6am – 10pm…

Some people who complain about working 9-5 should try farming some day!

We got up at 6am and popped 14 Hubbards in to their crate for the quick 10 minute drive to the local poultry abattoir, then it was home for a quick coffee then out to do the animals (feeding, watering, letting out the poultry, giving everyone some straw bedding). I had a hospital appointment with my Dad and when I got back I took the dogs for a big run through the sheep fields and a splash down at the stream. Seeing a van parked at our pig shed I rushed back, it was one of our feed suppliers unloading a load of poultry feed….I was starting to feel tired from the early start and run about with the dogs but felt obliged to muck in and unload the 25kg sacks! I then spent an hour replying to emails, writing letters and sorting out customers invoices. Another quick coffee (note no lunch!!!) and it was time to do the animals once more and lock up all the birds.

Yesterday we moved the livestock trailer in to the pigs field where we have the last three of our our original sows who are no longer productive. The trailer was left open, full of straw and our hope was that one of the sows (probably Spot) would settle in there by herself and therefore nominate herself for the journey to Wishaw abattoir early on Thursday (tomorrow) morning. After finishing the animals for the night we peeked in the trailer and found Spot fast asleep we suddenly realised we had two options…hope she was still there at 6am in the morning or go and try and find out if the abattoir would accept her tonight. We didn’t think they’d be much point in trying the abattoir as everyone would have been home hours ago so we tried to remember which of our friends use Wishaw in the hope they’d know if you can drop a sow off the night before. Somehow I found myself dialing the abattoir’s number in the hope there might be a night watchman and couldn’t believe it when one of the ladies who works in the office answered (apparently she was waiting for an engineer to fix the alarm…lucky us!). She confirmed that we could drop off tonight and gave us instructions on where to put Spot, how to lock up and where to switch off the lights!

We rushed outside to check Spot was still in the trailer and quickly closed it up and headed out in to the cold night to Wishaw (wrapped up in several layers as our Land Rover Defender is so draughty and cold!). Everything went smoothly and Spot was delivered to a large pen with lots of straw and she quickly started to settle down for the night. We got home exhausted at 10pm and after feeding the dogs and cat, we crawled up to bed around 11pm (note no dinner!!!)

Sooooo tired!

The incubator is on…

It’s been a couple of months since our incubator was last used so a thorough clean was in order….there’s no point in spending money on hatching eggs and not making sure you do everything you can to achieve the best hatch rate possible.

Our incubator was a really big purchase for us and we gave a great deal of thought as to whether we really needed it, but we now appreciate what a great piece of kit it is, and it has served us well. All of our ducks and turkeys have been hatched in it as well as huge quantities of Hubbard meat birds, and with surplus birds being sold to other smallholders it has paid us back some of the initial cost.

It is a Brinsea OvaEasy 190 and we opted for the additional humidity pump which makes sure that the conditions inside the incubator are just right 24 hours a day. It has three shelves which are set to tilt and turn the eggs at regular intervals along with a large hatching tray in the base. Over all its about the size of a small fridge and can hold up to 194 eggs at different stages of hatch (by using the hatching tray while other eggs are still turned in the trays above).

So last night after cleaning the incubator and all the associated trays and spacer bars I added water to the pump, checked all of the settings and let it run for a few hours to allow the conditions inside to stabilise…then it was in with some eggs!!!

The pine marten killing many of our favourite chickens last week was a horrible experience but in the wake of it I decided to have a fresh start at developing a little breeding flock (or two) of my favourite breeds. We’ve had mixed results using eggs bought on eBay but unable to source what I was looking for I’m giving it another try. I’ve been successful at winning several batches of White Silkie hatching eggs (both large fowl and bantam) as well as two lots of Lavendar Pekins and having ‘set‘ the first deliveries for a couple of days they were ready to incubate. The remainder of the eggs should arrive between Tuesday and Friday so I reckon I’ll have three hatches over a period of six days.

I can’t wait to see how they turn out. I’ll be candling the first batch in about a week and should know then which eggs are fertile and which can be rejected….fingers crossed!!!

New Rhode Rocks are here…

Another busy day started with the usual mucking out, feeding and watering then a trip to Blantyre to collect our fridge van which was being serviced. Then it was off to collect our pork from our butcher and delivering it around Glasgow.

At around 7pm we headed to our friend Jane who owns Craigievern Poultry where we were collecting twenty 14 week old Rhode Rock chickens. These are a great egg laying hybrid (a cross between a Rhode Island Red cockerel and Plymouth Rock hen) and Jane has always been our preferred source for them. These birds should start laying in around eight weeks time and we can expect at least 320 eggs per year from each bird.

Jane and her husband were right in the middle of lambing (they have 100’s of sheep!) but she found a few minutes to help us load our new birds and catch up on the joys of pig, sheep and chicken keeping. While we were there her mother-in-law drove up with a little lamb who had been abandoned by her mother and Jane explained this was happening quite a lot as the ewe’s main focus was on finding food/ grass, not on caring for their new born. Like us she is hoping the grass will come through soon. As we left we saw another lamb being born…Jane and Craig are going to be pretty busy over the next few weeks!

