Saturday, 31 October 2009
Crispen, our pedigree Ryeland Ram came back from his holiday today. Like most of us he came back from his trip a few pounds heavier than when he left. His services we well received by the small flock of Welsh cross ewes he had been staying with, I am sure he had a big smile on his face as he walked past me.
Friday, 30 October 2009
I put the car keys in my pocket, something rustled ominously.
The cheques were still in my pocket, the cheques I had promised faithfully to pay into the bank. Ah.
The same bank I was supposed to go to to get money for Pritch who is building the new Berner accommodation block. Ooops.
The Berners, who were watching me from the conservatory, the hungry looking dogs for whom I was supposed to get the dog food after going to the bank. Oh dear. What had I spent my lunchtime doing?
My only defence, I'm a man, unable to multi-task and I was distracted by market stalls and a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich.
Thursday, 29 October 2009
Final preparations are underway to get the pig club porkers transformed into recognisable joints, sausage and bacon. They have had a very active and happy life chasing me around the pig pen, creating numerous exits and demolishing the old sty walls. Bronny in particular has done her best to ingratiate herself into the Rock HQ pet club but to no avail. Her antics have provided much amusement but the jokes wearing thin, especially at 6.30 in the morning which she has decided is the ideal time to be banging on the front door demanding food. She has been a good pig, but will be great pork.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
This is probably not the most picturesque view of the city but it was the view that greeted me from my hotel window. Thankfully my short stay was very wprthwhile, the course was interesting, enlightening really on many levels. To be surrounded by leaders and experts in the field of child protection was a real tonic.
Tracey had done a great job running the ranch in my absence, even though she is struck down by a terrible cold she dutifully fed all the critters and made sure they were all catered for before collapsing in a heap on the sofa by the woodburner with a lemsip.
Monday, 26 October 2009
Today I swap this view from my front door for the delights of London. My job sometimes takes me to exotic locations like Premier Inns in large cities or urban conurbations. The subject matter of the conferences is as depressing as the location. Our friend Mountainbikegirl, or Sara as she is more commonly known often rejoices about the wonders of city living. I have to disagree, for me it holds no attractions.
Tracey will be in charge of the smallholding, no change there then, and as far as I am concerned the only good thing about going away is that I get to come back again!
Sunday, 25 October 2009
The Berners like to dry off after a walk in one of the stables. They roll in the straw and get rid of a bit of mud, well all except Dotty who likes to keep hers. Yesterday when we got back they had a bit of a surprise. Bronwyn had decided it was a good place to have a kip, after she had rearranged the interior.
Bronny is so expert at getting out of the pig pen that she now routinely lets herself out, tries to provoke the humans at Rock HQ into feeding her, has a quick check of the other animals feed stations before trotting back to the sty to make sure she isn't missing anything. Today I saw her in the garden so I quietly got into the sty and fed the other three. Bronwyn spotted breakfast was being served and lay by the side of the fence and wriggled under. There was no way an animal her size could get under the fence but she managed it.
She also kept Pritch, our very friendly and expert builder, company while we went on a quick sortie over to Mr20%'s for some apple cake cooked by his lovely wife. The day might have gone differently had I succumbed to the temptation of a glass of Calvados, but as I had to help with the concreting I decided not to sample the apple rocket fuel.
Coffee and caked up we got back to Rock HQ where Pritch looked a bit down. Things had not gone well since we had left him on his own. The roof he removed from the back of the black hole had then collapsed and crushed the metal ladder, breaking it, he reversed his new van up the lane and thoughtfully pulled over to the side to allow us to get past when we returned. Unfortunately he hit a metal gate I had thoughtlessly left open putting two huge scratches into his back door. Tracey went and made him a nice cup of tea as he recounted the tale of woe, as he finished his ipod and speakers fell off the wall. He shrugged as if this proved his point.
