Another Dexter bull calf – the mighty Quinn

Nellie, our second Dexter calved successfully overnight last week and was also 2 days after my prediction based on the bulls interest last year. Any illusion of accuracy with this on my part is more by luck than judgement if I’m completely honest.

Quinn

Quinn

The result was another bull calf (our second this year) that we have named Quinn based on a rather convoluted and unnecessary method for calf naming using the next letters in the alphabet starting from the mothers initial.

Since she has been with us, Nellie has produced Oscar, Primrose and now (the mighty) Quinn. It wasn’t too easy having to work with the “Q” initial but in the end I’m happy with it and the name seems to suit him.

It seemed a good idea at the time since the names would always start with different letters – for example, Daisy has given us Elvis, Frank and now Garry. However, this year we expect Nellie, Daisy and Primrose to all be served by the bull so if we stick with the plan my “Q” dilemma will return next year when Primrose has her first calf!

Quinn (left) and Garry

Quinn (left) and Garry

As for the earlier calving by Daisy this was all completely unaided and apparently free of any complications although we’ve been a bit concerned about actually seeing the new calf suckling on the mother.

This is mostly for our peace of mind because the little guy is obviously doing fine so he must be getting milk, he just never does it when we’re around in the field. Maybe he’s a little shy…

Growing update – success and setbacks

While reviewing the older blog posts in preparation for the recent blog update covering our first 5 years on the smallholding, I realised that the livestock still take up a much larger part of our work than was originally expected. I’d even noted this in a blog post last summer but somehow I’d never managed to deal with this imbalance.

Originally I had expected that growing fruit and vegetables would be an equal part of the work involved and hadn’t thought there’d be quite such a focus on animals. Obviously that is just the result of the decisions taken over time and these were all based on the options available at the time so I can see how we’ve ended up in the current situation.

In an attempt to rectify the balance a little on the blog, here is a quick update on the successes or otherwise with fruit/vegetables for this year (so far)…

Soft Fruit and Top Fruit

While the blackcurrants have been a roaring success, the red currants have usually taken the role of a sacrificial crop. We never lose many blackcurrants to the birds but the redcurrants are always picked clean. I think that this year I’ll make a greater effort to properly net the bushes in the hope that we can at least try some of our own redcurrants.

The fruit trees (apple, plum, pear) continue to make good progress but, during the bad snowfall in March, things must have been tough for the local wildlife. As a result the bark was stripped from most of our fruit trees and I’ve kept my fingers crossed since then in the hope that they’ll pull through.

Apple blossom - Spring 2018

Apple blossom – Spring 2018

 

Pear blossom and bark damage

Pear blossom and bark damage

Autumn onions

I left it a bit late last autumn when planting out my red onion sets but despite my failings there is still a decent enough showing in that raised bed. With any luck we should have a usable crop and it’s been a good lesson to learn about the proper planting times for crops going into the ground in autumn

Mixed results for the Red Onions

Mixed results for the Red Onions

Lambs and seeds

Continuing the general theme of reporting minor disasters, one batch of seed sowing suffered quite badly with an attack of lamb hooves. The “little darlings” pushed their way out an enclosure and over the relatively soft rabbit protection I had in place.

Having just sown some rows of seeds only a few days earlier, I was less than impressed and I plan to use the whole episode to help me get over the difficulties of sending them off to slaughter in due course.

As can be seen in the picture below, there were a few gaps in the rows where carrots and lettuce should be but I’ve now re-seeded them and hopefully we can still make use of the space.

Limited seed sowing success

Limited seed sowing success

Success comes at a price

To end on a high note, after a couple of failed years trying to grow courgettes, I have finally managed to raise some that didn’t die within a week or so of being planted out. Unfortunately I can already predict the likely outcome when they start producing because I always plant too many and never learn that lesson!

Luckily we quite like courgettes and if necessary can probably find someone who’ll take any spares but if all else fails then the excess can easily go to the pigs and chickens

You can have too many courgettes

You can have too many courgettes

Looking back over our first 5 years as smallholders

Having reached the 5th anniversary of our move from suburbia to a North Pennines smallholding, it’s clearly a good time to review the current situation and take stock of our progress so far. Not least of which is where did all those years go!

The first task for me was to look back at my older blog posts from previous anniversaries and they were surprisingly informative. A little naive in places perhaps but that’s to be expected with hindsight and I’m sure that some of my more recent updates will look much same when I review them in the future.

Step by step

Apparently after just one week in our new 15 acre home we were already thinking of options and making plans. However reading that post though again now, some aspects don’t match the actual events so that’s a good illustration of how plans will change as you go along!

The one constant from our initial arrival is the collection of white chickens (breed uncertain) that we agreed to keep on from the previous owners. Although the cockerel has long since gone, the remaining hens still occasionally disappear off in random places to sit on some eggs until we can track them down.

