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

Monday, 26 April 2010


Yes, on their very first day in their new home our chickens all produced eggs. We were expecting to have to wait some time for them to settle in before they started laying. But there were four eggs on day one and there have been four eggs every day since. We hope that indicates it was a relatively stress-free move and that they are happy in their new home.

The eggs are not quite the colours we had anticipated. Although the Leghorn and Maran Coucou gave us a white and dark brown egg - The Heritage Skylines did not lay the blue eggs we were hoping for. Ours are laying beautiful lightly tinted green eggs instead! Although 75% of Skylines produce blue eggs, some lay green, cream, white or peach coloured eggs. The green eggs are very pretty: just a pale hint of colour – like some tasteful Farrow and Ball heritage paint - which turns a common or garden egg into something very special indeed.

Our four year old is now the official egg collector and runs to the coop every day after school to check who has laid what. So far we have had scrambled eggs and fried eggs and will be testing their baking qualities later today. So far, so delicious.

The only quibble about these lovely hens is that they seem a little fussy about food. Our previous chicks ate all sorts of kitchen leftovers and were particularly partial to pasta and peas. However, De Cluk and Co have turned their beaks up at every delicious morsel we have offered them. If it is not corn, they will not eat it! Ho hum...back to the recycling bins.

Monday, 19 April 2010


Our back garden has felt very empty since the demise of the chickens. So, finally, we felt it was time to replace the hens.

Here they are having a pat before going into their new home:

So, please welcome the Tiny Farmer garden hens! From left to right they are De Kluk, Mabel, Goldie and Freelander2 (?!). And for those of you more interested in the breeds than their bizarre names they are a White Leghorn, Maran Coucou and the two on the right are Heritage Skylines. They were chosen specifically with interesting egg colour in mind. We found that people were always very excited to see white eggs from the last Leghorn we had and thought it would be fun to have some more non-supermarket coloured eggs. The Maran Coucou lays very attractive dark brown speckled eggs, white eggs from the Leghorn and the Skylines lay pastel coloured eggs – usually blue but sometimes pink, peach or jade. Skylines are an unusual breed derived from the Cream Legbar (that’s where the usual egg colour comes from). The chickens vary in colour from grey to all shades of brown and often have tufts on their heads. It took quite a bit of research to find a Heritage Skyline breeder – but we are hoping it will have been worth the effort.

Having said that we nearly came back from our POL pullet supplier with only one Skyline. The chickens on Kirsty’s farm are free range and while De Kluk, Mabel and Freelander2 were easily caught, the second Skyline – Goldie - seemed enjoy her unrestricted lifestyle and was not very keen to succumb to the net. It took over and hour and eventually needed four people to catch her!

Here are our new hens safely packed up in the back of the car:

We are going to keep them enclosed in the run for a while – at least until they get used to their new surroundings (and, even after wing trimming, I wouldn’t trust Goldie not to stray!). After that we will extend their room to roam by erecting an electric fence.
The birds seem to get on very well together but after only one day in the coop it looks like Goldie is going to be cock of the walk. She was the last to go to bed and the first to get out in the morning and is definitely trying to establish herself at the top of the pecking order.

Now all we have to do is sit back and wait for those beautiful coloured eggs.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


There has been a lot of anticipation over one of our pregnant ewes in particular. Number 560 has been “adopted” by the Reception classes of a local school. The children named the sheep “Woolly” and have been receiving regular emails from Woolly telling them all about her life in the sheep field. The sheep theme has extended into all sorts of educational projects for the children – from counting sheep to singing sheep songs, making models of sheep and doing sheep drawings. Needless to say, the news that Woolly was going to have a baby has caused great excitement in the school....and we have been extra anxious about ewe 560.

Woolly was eleven days past her due date when she finally showed signs that she was going into labour. The whole family happened to be there at the time and we saw the complete process from the appearance of the water bag....

To the sheep pawing the ground, then lying down and having contractions....

The realisation that the lamb had a leg stuck and would need a little help....

And finally to the birth of a healthy little ram lamb...

Here he is being licked clean by his mum....

