On Saturday, Jules helped deliver a beautiful heifer calf. The birth was textbook and we were so happy after last year’s sadness with Dimple having a still born bull calf. Unfortunately Dimple did not let her calf suckle, so we have separated them and are bottle feeding the calf. This was never the intention and we were very surprised that Dimple did not even seem to call or look for the calf. The silver lining is that we love bottle feeding our latest new addition, even if it is yet another job! It took quite a lot of patience and encouragement to get her to take the bottle, but we got there in the end. Luckily milking has been much easier this time round and as soon as all the colostrum has finished, we will be making butter, cheese and yoghurt again! We are still trying to come up with a name for the little calf- so let us know if you have any suggestions.
Last 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 tears.
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.
The 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 at 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!!
To those in a nice flat in the city Chalara Fraxinea, or Ash Dieback as it is commonly known, is probably a (brief) discussion point over a gingerbread latte before returning to the truly important topic of ‘Strictly’. For those with a few trees it becomes at least relevant but for people like us it is a huge huge disaster. We have over 2 acres of mature woodland that is roughly 90% ash. The aim is to coppice the woodland to provide us with all of our heating and hot water needs. If we lose our ash trees not only will we have a decimated woodland which will take 10 years to restore but we will have to buy in wood to heat the house over that time, which we can ill afford.
Ash is my favourite wood – so much so that it is the logo of our website. This is due to its wonderful burning properties, beautifully light and open canopy that encourages undergrowth and clean subtle grain, strength and workability for furniture and building. Not only would we be in trouble from a self-sufficiency point of view if we lose our Ash but, in a truly tree-hugger way, we would be very upset at the loss of some graceful, powerful and, not to mention, old trees.
So a quick update on the facts (thanks wiki):
- -The disease is characterised by leaf loss and crown dieback in the infected trees
- -First discovered in Poland in 1992… yes, 20 years ago!
- -By 2008 the disease was also discovered in Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland
- -By 2012 it had spread to Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Britain and Ireland.
- -The number of sites has doubled in the UK within the last month
- -Young trees will usually die in their first year. Older trees may survive a few seasons but will succumb eventually
- -A proportion (<5%) seem to have a genetic resistance to the disease
Sorry that it has been so long since our last update. We thought winter would be the quiet season where we would get more time to do things like update the blog, but it was busier than expected. This blog has some of the highlights. The videos are especially for our three year old nephew Matty, so they may not interest everyone!
At the beginning of winter we used the last of our apples to make our first batch of completely home grown, home pressed and home brewed organic cider with help from Frankie and Luke, which went late into the night and had to be finished under the light of head-torches. Thanks guys! The brew was ready just in time for Christmas. It is fairly dry, very quaffable and packs quite an alcoholic punch.
It was a mild winter, which was lucky as it was our first experience of trying to heat our house and water with wood alone. We haven’t yet managed to build our log store so all our wood is in a huge pile in the shed that needs rebuilding, with the most seasoned stuff being at the bottom of the pile, making it difficult to get to. That combined with our wood not really being seasoned enough as it needs another summer to dry as well as all the chopping and chainsawing of logs involved, means that it has been a lot of work keeping ourselves warm. We learnt that burning green wood means it is difficult to get the range cooker up to temperature and has also clogged it with soot much quicker so we have already had to clean it twice. It is all totally worth it, but we’re looking forward to next year when we have seasoned wood and an organised log store! Here is are a short video of Jules chopping a log for Matty:
Winter is, of course, the time to cut down trees, clear brambles and lay hedges. We discovered that our orchard field is actually bigger than we had realised and even uncovered 4 four apple trees that had been swamped with sloes and brambles.
As part of our winter clearing, We felled our own Christmas tree!
It was the best Christmas tree we’ve ever had. Although it was actually only the top third of the tree we felled. We also made some decorations with the off cuts.
