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Goodbye Summer 2013

We’re full swing into a bumper harvest season, with LOTS of apples to process, jams & chutneys to make and veg to store, not to mention some pretty big DIY projects in the house, so we don’t have much time for updates. So here are some highlights of the summer just passed (and there’s a new baby album in the photo gallery for those who are interested). Happy autumn to you all!

plum-and-peach
Plum and Peach (two pigs born at Penybanc!) competing at the Royal Welsh Show

 

jules-and-potatoes
Our haul of potatoes!

 

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jules-and-lil-bee-keepingvegdigging-ditch

Summer 2013 Update

Jules delivering OSB piglets

 

Summer is always hectic on a smallholding, but it reached something of a fever pitch after Dimple calved. With the heatwave meaning we had to water the garden every day (and an acre of kitchen garden takes a while to water), Jules being in the middle of ripping out our hot water so being pretty hectic with plumbing, Melinka not sleeping, ditch digging, piglets arriving and learning to milk, I have to admit that I got a little overwhelmed.

We had always approached milking with a little trepidation, particularly as neither we, nor Dimple, had done it before. It is a long and boring story (so I’ll spare the details) but despite starting out well, milking got harder and harder. We even bought an expensive milking machine in the hope that might solve the problem but (as you may have guessed) it didn’t. The whole situation became totally untenable when we were spending a fortune  paying for grain to feed her in order to keep her still while we milked her, it was taking over two hours every day and it was becoming totally demoralising and depressing as the whole experience slowly became more and more unpleasant, culminating in a hoof to the nose. We were on the verge of admitting defeat and getting rid of Dimple when one of our neighbours (a retired dairy farmer) happened to drive by and saved us. He came round every day at milking time for a week and got Dimple used to the portable milking machine. There is no substitute for the personal guidance of a pro – we owe him a lot! We had read all the books and all the forums, but within 5 minutes he had taught me more than I had learnt in the last year of “preparation” for milking. So now life is just about manageable again, milking is done in a

piglet meets mummy

few minutes and I have even managed to do it with my one year old strapped to my back. It isn’t the romantic hand-milking I had hoped for, but I don’t feel close to a nervous breakdown anymore! It still takes a while to process the milk and clean the equipment but, as we only milk once a day, it is do-able.

The seven cute little Oxford Sandy & Black piglets were born in early July. Our sow (Barbara) farrowed right at the start of the heatwave. Jules had to tend her with wet towels to keep her cool and we had to move the pig ark into the shade the day after the piglets were born. They all survived that very hot first week, Barbara being a totally lovely mother. They are super cute and growing at a stonking rate. We have sold 3 so far and are selling another 3. They will be weaned at the beginning of September.

Sadly, we lost our best hens to a fox on Melinka’s first birthday – we never expected him to turn up in the middle of the one day we were all out. To add insult to injury, this loss was quickly followed by a buzzard attack on our growing chicks, which thankfully only resulted in one casualty but has made us realise we might have to succumb to the pressure and actually fence the chickens. Free ranging completely seems to be just too hazardous. We’re just not sure where we can squeeze this into the jobs list…..

Melinka tucking into birthday cake

It is such a relief to have some decent weather. The late spring and glorious summer has resulted in a bumper strawberry season (which partners beautifully with our Jersey cream). Now we’re in full squash glut and can see we’re going to have a ridiculous number of apples – are there any volunteers to help with cider making in October?!

The rain has returned, but it’s nice to have a break from watering, and the memory of that glorious heatwave, a week off with visitors and Melinka’s first birthday party in the sun will sustain me for a good while.

Happy summer everyone!

 

Goosey Goosey Gander

Brecon Buff Breeding PairIt has taken us two years, but we have finally got a breeding trio of Brecon Buff geese – huzzah! We bought two of them from a lovely lady called Chris Ashton, who has written a book on the subject and gave us lots of handy tips and advice. Our gander did not come from such a reputable source, so he is unfortunately probably not a pure Brecon so we will be replacing him with a gander from Chris. Unfortunately we were too late in the season to get goslings this year. It was very exciting getting our first two goose eggs, which are HUGE but we couldn’t eat them due to the withdrawal period after worming the geese. The orchard now looks complete with our lovely geese wandering around. They are called Jerry, Margot and J-Lo. Margot is rather tame and follows us around. She seemed to take a little longer to settle as a result. Jerry, who never used to honk, now honks at us as if he is defending his ladies (although he is still very gentle and not an aggressive gander at all). Jerry never used to use the pond, but now the three of them hang out there quite often. J-Lo (so named for her ample posterior) seemed at home right away.

