Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Shaping up

Things are looking good down at the pig pen end of the smallholding, we now have a corral for the herd of cow, you can just about see her sticking her nose through the gate and licking the barbed wire. Yes only we would have a cow that tries to eat barbed wire. Ambrose is still keeping her company much to his and her annoyance but at least the garden is saved from his ravaging.

With the aid of the MkII post bodger Steve made short work of the posts. The weight on the self build post knockerinner weighs over 660 pound and the rocks just below the surface were no match for its power. I withstood the freezing temperatures to observe new skills, none of which I shall master but at least my incompetance will be better informed. The modern age continued with my first encounter with a petrol driven drill, an insanely sharp chainsaw which started first time everytime and a wonderful device called a Gripple. These small metal and plastic devices when used with a colourful combination of swearwords and an incredible ratchet thingy made from the nose cone of decomissioned space shuttles (honestly you cannot believe how incrediblely light and strong these plier/wrench/ratchet things are) join or tighten the strands of wire. A really simple way to tell if the wire is tight enough is to pluck the top strand. If it makes a sound similar to an open D minor chord on a guitar you know you are pretty close. Careful not to over tighten it though as the end post is likely to fly out and visits to the dentist are more expensive than Gripples.

So by end of playtime today we, as in the Royal we, I tended to watch and make appropriate oooh and aaah noises, we had changed the derilict landscape to the nearly finished pig pen stage.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Piggin play pen

When we moved here there was a plan to do everything the old fashioned way, man power and horse power. No quad bikes, tractors or other such machinery, no, we would do it the old way using old skills taught to us by old timers keen to pass on their font of agricultural knowledge.
The plan was sound except for the lack of old timers with enough patience to tutor yours truly in the ways of the countryside. The old timers that were available all rode about on quad bikes anyway and always began their worldly wisdom talks by stating that if that was what I wanted to do (whatever it was, say cider making, walking to market, any activity) they wouldn't have started like that, or from there or with that, and so on. The plan also ignored the cumulative effect of 16 pigs on one small pig pen.
Now our pigs loved the pig pen, the old rotten barn to play in, the car tyres stuffed with goodies to root about, the huge Sycamore tree to lie under, dig up and scratch on. But their favourite activity was tunnelling. The pig pen started with a sturdy fence with a strand of barbed wire at ground level. By pig 5, 6, 7 and 8 ground level had dropped considerably requiring a second strand of barbed wire a foot below the first. Pigs 9 and 10 changed the landscape enough to have the fence posts just suspended in the air, the points of the stakes just about touching the dirt. Solution, corrugated steel sheets behind the posts, this kept the fence upright and the pigs inside. Pigs 11 and 12 tunnelled out a different route and spent a lot of their time either chasing goats around the garden or sitting up on the cliff debating the aerodynamic properties needed to fly.
Pigs 13 t0 16 just thought the fence was a guideline rather than a barrier and routinely ignored it spending a lot of their time up on the common or sat on the sofa waiting to be fed. Something needed to be done. Especially as they had moved tons of dirt and rock which you can see behind the digger. As they are too big for one man and a lazy pony to move the modern age was allowed to tackle the job. Soon the tunnels were destroyed, the rocks moved and with the help of a MkII post bodger the pig proof fence is well under way. Tomorrow it will be finished. Hurrah for the modern age!
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Monday, 29 March 2010

Piggin useless

Stacey and Nessa are still enjoying their hols at Stable Sprites kingdom and really enjoying Berky's company. The thing is they shouldn't be. If they are pregnant they would be avoiding his advances. So they are going to stay another three weeks in the hope that they get in pig. If not then there is no future for them at Rock HQ other than a starring role in quite a few bar b ques and bacon rolls.

While I was there today I chose the latest piglets for pig club which starts again in a few weeks. April 8Th is the day we collect them. By then the pig pens should be complete.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Going back in time

Today got off to a strange start with Tracey and I going over to the farm where I grew up, it was a Ministry of Agriculture experimental sort of place. No weird animals with extra legs, no, not those sort of experiments, more along the lines of how much fertilizer can we put on an inch of ground before it dies, or can we get extra hay by cutting it earlier, later, or do sheep get fatter if sheared in the winter. No, they just get cold and, wait for it, need woolly jumpers. Anyway the purpose of this trip back to my roots was to meet up with Dad who was the shepherd on the said farm.