With help from some of our friends, we cleared the area around the “well”, which is more of a spring really that we are going to turn into a pond for ducks and geese. This became more urgent when our fellow smallholder, Mandy from Glyn Elwyn offered to give us a breeding pair of geese called George & Gill. Here is a before and after picture (the trailer was where the recycled plastic goose house now stands).
We acquired a new Australorp cockerel from a lovely lady through Freecycle. We have called him JD and we were happy that the transition of alpha male from the old cockerel to JD was pretty smooth. The chickens suffered a few sniffles and sneezes over the coldest months of the year and they stopped laying eggs altogether. In spring we hope to start breeding Light Sussex and Australorp chickens for meat in earnest.
Another addition to the Penybanc menagerie is a Gloucester Old Spot piglet who we have called “Chanchita”. She was number 13 of the litter and so had little chance of surviving as (although sows usually have 14 teets) her mum only has 12 working teets as she has two blind ones. Again, this was a lovely donation to us from Mandy at Glyn Elwyn who has been an amazing source of tips and advice, including even teaching us to give injections.
Chanchita has already at least tripled in size and has discovered how to climb up onto the straw bale enclosure we made her in the kitchen. She even jumps down and plays with Dusk and generally gets under our feet.
And just a few days ago we took delivery of a compact tractor and some implements, which we got from a dealer in Somerset. We’re hoping that this will allow us to use our time more efficiently and do some serious planting of things like fodder crops on a larger scale, which will take us another step closer to self-sufficiency. This video is quite long as we heard Matty is likely to watch it over and over again:
Next week we’re slaughtering one of our Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. We’re going to attempt making ham, bacon and prosciutto for the first time. Eeek! Spring is just around the corner and it very much feels like the quiet before the storm as everything will start growing like mad. So we better get back to it – byeeee!
We often get asked why we made the slightly unusual decision to try and become self-sufficient and start a smallholding. Well, the truth is that there are many reasons why we are doing what we are doing, but one that often gets overlooked in its importance is, quite simply, FOOD.
It’s hard to overestimate how important food is to our lives and we think that is how it should be. Perhaps these days we all take it for granted too much as the time and thought spent on food gets squeezed by all the other pressures in life and the big supermarkets try to sanitise and unify everything that we eat (have you noticed how the choice of vegetables gets smaller but they stock them all year round. Gah).
In my opinion, the key to food is knowledge. Do you know what is in the food that you are eating? Do you know where it came from? How were the animals kept that went into it? What were they fed on? Sometimes you may be able to tell the contents and origin of what you are buying but scratch the surface and the reality is pretty scary and normally overlooked.
Chickens seem to have hogged the limelight – so more and more people now buy free range. Good stuff, but hang on a minute… what about pigs? Pigs are larger and a whole hog more intelligent than chickens but next time you go to the place that Shall Not Be Named (rhymes with fresco) try asking at the deli how much of their ham or bacon is free range. I asked in Morrisons last week – the answer ‘None’. Oh, and here’s another one – notice how you might track down some pork that claims to be ‘Outdoor bred’. Hmmm, funny wording you might think – and you’d be right. That’s a clever bit of supermarket spin to con you into thinking that the pork was brought up free range, but actually it, most likely, means that the litter was had outdoors and then as soon as the piglet was at weaning age (or younger) it was brought right on inside into a nice small stall to fatten for 6 months. Nice.
So pigs, for one, have slipped under the radar. Interesting. But what about food that you buy in restaurants etc. Well, don’t assume anything, even in the poshest places – make sure you ask. We asked in the last Chinese and Indian takeaways whether their chicken was free range, fully expecting them to say no of course. Their answers surprised even us old cynics: “I don’t know, it comes from Brazil” and “I don’t know, it comes from Thailand”. Ha. Now call me a lefty tree-hugging hobo but that isn’t for me.
In fact, we’ve found that the only way to really, comfortably know what you’re putting in you and your family’s mouths is, you guessed it, to grow it yourself!