Ben called via satellite phone and cheered us all up, he and Pritch are best friends so they had a quick chat about Rugby, pubs and girls. Much happier he set back to the concreting. The shuttering was all in place what could possibly go wrong. As it turned out quite a lot, at a crucial point the wood holding back a dozen barrow loads of concrete gave way. I hope this was as a result of wood fatigue and not as result of my treading on the concrete from above to "move it along". Pritch was at the base of the concrete column we were constructing and in homage to the little Dutch Boy bravely held back the impending avalanche of grey stuff while I ran round to help him. Much sawing and bracing later we, well he, managed to rectify the situation and we continued mixing and laying until darkness fell.
He packed his tools and cleared away, he wasnt his usual self, no banter. He had had a hard day. I waved him off as he pulled out of the yard, maybe next time he would have a better day. And maybe the coffee mug on the roof of the van would still be there when he got home.
Saturday, 24 October 2009
Since we started smallholding we have encountered many unexpected things. Some big like 45 tons of rock landing in the garden, or 30 Orthodox Jews wandering lost in our yard or perhaps geriatric geologists searching for "the mother stone". Some not so big like goats hiding behind the TV, pigs in the kitchen or ponies in the living room.
We have also seen some strange things, like goats on the roof of the cottage, on the roof and bonnet's of visitors cars, up trees, up the cliff, in fact goats are strange full stop. No, strange things people don't usually see like Hermits running naked through the bracken, goats with feed bags stuck on their heads (goats again, there is a theme here) and Ryeland sheep trapped in all sorts of ways, by their heads, legs, ears and wool.
Today we were confined to barracks due to the foul weather and some much needed home admin got attended to, like defrosting the freezer. By lunchtime I was climbing the walls to get outside and as the weather temporarily changed from gales and rain to gales I took the Berners up the The Whet Stone. This is a sort of spiritual meeting place for Ben and I, he being away fighting in the war at the moment, so I took a few moments and said a few prayers and hoped he was OK. The chances of him coming home soon seem to have altered due to a second election. We are missing him very much. Hopefully the Taliban are also missing him very much.
Anyway, as can be seen from the video clip above, its a big piece of rock (only a third of the size of the piece that landed in our garden but that's a different tale) and a significant feature on the landscape. But take a look at the picture below. I only noticed as I was leaving. In the background you can see our hill, we live the other side of it. The rock in the foreground has a certain symmetry from this angle, the depression in the rock full of water, stories abound that during the Black Death coins were left in vinegar as payment for provisions placed by the stone. Probably as true as Old Nick being buried underneath it or Black Vaughn the robber baron. But look closely at the top of the rock, there is a big piece of sheep pooh on it.
How did it get there? Sheep would not really be inclined to exert that much effort to get on top just to do a number two. Having discounted a sheep with gymnastic tendencies and a bowel problem that leaves only one other explanation. A bored walker put it there.
Friday, 23 October 2009
I was still suffering man flu but decided to get some fresh air and check the hedge trimmers work. Accompanying me were four of the dogs, the two white Beagles here are nearly 18 years old and still sprightly waggy dogs. Passion and Preston, siblings, came from a hunting pack over Clyro way and are enjoying a leisurely retirement at Rock HQ.
Passion can hardly contain her happiness when she beagles about, often singing as we walk. Just rushing in and rushing out of shot are Pip the mental collie and Faith, the hyperactive Gordon Setter.
The lane was all in order so all was well in our world. By late afternoon I was feeling much better so did some more planning on the windmill project which made me happy.
Thursday, 22 October 2009
By the time I had finished my head was pounding so hard and fast it could have been used as a bass line by Metallica.
I lay on the bed wishing Tracey was here to mop my fevered brow and sincerely wishing I had not spent so much of my previous life at Heavy Metal gigs standing by the bass bins soaking up the decibels that has given me a permanent whistling in my ears. This varies from time to time from a slight high pitched whistle to the dull roar of a jet engine. I pulled the pillow over my head, the roar was too loud to sleep, I pressed the pillow tighter and groaned. The noise was getting louder.
