Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Ely Farmers Market

An early start on Friday morning – up at 5.30am to prepare for Ely Farmers Market. The children decided they would be responsible for the sign board and they did a lovely job with their writing and drawing.
It is an 8am start there and when we arrived in the dark at 7.30am most of the other stall holders were already setting up. It is clearly a thriving market with all manner of locally produced food available – organic vegetables, flowers, cheese, bread, fish, beef and even ostrich! There is also a general market selling everything from clothing to crafts to toys to musical instruments (which was particularly appealing to our children).
We found the other stallholders really friendly and welcoming and very willing to share advice gleaned from years of experience at Farmers Markets (thanks especially for the tips on layout and labelling!). What was most gratifying, however, was the fantastic market shoppers at Ely. They were terrifically knowledgeable and really interested in what we had on offer. They asked all about the animals, the cuts, cooking advice, where we farmed etc. It was really great to be able to talk to such well informed customers.
Ely Farmers Market has been around for ten years and it has a very loyal following. The veg stall next to us had queues forming at 8am! We were impressed too that people really came to do a big food shop from all these small suppliers. They all had their own reusable shopping bags (I think we gave out two bags the whole day long) and clearly used to this kind of market shopping.
For us it was a very special day as we were selling our own Black Welsh Mountain Lamb for the first time. We are the only lamb producer at Ely and were given a very warm reception and the meat sold exceptionally well. We now have a regular spot at Ely and will be there on the fourth Saturday of every month. If you’re in the area, do come along and say hello!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

A busy week for the sheep

What an exciting week it's been for the sheep (and us!).

The biggest event of the week was having the ewes scanned to check whether or not they were in lamb - and it's all good news - we have lambs, and lots of them, on the way. Our lambing numbers are around 140% which is very good considering that we have quite a few ewes that will be having their first lamb - we jokingly call them our teenage mums. The 140% means that a good number of ewes are carrying twins.

The scanning process was fascinating to watch. We rounded up all the sheep and they then pass through the crate one at a time. Ian, the scanning expert, scans each ewe and it is incredible to watch as he calls out whether each ewe is in lamb, if so how many lambs and how many days old the foetus is. Each one takes no more than 30 seconds to do and for our small flock it took longer to set up the equipment than to scan all of them. A big thanks to Ian for coming to do our flock and impart some of his knowledge and experience - the man is a genius!

Scanning equipment and crate just about ready to go...

You can see the little "office" Ian works from, ensuring that the ultrasound machine stays dry...

Ewes all penned up and ready to start going through...

The ram responsible for the lambs, we thought we'd let him out the crate first...

a rear view shot showing how lovely and rainy it was...

Our first lambs are due on the 1st April and the majority should be complete by the second week of April. There are one or two stragglers that will lamb the third week of April. Looking at the calendar that's no too far off!

We rounded up the sheep for the second time in the week to trim all of their hooves and give them a worming dose. This was also an opportunity to select our first batch of lambs for slaughter - the deed has been done and those chosen will be heading to the butcher this coming week. That was probably the least favourite bit of the week, but has to be done I guess. It was important to select the lambs going to the butcher before we gave them all a worming dose as those going off were not allowed to be dosed with treatment - all medicines have a withdrawal period following the treatment to ensure that it does not enter the food chain.
We'll be selling this lamb at the Ely Farmers Market next Saturday (23rd January) - so if you're in the area do stop by and say hello.

The thawing weather has been brilliant and we are no longer removing ice from the water troughs every morning. Mind you the sheep still need plenty of hay and additional food as the fields are still quite hard hit following the snow and ice. As soon as it starts warming up we'll have to pay attention to the grass and make sure it's given lots of TLC so that it grows nicely in the spring.

Here's us on another hay delivery...

Right, that's about enough for this week. I'm sure the next week will be just as busy and exciting.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The big freeze!

Oh the joys of doing some tiny farming in the winter - despite it being bitterly cold it's still fun to be outdoors and watch how everything adapts to the cold weather. With a blanket of snow over all the sheep fields for well over a week now the sheep are eating lots of hay and supplementary food. We make sure that we put plenty out so that they can still choose when to eat.

They seem to be surviving the cold spell really well and are generally covered with a white dusting first thing in the morning. It's easy to see where they have slept the night before as every morning there are small sheep size patches on the fields that are the only places not covered in snow.

One of the big challenges has been water, the water troughs freeze over every night and a really thick layer of ice needs to be cleared every day - bitterly cold on the fingers - and it's not too long before another layer of ice starts appearing.
Also not a good idea to let your gloves fall into the freezing water trough - I can tell you that from experience now.

We are hoping to trim the sheep's feet sometime next week, I guess we'll have to see what the weather does.
The next real big decision is which of the lambs to send to slaughter the following week as we will be having our first batch of Tiny Farmer lamb…but at least that's a week away for now for we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Enjoy the cold & snow, it does produce some really magic moments.

Tiny Farmer out

Sunday, 3 January 2010


What a year it has been. Last year we resolved not to cross the threshold of a supermarket for a year. We wanted to get all our meat directly and grow as much veg as possible. When we set ourselves that challenge we never imagined that a year later we would have our own flock of sheep and been in the process of getting cows and having ??? acres of land! Let alone running Tiny Farmer and selling our own meat at Farmers Markets. What a difference a year makes!

We have learnt a huge amount in the last year. Not least, how much you can be self-sufficient if you just put your mind to it. In the last twelve months we have learnt how to make our own sausages, pasta and bread. We have done home butchery and shot our own game. We have learnt how to look after chickens and sheep. We’ve even grown our own wheat and made our own flour. We enjoyed our own pumpkins for Hallowe’en and have enjoyed all manner of home grown vegetables all year round. We have bartered produce and had a harvest party with all our Tiny Farmer friends and supporters. It really has been a great year and a great experience. And now it is the first of January of a new year and a new decade. And are we rushing back to Tesco/Sainsburys/Asda? Not a chance!