Hidden chicken

Hidden chicken

The 2nd anniversary was marked by the dramatic events when the Dexter cattle made their big entrance before eventually settling down. At the time a real low point for me but now I’m not sure I would want to be without the Dexters plus the beef is absolutely amazing!

Around this same time, we also decided to convert one of the stone barns into a 2 bed self catering holiday let and this has turned out to be very popular. There’s a bit more work involved in running this than we might have original expected but it’s still very rewarding and we’ve had a constant stream of lovely guests staying.

Living area and patio

Living area and patio

By the 3 year smallholding anniversary it was becoming clear that we were doing more with livestock than I’d originally anticipated. Along with the obligatory chickens for eggs, we also had 2 Tamworth sows for breeding plus the Dexter cattle were happily calving unaided each year.

Daisy and Garry

Daisy and Garry

 

Piglets at the trough

Piglets at the trough

Now that the 5 year mark is here you can tell we’re getting more confident or perhaps that should be over-confident.

Despite our carefully thought out plans for managing the workload, we’ve decided to try keeping a few orphan lambs this year but at least these are just for meat with no intention for long-term breeding. This approach was certainly underlined for me when they decided to invade my raised beds and caused all sorts of havoc.

Some unwanted help with the veg beds

Some unwanted help with the veg beds

In general this is a nice way to try keeping a different type of animal for a few months but it’s not cheap with milk/feed costs and I’m still not convinced that I’d keep any sheep as a longer term activity.

Assessing our progress

It’s been a huge learning experience and immensely enjoyable most of the time with just the occasional negative moments. Even during the bad times though, I only need to take a wander around our fields and woods or just sit with the animals for a while.

This whole adventure has only been made possible through the help of our neighbours and the many new friends we’ve made since we started this journey. I’d be the first to admit that without that help and support we would not be where we are today.

There are always difficulties associated with having a full-time job along side running a smallholding but that’s not impossible, it’s only hard work and a desire to live that life. The subject of time management is always uppermost in my mind but cutting corners to fit things in would not always suit me You just have to plan out the workload for the time available and keep on going…

Another successful calving for the Dexters

In the end my rough calculations weren’t too far off and Daisy eventually calved at about 4pm last Saturday afternoon. We had kept a close eye on her and quite by chance went down to their field just to have a check during the afternoon.

When we got there we could just see the tips of 2 little hooves protruding so we knew that we’d timed the visit perfectly. It was just a question of waiting a few more minutes and then I got to see my first calving having missed others in previous years.

Definite signs of imminent calving

Definite signs of imminent calving

Very calmly she wandered over to a quiet corner and laid down. She was apparently oblivious to the fact that she’d picked the area with quite a few stinging nettles but maybe that was deliberate to keep me away!

The result was a healthy looking bull calf that we will be calling Garry. There’s no special reason for the name other than we wanted it to start with a “G” but after a day or so we decided he looks like a Garry so that’s settled.

The rest of the herd gathered around to take a look and to admire the newborn. However Daisy was always on hand to tell them to back off if they got too close.

Everyone wants to meet the new arrival

Everyone wants to meet the new arrival

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that, like the two previous calves from Daisy, with any luck Garry will turn out to be naturally polled (no horns). That would certainly mean one less job for us over the coming weeks.

After all the excitement, it was great to see the newborn up on his feet in no time and suckling well on his mother

Getting stuck in at the milk bar

Getting stuck in at the milk bar

Finishing last years hay and preparing for calving

By the end of April our small herd of Dexter cattle had managed to eat all the hay that we made late last summer. Over the last couple of weeks there has been some carefully planned movements between their winter fields because we had a family wedding lined up for the main meadows.

While they may have made an interesting addition to the wedding party, they don’t mix well with wedding guests so they were kept well away until after the event. Luckily we had some wooded areas with good grazing which they could move into temporarily.

Meeting the neighbours

Meeting the neighbours

We had originally stored around 380 small square bales of hay and at the time I was sure that it would last all the way through winter. However the tough snowy period through March meant that we got through our supply more quickly than expected.

In the end, we asked a neighbour to bring us just one large round bale of silage with his tractor so we could feed them through the last week or two and that did the job nicely. Yet another example where friends and neighbours can make all the difference so we’re always very appreciative of the help.

Daisy filling out before calving

Daisy filling out before calving

Based on notes I made when the bull was here last summer, I believe that Daisy will be the first to calve, perhaps even later this week. After that I’m hoping that Nellie will calve about 2-3 weeks later but this is all very approximate.

We’ll just have to let nature take its course and wait until they’re ready to produce. It’s times like this when we appreciate the fact that Dexters are an easy calving breed and they can be left to sort themselves out. We shouldn’t need to interfere but we’ll be watching closely just in case.