He arrived in the now famous ultrabrite Audi, which had lost its few specs of mud gained whilst at Rock HQ. Locals to the Rock have been asking who were the stangers in the magic self cleaning car. They were late, I suspect because the queue at the car wash was too long. Anyway in the sunshine we all stood somewhat amazed at the farm, which is now a vodka distillery. The sheep sheds have been knocked down and provide some lovely parking for vodka producers. The hop yards have gone, so have the sheep and the rustic barns have been replaced by huge modern things that with a bit more glass and a few more doors would look like a Tesco. Amongst this concrete wilderness totally devoid of charm a lanky youth approached who looked all of 12 and asked what we thought we were about. Asked what he was about the startling reply was that it was his farm. Amazing what you get if related to a crisp selling dynasty. He chatted for a few moments before his ADHD kicked in and he had to get in his big tractor digger thingy that allowed him to feed the hundred cattle in ten seconds thus replacing the workers from the 12 cottages that went with the farm when we lived there.

The place was not the same. No sheds full of old machinery. No badminton court in the hop kiln (an old hop net stretched across the drying room and chalk lines) No kennels full of anxious sheep dogs desperate to get out and play with the sheep, the names of those dogs still live with me, Whiskey (old and brown, poor lad couldn't jump into the back of the land rover and would dutifully follow, arriving back in the farm yard when everything had been done for the morning) Cindy, Barney, Meg, Fly, Glen (looked like a Berner) No fishing in the pool. No playing chase on bikes around the buildings. No tennis on the farmyard. In fact, nothing. Just concrete, glass and machinery. I was glad to get away, the place has lost its soul. Its better how I remember it.
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Saturday, 27 March 2010

Keep your whites clean

Today we had some very special guests here at Rock HQ. They arrived in an impossibly clean car for which I needed sunglasses to shield myself from the glare. I think the animals were a bit taken aback by the clean mobile so they stayed away. The car contained my parents, sister and brother-in-law who were on a flying visit. They live up north and this was the first time Dad had seen Rock HQ in the flesh as it were. He used to be a shepherd, unlike our feeble attempts at raising lamb chops he was hard core, 590 ewes giving birth, thankfully not all at the same time but it was pretty busy during lambing. My sister, Jackie, continued the white than white theme. Now we had warned her about the mud, the big dogs, the inevitable paw prints and we were resigned to the fact that she would be leaving with an interesting motif on her designer jacket. Much to every ones surprise she managed to stay spotlessly clean, we think the sheer audacity of colour choice baffled the beasts, that or the intensity of the white dazzled them and confused their aim. Even Trevor behaved himself and refused to bite the hand that fed him.
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The day the earth moved

I think it was a bit optimistic of us to think we might salvage the stone and brick pig sty hidden amongst the detritus of the old shacks. The walls looked good but on closer inspection a pig sneezing would have caused the lot to fall in on itself. I pointed this out to Tracey and gave the wall a gentle nudge to demonstrate saying that knowing my luck it would fall on me while I was cleaning out the pigs. Tracey agreed that this would be a problem, especially if any pig got hurt.

The digger solved any dilemma over who we should be most concerned over if injured by falling masonry by making it safe. This involved removing the offending article and the rule that states every job done generates at least another one is now apparent as a new pig ark needs building. Eventually the digger cleared the area, it would have taken weeks using unassisted manpower and we are ready to start fencing. Well almost. There's a couple of things that need moving first.

Two little things.

Friday, 26 March 2010

You've got a friend.

This is Geisha our damaged goat having a bit of a moment. Her leg is now almost healed, its taken a while but it seems to have stopped leaking and she gets stronger every day. She also gets stranger. Goats like company, they are a herd animal and Geisha was the bottom of the herd hierarchy. Now that Juliet, Bravo and Maggie have been sent to rehab Geisha is suddenly herd leader. Her herd consists of Ambrose, a midget Old English castrated billy, nicknamed Jaffa as he is small and seedless, Joan a black Ryeland ewe lamb who is only just bigger than a hamster and this rocking horse.

