Tag Archives: Livestock

So much milk!!!

dimpleLast Sunday was probably the most emotional day yet here at Penybanc. We got up in the morning and found that our lovely Jersey cow, Dimple, was in labour. We were super excited as we’ve waited 9 months for this and we were pretty sure it was stage two by this point so there should only have been an hour or two before the calf arrived, but after two hours there was no sign and we asked our friend/neighbour/local dairy farmer if he would  mind taking a look. He was lovely and checked her and said the calf was in the birth canal and should pop  out any second. Sadly, the calf was stuck there and in the end Alwyn had to attach ropes around the calf’s feet and head and pull him out with a calf jack. The beautiful little bull calf was still born and there was no reviving him. I must admit that I shed quite a few dimple-in-labourtears.

Our next worry was that Dimple wouldn’t get up after that. She suffered some paralysis in one of her legs as a result of the calf being in the birth canal too long and damaging a nerve. Thankfully we finally managed to get her standing just when we were getting desperate and we managed to support her for long enough to get her circulation going again.

Poor Dimple must have been in labour for longer than we realised and I tortured myself for a while about whether we could have saved the calf if we had not been such beginners. The very kindly man who sold her to us re-assured me that it was unlikely we could have saved the calf. The fact that the afterbirth came out with the calf probably means that when he turned into position, most likely about 24 hours beforehand, the placenta had detached and he wouldn’t have had much of a chance after that. Apparently it sometimes happens when heifers are having their first calf and hopefully it shouldn’t happen next time round.

skimming cream off milk

milking a jersey cowThe silver liningis that all our worries about milk sharing with a calf and how to manage that have fallen away – although it is a hell of a lot of milkwithout a calf to share it with! We are just getting used to our new milking routine and Dimple is pretty relaxed at milking time despite all of us being new to this. We milk at 7.30am and 7.30pm every day. After 2 days of colostrum,we are now getting about 5 litres (10 pints roughly) or so milkat each milking of delicious creamy jersey milk…. and apparently her milk won’t be completely in yet and Dimple could yield yet more! Jules is churning butter at this very moment. Our fridge is full to bursting and Barbara the pig is pretty darn happy about the excess. This is a big step towards self-sufficiency. WE LOVE YOU DIMPLE!!

Spring 2013 Update

Brrrr. Is it really spring….? The grass hasn’t started growing yet and the snow drops are still out but it is April!! We have run out of seasoned, dry wood so we have no central heating at the mo but we’re enjoying the beautiful dry sunny days, while they last.

With Jules doing a two month contract in Cardiff, we have to squeeze a LOT into the days (so I’ve included a photo of him looking all smart for a change). This, together with sleepless nights due to teething and the fact that we have upped the ante on the DIY front (having ripped our the bathroom and about to do the same to the kitchen pretty soon) means that things are pretty full-on right now – no change there!

News on the smallholding is that our Jersey cow, Dimple, is pregnant! Woo hooooo. She is due to calve in June. We have just ordered some milk churns, milking buckets, butter making equipment, etc. Hopefully our new barn will be finished soon so that we can start getting Dimple used to coming in at milking time, which will be once a day (rather than the usual twice daily) for the first year. This will give us about 40% less milk but should be more manageable with everything that we have going on. So in June we will be learning to milk by hand, which will develop some new hand and arm muscles! Next thing will be to learn to make cheese… but we will probably wait until we have a kitchen for this.

Pregnant Jersey Cow








We hatched some chicks a couple of months ago so, until about a week ago, we had them in a box in the kitchen. Now they are out free-ranging but they are still not integrated with the rest of the motley crew of chickens. We have had to try and restrict the others temporarily as we had a daily egg hunt that we just didn’t have time for. Also, they were likely to start tucking into Jules’ seedlings….

australorp young australorp chickens








Our poor gander (Jerry) – having lost his mate (Margot) back in November who we have failed to replace despite all our best efforts – has been acting very strangely. At first we kept finding him at the Brecon Buff Ganderkitchen window posturing at his reflection and now he has taken up residence during the day in one of our chicken houses (much to the consternation of the chickens). We assume this must be part of his nesting instinct, but it is very odd that he insists on getting into a house that is far too small for him and which requires some very inelegant clambering over perches to squeeze himself into.

Our sow, Barbara, has not been showing very obvious signs of being on heat, which has made things a little difficult, but we are hoping that she is currently pregnant as a result of the AI we performed. Fingers crossed! This would mean piglets in July.

Oxford Sandy and Black SowOxford Sandy & Black Sow








Other that than, Jules has been rotavating, sowing, planting, watering all the veg at every opportunity he gets. Our pond is maturing well and is currently full of frogspawn. Sometimes there are wild ducks on the pond in the morning and the little ecosystem seems to be developing well.

The birds are tweeting, we have a glut of eggs and the days are lovely and long again, so spring is definitely here but now we just need a little warmth so that everything can grow!

P.s. Thanks to those who have sponsored me so far, your support is REALLY appreciated. I am doing my sponsored walk this Saturday to raise money for our local pre-school. I am still collecting donations – click HERE to donate.

From Pig to Pork

Chanchita (a Gloucester Old Spot) was with us for almost exactly a year. Being the runt of the litter, she grew very slowly and was quite shoulder heavy, which is not really ideal. Nevertheless, we were very happy that we gave her a good life which she would otherwise never have had and, it is not as if our pig rearing would be commercially viable anyway! Probably because she was bottle fed from just a few days old, she always was a slightly odd character. Slaughter is always bitter sweet and is quite a big occasion on our little smallholding and it is important that we make good use of every last bit of meat.

Jules did the butchery himself, which was a seriously long day for him. He has made absolutely scrumptious pâté, meaty delicious sausages (all using a hand cranked mincer – phew!), lots of ham and bacon that has yet to be sampled, mouth watering faggots (which has become our tradition the day after slaughter) and left us with a freezer full of pork to eat over the next six months or so.

Anyway, I am off to eat a Sunday pork roast so I’ll leave you with a couple of snowy photos.

snowy valley Brecon Bugg Gander in the snow

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