And taking his first steps.....

And eventually managing to find a drink of milk

Not there! It’s there!

We left mother and new baby looking very content.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Slow lambing & cows...

Well after the burst of excitement last Wednesday we've had to wait a whole week for more lambs to be born, we had another set of twins arrive this morning and I'm sure the next few days will see plenty more arrive. Although the break in lambing has been somewhat frustrating it has given us time to watch the lambs develop in their first few days and it's also given us time to get the new cattle settled in.

The lambs seem to know that they should stay well away from the rest of the flock at feeding time. Sometimes they stand on the edge of the feeding area

and other times they curl up in a corner somewhere.

We've had to put two ear tags on each lamb, one is electronic and one just has the number on. The tags are almost the same size as their poor little ears and it feels quite mean to be adding so much weight to their ears, but I guess we have to make sure we follow the rules.

Now, on to some other new arrivals, the cows. We have 6 Highlands, 2 Sussex and 1 Hereford. They seemed to be delighted with their new environment and went charging about on their first day out. They have settled in very nicely and each day are coming a little closer as they get used to us.

Well, best be going to check if any more lambs have arrived.

Tiny Farmer out.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

It's lambing time...

Well, we've started lambing a whole day earlier than scheduled. I still can't believe how accurate the scanner must be to be able to predict it that close - the man is incredible!
I arrived at the sheep fields this morning around 10am and no sign of anything happening lamb wise, I really thought that not much more would happen today and went to do a few chores. I arrived back at the fields around 2pm to find twin lambs up and about with their mum, and what an incredible sight that was. They were feeding away, up on their feet and looking healthy. The rest of the flock were really curious about these new arrivals and when one of the younger ewes got a bit to close the mum intervened and sent the curious onlooker on her way. Watching the natural protective and caring "mum" instinct is a wonderful thing.
I decided to stay at the fields the rest of the day just in case anything else happened and when I returned from having a cup of coffee with a neighbour I found another ewe just in the early stages of labour - at least I didn't miss the birth this time and felt really privileged to be able to watch the whole process. The ewe mothered the new born lamb and then after around 20 minutes the next water bag appeared indicating the arrival of the twin. Unfortunately after about 45 minutes the only progress visible was the unborn lambs two legs sticking out. I called a friend and he confirmed my gut feeling which was that the ewe would probably need some help delivering the twin lamb. Very nervously I pulled on an arm length glove and managed to catch the ewe with my spare hand. On closer inspection I could see that it was in fact the hind legs sticking out which meant that the lamb was backwards. I slowly pulled the two legs making sure not to squeeze too hard and suddenly there was a newborn lamb at my feet. I gave it a quick wipe down and cleared its nostrils and then returned it to its eagerly awaiting mum, she gladly took over from there cleaning the lamb up and gave it its first drink of milk. Nerves, excitement, fear and elation are just a few of the emotions I went through.

So there you have it, the first day of lambing - eventful,scary and oh so very humbling. Fingers crossed for the next few weeks now as the rest of the lambs arrive...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Tiny Farmer...Big Tractor!

As if there's not enough going on with lambing just around the corner, we have the impending arrival of our calves within the next 2 weeks. With the last few days being dry it was window of opportunity to cut the long overgrown grass in the new fields and prepare them for the cattle.
I discussed the options with a friend and we decided that the small tractor I normally use was going to take far too long. "No problem" he said, "You can make use of the big tractor and you'll have it all done in a day". What he omitted to tell me was that this would include having to drive said big tractor through the Newmarket traffic in rush hour - and I can report that from up there in the cockpit of the tractor it's a terrifying experience!

So after getting the tractor through the traffic and to the fields I then discovered that the flail mower was 10ft wide and the gate was exactly 10 ft wide as well - problem, I thought.

I called my friend who was luckily close by and by some craftsmanship he managed to manoeuvre the tractor and flail mower in backwards.
The rest of the day was thoroughly enjoyable and the fields were cut in no time at all.

It was then off to change the flail mower for the 18ft wide harrowing chains.

All done by 5pm - result!

Another day of learning so much...