welcome part of the process. Also, no-one wants a pig’s nipple in their banger (as it were), so we happily removed it, only quality bits of meat in our sausages!

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The whole process from meat preparation, to mincing, to actually filling the sausages took about 4 hours. 4 hours for 24 sausages is not a hugely economic way of making food, but it was our first time and next time we’ll be a whole lot quicker. We will probably prep at least twice the amount of meat in advance, so that the actual sausage making part is a lot slicker. It was good fun though (apart from all the stressful bits) and I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of giving it a go. Gone are the days of sausages being filled with ‘lips and arsehole’ but good quality home-bred pork sausages are certainly something you can not beat.

Our first lot of Silver Bantam ducklings are almost a month old now and partially feathered. They are growing in confidence and under the watchful eye of their mum, doing really well.

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We also have a second lot of ducklings, now about two weeks old, and they are still yellow and fluffy. Their arrival was somewhat dramatic (once again they arrived slightly earlier than expected), meaning that we had to set up an intensive care unit in the house. Cagney, our Miniature Silver Appleyard, was sitting on a nest of nine eggs. Six successfully hatched and when my other half went in to remove some of the partially hatched/dead eggs, as he went to throw them in the bin, one of the eggs started peeping! Slower hatched eggs usually mean they are the ‘runt’ and in the wild, survival of the fittest would mean they would probably not make it. Feeling confident though, my other half returned the egg to the nest in hope that it would hatch under the safety of mum. After a few hours, he returned to find the chick hatched, but it had been rejected by mumma duck. Fearing that it would die not being brooded (kept warm) by its mum, he rushed it indoors and placed it in one of our existing chick brooder boxes, under a heat lamp. It looked very weak and we were not entirely sure it would make it.

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Fast forward 24hrs and it was fluffed up, peeping and stumbling/running all over the place. Success! We gave it another night in the incubator for extra strength and then my other half stealthily snuck it in under mum during the night, and she was none the wiser when she woke up the next morning with seven ducklings, instead of six. We aptly named this duckling ‘Seven of Nine’ (only Star Trek fans will get the reference) and although slightly smaller than the others, it is doing really well (always the one sticking close to mum) but you would never tell it had such a traumatic start in the world. Duck heroes do exist and I luckily have one living with me.
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Other than that, life on the farm is as busy as ever, we have had several visitors and it is always nice to share with others, the lifestyle we have quickly become accustomed to. I can’t imagine exchanging this back for city life and I thank my lucky stars everyday that we have been given the opportunity to get stuck in with rural countryside living.

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Which of course includes saving the occasional lamb from finding weird and wonderful ways in which to kill themselves. This one was lucky that on a hot summers day we were walking past, having just fed our pigs. Silly thing had gotten it’s head stuck in a fence and had been completely abandoned by the rest of the flock.

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A bit of elbow grease, as well as kneeling in a lot of sheep shit, and this little guy was free to trot on it’s merry way to join the rest of the woolly suicide clouds.

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Honestly, sheep are a nightmare to manage and are constantly getting themselves into mischief, often finding new ways to die on a daily basis. Which probably means it will no doubt be the next animal we end up getting….. #watchthisspace