Once the wedding party clean-up had been completed last weekend, it was a simple matter of walking the cattle down to their new home. As usual they were more than happy to follow a bucket and since it was a hot day they weren’t in the mood for any rushing about.

A gentle afternoon stroll with the Dexters

A gentle afternoon stroll with the Dexters

Lamb update – 2 weeks in

Just over 2 weeks into our first attempts with keeping sheep and so far they’ve lived up to my perception that this is a fairly high-maintenance animal. I’ve tried to keep an open mind on the subject but with 2 lambs suffering from health problems in just 2 weeks it’s not been easy.

There has been slow progress with No. 9 (aka Limpy) and he still doesn’t put much weight on his left front leg. After a check from the vet last week then some further care and attention over the last few days he seems to be improving – just very slowly.

He’s always pleased to see me though but that might be because he knows that I’ll protect him from the chaos of the other 8 lambs while he feeds from the semi-automatic feeder. Life can be tough when you’re the smallest of the bunch and there’s a rush on at the food.

On a brighter note, Limpy was the first one to show any interest in our Dexter cattle and even went over to see them for a chat through the gate. I’m not sure who was more surprised by the meeting but they seemed to get on okay despite the size difference.

Limpy meets the neighbours

Limpy meets the neighbours

The most recent medical issue for the lambs was a swollen eye on No. 3 (aka Pus-Eye) who was also checked by the vet just to be on the safe side. As this is our first time keeping lambs it seems wise to get good advice when we’re not sure of something even though it’s not the most cost-effective way to raise livestock.

As you might expect this turned out to be a fairly simple infection with lots of pus (hence the name) and now that it has been treated everything is starting heal very nicely.

We’ve now become fairly well practised in administering injections on the lambs which at first was a little like trying to nail jelly to the ceiling. We soon got to grips with the best ways that worked for us and I realised that this is the first time we have ever needed to use antibiotics on any of our livestock – our pigs and cattle are apparently much more hardy and healthy animals

Swollen eye on No. 3

Swollen eye on No. 3

Now that the lambs are around 3 weeks old and we’re a little more used to keeping them, I can see some of the endearing qualities and the playful character traits. They are quite happy just running and  jumping around like a 4-year-old at the playground and the way they tug at your trousers like a toddler seeking attention is quite funny … but only for the first few times!

However all of this cute lamb behaviour is not so entertaining when it starts to threaten my raised vegetable beds which are just next door to their temporary outdoor run. Some emergency repairs were needed to the small low section of fencing after a number of the lambs decided to lean on and found that it collapsed.

Some unwanted help with the veg beds

Some unwanted help with the veg beds

Despite all the various troubles and uncertainty in just the first 2 weeks, I’m already aware that there’s a certain attachment developing and it’s already quite likely we’d try this again next year. At least that would give us more experience of the work involved and who knows, the next batch might not have any health issues at all – although I certainly doubt that

New arrivals and a new species

In recent months we have spent many hours telling ourselves that we had more than enough to keep us busy here. The pigs, cattle, chickens and our 2 bedroom self catering holiday let (plus my day job) are keeping us busy enough, not to mention the 3 cats making a mess of the house!

We had even developed the mantra “no more species” as a reminder in case we wavered at any point.

Somehow this careful thought all fell by the wayside and we have now taken on some orphan lambs from a neighbouring sheep farmer. This is despite my belief that sheep are too much like hard work and generally seem to be looking for a new way to die.

The idea was to raise a few orphan lambs through the spring and summer months so that we can find out what it’s like keeping sheep without much of the hard work like shearing or lambing – and hopefully none of the various ailments that sheep seem to get on a regular basis.

Only getting 8 so why is there a number 9?

Only getting 8 so why is there a number 9?

It was originally supposed to be just 8 lambs but when we went to collect them my better half had already picked out 10 as being suitable – presumably this was payback for my “mistake” when allowed out to buy pigs on my own a few years ago.

The deciding factor for me was that everyone else in this area keeps sheep so I should really try it myself to see what’s involved. Of course, it’ll be nice to have some home-grown lamb at the end of it as well!

We currently have 9 lambs penned in a barn with a semi-automatic feeder setup which will mean that we don’t need to bottle feed them at regular intervals. Number 10 was not quite strong enough yet so he’ll turn up later on. I’m just hoping that he doesn’t bring a couple more friends with him.

Happily suckling the feeder

Happily suckling the feeder

So far so good and they’ve managed to survive over 24 hours in the hands of two completely inexperienced beginners. Luckily the neighbour is fairly close by and will be able to help with some advice or assistance if that becomes necessary.

