Sunday, 28 November 2010

An early cold snap!

So, it this what we are in for?

In common with other parts of the country we had a first flurry of snow on Friday, 2" or 3" falling, followed by a hard frost, down to -6c last night. This cold weather puts paid to window cleaning - water (if you can get it out of the frozen van) either turns to slush in the hose or freezes on the cold pane, so we'll have to see how we go tomorrow. I've been trying to figure out how I can keep the water-feed pipes that are outside the van free of ice, or at least ow I can thaw them out quickly - Louise's hairdryer was a fail... I have a greenhouse heater inside the van keeping the water in the pumps and the rest of the (expensive) system liquid and hopefully preventing damage.

Any standing water doesn't get chance to thaw, so the ice on the pond get's progressively thicker and it's only regular bashing with a stout stick that keeps the troughs free of ice, a bit of a battle against the elements and it's only the end of November!

The chickens wouldn't be tempted out of their house yesterday morning, even with the promise of corn. Their water hopper is frozen solid, necessitating carrying up a full bucket of hot water to immerse it in, thus defrosting it. Most of them have moulted, included our cockerel, so are dressed in clean, bright white feathers. The cockerel has yet to regain his sickle tail-feathers, but he still looks fine.

The sheep have all been covered by Mayhill Grenadier and the raddle crayon has been changed from red to blue. Hopefully they are now in-lamb.

As you can see, they do suit the snowy scenery.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A visitor to Haul Y Bryn

Last year we sadly said goodbye to our original Wiltshire Horn ewes (poetically named for their ear tag numbers, No 1 and No 2), and their daughters, No 3 and No 4.... The daughters were Wiltshire Horn X Hampshire Down and they didn't suit the hilly area we 'farm' so i'm afraid they had to go.

To replace them all we approached a respected local breeder of Wiltshire Horn, Jim Stone, and purchased 3 ewe lambs from him. As a parting shot he offered to let us borrow a Wiltshire Horn ram when tupping time came around....

Looks like love at first sight for 'Spotty Nose', right.

We took Jim up on his offer and today went along to his farm to collect the majestically named Mayhill Grenadier, registered as he is with the breed society. He's a fine boy as you can see, 18 months old and ready to play his part.

Each day over the next few weeks we'll go and check which ewes have been covered, then work out roughly when they'll be due. And so the cycle begins again.

Monday, 18 October 2010

This little piggy...

The nursery rhyme says that at least one little piggy went to market; unfortunately for our own little piggies today we bypassed the market and they went to the abattoir. The day had to come i'm afraid and although I make light of it it's never an easy thing to load your pigs up and drive them to the slaughter house, especially as these had been the friendliest yet.

All went well, loading wise; we were up early (having shut them in their ark last night) and made a race of hurdles from the ark entrance to the edge of their pen. The trailer was backed up and the tailgate dropped and with hardly any coaxing they went in as good as gold.

On arrival at the abattoir there was a previous load of pigs being unloaded and our pigs could hear them. For the first time since we've been raising weaners i'm sure that these two boys could sense what was about to happen to them and, unsurprisingly, they didn't want to get out of the trailer. In the end they did and, paperwork completed, I set off home with that familiar hollow feeling in my stomach. I'm back on Friday to collect the meat.

This is the third time that we've raised and slaughtered pigs and it doesn't get any easier come the day. An alternative would be a home kill (as only we eat the meat), however having done it it's a long and messy job that takes a few guys a few hours, and anyway we don't have a yard and outbuildings to do it in. In addition i'm not sure that it's any less stressful than the abattoir and on one occasion helping a neighbour with a kill I know that it wasn't.

So here we are. No feeding pigs twice a day. No scooping soil off the electric fence in the rain and plenty of home-raised pork, sausages, bacon and gammon on the way. Thanks pigs.

As it's autumn it's also harvest time. We have done OK with the onions and pumpkins (we have around a dozen) given we have barely any soil and we had a wet and cool summer again. We are still getting a few courgettes, though one was left and has turned into a marrow...

We are having a load of old muck delivered in a few weeks and are going to top-up the plots with topsoil, giving us far more growing medium for next year. Other news is that on the 7th November a very kind farmer is loaning us a Wiltshire Horn tup, so our 3 girls will have a bit of male company for a change.

