On the farm
The lambing madness seems to be over now. Around 50 sheep have had lambs and there are only a couple left in the nursery field. The rest have been moved back to various places on the farm, leaving the nursery field for the orphans.
So far there are only two orphan lambs (they lost one of them), and those are currently in the orchard, in the farm garden or in the paddock at the end of our back garden. When the grass in the nursery field has recovered, or when the last of the flock-sheep go, I think the orphans will be moved to the nursery field.
The young cows were let out a couple of weeks ago and are getting used to being outside.
In the garden
The poet has been very busy in the garden, working hard. He’s turned over three beds in the back garden and trimmed many of the shrubs.
I honestly don’t know where this is coming from. He’s loving learning new skills and creating new life from scratch. But he never really has been one for gardening.
He built three raised beds and two planters, and is now working on chicken-wire-covered frames to put over the beds to keep the chickens off the seedlings.
Two weeks ago he went around repotting all of the fruit trees and bushes. The apple tree, the grape vine and the blackcurrant bush all look really well. The gooseberry bush looks a little dead, but there are green shoots starting to show now.
This coming bank holiday weekend, we’re hoping the beds will be ready for some outdoor seed-sowing. We have vegetables to sow in the potager and some flowers for the back garden.
The seeds I sowed at Easter are starting to show, but the seeds that the poet sowed two weeks before that are doing really well. The cucumbers and cherry tomatoes are doing particularly well, as are the marigolds. And things like the onions and the calabrese are starting to show now too.
Only the basil was doing well for the herbs for the kitchen windowsill, but now the chives and the parsley are catching up.
Last week I chitted some potatoes. Those are currently on the kitchen windowsill, but we’re hoping they can go out next weekend.
We’re calling our little plot “Ian’s Farm”. He really is loving it and he’s doing the bulk of the work – I’m mainly directing!
He’s also been busy in the stable, making racks from which to hang his growing collection of tools.
The chickens are happy as pigs in muck. Pink is looking a bit scruffy, but the rest of them have really nice feathers now. We’re still getting between five and six eggs per day, so we’re still eating a boiled egg a day.
Aggie the Agoraphobic has taken to wandering off with farm chicken Madge and yesterday one of the children had to fetch her back to us! Poorly Pauline has made a full recovery and is getting more confident by the day.
The Tour de Yorkshire
Another bank holiday weekend on the horizon. We have the Tour de Yorkshire cycling past the end of our drive this year. Three years ago we drove to Holmfirth to see the Tour de France. This year we have a grandstand view without going anywhere.
Let’s hope the weather holds out for them. And for us!
On the farm
They’ve been lambing on the farm this past week, painting numbers on the sides of the sheep as they give birth, and painting the same numbers on any lambs born to that sheep.
The main field is now bereft of sheep. They’re all in the maternity barn, in the nursery field, or they’ve been moved back to the fields where they usually live.
Instead, the young cows have now been let out into the main field. Oh, what a lovely sight to see these youngsters running and skipping across the grass as they were given their first outing from the barns. They’ve been to have a look at us and we may get pictures over the coming days.
Back to the lambs, the nursery field is at the top of our front garden, so we’ve been able to watch as another pair of lambs and their mother are added to the flock before being moved along.
The mothers are very curious, but one did chase after me when I surprised her while I wheeled the wheelie-bin down the drive on Wednesday evening. It made a very loud rumbling noise.
Her baby, just the one, was curled up in a ball and I think she was frightened I was going to hurt it.
Another of the mothers, “Number 28”, is less frightened. This one has managed to clamber up the dry-stone wall into our front garden, where she investigated one of the (so far) empty raised beds in our potager.
I think Number 28 and her lamb have been moved now, as we’ve not seen her for a couple of days.
In the garden
The brand-new greenhouse has started to earn its keep. The marigolds are doing really well and, now, so are the cucumbers.
