Monday, 13 December 2010

2010 Wrap up

Apologies for not posting often enough, as usual the level of activity on our blog has been in complete contrast to the activity on the farm, it really has been a mad dash to the finish this year. The recent freezing weather certainly added to the mix and we needed to add defrosting water troughs (some days a good few inches thick) and serving up yummy haylage to the daily cattle list - all good fun though and I'm sure the cattle enjoyed the extra attention. The price of hay haylage is incredible this year and I'm sure it will get even more expensive next year. Mind you, the cows certainly enjoyed the tasty haylage and I have to confess that I find the sweet aroma of haylage enchanting, a definite farm smell!

Why so chirpy you might ask if it's been such hard work? Well as of yesterday our cattle are snuggly tucked up in a nice warm barn for winter and that means no more breaking ice in water troughs or worrying about the weather and how to get haylage to them. It means that for a short little while we can actually take stock and enjoy the holiday celebrations - and that is certainly something to look forward to.
At the same time a funny kind of melancholy kicked in about 2 minutes after the cattle had left the fields - the fields seemed empty and appeared to have lost their very life and soul, I guess they have. Luckily it's only for a short roll on 2011!

Here's wishing everybody a very merry Christmas, enjoy the holidays.

Until next year...

Tiny Farmer out

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Back to the valleys

t was a sad day on the Tiny Farm. We have just waved goodbye to our whole flock of Black Welsh Mountain Sheep.

They were sold to a fellow member of the BWM Sheep Society and are even now enjoying the lush grass in their new mountain home in South Wales.

Let me explain how that came about... Here in the East of England we have had very unusual weather. A long winter delayed our spring weather and this was followed by a prolonged period of very hot weather. That was very pleasant for most of us but not great for the sheep - as the grass simply did not get a chance to grow. We had to move our sheep to the hay field - so they munched through our hay crop before it had been harvested! We were not the only farmers in this position and many people in the area were forced to start giving their animals supplementary feed which they would usually not give until the winter months. The result was that the cost of keeping our sheep was going to be absolutely prohibitive and we took the difficult decision to put them up for sale. This coincided with much hoo-hah in the media about a "national hay shortage" and many reports of sky rocketing hay prices - and we were certainly not the only ones selling their stock.

The sheep were transported by a lovely lady named Lucy - and their new owner reported that they had all arrived safe and sound and in very good health.
We hope they will enjoy their new farm - and make the most of that lush Welsh grass!

Meantime we have our mini herd of cattle to be getting on with and we may well be looking at the sheep sales come next year! Mmm, now I do like the look of those Llleyns...

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Good Shepherd

Look at this

a mother and her lamb enjoying the long grass in the new field. But for about an hour before it wasn't quite like that...we had all the sheep and lambs on one side of the fence and one lost soul on the other! We were up feeding the sheep and noticed that one ram lamb was not with the rest of the flock. It was right at the far end of the field - on the wrong side of the electric fence. The lamb's mother did not seem to have noticed her charge was missing but when we went to investigate she came along too and started baa-ing to her lost lamb. The lamb was not tempted back by it's mother's cries or by the temptation of food - it was clearly very excited at the hawthorn leaves it was nibbling. It took quite some time to encourage the errant youngster back into the field. As he was running further away whenever we approached, we were concerned that he was going to end up on the race training track in the adjoining our field. Fortunately, when we turned the electric fence off, we were able to shoo the lamb towards the flock and he made a daring break through the gap we opened up in the fence. Mum and son re-united and the lost sheep back in the fold. Phew!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Little Lamb

We haven't managed to get a blog entry up for ages as it's been completely manic on just about every front - but I guess better late than here goes:

Sadly, not all of this year’s lambing was entirely successful. Our very last lamb born was rejected by her mother. Although mother and baby seemed to have some sort of bond – the mother nuzzled the lamb and looked quite protective – when it came to feeding, things didn’t go well at all. For some reason the ewe just refused to let her baby suckle. We checked for signs of mastitis and ensured that the mum was not “dry”. She was fine but for some reason she just turned away every time her lamb tried to get some milk. Clearly very frustrating for the poor – and increasingly hungry - lamb. We tried penning them up together and did a bit of force feeding but in the end the lamb was wasting away and it all came to a crux when we offered her a bottle one evening and despite her mother running in the opposite direction and calling her away, the lamb ran towards the bottle.

So she came home with us...

She was a great hit with the family for the short time she was with us – though the first few nights of bottle feeding and being woken at all hours by hungry bleats was a bit exhausting. “Lamby” quickly put on weight and was eventually weaned and eating grass and “creep” (dry lamb food pellets). This weekend she was officially adopted - and has now set up home in the Suffolk countryside. She is being kept as a pet lamb alongside another little orphan called "Lucy". We hope that Lamby and Lucy will be very happy together.

The orphan lamb has been the least of our problems with the sheep this month.
Sadly we have been struck by Liver Fluke. It is a rather nasty disease caused by a parasite that gets inside the sheep and eats away at their liver. Despite our quick response to the ailing sheep we lost two of the flock. The vet suspected it was worms but after conducting a post mortem he discovered the liver fluke. As a result we had to round up all the sheep (with the aid of our trusty, elderly Springer Spaniel – who thinks she is a sheep dog) and treat them wfor it. As liver fluke is usually associated with marsh land and we are on very dry ground in East of England the vet was somewhat perplexed as to how the sheep contracted the disease. None of the sheep had been on wet land before they came to us. So the most likely culprit was the hay that we fed them in the winter – which could have come from wetter ground and been infected with liver fluke.