Friday, 20 August 2010

A bit of sad news

It's a bit of a sad time just now as Mimi our cat - shrew and vole catcher extraordinaire - was killed yesterday morning by a vehicle on the road outside our house. We'd had her almost a year to the day.

She was a lovely little thing, following us round like a dog and ambushing Jasper (her best friend), front legs legs outstretched as she pounced. The garden wildlife will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief - she was adept at catching anything furry or feathered, even the odd rabbit. We've buried her under the big hawthorn tree in our top field. We are going to miss her.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Summer time!

Well, it's late July now and I s'pose the middle of summer. As in the last 3 years May and June were scorchers with July turning out to be a bit of a damp squib.

Spring had been good - we'd managed to do lots of sowing and get spuds, onions and garlic in the ground,
even though we knew this year would be a bit difficult due to the fact that we have no soil to speak of in The Allotment (more anon.). We have peas and beans in, along with chard, salads stuff, strawberries, raspberries and a whole loads of pumpkins, squash and courgettes.

We had also started sowing the chicken's run again. We had originally planned to plant this up annually too, but as we were an all-you-can-eat-chicken buffet for Reynard we had fenced the girls in behind electrified poultry netting. It had already been sprayed off to get ready to dig over, so now we had to re-seed it, like this....

In mid-June we took delivery of this years weaners.  We had already fenced off an area of the top field and run water up there so we were ready to accommodate them. This years are pure Welsh again. The breed that is, not because they were born down the road... Here's some shots which I hope demonstrate why you should avoid keeping pigs on a nice lawn...

Pigs are incredibly friendly animals, especially so if handled from a young age. One of ours loves his belly being scratched.

By now we had what were possibly the scruffiest sheep in Wales. The hot weather had meant shearing had started a tad earlier than usual, but with Wiltshire Horn there's no need as they lose their hair naturally each summer, sort of naturist sheep if you will. Still, our shearling ewes hadn't got the hang of it in this, their first year of wool-shedding, evidenced by the photo below...

As you can see they are in various states of undress, with the one on the right being best at getting her kit off.

Possibly the best time of the day is late afternoon as the sun get's lower in the west. It's a lovely spot up at the top of the field, a fact not lost on Mimi the cat who must have been a dog in a previous life, following us around as she does.

When we were creating the allotment it was obvious that we needed more soil. Here on the side of the hill the topsoil is little more than 3 or 4 inches deep in reality. Luckily I have spotted somewhere locally selling topsoil by the ton, so we're going to get some of that in. In addition, Darren who sold us the pigs has several tons of 4 year old manure that he'll trailer over for us, so it looks like we'll have a busy autumn shifting upwards of 15 or 20 tonnes of earth/poo.

Notwithstanding this, as I write The Allotment is looking good. We were not diligent in watering in the dry spell, so that has checked growth of some things, but all in all we are happy. Here's a shot of what the plot looks like this week.

Mange tout, spuds, onions, garlic and cucurbits doing well. Less successful have been runner beans, sweetcorn, carrots and beetroot.

As you can see the chickens have lots of green area to graze on now the grass is growing. We still have a good amount of bare earth to re-seed, but there's time yet.

By the way, toads aren't very bright creatures: one got whacked by the electric fencing and Louise found it 'dead' by the gate into the enclosure. She picked it up and put it to one side. When I went up later that morning it had, Lazurus-like, recovered and was nowhere to be found. Until later that is when it had waltzed into the fence again. Unlike cats they don't have 9 lives and this time it was brown bread, lying arms and legs akimbo, deceased.

So, there we have it. We are looking forward to a continuing harvest of produce from The Allotment, and continue out regime of pig feeding / belly rubbing. On that note i'll sign off with a happy porcine photo.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Spring = hard work in The Allotment

It's a while since i've posted - just been so busy with work and working in The Allotment.

As you know we've been creating some pathways to mark out beds beds on The Allotment. The job was finished just after the washout that was Easter, and they look good, even if I do say so myself!

There are 6 beds so we can rotate between crop groups.

We've sown a large array of crops that include peas, bean (all sorts) carrots, parsnips, the usual brassicas, pumpkins and squash are on the go along with courgettes. 2nd early spuds are in with maincrop going in tomorrow. The greenhouse is packed with stuff in pots and trays - I knew we should have got a bigger one...

I have also made some compost bins - 3 in all so we can hoof stuff from one to another to speed up the composting process.