And louder. A noise that was akin to a hoover sucking up gravel being thrown downstairs attached to a pig. This was a new one. It was very loud. I sat up. Even with the pillow attached I was able to ascertain the decibels were external not internal. I stood at the window and leant out.
A very nice man, called Steve (obviously) in an extremely large tractor had reversed up our lane and was in the process of cutting the hedge with a flail trimmer. I had asked him to come and do it several weeks ago but had thought he had forgotten about it. It was a nice surprise to see him. Equally I feel he was surprised to see me which probably explains the sudden dip in the hedgeline opposite the cottage, probably caused by a momentary lapse of concentration after the sudden appearance of a half naked fat bloke clutching soft furnishings to his ears at the window.
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Some of the more avid readers of these pages might be wondering what has become of the five potential Christmas dinners being fattened at Rock HQ.
Our success rate with turkeys has been limited, perhaps non existent since our first Christmas here in 2006. That year we managed to bring on five to reasonable weight, costing a mere £65 each on feed, but never the less they were our first home grown birds and very tasty. Since then Terrance, a massive Bourbon Red stag and his three wives all fed foxes, for weeks probably, rather than us, and our hopes of putting Bernard Manning out of business died alongside Terrance's blood line. The fox even took the nest of eggs one of the hens was sitting on.
This year we avoided the temptation to get turkeys, right up to the moment my hand shot in the air at a poultry sale and I was suddenly the proud owner of five turkey chicks. Night fell on the smallholding and the chicks were tucked up safely in the stable with a goat as guardian.
By morning five had become four, as one, perhaps aware of its fate drowned itself in the bucket of water.
Two days passed. Four became Three. Goat needed pillow and used turkey. Turkey didn't move and died. Goat given a stern talking to and remaining three turkeys given health and safety advice.
Advice not taken when next day three became two when goat sat on turkey in preference to straw covered concrete.
Final two taken to new quarters. Posters illustrating dangers posed by goats displayed, life rings installed by drinkers and cats given extra rations. Confident that final two will make it to the festive season. Relax.
Two become one, no explanation other than aliens beamed it up. Vanished without trace, dogs and cats interrogated but no culprit discovered.
Final one treated with extreme caution and put on close surveillance. Tonight as I did the rounds I observed the final one upside down in a bucket of water. Not its own. It had managed to get into the dogs water. It was still alive, just, and is now recovering covered in straw, surrounded by bales in the stable. The chances of me getting a Christmas dinner from our remaining turkey is a slim one. They are, officially the most stupid animal in the farm yard, and ours have no wish to be an exception to that rule.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Monday, 19 October 2009
Tonight was another exercise in the food chain, a delivery of animal feed courtesy of the Stable Sprite. After the foray by the goats, a few treats for the horses and far to much wasted on the useless poultry the last half ton had gone down a bit quicker than planned and even I, with my poor grasp of math could calculate that the remnants of the feed sack would not keep the smallholding well fed for another week. Luckily the Stable Sprite responded to the secret signal (a text message) and as he was fetching another load for himself was kind enough to abuse the carrying capacity of his horse box by adding another half ton for the needy.
Unloading it requires inhabitants and visitors of Rock HQ form a food chain passing buckets of feed one way and empty buckets the other, imagine the old style way of fire fighting before pressure hoses were invented. The half ton is quickly moved despite having to weave around chickens, sheep and goats who are all keen on testing each full bucket by way of quality assurance. The goats have not learned the danger of over eating and had to be driven off by yours truly giving his best King Kong impression, beating his chest and running after them waving a bucket in a goat threatening manner.
Sunday, 18 October 2009
It has been a long week here at Rock HQ, one which will be etched into our memory forever. How these four goats managed to survive is a credit to modern medicines, Ambrose who also survived is not in the picture as he is spending his waking hours searching for his twin, Archie who was not so fortunate and moved to celestial pastures the morning entrotoximia was diagnosed.