The seeds sown on 2 April are still appearing, but some are still a little slow – the onions, for example, and the brassicas. I think all of these have a longer germination time, but the first brassica, a calabrese broccoli, has already reared its tiny head.
We bought some herb pots for the kitchen windowsill to plant up. So far the basil is doing the best, with the chives just showing this week. The parsley is taking a little while longer, though …
Last week’s 20 strawberry plants have taken nicely in their HUGE hanging baskets. (He was a little disappointed that I didn’t share a picture of his very well-made greenhouse staging, so the picture below gives some idea of how that looks.)
The chickens, bless them, continue to thrive. And they continue to show their appreciation by laying eggs. We’re definitely up to 5 or 6 eggs a day now, and they’re starting to come to their names as well.
The poet had to put some chicken wire around the garden gate to stop the dog from escaping. For a while, it also kept the chickens out, and that meant a cleaner floor.
However, Baldy and Blondie are both regular visitors to the garden now that they’ve worked out how to hop around the edge, or even over the top with a garden tub strategically placed to break their landing. The other girls will follow if they think they’re missing something, aka food.
We have the long weekend off for Easter, without any pre-planned visits or trips or anything. We are, however, expecting a delivery of compost today for the raised beds, and we hope to be doing more work in the garden if the weather is nice. There may also be fishing and walking.
On the farm
They say that when the first lamb arrives, it’s the first day of spring. So our first day of spring was actually just over a month ago, on 4 March.
Their granddaughter #2 has 3 brown sheep (I *will* find out the breed). She’s only 13 or 14, but already she owns these sheep. Late last year, these brown sheep were taken to meet a male, and each one of them delivered this spring.
The first one, on 4 March, had a white lamb and a black lamb. Over the following week or so, the other 2 brown sheep also had lambs. In the end, between them, there were 3 black lambs and 2 white lambs, and while one of the mothers seemed to be rejecting one of the black lambs, it was just a temporary blip and he did manage to get enough nourishment from the other mothers in the meantime.
Granddaughter #1 has a horse. But on the same weekend the first lamb arrived, she bought 3 cade (“kay-dee”) or orphan lambs from a neighbouring farm. These were kept in the barn for a few weeks, but are now out in the orchard at the side of our garden.
(GD#1 removed her horse’s blanket during the week and took her for a canter around the main field (on the other side of the orchard). The blanket’s back on again now, so maybe the temperature has dropped again.)
The farmer has another, bigger flock, of around 200 sheep when they’re all present and correct.
These sheep didn’t start to have lambs until after 1 April, but the whole family have turned out and are keeping watch. Any that look like they might be having difficulty are taken into the barn and looked after. Those that manage quite well by themselves are checked over.
The sheep and lambs are all numbered (we think they may have seen this tip on the BBC’s Countryfile), then those that need to be kept close are moved to the nursery field (at the front of our house) while the others go back in the main field.
Elsewhere on the farm, the cows are still indoors, but I think they’ll be let out soon enough.
The farmer has bought some beautiful black calves, and he has some calves of his own too. However, some of the cows (about 4) have ringworm, so they’re being treated for that and kept away from the others.
In Baggins Bottom
On the home patch, the poet has been busy assembling a new greenhouse. This arrived during a storm in mid-March and he had to abandon the project for a few days until the winds died down.
Once the greenhouse was finished and stable, he then set about building some greenhouse staging out of wood. He’s not a carpenter but he does enjoy creating things, and he did exactly what I asked him to.
The two-tier staging wraps around 2 sides of the greenhouse in an L-shape. The remaining side will be for 2 grow-bags – one for 3 tomatoes and one for 2 cucumbers.
Of course, the chickens now think that this is another place for them to shelter – they won’t think that when the hot weather arrives.
Seed-sowing started on 2 April: cauliflower, calabrese broccoli, cherry tomatoes, cordon tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, onions, Brussels sprouts and marigolds. The marigolds are companion planting for the cherry tomatoes, which will be going into tubs and baskets.