I've had all this wood sitting round under cover since we moved in more or less so its good to finally use it!

Since the rain this week - the first since Easter - everything has started to grow like crazy. I noticed a week or two that our little pond has a load of frog spawn in, now they are tadpoles. I did my schoolboy bit last year and collected some frog spawn which duly turned to froglets and the I assume, frogs. This year the spawn just appeared so it seems my cunning plan worked. Hopefully they'll help keep the slugs at bay a little.

The chooks are doing well with the Welsummer cockerel filling out a bit now. The earth they are on at the moment is bare but we are gradually reseeding it with a grass/clover mix. The recent rain means the new grass is shooting up.

Mimi the cat is honing her hunting skills. Tally so far is 6 voles and at least 2 shrews. No mice or rats yet... She loves curling up in the half-flower pot or under the grapevine in the greenhouse.

 Jasper has been enjoying the sun.

We are planning on getting 2 more pigs in mid-June and they'll go up in the top field, so we've got some fencing to do again. Luckily we have all the half-round posts and eleccy fencing from 2008 so we are OK on that front.

The sheep are losing their fleece now that the warmer weather is here. It comes off in great handfuls, useful for nesting birds who collect bits and pieces.

Well, that's about it for now. Lot's more pics soon!

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Bugger, we're unemployed, but look, aren't those lambs cute.

January was unremarkable; we returned to our desks and started thinking about feeding up the pregnant ewes. At the beginning of February in common with many other places throughout the UK we had a flurry of snow, giving us around 4", followed 2 days later by a bigger dump, around 9" in all. Seems that much of the southeast of England was covered too, a dramatic sight.

Later that month I was in conversation with my boss, Nick, discussing the company's finances. It seems that Louise and I are to be made redundant - from late March we'd both be unemployed. Catastrophe, as the recession was biting hard and West Wales was not the best place to be job-hunting.

Now, every cloud and all that. In the back of my mind i'd always planned on slowing down after we'd got rid of the mortgage, perhaps start a small chimney sweeping business or window cleaning round. Seems that my hand was being forced. I did heaps of research into what competition there would be, level of demand etc. whilst Louise was writing off speculative letters for jobs and door-knocking local businesses. Seems that all over the UK there is a shortage of window cleaners.... and thus, Red Dragon Window Cleaning was born.

One of my Welsh classmates, Lins, of LJC Computers, helped me bring a website to life - I bought a van, went on several training courses, got the van kitted out with water fed pole window cleaning equipment and had my sis in law, Gill, design some leaflets. I was up and running by mid-April and to boot Louise had found a part-time job at Clunderwen and Cardiganshire Farmers, a local agricultural supplies outlet with branches all over west Wales!

Seems we were up and running. Skint, but up and running! To add to the good news at the end of March the girls gave us 5 wonderful lambs. There were no problems in the various deliveries and all were doing well. It really is one of the great joys of smallholding and worth all the mid-night checks, but when lambs are born it seems to make it all worthwhile. All 5 are black - apparently a characteristic when the ram used is a Jacob.

As time went by it seemed that 2 lambs were struggling a bit, so Louise and I (well, mainly Louise as she was part-time at CCF) had to bottle feed them.

The weather turned hot in June and we'd been digging over The Allotment which was starting to look good. We had some raspberries in there, along with spuds, onions, shallots, garlic, beans and peas etc. And boy were the lambs growing, as you can see from this pic!!

We'd been given a lovely Welsummer cockerel who'd been looking after the chickens well...

and when one went broody we kept 1/2 dozen eggs back and the broody hen hatched 3 of them in a broody ark we've had for ages.

Red Dragon Window Cleaning was going really well and Louise had settled in to the job at CCF too, in fact she absolutely loved it, dealing with farmers and all the day to day issues surrounding their needs, plus she had a great manager and new friend in Rebecca.

By the time September rolled around we'd had another dreadfully wet summer, our 3rd in a row. So much so The Allotment was doing o.k. only in certain areas. The onions were fab, beans and peas hopeless, shallots great, garlic poor, spuds not too bad. The size of The Allotment was around double the size of 2 council plots. In addition our land is VERY rocky with topsoil only centimetres thick in some places. I reckon as we got to September we've shifted 30 tons of stones and rocks, from fist-sized stones up to 2 foot-square boulders. We are turning a field into a kitchen garden after all, but it has been such hard work, far harder than i'd imagined.

