How things have changed since we left the Big Smoke

The 5th of November marked our second anniversary since selling our London pad and buying Penybanc. A lot has happened and today’s events are a pretty good example of how different our lives have become.

The first thing  Jules does on getting up at dawn is let the geese and the chickens out and then light the fire, while I feed and change the baby. We threw on clothes and went out to put the cow out to graze and then catch, tag and worm two weaners. While Jules fed all the animals I sorted the pig movement license and other bits of paperwork for selling the pigs. All this by 9am. It is not quite the same as getting up, showering, getting the tube and a coffee on the way to the office. Then there were other countless little jobs that we won’t bore you with but we rounded the daylight hours off by delivering our last two weaners to our local housing cooperative buddies (in part exchange for a willow weaving lesson). We looked at the green electric tape surrounding the enclosure a little dubiously as it was barely visible even to us in the dusky light but, being optimistic, Jules lifted the pigs out of the trailer (I could only vaguely assist as they are a) far to strong for me and b) I had Melinka sleeping in a sling on my chest) and put them into their new enclosure. Rather predictably the first shock the piggies got sent them tumbling straight out into the coppiced woodland and scrub around. Poor Jules spent the next hour and a half chasing piglets in quickly fading light. By the time Jules caught them (one of them having been caught twice) one of his trouser legs was so badly torn that the whole leg almost came off and he was covered in scratches. Let’s put it this way, he definitely doesn’t have soft office hands any more!

Anyway, we have just stoked the fires and are now off to bed at 9.30pm. Rock on!

Life and Death

As usual, we have not been very good at keeping our blog up-to-date, so apologies to any Penybanc followers. This is a short update going to the very root of what we feel smallholding is all about: Life, Death and Sex (well Reproduction really, but it doesn’t sound as rock n roll….).


Starting with Life. 4 September was an auspicious day as our gilt gave birth to her first litter of eight super cute piglets, thus coming of age and becoming a sow. Barbara (the pig) has always had a lovely temperament, but we were warned by people and literature that, when in labour, she might become aggressive and that she might eat the piglets once they were born. Whether because she is an Oxford Sandy and Black (OSB) orsuckling-piglets just her particular personality, but she was a delight throughout the whole process. Barbara started showing signs that she might farrow the day before and started making a nest. We gave her rushes and straw, all of which she used. She also decided to add clods of earth and nettles, to make a rather untidy looking nest in her house. At 3a.m. I checked on her and she was still making her nest in an almost trance like state, not seeming to even notice me with my torch until I was right next to her peering into her house. By 8a.m. piglets-in-the-housethere were four piglets and we thought she must have finished as she was showing no symptoms of labour and stopped to eat breakfast. After eating she returned to her house and duly popped out another four piglets, while grunting gently and seeming very relaxed that I was in the house with her, catching and drying the piglets as they came out. Unfortunately, the runt did not survive, but the other six gilts and one boar are now strong and very inquisitive. They have already started eating solids and learnt some valuable lessons about electric fencing. There are more photos of the pigs in our GALLERY and a little video of them HERE.

On the chicken front there has been both Life and Death (which actually, thinking about it, was also the case with the piglets). We continued to pursue our ambition to keep Australorp chickens and finally managed to hatch eight chicks out of 36 eggs we incubated in total. Every single one of these had to be helped out of their shells, which is controversial in itself. We were extremely happy, though, as finally we were sure we should get at least a couple of hens. Seven of those chicks survived (one died just a couple of days after hatching) and, after several weeks in a box in the kitchen, went outside into a little run within our main chicken run in July. Sadly, one night the electric fence was not on as the battery ran down in the night and a fox (our first experience of one since being here) got in and killed six of the chicks and left one in a very sorry state. We nursed that one back to health against the odds. We knew he had recovered when he appeared

in our living room and hopped up onto the sofa! We then finally found someone who could sell us more mature Australorp pullets and so bought two. We didn’t think we could have any more bad luck but one of the Australorps, on the second night she was with us, escaped from her enclosure as well as the outer electric fence and all that remained of her in the morning was evidence that there had been a struggle in the orchard. It has all been a bit upsetting and we are in the process of upgrading our chicken housing and fencing before making any more purchases, not least because all the comings and goings of various chickens seems to have upset the pecking order.

On the Sex front, being a smallholding on such a small scale, we can’t justify keeping males of most species. So only the chickens have actual sex and the rest only ever meet a human with a straw of semen! All the action has left the chickens needing saddles to protect them when they are mounted by the cockerel and Barbara

didn’t seem to mind being inexpertly artificially inseminated by us. So next up was our little Jersey Cow, Dimple. We had an experienced technician come and artificially inseminate her with semen from Sparky the Jersey Bull  when she was bulling (which we could tell because of her loud and constant lowing). Dimple should have been bulling again yesterday, but as she wasn’t it seems that she may be pregnant. Arrrghhh! That means that in nine months time, there will be a calf and, more importantly, I will have to learn how to milk a cow and do it twice a day every day!!!

On that note, I need to sit down for a cup of tea. But before I go, here are a couple of recent photos of Melinka and Dusk for those of you who are interested. Ta ra!

Baby and Dog

A smallholder is born

Melinka Judith Hartley was born at Penybanc on 15 July 2012 weighing 7lbs 3oz (3.25 kg). We were really glad we managed to have a home birth and that (despite her being a week early) we managed to finish the bedroom in time so that at least one room is no longer a building site. Melinka is now one month old and doing really well – she will be weeding the garden and chopping logs in no time!













Livestock Update

Our elderly pair of geese, George and Gill, are no longer with us as they were not producing any eggs (and everyone has to earn their keep if the goal is self-sufficiency). So we have now bought a pair of brecon buff geese, who are much more docile and are meant to be a hardy breed, skilled at foraging. I will put photos on the livestock page as soon as it stops raining for long enough to take my camera outside!

Dusk’s sheep dog training is coming along – she does very well in class, when the trainer and other dogs are watching, but at home she is a little too relaxed and more interested in playing fetch – but overall she is progressing really well and she will hopefully be a help rather than a hindrance in future when rounding up the animals.

We have two new light sussex pullets (young hens), who have joined our motley crew of chickens. The poor leghorn hens are looking a little overwhelmed by our australorp cockerel, so we are working on getting him some female company of his own size as soon as possible. We currently also have 20 australorp eggs in the incubator and we are desperately hoping that it will be third time lucky and that we will have chicks soon….

Most exciting of all, we had a go at artificially inseminating Barbara, our oxford sandy and black gilt (young female pig who has not had piglets) and she has not shown any sign of being on heat yet, so it is looking quite likely that she is pregnant. If all goes well, she should farrow around 9 September 2012, hurrah!

Sheep… it’s a ewe turn!

SheepIn a U-turn worthy of the Tories I’ve gone from insisting to V that we most definitely can NOT have lambs this year as our fencing is not up to it to…well… getting some lambs. The reason being that Dusk (our Collie) started training last week and we can’t really do her homework without some sheep  (the ring in the background is her training area). Meirion Owen, of ‘quack pack‘ fame, is helping us train her and very kindly lent us the 4 lambs. Thanks Meirion! Fingers crossed that Dusk gets the hang of it…