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!


  1. sorry to say I doubt your beautiful pussy cat will help with the rats, I have 9 and we still have lots of rats! The only way that we got one of the cats to get a rat was by cornering the rat and dropping out best hunter, star, right on top of it! The ferrets however have really helped. I also have a Welsummer cockerel, I think they look amazing!:)

  2. Mmmh, you're probably right. So far she's short changed us in that department and the compost bins are in dire need of action. I might have to get Jasper, our Patterdale terrier, on the case.

    The new Welsummer was strutting his stuff this morning, picking on the old girls, laying down the law, so to speak. He's a bit raggedy at the moment, but if he turns out as lovely as the last one i'll be pleased. They're such cockerel cockerels aren't they, just like you want a farmyard cockerel to look like!

  3. Thanks for the plug! It's all really interesting... I'm learning lots! Gone off chickens though if they attract rats, can't see the dachshund being much good!