We had a new addition to the family in late summer, Mimi, a farm cat given to us by Louise's boss, Rebecca. We have rats where the chickens range. Their food is in a metal dustbin, but they do say where there are chickens there are rats: Mimi was the (proposed) solution. We are still waiting for the first kill....

Also in late summer we take the hard decision to change our sheep stock. We have 3 ewes and 5 lambs. No 2 ewe is going as a cull ewe - she's blind in one quarter and lumpy in the other. The Wiltshire Horn x Hampshire Down ewes (her daughters) are not suited to this land of ours - 270m asl is too high,and they need much more food and are poor mothers to boot - they have to go. We send them and 2 lambs to market and though Louise is the only one with a tear in her eye I can tell you it took all my effort - they were our first sheep after all. On the upside we now have a freezer full of (as good as organic) lamb. Hey ho...

We replace the ewes with 3 new Wiltshire horn ewe lambs from a farmer down in south Pembrokeshire. As yet they are very nervous but with a bit of help from the plastic shepherd (a bucket full of sheep nuts) they should come round.

It turns out that 2 or the 3 chicks we hatched are cockerels; as we want to keep their Dad, the Welsummer (we really must give these animals some names) so they to have to go. I make a 'Free to Good Home' sign for the front of the house and pretty soon one has gone.

Then we have another fox attack. Damn, we lose 6 birds leaving us with 3 Light Sussex and an Amber - the wonderful Welsummer - gone. The remaining cockerel - gone. He only took 1 bird leaving 5 in the field - something foxes do. We take the difficult decision to eleccy fence them in. I don't want you to think that we take their welfare too lightly, it's just that we believe that they should be able to free range, that they get more out of being free for a shorter life than locked in for a longer life. The upside is that we are going to use the area of The Allotment that has yet to be dug over; by Christmas our 4 remaining birds are safely behind their netting. We hope it stays that way but know that there are no guarantees.

So here we are in 2010. Red Dragon Window Cleaning is going from strength to strength. Louise is now full-time at CCF and the animals are all well. We have fenced The Allotment and are about to put in pathways to separate the 6 growing beds we plan. There's been plenty of snow for us all, but that's been no hardship really, not when you see what it does to the view.

As I write this Sunday evening we've just been to collect 3 more chickens. We have come home with a Light Sussex, a Black Rock and a Cream Legbar cross. Oh, and a Welsummer cockerel. Mmmh, 4 chickens not 3 despite our best efforts to resist. All is looking good. We are about to order the wood for the Allotment paths, then we'll be digging and planting. There are pigs planned for the summer and lots of lovely veg to grow. All in all, not too bad.

From hereon in i'll write diary style entries letting you know what we are up to as the weeks and months pass. But for now your up to date!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

A difficult time

Louise and Jasper in the snow - April 2008

When we moved to Wales everyone warned us that we'd end up pale ghosts of who we used to be, deprived, as we would be, of the sun. Vitamin D levels would plummet; the Child Bride (oh, now i've gone and let Louise's pet name out of the bag; oh well, never mind...), already a pale skinned beauty would become veritably paled. Rubbish we said.

Well, summer (ha) 2007 was a washout; never mind, the law of averages would mean 2008 would be "a scorcher". Well it bloody wasn't. It was awful. It was great in spring, but come the summer and it was constant rain from one day to the next, with temperatures scraping 13c it was more like October. Day after day it just rained. I did manage to get the footings in for the new greenhouse we planned, and earlier, in June we had painted the house, but after that... well it was rubbish.

At the end of July, with all the rain and a relatively warm spell we found a ram lamb with fly-strike. He was quite bad and it just shows you how quick it can come on, all of them being checked daily. Anyway, we bathed it with Battle Oil and he seemed more comfortable - well he would wouldn't he.

In mid-August No. 1 sheep went with 2 ewe lambs to Crymych mart - and sold, £41 for No 1 and £22 each for the little lambs.

By August we had been worming the lambs regularly from 4 weeks, with Combinex, a combined wormer and flukicide. The withdrawal period (the time from which the animal must remain alive before being slaughtered for meat) was 56 days, so we had given them their last dose a while ago, calculating a slaughter date 56 days hence. At the end of August we found the fly-stricken lamb collapsed, he is breathing with difficulty and has a bad cough. We did all we could with antibiotics etc. but he died.I spoke to the vet and he said that following the fly strike his immunity would be low and other than what we did there was nothing we could have done. Louise was heartbroken.

