We have just acquired a lovely beef steer to join our tiny little herd, taking our head of cattle count up to three! Although we also realised today that, realistically, we will have to sell our beautiful pedigree Jersey calf at some point. Ideally we would find some lovely smallholders who would like to have a very tame and friendly house-cow…. Here is a photo moments after the two youngsters met for the first time:
Our lovely sow, Barbara, had another litter of piglets a few weeks ago. She did fabulously as usual and produced 12 very beautiful piglets. Unfortunately, after that it went downhill as, each time we checked on her, there seemed to be another piglet squashed. This is her fourth litter and she has never squashed them before so we couldn’t work out why this was happening. Then Babs went off her food and we had confirmation something was up. From the symptoms it seemed like it could be Metritis (an infection of the uterus, possibly because some placenta had not come out with the afterbirth). We called the vet out (in the pouring rain and the dark of course) and he took her temperature, which was very high. He gave her shots of oxytocin, antibiotics and pain killers (I think). Then, all we could do was wait – the vet said our chances were better because we hadn’t delayed in calling him out. We were very lucky and about 24 hours later she started to improve. 6 of the piglets survived (although one is slightly injured, but looks like she will survive). It just goes to show, just when you think you are used to delivering piglets, you learn something new!
When our first calf was born here, we had a tough first few days as she didn’t suckle and we realised how important it was that she got the colostrum in her. We gave her 4 hours with her mother but then we milked her mother, Dimple, and tried to bottle feed her. This was not easy as even though we tried to imitate the angle and height of an udder, rubbed colostrum on her nose, put the teat in her mouth and cooed and cajoled, it took well over an hour to get even half a litre into her. This carried on for about four days but then finally, little Freckle began to get the gist of suckling! So we turned her out with her mother, which was nerve wracking as it was really hot and sunny and I was petrified she would dehydrate. When I saw no suckling by lunch time, I tried bottle feeding, to no avail. She kept her suckling hidden for the first couple of days until I finally caught her in the act. Freckle is now pretty big and strong and we’re having the dilemma of when to separate them, which is a much better problem!
On Saturday, Jules helped deliver a beautiful heifer calf. The birth was textbook and we were so happy after last year’s sadness with Dimple having a still born bull calf. Unfortunately Dimple did not let her calf suckle, so we have separated them and are bottle feeding the calf. This was never the intention and we were very surprised that Dimple did not even seem to call or look for the calf. The silver lining is that we love bottle feeding our latest new addition, even if it is yet another job! It took quite a lot of patience and encouragement to get her to take the bottle, but we got there in the end. Luckily milking has been much easier this time round and as soon as all the colostrum has finished, we will be making butter, cheese and yoghurt again! We are still trying to come up with a name for the little calf- so let us know if you have any suggestions.
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
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…..
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!