Ambrose has disgraced himself by getting into the garden so he is now Hetty's companion whether he or she likes it or not. His cards marked and if he gets in the garden again he will go to rehab with the others. Joan is a strange little lamb, she has for some reason not got the flock instinct. Unlike the others who stick together Joan is happy to boldly go all on her lonesome and leave the others far behind. She was for a short time very close to Geisha but then Joan managed to squeeze through a mouse sized hole in the fence and has left companionship in favour of grass. Geisha is a bit miffed at being left by her little friends. The rocking horse has remained unmoved by the antics of Geisha's fair weather friends. It is a steadfast and loyal beast, if a little wooden as company, but Geisha has taken to it in a big way and when its stabled in the workshop overnight she waits patiently by the door. Even in the rain. Weird things animals.
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Thursday, 25 March 2010

Grand designs

When we first moved to Rock HQ in autumn 2006 things looked a bit different. These pictures show what the estate agent euphemistically referred to as some very useful out buildings and a barn. Considering these pictures were taken after we had cut down the tree that blocked the entrance and got rid of the other one that filled the chicken run you might get some idea of what we were faced with.

Its good to look back now and then to see how things have changed.
The interior was no better, wall and roof collapsed, and hidden within was a stone and brick pig sty.

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This is how it looked today, to the right a useful "barn" refitted with nice wood walls and a stone floor one side, dirt and rocks fill the other side where the pigs have moved tons of the hill down the slope and in through the side entrance, the nice comfy side closest to camera is where Hetty lives. The middle has the remains of the pig sty whilst on the left is the old chicken shack which really is held together by moss, rust and bits of string. This set up has served us well, 16 pigs have been raised in and around these structures, the last four were mostly around as they tunneled out almost every day. Stacey and Nessa are a different proposition, having cute porkers run about the smallholding was usually quite amusing. The same cannot be said for beast the size of hippos so drastic measures are needed. As much as we have tried to do without them, we need some proper fencing and gates. So the money tree has been savagely pruned, the digger has been commissioned and once I get over the shock I will show you what two men and a JCB can do when paid enough.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

We all have them

It has been one of those days, one where everything planned to be done wasn't and instead a day of playing catch up began. It got off to a good start, a trip around Bonsai Mountain followed by the best bacon buttie ever, well a good athlete needs good food, and Stable Sprite joined us which was good timing on his part.
Breakfast over the minor irritations began, the like of which I wont bore you with, but suffice to say it involved driving across the county to ensure the right fencing materials arrived the right day so the pig pen will be pig proof. This also involved banks, the Internet, forgotten cash cards, rain, letting down friend who wanted to visit, contacting vets about worming a pregnant dog, celebrating Spotty, Bliss and WooZah's 1st birthdays and this horse.
He would have had no idea of the frustrations of the day, nor my wish not to be engaged in seemingly endless tasks rather than completing a report I had set my self a deadline for. Not him, no, he would be wondering about frollicking through daisies, buttercups and fresh green grass while he munched on his hay. Now at the moment we are trying our best to keep him really dry, especially in the leg area as having such lovely long feathers he is prone to mud fever, a sort of horsey athletes foot. Prevention is better than cure so he is kept out of the mud and on a nice dry concrete and rubber mat floor. So today of all days, just when it seemed like we had finally caught up, had finished chasing our tails and I had spent a useful and productive couple of hours writing, today was not the day to find him swimming in his stable. Somehow this genius horse had managed to break the drinking bowl pictured behind allowing 250 gallons of water to fall into his nice dry domain. The poor lad was a tad damp and grateful of rescue. Bless him. And the report got done. Well give a busy man a job its usually done. Especially as Tracey is here to help.
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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

At it again

The Ryelands at it again, forced entry to the workshop this time and ravaging the bin.
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Monday, 22 March 2010

Sport Relief 2

Hetty is being trained to follow the bucket, here you can see how well she is doing. First I thought she just wanted to join the sport relief run a mile challenge but in actual fact she convinced herself that cows were in the next field took off to join them. It would seem a cow in season is nearly as much trouble as a goat!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

What you looking at?

As a special treat today Stable Sprite took me to a pig keepers course run by the Pig Breeders Association or some such umbrella body. It was a marvelous opportunity to meet other smallholders and swap exciting stories about pigs while drinking fairtrade coffee, eating organic ginger biscuits and knitting tofu.
Ok. I am a smallholder. Its a fact. But I am a certain type of smallholder. The type who shudders when they meet the beardy sandal kaftan wearing rare breed saving types. I keep rare breeds alive by eating a lot of them. It got off to a tricky start today when a really enthusiastic bearded smallholder bounced up and demanded what type of pig I kept and were they for showing or breeding. I obviously misheard her and replied "Eating" which ended the conversation and she moved on.
There were some normal types there, the majority were called Steve and one Steve told a tale of how two Tamworth pigs decided not to get into the trailer like they were supposed to and decided to escape by going under the Daihatsu jeep which they flipped onto its side. Boar pigs fully grown can weigh over 50 stone, that's a lot of frustrated sausages that can be incredibly strong and aggressive.