Juliet, above, is still not quite 100% and seems to be sticking to plain food like twigs, bark and other rough stuff. I can tell the three below are feeling a bit more adventurous, not only because they are foraging for hay but they are also within striking distance of Misty the feisty Shetland who has a temper on her that matches Genghis Khan's.
Saturday, 17 October 2009
You might wonder how big do Berkshires get, pig club porkers are around 7 months old now and a few weeks away from becoming a lot of pork and bacon.
Here are a couple of pictures of a young Jedi training his war pig, Barky is a full grown boar and father of pig clubs pigs.
As you can see Barky is a huge happy pig, unlike the Jedi.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Time flies, some things change, some stay the same.
Friday the 13th was supposed to be the day we moved in to Rock HQ in 2006, but the Nice Man who sold us our dream panicked at the last minute and delayed the move until Monday the 16th. This meant Tracey, me, two dogs and bucket of fish spent a weekend in her uncles house in Telford contemplating our future. The kids stayed at friends wondering what had possessed us to relinquish the modern luxury of a three bed terrace to live on a hill inhabited by 300 sheep and a hermit. It was either the best move in the history of house moves or, as it seemed at the time, the worst decision I had ever made and I was solely responsible for four people, two dogs and bucket of fish being homeless.
Monday the 16th dawned and the Nice Man hadn't finished moving out, so we parked in the lane with a van load of our worldly goods, and the fish, waiting for him to finish moving out. 2pm and we stepped over the threshold.2.01 pm the fish were in the pond.
Against all odds we managed to get the house in some sort of habitable state by 9pm, hence the Chinese meal and champers.
Tonight we are celebrating the wonderful life we lead at Rock HQ with a homemade curry and have pushed the boat out to get some champers, well it was on offer so rude not to. Happy with our lot, surviving numerous adventures like life threatening accidents, rockfalls, floods, fires, snow, sudden deaths of livestock to name but a few. We have had so many joyous experiences over the last three years, all the setbacks and sad moments cannot erase our achievements. We have made so much progress here and the friendships we have established with other farmers and all those called Steve will last a lifetime.
Double celebrations though, our lead goat Juliet is alive and kicking, still not 100% but I am confident she will make it. She ventured outside the stable tonight, had a look around and decided a nice straw bed was preferable to the yard. Sensible goat that one.
Thursday, 15 October 2009
Reba and Rocky2 confronting Bronwyn in the lane. Bronwyn is undoubtedly the leader of the Pig Club escape commitee and is not averse to solo breakouts.
Goats are still alive but poorly. I collected another shot of anti biotic for Juliet who is having trouble breathing. Bravo and Ambrose are looking better and will probably pull through. Juliet is still only 50-50.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Each morning is a rush to get to the feed store, fill the buckets and get out again without being detected or trampled. The goats have an internal radar and can home in on any bucket carrying biped with uncanny accuracy come rain or shine, in full daylight or darkest night you know full well you will encounter a goat as you navigate the smallholding.
Not this morning.
All quiet on the western front.
As the cliche says. Too quiet.
Feeding the pigs unmolested was a new experience but one I wish I hadn't had when I found Archie spreadeagled on the floor, looking like a goat who had suffered a parachute malfunction, flat out, bleating miserably. The trail of green mucus ridden pooh a clear sign he was about to shuffle off his mortal coil. I picked him up and took him to the stable knowing he was about to be an ex goat. He had entrotoximia, he had exploded. It soon became apparent that dotted around the smallholding were the rest of the herd, all UXG's (unexploded goats) but reaching critical mass. We needed urgent veterinary help, time was short, especially for the goats.
The UXG's were carefully led into the stable and the vet summonsed. Work was called, we would be very late today.