Meanwhile our new chickens are going to stay in quarantine in the livestock trailer for a few days before introducing them to the rest of the flock.

The Pine Marten strikes…

Oh what a horrible find this morning. It took a moment for me to realise on arriving at the farm that the chickens from our laying flock were already out of their house. A second later I saw the door still propped open with a length of wood (just as I had left it yesterday!) Oh what an idiot!!!! In six years I have never left one of the chicken houses open!

Then I saw the dead bodies of chickens lying around a wide area. I screamed to David to come and help and from then on I think I was in shock and trying hard just to remember my steps from the night before and figure out how this could have happened. David meanwhile filled 3 large bags with seventeen dead birds – a third of our layers, gone! David noticed that many of the bodies were still warm which means it looks like an opportunistic strike just after first light. As he went to lift up the last of the casualties he found it was still alive. The poor thing has lost a large area of feathers around it’s neck and appears to be in shock but it is now being given huge amounts of TLC and the signs look positive that it will recover.

At first we presumed it must have been a fox but on seeing how the birds were killed (puncture wounds to the throat) and the fact they were not ‘taken away’ led us to believe it was a Pine Marten. We’ve also now found some distinct looking “scat” (Pine Marten pooh!) which seems to confirm this.

I at last managed to remember the trail of events the night before and recalled going to lock up the Hubbards and the layers but being distracted half way through by our three naughty orphan lambs who gave me such a run around and didn’t want to return to the barn – that kept me running round and round in circles for 10-15 minutes and everything else seems to have just been mentally ticked off as having been done….not so! 🙁

It seems really heartless of me to try and move on so quickly, but we have customers who expect a regular supply of eggs so more birds approaching the ‘point of lay’ have been ordered from our friends at Craigievern Poultry – we’re collecting them on Thursday.

Incidents like this have happened to friends of ours over the years and we have been pretty lucky to escape such a horror ourselves. I think with the longer days and juggling so many other things it created a lapse in my usual meticulous checking that all had been done prior to leaving at 10pm….that will not happen again!!!

Catch up!

Wow, I don’t know where the time is going! Days, weeks and months are just flying past. It only seems like last week when our first lamb arrived when in fact it’s been 2 months!

The weather has been absolutely horrible and I’ve been shocked to see on the news how other farmers (and their livestock – see picture above) have suffered with the snow….it’s so, so sad! We’ve been so lucky to be able to bring all but our largest pigs indoors and we managed to convert part of the pig barn to accommodate the sheep too. We were on hand to catch all ewes and lambs as they lambed and bring them straight indoors – most stayed inside for over a week allowing us to make sure the lambs were feeding well and strong enough for the elements. It also gave us the opportunity to give the ewes an ‘MOT’ and pedicure 🙂 and make sure all was well with them. Once back outside they have had full access to their large straw filled field shelter and at nights they all (sensibly) pack inside. Their bales of hay, energy licks and troughs for feed were all in this area, right beside a field gate making checking and feeding them each day much easier for us.

We have tried and failed to adopt Stinky Pete (a triplet who’s mother rejected it) on to other sheep so after a few weeks at home with us he now lives in the pig shed being pampered!!!

The outside pigs have all stayed within their straw filled arks most of the time, sometimes even being fed in there. All of the piglets have thrived apart from one little runt we’ve called Crusty. We realised early on that Crusty was losing condition and took her home for some TLC where we realised she was unable to suckle….a bit of training later and she was finishing her bottles of warm goats milk with ease and is now back with the rest of her family. She escapes daily when she hears us arrive so we give her some mashed banana and pig nuts in the shed where she can get a bit of piece to eat (her siblings are all four times larger than her!) and this is followed with a warm bottle and a cuddle….she’s quite a character! Most of these piglets have now been reserved for other smallholders who will rear them during the nicer months and kill them before the weather gets horrible in the Winter.

Our ducklings and Hubbard chicks are now around 2 months old and will soon be ready to kill. The ducklings are such characters, noisily quacking to us every time we walk past them. The Hubbards are (as they often do) getting a little aggressive towards us which is fine….there’ll be no tears shed when we take them to the poultry abattoir 😉

Moss our puppy is now over 1 year old and seems to have tired of eating her way through all of our vehicles….the damage she has cost makes her one of our most expensive purchases according to David!

The chickens and older ducks (the keepers) are all back in to the swing of laying eggs daily following the long dark winter with short days and now that the clocks have changed the days are lighter and longer and, dare I say it, I think Spring has arrived!

There will be plenty of updates this year as we get in to our second proper year of trading professionally. We’ll be trying new things at the farm. And of course the house will be getting built which will mean we can do even more hear at the farm!