Yesterday, 5 of the marigolds sprouted, and today there are 5 more. The poet isn’t a gardener either (“I hate gardening”), yet he’s so proud of these tiny little things – again, it’s the creating something from nothing part.
We have 20 strawberry plants coming, 10 each of 2 varieties. Those will be going into hanging baskets when they arrive.
We have a tractor that the poet used to cut the grass with at the last house, but we don’t have that big a lawn here. The old electric mower he used to own conked out at the end of last year, and last week we had to go and buy a new lawn mower so he could give the grass its first cut.
The chickens are doing well. They’ve been with us for 4 months now, and we still have the half-a-dozen we started with. They’re laying 4 – 5 eggs per day between them, and we’re giving dozens away.
I was well-chuffed when we had 6 eggs one day last week, but when we had 7 … (SEVEN!) I was a tad surprised, as we still only have 6 chickens.
We’re trying to get creative with recipes that include eggs. If work settles down, I’ll have time to do some baking. I want to get some big jars so I can pickle some, and we’re each having a hard-boiled egg every weekday with our lunch, I’m having it in a salad while the poet is eating it like an apple.
With the warmer weather and the longer days, the poet hopes to do more fishing soon, starting this afternoon when he gets home from work if the weather is nice enough.
Hopefully, me and the dog will have chance to get out and about and share more news and pictures over the coming weeks. I’ll be swapping the mobile phone for my camera.
It’s been a while, but I have still been watching my weight and, to be honest, it’s been very up and down.
I can’t believe that you can put 3lb on one day and then lose two of them the next. This past week alone I did exactly this.
Yes, yes I know we’re not supposed to weigh ourselves every day and, because of the fluctuations last week, I did stop bothering. But Monday is weigh-day and I had to do it this morning.
Fortunately, I do have a weight-loss of 2lb from last week. Unfortunately, I’m still 1¼lb heavier than I have been at my lightest on this current diet.
At the weekend, even the poet reported a few pounds weight-gain, so he’s cutting down again now. It’s funny how complacency can set in so easily.
We’ve not been walking for a long time and I think that’s having a lot to do with it – for both of us. As well as the extra food we’re clearly eating at the moment, of course. Instead, either the weather has kept us indoors or, as soon as the weather has improved, we’ve been working in the garden.
At the weekend we had to buy a new lawn-mower and the poet did the first cut yesterday. It was hard work, but not as hard as it was with the old push-along lawn-mower. (He can’t use the tractor here, but he’s keeping hold of that for when it comes in handy again …)
Two weeks ago, in gale-force winds, he built a new greenhouse. Last weekend, he built wooden staging. And during the week, after work, he painted the staging with wood-preservative. Yesterday, we were finally able to spend a relaxing couple of hours sowing seeds.
His band doesn’t have as many gigs this year as of late. He wanted to cut back and so they’re only doing one gig a month (two a month when one is a charity gig and one is a paid gig). We hoped this would free us up to do more things but, as ever, it’s been very, very busy and we’ve been visiting or entertaining over our birthday season, in the midst of which comes Mother’s Day too.
This coming weekend we have the usual Birmingham/Doncaster visits, but perhaps we can squeeze in a walk on our way from Brum to Donny.
Saying that, I did achieve my Slimming World silver activity award on 23 March, and I’ve started my gold award today. The chickens, the little bit of gardening I have managed, and just shopping all contribute to this challenge. The gold award lasts for eight weeks, though, while the bronze and silver were both for four weeks each.
The warmer days make eating salads much easier, so hopefully there will be something more positive to report soon.
We made a very conscious lifestyle decision to live in the countryside. In May 2016, we chose to rent a house on a farm in the bottom of a little-known valley.
The house wasn’t available for sale, it belongs to the farm, and the farm wasn’t for sale either. So we rent it, and this means there’s a lot we can’t do to the house or the surroundings, although if we want to do anything or if something needs doing, it is generally done.