Entrotoximia is a fatal illness, swift in onset, as little as two hours and the goat can be dead. Symptoms for it listed in the how to keep goats book include dead goat. Its that certain. Ours are vaccinated against it but this offers little or no protection. Its caused by the rumen in the stomach changing from alkaline to acid, this triggers a massive rise in a bacteria the goat has in its stomach which eats the stomach walls away, causes shock, septicemia and death. The cause of the sudden change in ph is usually caused by eating to much rich food or too much of a different food. The goats had been pushing their luck with the garden foraging but survived, the raid on the food store was now, in all likelihood about to prove fatal. Juliet the dominant female was the worst off as she would have defended the food store against all comers, until stuffed, then the others would have got a look in. Archie, one of the kids lacked the constitution of the adults and so succumbed quicker. By the time the vet was called Archie had died.
Paul, a very knowledgeable vet (unusual for a vet to know so much about UXG's anyway) donned his protective gear and entered the stable. Maggie and Geisha, the high maintenance Anglo Nubian's had begun to rally and were even cudding (chewing last nights food again) so they were deemed safely diffused and let back outside. Juliet, Bravo and Ambrose were in a sorry state and their life clocks were ticking away. Massive quantities of anti-biotic and minerals were injected into their backsides, Ambrose cried like a baby at this point. Its an unnerving sound, a goat sounding like a baby crying. All were given a milky type solution that stank like vegetable soup which was designed to get their rumen the right side of the ph scale. Paul was very good with them and we liked him, not sure what the goats thought of him but he had done medicines best, what happened now was up to the small god of the goat universe.
We went to work knowing that two out of six were fine. Doesn't sound good but its the first time that Fate has been beaten here as far as goat illness goes. We also thought that two more might be saved, Ambrose and Bravo were showing signs of recovery. Juliet was only fifty fifty as to whether she would be alive when we got back.
On return Maggie and Geisha were in the tree line like nothing had happened watching us with interest, ready to intercept any buckets destined for other animals. In the stable Ambrose began to eat the fresh hay we put out. Bravo moved to it and stuck her muzzle in it, not eating but still upright and breathing.
Juliet was in the corner, her breathing a horrible rasping sound, she looked around the same as first thing but was now off her legs and it doesn't look good.
Ambrose is recovered, I think its safe to say, Bravo perhaps 60-40, if she can be persuaded to eat I would be more hopeful. As for Juliet I think there is only a slim chance she will be alive by morning.
Half the herd saved, maybe more but its not a game I want to play often, if at all. Fate plays rough with smallholders and likes to win.
Monday, 12 October 2009
Sunday, 11 October 2009
Lack of sleep really helped the long drive but by 9.30 we were back at HQ and getting on with the jobs. Concreting was planned but our number one concreter had locked himself out of his house so was stuck the other side of the county. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as there was no way I felt like that much hard work today and the routine jobs that needed doing, getting water to the horses, pigs and so on all ate into the daylight hours and before we knew it the day was over. Messing about with leaky pipework that couldn't hold the pressure of the water from the bore hole without falling apart stiffened my resolve to contact Steve and see if my brilliant idea of a pump in the well is actually that.
In between walking up and down the hill connecting and reconnecting pipes, rushing back to turn various valves and taps to regulate the water pressure I thought of many things, not least of which was can you buy a 20mm to 25mm connector at 4.30 on a sunday afternoon. The local Spar I suspect would sell me many things but not this very necessary item. As 20million gallons of ice cold water shot out of the suddenly disconnected pipe hitting me with the force of a water cannon soaking me from the waist down I dutifully forced the pipe back in place and adjusted the pressure of the flow with one of three taps placed along the length of pipe, once harmony had been achieved with the three taps the water manages to stay within the confines of the pipe and into the various containers and drinking vessels used by the inhabitants of Rock HQ. The three taps being on two separate pipes and thirty metres apart just adds to the entertainment that can be had running in water filled boots.
