Can’t believe it’s almost a month since I last blogged. There has been so much to do over winter on the smallholding…… feeding hay and nuts to the sheep to keep tummies full when there isn’t much grass; checking that the piggies have enough clean straw to keep warm and dry when it’s raining; gathering kindling which has fallen to the ground so we can light the log burners easily on cold mornings ….. all has to be done through the winter months. Last time I blogged, I told you about Buster, our wonderful and amazing rescue staffie, who gave us so much pleasure, and who chose the smallholding for us ! In this blog, I’m going to talk about the start of our smallholder life. How we changed from being a suburban couple with a dog and two cats, to a smallholder couple with three dogs, two cats, around eighty chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys, fourteen sheep and thirty-one pigs ……. all in the space of three or four years. I think that the first three years, say from 2013 to 2016, were the learning years. I am going to talk about some of those experiences – some fun, some scary, some hard work, some rewarding – in this blog.
One day in the summer of 2013, I can remember standing inside a beautifully clean stable with Ron, my husband, and having a conversation about having some chickens. A great idea, we thought. Our own eggs. Ron had already tried rearing chickens three or four years earlier in our suburban garden. He’d bought a cute little hen house and a pretty little drinker and feeder from “Pets at Home”. He’d even made a pen from some chicken wire. After several weeks, and an outlay of nearly £400, the chickens had laid only four eggs in total ! He returned them to their previous owner who shook his head and muttered something about “not enough space in that garden”. But now we had 12 acres of space ! Lots and lots of room for hens to lay millions of eggs ! The stable wasn’t clean for much longer………. A few days later, we got in touch with a local farmer, who supplied us with about seven or eight chickens. And over time we collected more and more…….
So every week, I would put on my overalls – just like the ones Moira wears in Emmerdale (but mine weren’t quite as clean as hers) and shovel sh** . Loved those chickens…….. hated the mucking out. Anyone who says it is therapeutic is not quite telling the truth ! Before long, we had bought an incubator and with the help of a lovely (but quite aggressive cockerel) began to raise our own chickens – and ended up with about 70, tagging on a few ducks, geese and even turkeys in the end. Even now, about five years later, we still have customers who have shopped with us since the egg shop stood outside the gate ! That was really lovely time, when our smallholder lives were just beginning ! I remember “little Stevie” one of our first warren hens, who died in my arms.
However, animals don’t always arrive when you expect them to, or when it’s convenient ! One day, around 2014, we brought Bessie home – our beautiful white Staffie cross – who we found, unwanted and in a cage – at North Clywdd Animal Rescue – waiting for her forever home.
I was revelling in having two dogs, Buster and Bess. If you’ve read my previous blogs, you will know that I adore my dogs. Then ………….. there was a knock on the door …………. and a neighbour was standing there, holding two small lambs. “You know you mentioned you might like to bottle feed a couple of lambs……… here they are !”
So, at the same time as trying to house train a puppy, we were trying to bottle feed two orphan lambs in the utility ……. Let me just say…… tiled floors comes in very useful !
Bessie, Tumble and Pockets continue to live together on the smallholding today. They get on extremely well. Why shouldn’t they ? Par for the course, Tumble gave birth to twins earlier this month on the morning of the very high winds…….. When it began to throw it down with rain, we put the threesome in the new stable……. So the new stable was christened ! If you have been following us on Facebook you will know that Ron managed to build the stable in the one week this winter when it wasn’t raining. This is the link to our FB page if you haven’t seen it already https://www.facebook.com/bryncelynfarmshop/
Well, that’s chickens and sheep… but as you know, we have also kept quite a few pigs over the years. You will see from the photographs that we mainly keep large black/saddleback pigs. They are the most wonderful affectionate creatures. Love them dearly.
However, the most frightening incident was with a large white pig. Don’t have any photos. Just too busy running away at the time !!! The incident happened one day when we had decided to take one of the large whites to the abattoir. At the time, we didn’t have the steel trailer which we have now. We had a trailer which had wooden sides and top and which usually jogged happily along behind the Astravan. We didn’t have a problem encouraging the pig into the trailer. Ron drove the trailer to the entrance gate of the smallholding and then remembered that he had forgotten his wallet. He got out of the trailer and went to retrieve it from the kitchen. He came running out of the house when he heard me shouting: “The pig’s eating the trailer!!” The white pig was devouring the sides and top of the trailer and throwing bits of wood everywhere. Once it had destroyed most of it, with one huge effort, it launched itself out of the trailer and ran back down the drive towards me – I was still holding a bucket of feed !!! It ran right by me back into its field where it immediately relaxed and began to chill. Now bearing in mind this animal was quite a size and weight, it would have been difficult to make it do anything it didn’t want to do. Lesson learned – use the right tools for the job. We bought an Ifor Williams trailer.
Now, you might remember that earlier posts had focussed on how Ron and I were building skills in entrepreneurship and running a small business. I guess during the period that this blog covers, we put those skills to one side and began to learn about animal husbandry. More than this, however. We began to learn about the vast range of rules and regulations which relate to running a smallholding and keeping animals. For example, one of the first steps was to apply for a CPH (County Parish Holding) number and herd numbers for the different animals. Now, I am not going to go into the compliance surrounding the work that we do. However, if you are thinking of starting a smallholding, we are more than happy to have a conversation over the phone with you about this, to help you in whatever way we can. Just send us y our contact details and a time when we can get in touch and we will happily give you whatever advice we are able to.
My next blog will tell you about how Ron began to use his culinary skills again and how we started to sell our own pork pies. So back to the business side of things. And, well, that was another learning journey. See you next time xxx PS Would love to have any comments or messages. Margaret