Properly easy (and quick) calving

We’ve barely got used to getting our first calf for 2019 last Tuesday but now all 3 calves have turned up. Compared to last year when the calving was spread out over a few weeks, this time around the whole business has been completed in just 4 days!

We’ve got 3 lovely heifer calves with red ones from Nellie and Primrose plus a black one from Daisy. I’d read online that the black gene is more dominant in Dexters but apparently Nellie and Primrose didn’t get that memo.

Daisy always gives us black calves so her’s is probably no surprise and so far hers have also always been without horns. However this is the first heifer she’s given us which makes a really nice change.

No male calves from any of them is a bit of a first for us but for the moment we’re just transfixed at the speed with which the calves become mobile. In no time at all they are wandering the field with their mothers following after them, nagging them to be careful and slow down!

Daisy with Hattie (left) and Nellie with Ruby (right)

Daisy was first to deliver early last Tuesday morning and her black calf has been named Hattie. Not wanting to be left out, Nellie decided during Thursday afternoon that it was time to join in and her red calf has been named Ruby.

The last to deliver was Primrose this morning and our earlier worries about her being a first timer were completely unfounded. After checking her at about 8am this morning, we discovered just after 11am that she had calved. I was particularly happy to see that she was showing great mothering skills by cleaning the new born and we’ve named her calf Petal for now.

Primrose with Petal tucking into her first meal

As always with our Dexter cattle, no assistance was needed for any of the calves and we could simply be curious bystanders watching the events unfold.

Sadly, our limited amount of land just won’t cope with this many animals so we’ve decided that Primrose and Petal will most likely be sold later this year.

Our cattle stay outside all year round – they’re a native breed and very hardy so the conditions don’t bother them. However that does mean we can’t consider keeping more than 6 animals at the very most through a winter.

Any more than that would mean our fields suffer too much damage and as a result the grass would take a long time to recover the following spring, assuming it recovered at all that is!

She will go to the bull again when he arrives around August/September but we’ll need to reduce the numbers so selling her with her calf seems the best answer. Perhaps we may even sell them with one of our 2 beef steers for company and that would be a nice little starter herd for somebody.

Calving has finally started for 2019

After spending the past weekend incorrectly trying to guess the imminent arrival of our first calf for this year, I should at least have predicted that it would happen while I’m away for work this week.

Some time in the early hours of this morning it turns out that Daisy produced a lovely black calf for us. As is common with our Dexter cattle, there was no need for any involvement on our part although we had made sure they nearer the house last week.

New arrival and attentive mother

This move meant they would be closer to our cattle equipment like strong hurdles and the crush just in case they were needed if any problems came up. It also keeps the cattle in a smaller area because at some point I’ll need to catch the new arrival to check the gender and apply the ear tags

In previous years, Daisy has always given us naturally horn free (polled) calves so I’m hoping this year will be the same. However in the past she has only ever given us male calves so this time I think I’d prefer a heifer (female) calf just for a change!

In actual fact, we’ll be perfectly happy with whatever we get just as long as mother and calf are both healthy!

A day trip for Sissy and Fifi

Since we moved to our smallholding almost exactly 6 years ago, we have made the Northumberland County Show a fixture in our calendar for us on the second Bank Holiday Monday in May.

It’s always an entertaining day out but this year was our first ever attempt at showing pigs there so I made sure my expectations were suitably low. Not least because it would be a long and slightly traumatic day out for all concerned if everything didn’t run smoothly.

As it turned out I needn’t have worried because our Tamworths were impeccably behaved. They coped very well with the attention and the crowds didn’t seem to phase them too much.

Fifi ignoring the general public

As might be expected, I was more concerned about the showing and judging aspects than the pigs were. However this part always seems to be a certain type of organised chaos with pigs wandering in all directions so our 2 fitted in very well.