The free range farm is a very busy, very hardworking family business, overseen by the patriarch/matriarch farmer and his wife. They have three grown-up kids who all have families of their own, but who still come and work the farm around their day jobs.
There’s just us and them, here in this valley.
Livestock on the farm includes cows and sheep but no pigs. The cows are indoors at the moment, the sheep are allowed to roam – and it’s almost lambing time. Domestic fowl on the farm consists of three geese, two chickens, five guinea fowl and four pea fowl plus a number of mallards and moorhens that live on the river …
… yes, we have a river too. The fast moving upper River Don. The river has wild brown trout and, in season, fly fishermen fish it.
In the surrounding woodland, we also have pheasants and owls. On the river there are also kingfishers. And in our gardens we have woodpeckers, four of the finches, four of the tits, dunnocks, wrens, blackbirds, robins, magpies, wood pigeons and collared doves.
Oh yes, and we have badgers and foxes too …
Life on the farm
Because so much is always going on here, I’ve decided to add a new regular blog feature, life on the farm. I hope readers enjoy reading about it as much as we enjoy living here.
In December we made another conscious decision. We decided to rescue half-a-dozen caged hens who were coming to the end of their commercial viability.
We bought a chicken coop and on 3 December, Lara Croft, Aggie the Agorophobic, Poorly Pauline (“Poorline”), Pink, Blondie and Baldy came to live with us, joining the two farm hens, who we call Madge and Black Betty. Baldy was pretty much “oven-ready” and Blondie wasn’t far behind her. But now both birds have grown brand new feathers and look lovely and fluffy.
The chicken coop went into the front garden, in between the stable and the shed. And then, when disaster struck, and avian flu arrived, we had to buy an additional chicken run.
We’re both confused and disappointed with this whole avian flu business. Disappointed because we’ve received no formal notification from either Defra or the charity we rescued the chickens through. Confused because the Defra legislation says that where there are protection zones birdkeepers should – at the very least – keep their domestic fowl food and water separate from wild birds and – at the very best – keep all the birds on lockdown indoors. Yet the charity and, in fact, the BBC’s Countryfile yesterday say ALL birds need to be on FULL lockdown.
When one of our birds was poorly (can you guess which one?), I asked our local chicken farmer about the lockdown. They have 200 chickens and they’re all classified as free range. And she said that they’d received no formal notification from Defra either and had also only found out by word of mouth. But not only will they lose their free range classification if the birds have to be kept indoors for too long, but they also have to muck out the chickens and their chicken barns aren’t fully covered in. So how can they keep their birds separate from wild birds?
There’s a much bigger chicken farm up on the hill too, with something like 2,000 free range chickens. They don’t seem to have anywhere fully enclosed either.
Our resident farmers also haven’t received anything from Defra, yet we are all, apparently, liable for a £5,000 fine AND up to three months imprisonment. And in the eyes of the law, ignorance is no defence.
So not only have we ALL not received any formal notification of the virus, we’re also seeing conflicting advice on what to do and how to cope with it.
If bird flu comes to our valley, then our birds are going to get it, regardless of whether or not they’re kept separate. And if our birds get it, then others will too.
(EDIT: I have now spoken with Defra and they say the whole of the UK is classed as a “prevention zone”, and we come within that. Some places are classed as a “protection zone” while others are classed as a “surveillance zone”. However, so long as we are doing our best to keep wild birds away from the chickens’ food and water, and so long as we have nowhere indoors to keep them – which we don’t – then we are “complying”. But if a walker happens to report our chickens to Defra, Defra are obliged to send us a letter but are content that we are complying.)
When our Pauline got ill (she wasn’t called Pauline until then), we were quite worried. She just sat out in the rain, all her feathers ruffled up, head down in neck, not eating or drinking. We brought her into the garden, where some of the other chickens followed and then pecked at her. I had a chat with our local bird farmer, and she said Pauline might have had an egg burst inside her, and that this was usually fatal. So that cheered us up no end.
