Summer is always hectic on a smallholding, but it reached something of a fever pitch after Dimple calved. With the heatwave meaning we had to water the garden every day (and an acre of kitchen garden takes a while to water), Jules being in the middle of ripping out our hot water so being pretty hectic with plumbing, Melinka not sleeping, ditch digging, piglets arriving and learning to milk, I have to admit that I got a little overwhelmed.
We had always approached milking with a little trepidation, particularly as neither we, nor Dimple, had done it before. It is a long and boring story (so I’ll spare the details) but despite starting out well, milking got harder and harder. We even bought an expensive milking machine in the hope that might solve the problem but (as you may have guessed) it didn’t. The whole situation became totally untenable when we were spending a fortune paying for grain to feed her in order to keep her still while we milked her, it was taking over two hours every day and it was becoming totally demoralising and depressing as the whole experience slowly became more and more unpleasant, culminating in a hoof to the nose. We were on the verge of admitting defeat and getting rid of Dimple when one of our neighbours (a retired dairy farmer) happened to drive by and saved us. He came round every day at milking time for a week and got Dimple used to the portable milking machine. There is no substitute for the personal guidance of a pro – we owe him a lot! We had read all the books and all the forums, but within 5 minutes he had taught me more than I had learnt in the last year of “preparation” for milking. So now life is just about manageable again, milking is done in a
few minutes and I have even managed to do it with my one year old strapped to my back. It isn’t the romantic hand-milking I had hoped for, but I don’t feel close to a nervous breakdown anymore! It still takes a while to process the milk and clean the equipment but, as we only milk once a day, it is do-able.
The seven cute little Oxford Sandy & Black piglets were born in early July. Our sow (Barbara) farrowed right at the start of the heatwave. Jules had to tend her with wet towels to keep her cool and we had to move the pig ark into the shade the day after the piglets were born. They all survived that very hot first week, Barbara being a totally lovely mother. They are super cute and growing at a stonking rate. We have sold 3 so far and are selling another 3. They will be weaned at the beginning of September.
Sadly, we lost our best hens to a fox on Melinka’s first birthday – we never expected him to turn up in the middle of the one day we were all out. To add insult to injury, this loss was quickly followed by a buzzard attack on our growing chicks, which thankfully only resulted in one casualty but has made us realise we might have to succumb to the pressure and actually fence the chickens. Free ranging completely seems to be just too hazardous. We’re just not sure where we can squeeze this into the jobs list…..
It is such a relief to have some decent weather. The late spring and glorious summer has resulted in a bumper strawberry season (which partners beautifully with our Jersey cream). Now we’re in full squash glut and can see we’re going to have a ridiculous number of apples – are there any volunteers to help with cider making in October?!
The rain has returned, but it’s nice to have a break from watering, and the memory of that glorious heatwave, a week off with visitors and Melinka’s first birthday party in the sun will sustain me for a good while.
Happy summer everyone!