As the water started to arrive in its intended destinations I perused the pigs fate, soon to be part of the food chain, these pigs have grown to be the friendliest pigs ever raised at Rock HQ. Plans are afoot to build some proper pig pens and do it all properly next year, which will hopefully lead to an opportunity to raise some revenue by animal husbandry rather than lose it like we usually do. This was a topic of last nights dinner, aside from the many ways you can butcher a pig, how do you make smallholding pay so you can do it full time and not work elsewhere.
As I squelched back up to the disconnected pipe for the fifth and final time of the afternoon I really knew that this was what I wanted to do, its so much more fun than work. Its hard, chaotic, messy, fills you with hope, then despair, but I have never been happier. So, much thought will have to be applied to this puzzle, how can I do this full time. Meantime I shall continue to buy lottery tickets.
Saturday, 10 October 2009
It had been a great day, the Stable Sprite and his apprentice Gremlin took me from the sanctuary of Rock HQ to a BNP rally. This one was not attended by skinheads of limited intellect, rather a gathering of pig fanciers intent on buying and selling the finest pork on its trotters the country could offer. The British National Pigclub was having an auction.
For once head ruled heart and I sat on my hands as others bought the magnificent animals. The BBC were there filming, Jimmy of the Jimmy's farm "reality" TV programme was there and spending what was hopefully his own not license payers money on potential pork chops. Stable Sprite also refrained from bidding, at one point it our virtual auction we would have been coming back to the ranch with 19 assorted pigs, luckily the van wouldn't have taken that sort of cargo and we had forgotten our credit cards.
On the journey back I plotted how to get rid of all the goats, sheep and hangers on, build new fences (having just forked out for a post bodger it would be silly not to) recycle the tin roof off the "barn" to build proper pig proof fencing, using an old water tank as a pig ark and getting Steve to install a pump in the well to provide clean water to all the animals rather than rely on my Heath Robinson water collection system from the stream.
Back at HQ I did my rounds, feeding and watering. I had seen the goats were in the garden again but the constant battle has worn me down so I left that encounter til last. When I finally faced that challenge their antics had left the one greenhouse with three smashed panes of glass, basically the back wall gone and the tomato house devoid of its namesake. The only greenery in either house was stalks. Chewed.
This was a camel back breaker.
They are now destined for sale or curry.
Friday, 9 October 2009
My extended weekend got off to a good start as the pigs, probably upset that I hadn't fed them as early as I usually do, broke through the wall of the chicken run and rampaged around the yard stopping now and then to grab mouthfuls of hay.
For a while chaos ensued as dogs, goats and poultry all either fought their corner or ran about excitedly letting me know there was yet another pork incursion. These have to be the most persistent pigs we have had for breaking out, but the most amenable to bucket following pigs ever. They dutifully followed yours truly back along the lane where they were temporarily corralled in the overgrown chicken run while I got on with my day.
As I cleared the lane and bank of twigs and branches and disposed of them on a huge bonfire the pigs busily grubbed around and snouted out self sown potatoes and scoffed yards of nettle roots. Midday saw white van man venture into our domain with a special delivery. Not the happiest of chaps when the magnificent seven bundled inside his van and launched themselves at his half eaten chocolate bar. I tried to jolly him along by pointing out the damage to his front drivers wing and headlight. Apparently yesterday had been a bad day too, today got worse when a goat of dubious parentage tried to make off with his sandwiches and a very fast thieving collie ran off with his crisps. I mumbled my apologies as he snatched back his electronic delivery book and clambered back into the safety of his van.
The packages were quickly opened.
Weapons of mass destruction had arrived. The chainsaw and hedge trimmer were soon in action until rain stopped play.
Thursday, 8 October 2009
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Its nearly three years since we took the leap of faith and began our smallholding adventures. It doesn't seem like anytime at all, its raced by. The evenings are drawing in, dark by seven, dark at seven in the morning and it only seems like yesterday that we were waiting for spring to sprung and yet its autumn already! Our third one. Actually I can only remember two on account of being off my face on drugs autumn 2007 for pain relief and infection control but that's another story. We are currently enjoying some fantastic autumn colours on our hill.