There’s more to life than livestock

After having such a busy past few weeks, the blog updates inevitably had to suffer. There have been far too many things going on (both cows calving, piglets weaned/sold etc.) as well as our popular holiday let not to mention the full-time day job and there are only so many hours in the day.

It’s definitely time for some updates on the other aspects of life on our North Pennines smallholding.

Chickens

Our 2 egg laying hens are doing us proud lately with regular egg production and also looking pretty good while they stroll leisurely around the place as if they owned it.

The good looking egg layers

The good looking egg layers

For the record, they are named Birdy and Babs after female singers. Babs (on the right in the photo) is a Columbine and she lays blue eggs with an occasional double-yokers for good measure.

Raised Beds

After a slow start to the growing season, things are now looking a little more respectable but there are still a couple of empty patches due to earlier failures or poor growth. These will be filled very soon with something else so that we at least get something out of each raised bed

The current pride and joy is the middle raised bed which this year holds a selection of vegetables, all of which seem to be doing very well.

Reassuringly straight lines

Reassuringly straight lines

From left to right – lettuce, leeks, chard (recently harvested and very tasty), carrots, swede, more carrots and finally some rather unimpressive peas (luckily just out of shot)

Fruit Trees

Last year was not such a good year for the fruit trees, mostly I think because we have a large number of jackdaws and other birds in the general area who must have been hungry!

Hopefully I can get more organised this year and protect the fruit before the birds start attacking them.

A promising haul of apples

A promising haul of apples

As for the pears, it might not seem like much to others but last year we had no sign of any pears. This year one of the two trees actually has some fruit – although to be honest, I shouldn’t use the term “some fruit” when there’s only a single pear!

One pear is not a pair

One pear is not a pair

First Dexter calf for 2017

Despite my recent amateur efforts at calculating a calving date, Nellie decided to hold on for just a few days more – probably just so she could laugh at me checking on her every few hours.

As luck would have it, she held on until I had just left for a business trip so I didn’t witness the actual event but luckily someone else was on hand to take a few photographs for me.

I wouldn’t expect to be directly involved in their calving anyway because both cows have calved before plus Dexters generally have very few problems when calving.

Less than an hour old

Less than an hour old

Last time around both cows calved during the winter months (in December 2015 and February 2016) because we bought them in-calf and the previous owners had some delays with the bull arriving at their place.

During summer 2016 we were lucky that some friends who also keep Dexters had already organised a bull for their herd which made it easy to arrange for him to visit our 2 cows at a suitable point.

We now have a red calf called either Percy or more likely Primrose based on my initial quick inspections while trying not to upset his/her mother. A third inspection is scheduled for later today and at the same time I may also deal with the ear tagging before the calf gets any more agile on its feet and therefore harder to catch!

Just over 2 days old

Just over 2 days old

And here is a quick snap of the complete happy family with mother (Nellie) plus previous calf (Oscar) who is 18 months old and the new-born:

Happy single parent families

Happy single parent families

Reaching another milestone

Surprisingly, today marks the 4th anniversary of the move to our smallholding in the North Pennines. This is hard to believe partly because it’s just 4 years since we left the suburban semi-detached house but also because it feels longer than 4 years given that so much has happened in that time.

From having 3 chickens in our suburban back garden to a 15 acre smallholding with an assortment of chickens, some rare breed Tamworth pigs (plus piglets) and some pedigree Dexter cows (plus calves). It’s been an amazing journey so far even just from a livestock perspective never mind the converted barn for holiday lets.

The ups and downs along the way have been both educational and humbling in equal measure but the overwhelming feeling is that we have been extremely lucky and we should continue trying to make the most of the opportunity.

We have been helped along the way by far too many people to mention but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate all the help and advice provided though. We still have a lot to learn though and without the knowledge and experience of others we definitely wouldn’t have made it this far.

Over time it’s becoming clear that there will never be a point when we can just sit back and relax. Mostly because there’s always a job that needs to be done or another mad idea to plan and pursue. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

To celebrate this significant milestone, here are a few of my favourite pictures from the past 4 years

 

Preparing for this years calving

After all the excitement with litters of pigs over the last few months, it’s now time to think about the cattle and get ready for calving again. The last time they calved we missed the actual event but were on hand within an hour or two to check on both mother and new-born calf.

Our calculations for calving dates this year are based entirely on the dates for the bulls visit last year and their level of interest in him at different times during his stay. Apparently the usual gestation period for cattle of 283 days can be out by as much as 7 days (earlier or later) but I’ve calculated the dates as being 26 May for Nellie and 7 June for Daisy.

Spotting the signs

A good indicator that calving is getting closer is how the cows body changes in preparation for the event. The first visible signs were a noticeable increase in udder size on Nellie who is due first when compared with Daisy who should be almost 2 weeks later.