Second litter of the year

Despite getting up bright and early last Saturday morning, I was still caught out by the slightly early arrival of Sissy’s litter. According to my calculations she wasn’t due until that night at the earliest but apparently she had other plans and had done most of the hard work by the time I checked on her at 6:30am

First arrivals safely under the heat lamp

First arrivals safely under the heat lamp

However when I first tried to open the shed door I could see there was a single tiny, cold piglet well away from the heat lamp and blocking the door from opening. Luckily we have another entrance to that shed so I was able to get in and check whether it was likely to survive. At first glance I didn’t hold out much hope as she was hardly moving but being a lifelong optimist I felt we had to try.

The almost lifeless piglet was immediately named “Sick Note” and put into intensive care using our previously successful methods. It’s nothing fancy and doesn’t involve expensive equipment, just an insulated bag with an ordinary hot water bottle wrapped in a towel at the bottom because the most urgent thing is to warm up the piglet. If you can get that far then the next step is to get the newborn to suckle from the mother so they get the best start possible.

Life saving equipment for a piglet

Life saving equipment for a piglet

Within about an hour she was very obviously recovering and must have been stronger than I had originally thought when I first found her. Before long we were able to put her back in with the others under the heat lamp and by midday she was happily suckling alongside her litter mates as if nothing had happened (on the right below)

Feeding time for all 5

Feeding time for all 5

In the end it was a smaller litter than we had hoped with only 5 alive and 2 born dead but with pig breeding you have to take the rough with the smooth sometimes. Having saved one this time around I realise that it’s important to recognise the successes because they definitely help when dealing the inevitable tougher aspects.

Oh good! East wind and more snow

After the big snow fall a couple of weeks ago we thought we’d probably had the last of it. However as is often the case, there is generally a late burst here which catches people out. Even though the current snow isn’t as bad this time around, it would certainly qualify as a significant amount for any other winter that we’ve had here!

Our neighbours here in the North Pennines haven’t started lambing yet but it’s not far off so I’m sure they’re hoping that this is last of winter for this year. In our case, the Dexter cattle calve in late Spring/early Summer and the pigs usually farrow in a shed so there’s less worry with the weather.

Just as the snow started on Saturday, I decided that it was better to bring Sissy indoors a little early rather than wait then find it was too difficult due to drifting snow. There’s one good decision that I can be happy with at least.

Sissy is more than happy to get inside

Sissy is more than happy to get inside

This morning the feed rounds included a short burst of snow clearing as well just to get to the various sheds in our courtyard. Thankfully the snow is dry and powdery at the moment so any drifts are easy enough to clear with the snow shovel.

The problem is that the strong gusty winds just start to drift the snow again so that within 10-15 minutes any tracks I’ve made are already starting to disappear. This means there’s little point with making any major efforts to clear the snow until the wind dies down later today.

Digging my way to the farrowing shed

Digging my way to the farrowing shed

The prevailing wind here is generally from the west so this recent bad weather which features strong winds from the east is proving to be very challenging. Unusually for us, the east facing outbuildings have been getting snow blowing round the doors and drifting inside.

When feeding Esther with her 2 remaining piglets in the woods, it was clear that the drifting snow was causing problems. Their pig ark is carefully positioned to protect them from the prevailing winds but that means it faces east and the current snow can blow in.

New bedding needed to beat the blowing snow

New bedding needed to beat the blowing snow

The addition of another half bale of straw makes all the difference both for their comfort and apparently for entertainment value too.

The benefits of keeping native British breeds is never more clear than at times like these. They really don’t seem to mind the snow and cold wind just as long as we give them decent shelter with water and food at regular intervals

Thanks for the food and straw

Thanks for the food and straw

Weaning the first litter

About a week ago we brought Esther and her litter of 9 piglets into the pig shed to start the weaning process and in preparation for collection. At this stage they were just over 7 weeks old and had been on hard feed for a while so it was a good time to start.

This can sometimes be a tricky procedure once they’ve had a taste of life outdoors in the woods but this litter seem to be better behaved than some of our previous ones.

Room full of piglets

The initial batch of 4 piglets were collected first which left 5 piglets in the pig shed and therefore a bit more room at the trough for mealtimes. It can be very crowded around feed troughs with 9 mouths to feed even if we split the food between two troughs.

Bit more space at the trough

Bit more space at the trough

The remaining 3 weaners that we had sold were picked up a couple of days later and that left us with 2 to raise for pork ourselves. This was pretty much as we’d hoped before Esther had farrowed but you can never be sure in advance exactly how much interest there will be in weaners.

Esther and the remaining 2 that we’re keeping as meat pigs could then be moved back to the woods. This was very much appreciated by everyone because it means we don’t have to muck out the pig shed and they prefer live outside anyway.

Happy to be outdoors again

There is no time for us to rest though because we have to clean out the shed ready for the next litter which is due in a couple of weeks. I’m pretty sure that Sissy will be very glad to get indoors for a few weeks given the muddy state of her current pen

Clearing out the pig shed