Cattle departures and arrivals

Last weekend was yet another first for us – the departure of 3 animals from our relatively small Dexter herd. We’ve never sold live cattle before so loading them into a trailer and watching as they’re driven away was quite an odd experience.

We’ve done this so often when selling pigs as weaners so perhaps we take that side more for granted but as this involved cattle the event somehow gained a greater significance for me.

Primrose, a first time mum, and her calf Petal who was born in June plus Quinn a one year old steer. All 3 were red and coincidentally all descending from Nellie – one of 2 original Dexters.

3 red Dexters, penned and waiting for collection

By the following morning it was as if they’d never been here. The remaining herd of 6 were happily strolling around our front field. The only visible sign that anything had changed was the fact that our herd is now predominantly black again.

Just 6 Dexters left now and only one is red !

Now we were all set for the arrival of this year’s hired bull – Rory – who is fairly young and dun coloured. He looks to be a fine fellow but perhaps slightly smaller in stature than expected. We’re wondering if he’ll need a stool to stand on.

Rory has arrived!

We’ve never had any dun Dexters here before and I assume it’s not a particularly dominant gene within the breed since there don’t seem to be many around.

Maybe we will get a dun calf born around mid-June next year but I guess that might be quite a long shot

Summary of hay making 2019

At first I wasn’t sure that we’d made the right choice when I saw our neighbours had cut and baled their hay meadows early in July. However we wanted to wait a little longer so that the wild flowers could properly set seed before it was cut.

There were a few occasions when I wished we’d cut earlier and I’m still not completely used to the tense times around some of the activities on a smallholding. I’m sure it’ll eventually become second nature but even now after 6 years they can be nerve-wracking times.

In the end, our neighbour came to cut our little (4 acre) meadow on Tues 23 July with the weather forecast looking vaguely suitable to my untrained eye. I don’t usually take the forecasts too seriously as it changes regularly but it’s the best indicator I’ve got for what may be coming.

No going back once the cutting starts

Unfortunately 2 days later there were some overnight thunder showers which set everything back a bit. A real shame because it looked like the grass was drying out nicely up until that point.

Still, when that happens there isn’t much you can do other than wait for a long enough period of decent weather. So we waited…. and waited…. but after a week or so it became clear that we’d never get the grass dry enough for small square bales as we’d originally wanted.

Finally we had a couple of fairly fine, breezy days predicted and made the decision to get the whole lot baled and wrapped as big round bales. So it was that on Sat 3 August the guys with all the right equipment got to work

Baled and wrapped

It was 11 days from when the grass was first cut before the crop was finally baled but very reassuring to know that it was finally protected. Since that point we’ve not even had a dry enough spell for all the bales to be moved round to their storage point though.

The bales will get moved in the end but it’s better not to be running big heavy tractors around over our water logged ground at the moment. Not that they are likely to get stuck, just that they’d leave too much mess if they tried

I know that some other smallholders didn’t manage to get hay made in time and it looks like August is due to be a bit of a washout. I’m currently predicting that this may even be the wettest August for some time.

Keeping the rabbits out

There’s never enough time for all the possible jobs on our smallholding so there’s an element of prioritising the available time. However, growing and eating some of our own produce will always be a high priority for me.

The growing season starts a little later in the year for us as demonstrated by the last growing update that was posted in April and featured very little plant growth. I still enjoy growing some fresh, healthy food from just a few small seeds though and maybe one day when I have more spare time I’ll advance to a greenhouse or polytunnel as well.

It can be tricky to keep on top of the weeding, watering and general care along with all the other jobs – especially in the summer months. This is made even harder if the rabbits are happily sneaking in to the raised beds whenever they want.

Good growth from the dwarf beans and swedes

For the moment we have a combination of green, plastic coated wire fencing in place with added chicken wire because the baby rabbits kept squeezing through the small holes.

This seems to have been working well recently, especially now that I’ve started regular detailed examinations and made minor repairs as needed. Earlier this year there was a major set back by about 2-3 weeks after one or more intruders nibbled the tops off just about everything.

Eventually I must get around to replace this ramshackle fencing with something more presentable but for the moment it’s just important that the one task is handled properly – keeping my veg safe from the rabbits!

Nice straight lines for chard, parsnips, courgettes, leeks, dwarf beans and onions

The raised beds are really starting to come good now after the additions from our compost bins, some well rotted leaves from a couple of years ago and also the ash from our biomass pellet boiler every month or so.

Mixed results from the carrots and leeks

With just one bed (carrots and leeks) giving me cause for concern at this stage, I have high hopes for an ever increasing harvest in the coming weeks.

So far we’ve only had some chard (very nice as always) but I’m hoping for some decent small carrots when I get around to thinning those out.

First courgette on the way

The first few courgettes are always exciting of course but I also remember that they are soon followed by a glut despite my best efforts at succession sowing.

Some beetroot seedlings doing well

While I’m not a big fan of beetroot, it’s so easy to grow that I can’t stop myself sowing some seeds most years. Usually it goes nicely with some salad or occasionally we roast some with other root veg. This year I’m also planning to freeze some for use later so I’m hoping that I’ve sown about the right amount.

A hard decision that had to be made

Now that calving has finished for 2019, our small herd of Dexter cattle has reached a total of 9 which, I’m only too well aware, is too many for the available grazing land.

It’s a heart-warming sight to see them wandering around their summer grazing now but that won’t last long later in the year. If we don’t consider the longer term impact then our land would suffer with the extra wear and tear received during the winter months!

While we managed well enough through last winter, at that time we only had 6 head of cattle and 2 of those were calves born that year so they had less impact. Not forgetting that last winter was relatively easy for us when compared to the year before.

Quinn, Primrose and Petal
Quinn (with horns), Primrose and Petal

This time around it’s very clear to me that we need to reduce numbers and after careful consideration the decision is that a selection of red Dexters will have to go. Nothing against their colouring of course and we were very pleased to get 2 more red heifer calves this year.

We’re now bracing ourselves for the potential departure of Quinn along with Primrose and her new calf Petal. Hopefully they can find a good home with some local smallholders who will spoil them rotten!

This will be our first time selling any cattle so we’re a little down about it because they are all home-bred. However, as with the many other tough smallholding decisions, you just have to deal with it and make sure you do the best you can for them.

Primrose with Petal
Primrose and Petal

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!