Then onto fencing...while the rest of the country lounged around in the scorching heat enjoying leisurely BBQs and watching the World Cup, we spent the hottest day of the year fencing. We have to move the sheep on to better grazing as their current field is looking a bit sad and with the hot weather the grass is scorching too. It was quite a big job and the whole family came along to help. We put in an electric fence all round perimeter of the field and managed to knock up a dog barrier on one side of the field to prevent any more nasty canine attacks.

The electric fence unfortunately was contending with some very long we had to try and cut all the grass underneath the bottom wire. We didn't really fancy going round 3 acres with a sickle so thought of a rather unorthodox, but extremely effective, alternative... yep, our trusty garden mower which has never tackled more than a patch of suburban lawn before now, was put into service with the help of a huge extension cable and a generator. Amazingly it worked a treat.

There - a field fit for a flock of Black Welsh Mountain Sheep who were moved onto their new field yesterday.

Tiny Farmer out.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Fantastic Mr Fox

Well you’ve got to hand it to our friendly neighbourhood fox. Show him an impenetrable chicken run and he will show you a way to get into it. Our safe enclosure turned out not to be that safe after all and as a result we have again lost all our hens. Full marks to the fox though – a very clean job: only a few feathers and a spare head at the murder scene. We have deduced that it must have happened just after dawn. The fox made a hole in the top netting like this:

Then the trail of feathers, disturbed feeder and aforementioned body part led us to the hole at the other side of the run:

Enter, kill, exit. A perfectly executed multiple assassination job.

Of course, in retrospect the netting was not strong enough and we had not checked that every corner was tightly tied down. But the ingenuity of Mr Fox is really amazing. We suspect that he must have been casing the joint for some time before going in for the kill. Possibly this is why the chickens were not laying as well as they had been. Poor chicks...and good bye to those beautiful green eggs.

It is now a battle of wills with the fox – and we are determined that our next hens will have a long and happy life. The chicken fortress is going to be further reinforced and surrounded by the electric fence before we consider getting any more hens. Cambridge Poultry here we come....again.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Off with the Winter Woollies!

Mid May and it is time for our sheep to take off their winter coats and get ready for summer. From this winter woolly look:

To this dare to bare summer number:

It is quite a transformation and not surprising that the poor lambs did not recognise their new look mums. It took several minutes for each lamb to be convinced that there hadn’t been a sneaky mum-switch operation in progress!

We have a new shearer this year.

His name is Harry, he lives locally and he arrived with all the requisite shearing equipment – holding pen, super duper shears and, we noted, even specialist footwear...


These sheep shoes are made in New Zealand (of course) out of sheepskin which apparently is less slippy than manmade soles when there is a lot of lanolin around. The ruched fronts help the shearer grip onto the sheep and the flat soles reduce the incredible pressure on your back when you are bent over for hours shearing sheep.

The flock was rounded up into our pen and then brought into the holding pen to wait for their turn. It is always fascinating to watch as it is a highly skilled job. Many shearers, like Harry, do demonstrations at country shows.

Although it is not very warm at the moment, we were delighted to get the sheep shorn as we are increasingly concerned about the incidence of Fly Strike in the area. Indeed the shearer told us that this was the first flock he had visited that had not been affected by this horrible disease (basically, flies lay their eggs in faeces around the sheep’s tail, then the maggots burrow into the animal’s skin resulting in a very nasty infection). It is far less likely that this will occur if there is no matted wool on the sheep.

We have decided to send all our wool to the Wool Marketing Board. We collect it all up in an official “wool sheet” (which is less a “sheet” than a large, smelly white sack) and the WMB collect it. They pay a market rate for all the usable fleeces they receive. However, as cotton and synthetic fibres are now so popular, the price of wool is very low and is it unlikely that we will even recoup the cost of shearing when we finally receive a cheque from the WMB. Indeed our wool is worth even less than average because it is black and has to be dyed white before it can be used in any way.

We also have a lot of off cuts and a bag of white wool that we will store away for our various craft projects. We learnt that the Black Welsh Mountain wool is unusually hard to spin because the sheep are so small and the wool relatively short, the fibres do not bind together easily. We are still pining for a woolly jumper made from our own wool – but as none of us have managed to spin a single piece of yarn yet and there is not a knitter in the household I think that may remain an unfulfilled ambition for a while yet. This year’s wool projects will be: trying to make felt and creating a decent sized woollen rug on the peg loom.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

What a busy week...

Well it's been a very busy week for the Tiny Farmers and we've had all sorts going on and the highs and lows that go with that. The one thing we've not had is time...

It started last Thursday with one of our Highland cows separating itself from the rest of the herd, it had a nasty cough and quite laboured breathing. We called the vet out first thing on Friday morning and tried to catch the cow in the field as we had not had time to build the cattle holding pen yet. The cow certainly wasn't sick enough to allow itself to be caught. The vet said that he had seen cattle in a worse state and thought there would be time to get the mobile cattle pen on Saturday morning and treat it then. He left us with 4 injections for the cow. We set out early Saturday morning to collect the mobile holding pen and load it up. We arrived at our fields with the pen only to find that the cow had died already - a real shame and we only wish we could have done more to save it. The rest of the herd have now all started with a slight cough and we'll be giving them all some medicine to stop the respiratory virus in its tracks. Fingers crossed!

We've also had an orphaned lamb that has been taking up some time. Unfortunately the mum did not want to feed the lamb and we've had to step in and bottle feed it. It needed a jab of medicine on Sunday as it too was not well - luckily it looks like the lamb has now turned the corner and is starting to put on some weight and is running around again. The lamb has started having some creep feed which is great news. We'll wean it off the bottle at 1 month old.

So that's it - never a dull moment... will get some pictures up soon.

Tiny Farmer out