A week later and we have lost another - the brother of the first lamb! We were both upset and I took the carcase to the veterinary lab in Carmarthen. The result - he was riddled with worms. This was the worst possible result in many ways as it was down to us to control the worm burden of our livestock and we had failed. It seems that we should have used a wormer with a shorter withdrawal period so we could worm right up to when they went off. A hard lesson learned. Anyway, things could only get better and this was why we were here, to learn and experience life on a holding.

Things improved from here. The weather improved dramatically and we erected our smashing new 10' x 8' greenhouse (in 3 days - it's not your usual 10x8 greenhouse...)

and this year's pigswent off to slaughter with the result being THE best gammon steaks and joints you've ever tasted.

We also had a visitor to the holding - a wonderful Jacob ram (on loan) that tupped our girls in the November. Our day-jobs are looking decidedly dodgy - we are both working for, but there are money worries ahead as the recession bites hard. So we end 2008 with several questions - will we have jobs come spring, and are our sheep in-lamb and if so just what colour will the lambs be...?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

We need some stables, and some hurdles and...

Immediately we moved in I started work, from home, for a friend's new travel website,, whilst Louise worked out her notice as a PA. On the last weekend of her work I went back to Hampshire to collect a whole load of stuff we'd left at the allotment - plus the chickens. We had already bought a brand new chicken house and they setted in well.

Next to move up to Wales were the 4 sheep. These we had transported for us - at this stage we didn't have a trailer. They settled in well to. At this stage we had no veggie plot, no stabling, just plans on how we wanted things. I bought a lawn mower and strimmer as there was lots to do in this area. We spent the first summer planning what infrastructure we needed:

3 x 8 foot stables
1 shed
1 greenhouse
1 pond
1 veggie patch

No big deal you say, but as we are in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, each of these requires planning permission! We also needed:

Electric fencing for the pigs
Pig ark

We got our first pigs at the beginning of June 2007 from a local farmer - 3 x Welsh cross Landrace weaners about 9 weeks old. We invested in some eleccy fencing and turned them out into an area that needed clearing of brambles; with the help of a new friend, neighbour Ed Morgan, we built a pig ark.

In these first few months we also re-roofed the garage, installed electric in it, and got plans approved with the PCNP, bought more chickens - 3 light Sussex and a laced Wyandotte bantam and promptly had our first visit from Mr Fox, losing one bird! When we moved we decided we'd let the chickens range over the whole field, knowing it was a risky strategy - anyway, undeterred we carried on regardless.

By the end of October we'd had a wet summer but the pigs were slaughtered and were now in the freezer, having been butchered on the kitchen table by a local guy we had heard about. In November we borrowed a neighbour's Suffolk ram and we tupped all 4 ewes.

By January 2008 we had started digging the footings of the stables

and had planted fruit trees - apples (2 x Lord Lambourne, 2 x Sunset, 2 x Adam's Pearmain, 1 x bramley) 1 x conference pear and 1 x Victoria plum.

A couple of weeks later the stables went up - 3 Polish workers from Smiths Sectional Buildings doing a huge job in no time at all! By this time the ewes we starting to fill out.

We'd also done our first term at Welsh evening classes... what a mistake THAT was! I had a smattering of 3 or 4 foreign languages - Greek (I can still swear quite well), Hindi, Mandarin and Arabic, picked up on my travels, but the difficulty of all these paled into insignificance when compared with Welsh, a beautiful but complicated language. We had (still have - we are still going to classes...) a great tutor in Gaynor and we made some new friends in Babs, Jane, Myra and Lins, but it remains a struggle despite Lins and I constantly telling each other how very well the other is doing!

The website was doing OK - I was still travelling a lot overseas on business which made for slow progress in work at home sometimes, and in Feb 2008 Louise joined me working as an Admin Assistant, again at home - better money and no weekend and Bank Holiday work for her!

In March we lambed successfully - 5 lambs - 3 ram lambs and 2 ewe lambs! Fantastic result, we were so pleased. No. 1 ewe had not come into lamb (problems ahead methinks) but to get 5 from 3 was a good result we thought, however disaster was waiting just around the corner!!! Stay tuned to see what happened next... Thanks for following!