However, a quick Google search gave us a few things to try, and one of these was to massage her crop – the big, fat pouch on her front where chickens store food to be digested later. It was possible she had a compacted crop.
The poet did this first, and she made lots of smelly, “farty” noises. Sometimes it smelt of bird food, sometimes it smelt of bird poo. But it got better as the day progressed.
The following morning she was right as rain, and now she’s taken over from Aggie as being the first into the bird house at night and the last out in the morning.
Because we’re in the bottom of a valley, we’re not connected to the main sewage grid. Last week the kitchen drain (the *only* drain from the house) started to slow down its emptying.
A course of bricks around the drain was letting waste out anyway, so the big job planned for the weekend was to check to see if the drain was blocked and to re-lay the bricks …
… and there went the best laid plans, and all that.
The drain was actually solid. And when the poet checked one of the inspection hatches, that was solid too. Ooh eck.
When we moved in we were told that the septic tank usually doesn’t need emptying. It’s so big, and only serves one household (us – the farm has its own), that it’s all soaked down through the filtering system before it needs physically emptying.
But we had to find out how to empty the septic tank, and in an emergency too. And the only way I could find anyone interested was when I said it risked flowing into the River Don …
In the meantime, the poet went down to the farm to see if they had a contract with anyone for emptying the tanks – and their son and one of their daughters were there and immediately said, “Don’t do that, we have rods in the barn. We’ll come and see if we can rod it all first.”
But when we finally accessed the septic tank, it was completely empty. It was the drains that were blocked.
And that is how, on a dull, misty, damp Sunday morning we ended up rodding compacted *foul* waste. Waste that had clearly been building up since last May …
I’ll pause a moment while that sinks in …
It took them a couple of hours, one set of rods and our jet washer (thank you, Dad!) to finally clear the blockage and get our waste flowing freely again. And then the poet had to chop out and re-lay that brickwork around the drain. Until the mix went off, I couldn’t use the dishwasher, the kitchen sink or the washing machine.
Overnight we had a hard frost, so the poet was convinced his brickwork would need doing again anyway … but when I tried both the dishwasher and the washing machine (separately, so as not to overload it), everything stayed contained within the drain without washing anything away.
It does, however, still need another course of bricks, as the outflow from the kitchen sink bounces right over the top of the bricks.
Because of the hard frost this morning, the poet had to warm his car up and drive away carefully down the icy lane (we really ought to get a grit bin installed). And he left the gate open again at the end of the drive.
By the time I got up again (I always get up with him, and then get up again to let the chickens out of their coop and into their run), there was a lost sheep in the garden trying to get back to the rest of her flock behind the fence in the woods and at the bottom of the drive.
So I had to get dressed straight away and then shepherd her back to her flock.
Last Saturday we drove half-an-hour to Letwell, just on the other side of Rotherham, to collect 6 new additions to the family.
The British Hen Welfare Trust rescues around 50,000 hens a year and around 300 of them were coming to South Yorkshire. These are caged hens coming to the end of their commercial viability who would otherwise be heading for slaughter.
We’d already decided we wanted some chickens, and if we could rescue any, all the better. So we researched it and we bought a small hen house (houses up to 12 chickens).
We live on a free-range farm that has had chickens previously, so we knew that so long as we keep them safe from foxes, they’d hopefully enjoy a long and happy life with us.
The house was sited in a sheltered part of the front garden, with the stable to one side, a hill behind, a big tree overhead and a shed on the other side (soon to include a greenhouse). We’re gated in and there is fencing all around, mostly to contain the dog.
There are only 2 chickens left on the main farm at the moment, thanks to the fox. But there are 5 guinea fowl, 4 peacocks, 3 geese, 2 horses, a few hundred sheep and some cows.