Busy day (what’s new!)…

Decided not to take pigs to the abattoir today as the restaurants are all having a slow month and we have a list of jobs to do the length of our arm!!! So two lucky pigs got a week’s repreive! We managed with relative ease (that’s a first) to swap the pigs in with Muffin our boar with three new ladies. The pigs who were with him and stayed with him over winter when we tend not to have any pigs farrow….but that was also the majority of their gestation period, so with less than two weeks to go these ladies seemed happy to be back in the big girls pen. We’ll need to prepare three of the arks for farrowing and separate them all with some electric tape (a job for another day!)

After our surprise arrival of lambs on Friday we make a start at preparing the ground inside the sheep’s shelter for it’s new flooring…Kubota decided this was a good time to get a puncture so work continued (for a while) with spades and wheelbarrows!!!

The two tups began showing an interest in the five remaining female lambs of 2012 so enough was enough and with the help of some sheep mix they were sent to the small field next to the pigs with their heads in a bucket 🙂

Realising we’ve had a bumper hatch rate of ducklings and chicks I have advertised some for sale… the ducklings are massive and are deafening me with a corus which sounds like 100 dog toys squeaking at once!!! The chicks are tiny yellow and cute, just as they should be!!! 😀

We also had to make the weekly trip to the butcher to collect last week’s pork. Jim the manager is leaving this week to open his own butcher’s in Bridge of Allan….we wish him lots of luck! x

Busy busy busy!!!

Chicks, ducklings & not much sleep…

In the space of 24 hours we’ve hatched our most successful (that is largest!) batch of both chicks and ducklings. I would have liked to have hatched them a few weeks apart, but demand for them both has been so strong since Christmas that we just cracked on with both at once.

I don’t hurry the hatching process, it takes as long as it takes but I monitor the eggs to make sure the pipping progress (where the chicks peck out a circle of egg to then emerge from) doesn’t stop. I will only help if a chick hasn’t hatched 12 hours after it’s beak first breaks the shell. The whole checking, drying, preparing cages, testing heat lamps, then dipping every beak in to water and feed to check they are eating and drinking is pretty time consuming and by 10pm I was exhausted!!!

Did I then get a good night’s sleep? Of course not as they all cheaped and squeaked  throughout the night….CONSTANTLY!!!!!

New sheds delivered

The new poultry sheds arrived this morning, and having unloaded them all by hand, the delivery men were rewarded with….sausages!!! They were happy chappies!

We’ve bought two large 13 x 7 foot Shire sheds from Elbec Garden Buildings. We haven’t quite finalised the way we’ll use them but are playing with the idea of getting them mobile to move round on to fresh grass and also putting in a partition wall to keep meat birds of different ages separate  That along with a poop hole on either end of the shed and our new flexible Heras fencing should keep all our meat and laying birds separate from one another and safe. This mobile solution will also mean we won’t need to bother with levelling a couple of sites and laying slabs to mount the sheds on!

Now all we need to do is put preservative on the sheds, source a chassis to build them on, erect them, put them in place and put up some Heras fencing….easy!!! 😀

Visitors!….

We had a visit from Debby and Colin today who came to visit their growing piglets. They have pre-ordered two females from Belles litter and in a few short weeks they’ll be back to collect them. The piglets demonstrated how fast and lively they are as well as rolling about and getting covered in mud (well they are pigs!!!) While here Debby and Colin collected a few week old Hubbard meat birds to rear at home. You can see their lovely home and B&B here at The Lint Mill

David was alone at the farm today, Neil was off and I was at ‘work’. The electric fence was found to be off when the piglets demonstrated to everyone their fearlessness around the other HUGE sows, breaking out of their own pen to introduce themselves!!!

I hear that Debby and Colin had a good time with David and came prepared with lots of questions…and a few hours later they’d upped their order of piglets to four…much more fun!!! 🙂

New poultry sheds ordered…

…and they’ll be here next week!

We got a great deal on two 13′ x 7′ by Elbec with strong construction, solid tongue and groove floors and windows along one wall. We’re thinking of putting up a partition within each shed with a separate hatch from each side – meaning we can house two different ages of our meat birds within one shed or possibly have a brooder on one side???

We deliberated for ages on fencing and were about to have some permanent pens constructed but we kept finding problems with the lack of flexibility in such a set up. Then we realised we already had some of our ducks fenced in a way we could keep them safe but rotate the ground they were on easily and quickly….using Heras fencing! Now it’s not the most attractive choice of fencing but it meets our needs perfectly and means that by carefully positioning the sheds we can rotate the chickens on the ground surrounding them. So, 50 panels of Heras fencing is being delivered in a few days time!

All that is left is to source some slabs for the shed’s foundations. We’ve found Gumtree to be a great place to get slabs cheaply, sometimes free…so my eyes are peeled for some being given away locally and we’ll rush straight round for them with the trailer!

Sorted!!! 🙂