Now on the whole the course was fascinating, and I learned a lot. One thing I learned was that pigs don't squeal like they are being murdered when picked up by their back legs. I also noted pig breeders use eye candy to attract potential buyers, like car manufacturers who adorn their latest models with scantily clad women, and that most of the male smallholders present today paid particular attention to one of the guest speakers glamorous assistant rather than the finer points of fat stock selection. It was amazing how many men suddenly took an interest in photography every time she showed a pig and when the demonstration of how to oil a pig began Stable Sprite and I were nearly killed in the sudden stampede as beardy sandal wearers rushed to get a good vantage point and several of the older smallholders had to be taken away for compulsory cold showers and a lie down in a darkened room.

Seeing a pig breeding system in operation start to finish (the tiny one that has escaped in the picture somewhere below is the start while the sleeping pigs above are the finish as they are due for slaughter tomorrow) was very helpful and elements will be employed here at Rock HQ.
Stable Sprite bought this mighty fine boar and a lovely maiden gilt from one of the top Berkshire breeders in the country. He was very happy with his purchase.
Me, I bought the most revolting sausage and chips for lunch ever, really if you are going to supply food to potential and pig breeders you should think a bit further than the pink sausage from Asda. But I was very happy. Mostly because I found that on a farm show casing the best of pig breeding in the country they use baler twine to keep the gates shut. Just like me.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Pay back

Having had such a lovely run of weather there had to be a time when we had to pay for all the glorious sunshine and today Rock HQ has been swathed in clouds and suffering deluge after deluge. It cleared long enough for me to walk the pack around the bonsai mountain twice. Once because I went to see the Technohermit, the other because I was so bored inside watching paint dry. We are decorating, I say we, Tracey is doing most while I moan about how boring it is, how messy it gets, how much furniture I have to move and whats that bloody cat doing sat on the newly glossed windowsill (I swear it was grinning at me as it jumped down and left a) ginger bum print and fur on glossy surface b) paw prints across oak floor boards)
It is the Technohermits birthday today. We thought long and hard about what to get a man who has lived on the side of a hill for the last 46 or so years, in the end we decided on a small hand axe. I have chopped some wood for him a while back and faced with his chopper I was amazed he ever cut anything so I knew he would appreciate a nice shiny new one. His best cutting implement is something that looks like it should be in a museum, used for laying hedges and about as sharp as a badgers arse. He also uses a meat cleaver which is sharper than his badgers bum blade but only in so far as a rats backside is sharper than a badgers.
To say he was happy with his birthday gift would be an understatement, the top half of his head almost fell of he grinned so broadly. Taking a few practice slices through the air he thanked me profusely. No problem I assured him as I stepped back out of swinging range, just be careful. Any plans for the birthday boy? I asked Well he was off to town to have fish and chips. Excellent plan. I left him chopping imaginary logs.
This evening the phone rang. He was just phoning to thank me for the axe, he had eaten the chocolate cake Tracey had made him and was just back from having a slap up meal of fishcakes and chips. I could tell he was happy. "One thing though," he hesitated, "one thing, have you got any plasters I could have?"

Friday, 19 March 2010

Rotten to the core

The thought struck me as we were dealing with the rotten bunch at the end of the lane that trees are a bit like people really.Some trees are a pillar of strength while others are rotten to the core and will cause problems.