Spring 2013 Update

Brrrr. Is it really spring….? The grass hasn’t started growing yet and the snow drops are still out but it is April!! We have run out of seasoned, dry wood so we have no central heating at the mo but we’re enjoying the beautiful dry sunny days, while they last.

With Jules doing a two month contract in Cardiff, we have to squeeze a LOT into the days (so I’ve included a photo of him looking all smart for a change). This, together with sleepless nights due to teething and the fact that we have upped the ante on the DIY front (having ripped our the bathroom and about to do the same to the kitchen pretty soon) means that things are pretty full-on right now – no change there!

News on the smallholding is that our Jersey cow, Dimple, is pregnant! Woo hooooo. She is due to calve in June. We have just ordered some milk churns, milking buckets, butter making equipment, etc. Hopefully our new barn will be finished soon so that we can start getting Dimple used to coming in at milking time, which will be once a day (rather than the usual twice daily) for the first year. This will give us about 40% less milk but should be more manageable with everything that we have going on. So in June we will be learning to milk by hand, which will develop some new hand and arm muscles! Next thing will be to learn to make cheese… but we will probably wait until we have a kitchen for this.

Pregnant Jersey Cow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hatched some chicks a couple of months ago so, until about a week ago, we had them in a box in the kitchen. Now they are out free-ranging but they are still not integrated with the rest of the motley crew of chickens. We have had to try and restrict the others temporarily as we had a daily egg hunt that we just didn’t have time for. Also, they were likely to start tucking into Jules’ seedlings….

australorp young australorp chickens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our poor gander (Jerry) – having lost his mate (Margot) back in November who we have failed to replace despite all our best efforts – has been acting very strangely. At first we kept finding him at the Brecon Buff Ganderkitchen window posturing at his reflection and now he has taken up residence during the day in one of our chicken houses (much to the consternation of the chickens). We assume this must be part of his nesting instinct, but it is very odd that he insists on getting into a house that is far too small for him and which requires some very inelegant clambering over perches to squeeze himself into.

Our sow, Barbara, has not been showing very obvious signs of being on heat, which has made things a little difficult, but we are hoping that she is currently pregnant as a result of the AI we performed. Fingers crossed! This would mean piglets in July.

Oxford Sandy and Black SowOxford Sandy & Black Sow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other that than, Jules has been rotavating, sowing, planting, watering all the veg at every opportunity he gets. Our pond is maturing well and is currently full of frogspawn. Sometimes there are wild ducks on the pond in the morning and the little ecosystem seems to be developing well.

The birds are tweeting, we have a glut of eggs and the days are lovely and long again, so spring is definitely here but now we just need a little warmth so that everything can grow!

P.s. Thanks to those who have sponsored me so far, your support is REALLY appreciated. I am doing my sponsored walk this Saturday to raise money for our local pre-school. I am still collecting donations – click HERE to donate.

From Pig to Pork

Chanchita (a Gloucester Old Spot) was with us for almost exactly a year. Being the runt of the litter, she grew very slowly and was quite shoulder heavy, which is not really ideal. Nevertheless, we were very happy that we gave her a good life which she would otherwise never have had and, it is not as if our pig rearing would be commercially viable anyway! Probably because she was bottle fed from just a few days old, she always was a slightly odd character. Slaughter is always bitter sweet and is quite a big occasion on our little smallholding and it is important that we make good use of every last bit of meat.

Jules did the butchery himself, which was a seriously long day for him. He has made absolutely scrumptious pâté, meaty delicious sausages (all using a hand cranked mincer – phew!), lots of ham and bacon that has yet to be sampled, mouth watering faggots (which has become our tradition the day after slaughter) and left us with a freezer full of pork to eat over the next six months or so.

Anyway, I am off to eat a Sunday pork roast so I’ll leave you with a couple of snowy photos.

snowy valley Brecon Bugg Gander in the snow