We had only entered 2 classes – one for Traditional Breed Sow (Sissy) and one for Traditional Breed young gilt (Fifi) – so the hope was we’d maybe have one rosette as a reward for our combined efforts by the end of the day.

Sissy has caught the judges eye

Right at the start of the day we had a small setback when Sissy must have stood on Fifi’s back leg at some point during the journey. Luckily the excellent show vets were able to check her over (it was just a bash, nothing broken!) and gave her an anti-inflammatory injection which really helped.

Sadly though she was still limping during the judging of her class so she was marked down as a result and only got a 5th place. However I’m proud of her for battling through in such difficult circumstances.

Things soon looked up though and by the end of the judging we had amassed quite an impressive haul of rosettes because Sissy came first in her class as best Traditional Breeds Sow.

The win in that class meant she went on to enter the Traditional Breeds Female class against winning female pigs of different ages from other classes. Happily she won that as well to be judged the Traditional Breeds Champion Female and also got another rosette for being the best placed Tamworth at the show.

All in all it was a very enjoyable and successful day out but by the evening we were all happy to get back home to familiar and more restful surroundings

Maybe we’ll try this again next year? Perhaps… but maybe not because it’ll be difficult to match the achievements from this year!

As ready as we’ll ever be…

We’ve finally made it to the eve of the Northumberland County Show and, much like exam revision at school, I’m of the opinion that it’s far too late to do any more serious preparation now.

After 4 years of the leisurely outdoors life for Sissy, there are some patches of ingrained dirt that not even a jet wash can shift. I just hope the other pigs don’t snigger behind her back during the show. With any luck she’ll win just by sheer force of her personality and charm… but I doubt it.

Sissy is looking forward to a big day out

It’s also about time for me to announce that our second entry at the show with the pedigree name of Allendale Maple has now been named Fifi for day-to-day purposes.

This name was not chosen as a tribute to a distant Aunt or favourite actress but simply by using the first 2 letters from each word of her official herd number which is 55. However that definitely does suit my fondness for giving our sows old fashioned ladies names – Esther, Sissy and Fifi sound great to me.

Fifi has scrubbed up nicely since this photo

Now it’s time to relax with a cup of tea because we’ve done all we can. The trailer is even in position ready for loading and an early start heading of to the show ground.

If you’re in the area and going to the show tomorrow then please pop along to the Pig tent and say hello if you can. Sissy and Fifi would love to get some visitors as it’ll be a long day for them (and us)!

All set for the morning

Frank’s little adventure…

In the past we have cut our lawn and given the cuttings to our Dexter cattle. We also make sure that the pigs get some too and particularly at the moment since I’m trying to get Sissy into tip-top show condition for the Northumberland County Show at the end of the month.

This tactic has worked very well for us in the past but the cattle now recognise the sound of the lawn mower and start mooing loudly in anticipation of their feast.

Unfortunately I tried using our lawn mower on a high setting for keeping a test patch of rushes in our hay meadow under control. However the cows noticed the mower was close by and got themselves all worked up. Luckily I was only mowing a small patch as a trial so I soon stopped and I thought things would return to normal.

By the time I got back to the house to put the equipment away I suddenly spotted an unexpected figure ambling leisurely towards me – it was Frank and he must have been practicing his high jumping skills.

Frank taking his afternoon stroll

It’s at times like these that I’m grateful our Dexters have become so much more amenable and are happy to follow me if I have a bucket. Once I loaded the bucket with Supabeet – like sweets for a child – I was able to lead Frank back to the others all by myself.

While they all tucked in to their unplanned treat I was able to assess the dry stone wall. Luckily it was just cosmetic damage and mostly affected the top stones so he must have got plenty of height on his jump

Definitely not a clear round at showjumping

In no time the wall had been reinstated (in my strictly amateur fashion) but it still looks to be as solid as ever. These walls could have been here for around 200 years perhaps so it will take more than one cheeky Dexter steer to trash them.