Nellie (top) and Daisy (bottom)

Nellie (top) and Daisy (bottom)

We could have had a vet in to check/scan them in the early stages just to confirm that they were in-calf but we decided that made no difference to our plans. If they both had calves that would be great but with just 2 cows this is still a bit of an experiment for us. It won’t be the end of the world if it turns out one of them wasn’t in-calf but I hope that isn’t the case.

Finding some grass

Our top concern for the moment is having somewhere with enough grass for them to eat while still being secluded enough to offer a little privacy for calving. For the last few weeks all 4 Dexters have been out in the front fields to give the back fields a chance to recover a little from the rough treatment over winter.

A stay in the front fields is always a bit of an adventure for them and they have enjoyed exploring the furthest corners over the last few weeks.  As the picture below shows, even the youngest calf – Elvis – enjoyed himself despite still being a little too short to see over the walls in places. Luckily these old dry stone walls have “smoot holes” which are designed to allow sheep to pass through.

A special calf viewing hole

A special calf viewing hole

A lesser concern for me is whether to separate the current calves – Oscar and Elvis – from the herd before the new calves appear. There is a slight worry that their occasionally more boisterous behaviour could be a problem when the new-born calves appear or even that the 2 cows might be a little over-protective.

I think we’ll just have to wait and see how that goes but I’m certainly going to have a plan in mind if it becomes necessary.

Another litter of Tamworth weaners for sale

*UPDATED*

We still have a few Tamworth piglets available for sale out of the most recent litter (some are already reserved). The mother – Esther – is a registered pedigree sow, very good-natured and calm around people. These are good hardy stock, well suited to living outside all year round although we usually bring our sows inside to farrow – both for our convenience and their comfort.

Born on April 5 so they will be ready to go by the last weekend in May but both the sow and her litter can be seen before then if required. They are currently living outside in woodland so they will be used to electric fencing.

Esther and piglets

Esther and piglets

We are in the Allen Valleys (Northumberland) at the very northern end of the North Pennines. All buyers must have a CPH number

Price is £45 each. Please use the form below to get in touch:

Moving day for the latest litter

After enjoying the comforts of the farrowing shed for a few weeks, it was finally time for the latest litter to move outside to the woods.

This is mostly because they are getting a bit more adventurous now with more interest in exploring but also so that they can get used to electric fencing. This doesn’t take long and normally within a day or so they learn to keep a safe distance.

The journey isn’t very far but there is always the potential for disaster with moving pigs because it’s just not possible to make a pig do something or go somewhere if it really doesn’t want to.

As usual the first problem was getting the piglets to cross the threshold for the first time, this wasn’t helped by the fact that Esther decided to just wander off on her own without waiting for them!

Working up the courage

Working up the courage

Luckily we have fairly well-behaved pigs so, after a few minutes of minor panic (on our part) and some chasing of piglets in circles, both the mother and litter were safely outside and on their way through the woods to their new pen.

Off on a big adventure

Off on a big adventure

There was even some time for a brief chat over the fence with the neighbours while on the way…

Time for a quick gossip

Time for a quick gossip

Once through the last gate they just need to be guided through the opening in the electric fencing but as usual a bucket of feed works wonders. After that the mother and litter were free to explore their new surroundings, meet the big kids next door and eventually settle in to their new quarters with loads of fresh straw.

Meeting the bigger pigs next door

Meeting the bigger pigs next door

More new arrivals

The second litter of 2017 finally arrived this week, a little earlier than I’d expected but not by much. It’s definitely easier to calculate this sort of thing when using AI instead of letting them run with the boar for a few weeks. The AI date gives a more definite start point but the gestation period can be anywhere between 112-115 days so it’s never going to be exact.

As usual it seems, the quiet early hours of the morning were the preferred time for getting down to business. We were determined to supervise this time after the previous pig had farrowed when no one was around and a few piglets were lost as a result.

This time Esther managed to produce a total of 11 piglets with 10 born alive and just one that was already dead on arrival. Sometimes these things happen and we have to accept it but that doesn’t make it any easier.

I had watched the sow over the previous few days in the hope of learning more signs to look for when farrowing is imminent. I’m not sure whether I learned much but at least I got some useful photos that I can refer back to for comparison purposes when future litters are almost due.

On the day before farrowing there were some good signs that it wasn’t far off – for example, a great deal of “nesting” activity with the bedding straw and a general feeling that she wasn’t settling down. I also noticed that she seemed to drink more water than usual but I don’t remember seeing that before previous farrowings so maybe that’s misleading.

After waiting around for a few hours during Tuesday evening I eventually made sure she was comfortable and went to bed about midnight with plans to check again later. Sure enough at about 1:15 we discovered that 2 piglets had already made an appearance and the sow was getting ready to produce more.