Thursday, 18 March 2010


WooZah helping the ducks back up the lane.
There are still nine of them and they still refuse to lay eggs, the drakes have an excuse for this deficit but the ducks had better get on with their reason for being otherwise they might get acquainted with cherry or orange sauce. The poultry in general have dismissed the pond I built for them and quack blue murder if they are "persuaded" to avail themselves of the facilities. They are irritating at the moment, more so the geese who have for some extraordinary reason taken to climbing into the gully along the cliff at the back of Rock HQ. This is particularly amusing, especially at night when you are trying to get them back into the safety of the duck house and away from the marauding foxes and they set off in every direction except the right one.
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Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Eat more beef

Tracey bought me a lamb chop yesterday.
I haven't had lamb for, well, ages, cant remember in fact. Mr Whirlpool ran out of bits of Shrek, April and Ivory (names of our first born) four pigs, three pheasants and a deer ago. Lamb being my favourite meat, and wanting to try our own mutton, it was perhaps a bit rash of Springtime to step into harms way while I was busy chopping logs. For a second the combination of hunger, sharp axe, chopping block and victim were all brought together in the spring sunshine. One blow and chops aplenty. Slow roast mutton, hotpots, liver, all there, mine for the taking.
But the vegetarian in me won the day and knowing the sort of telling off I would get from my beautiful and oh so patient wife if ever I harmed a single strand of wool of the potential lamb chops that inhabit our world Springtime was spared the attention of my chopper and wandered off to join the rest of the flock who were busily devouring the haylege bale. It is actually illegal to invade the personal space of any sheep with any sort of chopper anyway so being the law abiding type of smallholder I am I can quite categorically state I have never used my chopper on any sheep.
Sensing my disappointment Tracey bought me a lamb chop as a consolation.
She has also hidden the axe.
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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The real work begins

Its amazing how much can get done in a short time if you apply yourself. The maxim many hands makes light work rang true as three amigos set about the remains of the trees with a fine selection of power tools, blades and unending enthusiasm. After four hours one tree was cut into easily manageable chunks and loaded into the ubiquitous Ford Transit.

Steve spent a happy hour or so salvaging as many logs as he could from the militias field where the majority of the second tree had inadvertently landed and again in no time at all it was all stacked neatly along our lane. I set myself the task of clearing all the brash as my chainsaw was ashamed to be seen in the presence of Steve's shiny orange and white thing. My having a cold also made me less than handy with a motorised cutting implement and already having proved my capacity for self harm admirably by picking up a branch that I completely failed to observe was on fire (I let it go faster than I took hold of it) it would only be a matter of time before I attempted to wipe the perpetual drip off the end of my nose while sawing and having another free ride in a white, yellow and green van with flashing lights and total dominance when it comes to rights of way. Mrs Steve helped move the mountains of broken twigs and the huge concrete pipe section proved a very useful furnace. As the concrete superheated the moisture could not escape quick enough and for a while we ran the gauntlet of concrete shrapnel as it exploded with deafening booms.

Van loaded they left me to my own devices and soon I had cleared away all the cuttings from the extreme pruning session a week or so ago, cleared out all the confidential rubbish and disposed of several copies of the Yellow Pages and Phone Book that appear to breed on the shelves of the utility room. Probably not the greenest disposal but given the glorious sunshine today I am currently in favour of global warming.
Not all of the day was spent cutting swathes through virgin forestry and other manly pursuits, no, I had to do some real work. Luckily it only took a few minutes out of messing around but it was a job well done. Soon I shall be seeing a lot more of this building and a lot less of Rock HQ, but its a trade off I can cope with.
The fire burnt out and I sat for a while on one of the massive logs enjoying the heat from the embers and the sun. Spotty lent against my leg for a bit of fuss, I was drinking the most excellent cup of tea in the history of PG and all was well in my world. Overhead a Red Kite paused in flight for a second before swooping down the lane and behind Rock HQ.

A sign.

All was well, and all will be well.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Is that the best you can do?

It all started so well, the first tree fell precisely where it should. The second one went slightly off course. This made for a very interesting day at Rock HQ.

Farming for begginers

Spot the sheep dog.

Easy :)
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Sunday, 14 March 2010

A lot of trouble......

Over an empty bucket! The Ryelands once again reinforcing the stereotypical view that sheep are brainless as they ignore the ton on haylege a squabble over an empty bucket.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Nose bag

Apollo with his nose well and truly in the feed bag.
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Poor sheep

One of the many problems the militia have this time of year is that should any of their sheep get into difficulty while lambing up on the hills it invariably means the ewe and lamb die. I found this poor sheep yesterday, not long dead, the head of its lamb had stuck and eventually both had died. In twenty four hours she has been reduced to a skeleton and a pile of wool by scavengers eager for an easy meal. I took the colour out of the picture as it was to say the least a bit gruesome.
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