I’m now just a little nervous though and I’m keeping an eye on Frank every so often to make sure he doesn’t make a habit of this

All sorted, until the next time?

All set for calving

Just a week or so ago we moved our small herd of Dexter cattle from their more sheltered winter home in our back fields. For the next month or so they will be enjoying the lush green grass in the very front field and they very quickly settled into their new home.

The plan for this year will be to move them all nearer the house again when we get close to calving – if we can get the timing right of course!

Once they are in the back fields again we can more easily round them up and, while we’re not expecting any problems, we will be more able to deal with any issues that may come up.

This year will be a nervous time for us as previously we’ve only had cows that have calved before because that reduces the risks of any problems. This time around we will have our home-born heifer (Primrose) calving for the first time but at least she definitely looks like she’s carrying a calf in there

It’s nice to see that Quinn appears to be quite attached to his big sister Primrose these days. However he’ll have to get used to being ignored once she has her calf!

Restocking the flock

Over the past few months, a few of our hens have decided it was their time to go. While we don’t have a problem with foxes in our immediate area(which is a relief), some of the hens still seem to reach a certain point and just give up.

It often happens that they look a little under the weather one day and then the next day a corpse is found curled up in the nest box having apparently died peacefully overnight.

This isn’t always age related though because we have some white hens (White Leghorns I think) that must be the chicks that are mentioned in an old post about new life and death with the chickens during our first year here.

During the first part of this year we lost one of the hens we bought less than 3 years ago but the others from that batch are still happily laying. There seems no reason for one to die and another to carry on but we just continue to do our best for them

It only took a quick trip to Durham Hens last weekend and we now have two ginger hens (always decent egg layers and usually seem to do fairly well) plus 2 other hens just for their looks or egg colours (one a Crested Blue for coloured eggs and the other a Pied Suffolk just for her feather colouring)

Crested Blue (far left) and Pied Suffolk (far right)

For the record, these have been named following the now standard approach with our choices of female singers but this time with the initial letter “D”

After a couple of weeks in a separate pen while they acclimatise, the new girls – Debbie, Dolores, Dionne and Doris – will be joining the main flock. Colin our adopted cockerel already seems very eager to meet them but he’ll just have to wait!

Time to try something new – pig showing

For the last couple of years I’ve managed to come up with good excuses for not showing our pigs at the local county show. However, this year I decided that I really should try it at least once so I can decide whether I want to consider as a regular thing or not.

Preparing pigs for showing can apparently be quite time consuming so I had been worried about over-committing myself in the past when there were other more important things to tackle.

This time around I’ve decided that I’d just like to take part without worrying about the results so I’ve managed to convince myself it won’t take too much extra effort.

The decision was taken to enter just 2 classes so that should help limited the workload. One class will see Sissy taking on any other older sows and the other class will be this years gilt (female) piglet from the litter Esther produced.

We bought Sissy at 2 months old and she’s been with us ever since so a day trip out to a show will be a real novelty for her. I hope she can contain her excitement and display her usual excellent behaviour on the day.

Hopefully she is in-pig after my AI attempts a month or two ago but it’s proving tricky to be completely certain from a visual check. If it turns out that she isn’t carrying piglets then I’ll have no choice but to try a “real” boar rather than keep trying with my amateur attempts at insemination.

The current show focus is on preparing both pigs – and myself – for the various tasks involved with showing. Everything from personal hygiene, a presentable appearance and impeccable manners when walking around the show ring.

In order to show a pig they have to be registered pedigree pigs so the younger piglet has duly been officially registered online and has been recorded as Allendale Maple. This is the formal name on the pedigree herd book and is made up of our herd name followed by the maternal blood line.

I’m carefully maintaining very low expectations for the show results and would just be very happy to have successfully got there, shown them and made it home again all in one piece. Anything else would be a bonus and, of course, whatever happens they’re both No.1 in my eyes!