Living in the countryside immediately around us are pheasants, badgers, woodpeckers, mallards, owls, kingfishers.
We have a fast-running section of the River Don where the poet goes fly-fishing. And ramblers regularly use the public footpaths that cut through the land. It really is idyllic.
And so we thought the chickens would settle in nicely and enjoy their new surroundings.
We found an animal feed specialist just down the road where we can not only get our chicken supplies from, but the garden bird food is considerably cheaper too. So we have chicken food, chicken grit, straw, sawdust, a feeder, a water hopper. The extra we’re spending on the chicken supplies, we’re more than saving on the garden bird food.
On the first day, Saturday, we just got the girls home and settled them into the hen house, where we left them overnight. Monkey Dust had a gig on the evening, so we just had to make sure the house was secure in case a fox wandered by while we were out.
They were still all present and correct (and safe!) when we got home. 🙂
On Sunday morning, still in his dressing gown, the poet went out to see them. They’d laid 5 eggs, which we were very happy about. We didn’t really get them for the eggs, we got them to rescue them. But the occasional egg is a nice thank-you gift from them.
When I got up, we went out and we let them out for the first time. They were nervous and cautious and not at all sure what to do. So we encouraged them outside in the sunshine. And that was when I found the sixth egg.
The peacocks, the guinea fowl and “Madge”, one of the farm chickens, came up to have a look at what was going on, and to scrounge the bit of food we scattered on the ground. At first they tried to bully the new arrivals, and we decided not to put food outside again until the new chickens have properly settled in.
By day 2, by the way, the biggest of our chickens was giving as much as she got with the other birds and making sure they all knew which was her territory. They still try to bully them, but if I come out or if our “big” chicken sees them, they start to back off again.
We didn’t leave them out for very long on Sunday as it was new to them and we also want them to get used to going into the house at night.
When we go camping in the summer at weekends, we will have a fox-proof enclosure up – that’s next Easter’s bank holiday weekend project. But for as long as we’re home and can shut them in at night, that’s not really a priority.
As the week progressed, laying went down to just 2 eggs a day, with a possible third being eaten by them for the shell. Today, for the first time since last Sunday, we had 3 eggs. And tomorrow they get their first clean-out.
They’re all settling in very well, exploring their new surroundings, establishing a pecking order. And by yesterday (Friday), they were running to me every time they saw me, pecking at my wellies, and mostly going into their house at night by themselves.
Just now when I went out to see them, at noon, one of them pecked at the empty water dish and then glared at me. Then she waited while I went to clean and re-fill the water hopper, having a massive drink when I put it back. Naughty Diane!
One bird in particular is straight out of the coop as soon as we open it, with another 2 following soon after. Two more tend to take their time and one of them definitely prefers to stay indoors. We’re calling that one Aggie the Agoraphobic.
We also have one that is very, very bald, and while I call her Baldy when I’m talking about her, to her face, or when she can hear, she’s Gail. We also have a Lara Croft – she’s the adventurous one.
We hope their feathers will grow again and that their plumage improves, and we will continue to be grateful for every egg they leave for us. I hope you enjoyed the pictures – perhaps as we take more, we’ll all see an improvement. They’re already looking chubbier.
If you are able to rescue any chickens, the BHWT have collections all over the country.
Our chickens came from a farm in Chesterfield, and the re-homing centre we collected them from rescued around 250 chickens that day, and over 2,500 chickens in the time they’ve been volunteering.
You have to register first and then, if there isn’t a waiting list, you could be collecting your first chickens within days. We bought our hen house from Egg Shell Online, but you can do an online search or the BHWT will point you in the right direction. They’re not the only re-homing charity in the country, either. So do your research and find the right fit for you.
We made a donation of £5 per bird, but this is completely down to the discretion of the re-homer(s). Other charities ask for a donation of just £1 per bird, but again, I think it really is up to you.