Given the size of the litter, it’s no surprise that some were distinctly smaller and more delicate when they first arrived. However a bit of warmth makes all the difference so they were soon getting stronger and were able to start suckling on their own.

A little extra warmth for the small ones

A little extra warmth for the small ones

In the end we spent about 5 hours out in the farrowing shed making sure the newborns were safe and settled under their heat lamp. There was also a little extra care and attention for the sow as she had the hardest job of all in my opinion!

By the next morning it was clear that all 10 piglets had survived the night and were getting a decent feed from their mother. All in all a great result and even an improvement on her litter last year when she had 8 surviving from a total of 10 – a really good sign because the average Tamworth litter is less than 8 according to the information on the Rare Breed Survival Trust website

A heart-warming sight

A heart-warming sight

 

Moving pigs can be fun sometimes

Last weekend I decided it was time to move the latest litter out to the woods. It’s handy for us having them in a shed near the house but in the end these are outdoor animals.

I’m sure I could sense a huge sigh of relief from Sissy when she realised what was happening.

Not many mothers would enjoy 6 weeks in a shed with 6 unruly piglets – however cute they may be!

Keen to get outside

Keen to get outside

They were all happy that be outside despite the windy weather and immediately had a good nose around.

Stragglers soon caught up

Stragglers soon caught up

In no time at all everyone was happily investigating their new home and discovering electric fencing for the first time.

Peace and quiet eventually descended. I had to go back to check a little later because it seemed so quiet but I needn’t have worried.

Although it was a first for the piglets, Sissy was obviously happy to be back outside and set to work churning up the ground.

Not the best preparation for having your picture taken…

Happy to be back in the woods

Happy to be back in the woods

 

For sale: Tamworth weaners

We have 4 Tamworth piglets (castrated males) available for sale out of the most recent litter . The mother – Sissy – is a registered pedigree sow, very good-natured and calm around people. Sow and her litter can be seen if required.

The Tamworth is good hardy stock and ours happily live outside in woodland all year round although we usually bring them inside to farrow as can be seen in the photograph.

Tamworth weaners for sale

Tamworth weaners for sale

If you want to help support a rare breed and would also like some great home-grown pork for your freezer then these come highly recommended. Born on Jan 12 so they will be weaned, wormed and ready to go by early March

We are in the Allen Valleys (Northumberland) at the very northern end of the North Pennines. All buyers must have a CPH number

Price is £45 each but could do a deal for a single buyer taking all 4 of them. Use the form below to get in touch:

First time TB test for the Dexters

It always feels odd to refer to our cattle as a “herd” particularly as we only have 2 cows with their 2 calves from last winter. However that is the proper collective noun and, according to the official letter, we were to arrange for a new herd TB check which had to be completed before the end of 2016.

As might be obvious from the date of this post, that deadline was not met although not without trying. The main problem was that the cattle took an immediate dislike of the vet and one in particular – Nellie – was so unhappy about the idea that she jumped the fencing despite the barbed wire catching her leg. Luckily no permanent damage was done to the cow …  and the fence survived the incident too.

Obviously improvements were needed so we got a few more cattle hurdles (10ft wide by 5ft high) which meant we could make a larger secure area for penning them in. With the cattle crush fitted at one end of this pen, the hurdles could be removed to reduce the space available without any risk of escape attempts.

Penned in and ready for testing

Penned in and ready for testing

After a few more practice attempts with the new setup, I was happy that we could securely pen them in before the vet arrived. Of course, I had learnt the first time that they will happily stroll through the cattle crush on request when I’m the only one there but I still wasn’t sure what to expect when the vet was present too.

On the day of the vet’s first visit everything went relatively smoothly with the cattle being very helpful about getting in the pen ahead of the vets arrival. They weren’t so happy about being in the crush but I’m not sure I’d like that part either.

The cattle crush doesn’t hurt them at all and it greatly reduces the chance of injury for them (and the vet) during the procedure. In the end, the whole process on the first visit took no more than 30 minutes for all four of them with most of that time spent encouraging the cattle through the crush.

Three days later is the key part with the follow-up visit when the vet checks for any reactions to the injections from the first day and I’m sure the cattle were aware of the significance. They did eventually agree to go into the pen for me but it took a little longer than I would have liked which added to the tension.

Ready for the follow up check

Ready for the follow up check

Thankfully, we are in a very low TB risk area within the UK and there wasn’t much chance that one of ours would be a reactor when tested. However, there is always an element of doubt that is only dispelled once the all clear is received so we were very relieved to get the good news.

As a result of the lower risk around here, we have a 4 yearly testing programme which means I can relax now before I have to do it all again in about 2020

Happy to be out again

Happy to be out again