Other pig-related news

A little over 2 weeks for Esther since her litter were weaned and she’s adapted very well to the quiet life. It’s all very well being a good mother but that period with demanding piglets can take it out of a pig so sometimes it’s nice to see her relax

No worries about showing for her, just a chance to catch up on her sleep and build herself back up. The plan is that she should be ready for another litter by the autumn with piglets to be born around January 2020 – assuming I can handle the AI without making a mess of it…

Time to consider the vegetable plans

Last year there just wasn’t enough hours in the day to spend any real time on the vegetable growing side of things. With a day job as well as the livestock and other land management tasks taking up all of my time, it was a tough but ultimately the best decision.

In the end I simply had to accept that some areas had to be left untouched and that they would inevitably disappear under the weed growth. There was no way I could keep on top of all the available growing space so it was better to tackle just a sensible and manageable amount.

A little extra compost to top it up

This year I hope to build on that hard lesson by increasing the growing space used – but just a little. A combination of shorter but more frequent weeding sessions and also plenty of mulching should help to keep on top of any weeds.

The first batch of outside seed sowing has already been done with some carrots sown in the left hand bed shown below. This also has a plastic cover over the top just to help protect it from the cooler evenings we still seem to get at the moment. The other plastic cover has been put in place ready for planting out other vegetables later on.

Very happy with the progress at this stage

Nearly all of the raised beds are looking very respectable at the moment and just about ready for sowing or planting out. The raised bed containing the soft fruit (far right) still needs some care and attention but that has a weed fabric in place so any tidy up shouldn’t be too difficult.

Now that it finally seems the last of winter has passed, over I can get on with some proper seed sowing the course of the next week or two. This will be a more concentrated effort because in previous years I’ve tried spreading the work out and ended up getting confused with what was planted and when!

When is a dwarf bean no longer dwarf?

The very first early seeds were sown a few weeks ago using a donated heated propagator but they have been a little too successful I think. These are supposed to be dwarf beans and they have got a bit ahead of themselves.

These poor plants also suffered when I was potting them on last weekend. The chickens spotted them while my back was turned and in the space of a minute or two they had descended on them.

Luckily the damage wasn’t too bad in the end but some of the leaves must have been a very tasty treat!

A sunny day means lots of moving around

The miserable weather seems to have gone away (for the moment) so I could start on some of the pending jobs that have been put off due to the wet ground.

First up was a move for the cattle into an adjacent field which, although not perfect by any means, is definitely better for them than their previous watery, muddy home.

There was a slight detour at first when the back garden seemed a lot more interesting to them. This was mostly due to Daisy taking advantage of an opportunity but I managed to herd them back to the right place without too much collateral damage.

Frank is usually the curious one

Once they were into the correct field they soon settled in with a bale of hay and some fresh water. A short time after the photo above they were spotted having a quick snooze in the welcome early spring sunshine.

As I had hoped, a similar kind of move for Esther and her litter went completely to plan with no detours or other shenanigans. So long as the piglets can see their mother they will happily wander along behind her. However if they lose sight of her then all bets are off!

Esther and litter stop for a snack

The hardest part with these moves is keeping everyone moving along together because they can be easily distracted by tasty tufts of grass, an old tree branch or a quick root around in the mud.

There was even a chance for the new (and nosy) neighbours to check on things as we made our way through the woods to the new pen.

Keeping an eye on the proceedings

In no time at all the pigs were happily into the designated pen and exploring their new space. Of course, Esther had to adjust the straw in the pig ark because she’s never happy with my initial efforts but she’s a great mother so I can put up with that.

It may not look much yet but it’s home!

For the piglets the first hour or so also involves testing the electric fence with associated brief squeals but it doesn’t cause any permanent damage for them and they soon learn the limits of the pen.

Now I can see that the weather forecast shows -2° C here overnight but I know the pigs will be fine, huddled in a pile with their fresh straw.

As for the Dexters, I’m not sure they’ll notice as they’ve still got their thicker winter coats for the moment.