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!!! 😀

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!!! 🙂

At last a solution…

…Heras Fencing!

The solution to our poultry fencing needs isn’t as pretty as a white picket fence, it isn’t as cheap as stock fencing BUT it will allow us to up sticks and move the poultry on to fresh pasture with the minimum of fuss, it will stop them from flying out and be a pretty good deterrent for Mr Fox! If we change our mind and opt for something else at a later date then it can always be used during the house build. It will  also hold its value so could be easily sold on. It’s perfect!!!

Fifty sheets of Heras fencing, along with brackets and some gates will be delivered in a couple of days. The next part of my poultry master plan is to figure out a way of making the new chicken sheds (arriving next week!) mobile??? I’m thinking old trailer chassis 😀

To be continued… 🙂

Mrs Hill is back!…

We couldnt believe our eyes when this little brown duck came quacking in to the barn tonight looking for some food! 🙂

Having been missing for 24 hours we thought we’d seen the last of her but no, she was hungry! I quickly gave her some feed and “had a chat to her” about how worried I had been….and before I knew it she was off again!!! Well, I wasn’t letting her out of my sight and after about 15 minutes I managed to corner her and pick her up (she was not amused!!!)

I took her to the big chicken house where five very friendly Pekin ducks live and introduced her….she quacked and flapped and seemed to assert herself as ‘alpha duck’. Happy that no harm would come to her in that house from either ducks or chickens I went home so happy that we had her back.

….she’ll no doubt do another runner the minute we let her out in the morning!!!

Bye bye original ducks…

Up until two months ago, in addition to our main egg laying ducks, we had a small group of four ducks living separately and having free run of the farm. Two couples “Benny Hill & Mrs Hill” (khaki campbells) and a pair of white indian runner ducks. They lived happily and wandered around the farm as a group…occassionally popping in to the barn to demand a snack, and then they’d be off again. They always made their way back to their house at night and waited to be locked up.

A couple of months ago the white female disappeared, we searched everywhere until after dark but when a bunch of white feathers were found we feared the worst and gave up our search. The very next morning we found her mate dead in their house!?!? There was no explanation for his death – it was so upsetting.

So for the last few weeks Mr & Mrs Hill have lived alone in their little house. Mr Hill got his name as just like Benny Hill he had an eye for the ladies and was often seen sprinting away from his little group to quickly have his way with some of the other ducks, causing mayhem and and running away again before being caught by their mates…it was always funny to watch and Benny Hills theme tune always rung in my head 🙂

A couple of days ago Benny wasn’t anywhere to be seen…we eventually found him in the main duck enclosure and it looked like he had been given a rough time by the males in there. I took him back to the barn and dried him off. He sat quite happily on my shoulder and seemed fine. He was keen to get back home and Mrs Hill was happy to have him back with her (she’d been fretting!).

The next night he was once more no where to be found and eventually we had to give up and hope he had nested down somewhere safe. We found him dead the next day on an open piece of land. He hadn’t been attacked or pecked at by preditors, it just seemed like he had woken up that morning and started to head back to his house only to be overcome by a touch of mortality. Mrs Hill left her house that morning and went off quacking furiously looking for her absent mate. My plan had been to try and catch her and put her in the big chicken enclosure where five very friendly pekin ducks live, but she was too quick and off she went….and that is the last we’ve seen of her.

We searched everywhere until after dark last night. We then cleaned out her house and put in fresh straw, water and feed along with two of her own eggs she had occasionally been seen sitting on. We went off on a late night errand and returned to check if she had ‘come home’…she hadn’t!

This morning there was still no sign of her. Its horrible that we have lost all four of these ducks, who were so special to us, in such a short space of time. We hatched them at David’s office months before we’d got our land back from our tenants and they were the first birds to arrive at the farm. They were six years old and had a lovely free and pampered life, but still it’s very sad! 🙁

Everybody move (again)…

The latest pen was emptied today when two pigs went to the abattoir and we wasted no time in scrubbing it out and preparing for the little piglets to move in to it from their small temporary enclosure.

My master plan was not simply to put the piglets in to the empty pen though…..oh no, that would be far too straightforward!!! I wanted to move three pens of larger pigs all down one pen therefore vacating the pen I really wanted the little ones to go in to!!! This also gave me the opportunity to make a couple of pens larger and give the pigs more space.

So after dropping the two pigs at the abattoir and having our usual lively chat with Margaret and Stuart the owners, it was off to Harbro to pick up some bags of turkey crumb and a few extra bags of sow rolls to see us through to our next BIG feed delivery. Next stop was Boquhan Estates for some timber and gate hooks and hinges for changing the layout of some of the pens. After a quick ‘refreshment’ at The Buchlyvie Inn it was off to Craigton Industries to collect 10 meters of woven fabric which will allow Peter, our friendly Agricultural Contractor, to finish the new road from the pig shed to the sheep field (which means we can at last get the sheep sheared!).

At last we got back to the farm and set up the generator and set up a little work area. The pigs seeing us arrive decided it must be dinner time and squealed until I could take no more and threw a scoop of feed in to each pen to keep them happy (very naughty of me!)

We totally underestimated how long it was going to take to build the frame to support the gates being moved and then to move each pen ‘next door mucking out the pen they vacated as we went, but at last (at around 9pm) the three pens of older pigs had been moved….everyone indoors and outside had been fed and watered….and the get to the small ‘temporary pen was opened and out stepped the gorgeous little weaners. I couldn’t believe how nicely they made their own way across the barn to their new big pen…it was as though they knew where they were going 🙂 They quickly found their new BIG water trough which required us to build steps using concrete blocks so that the little ones could reach it (they’ll soon grow in to it!) 🙂 Their new neighbours (some 4 month old females) were not happy at all by the distruption and set to work sticking their heads through the gates to nip the little ones….a quick erection of a wall of pallets put an end to that nonsense!

With everyone settled a major clear up ensued as we’ve arranged for 8 big bales of straw to be delivered first thing in the morning! The morning feeds were made up and covered and then, in the dark, it was off out to lock up the chickens and ducks who had by now made their own way in and were getting a little nervous that we’d forgotten about them! All we had to do then was to go looking in amongst the tall thistles (must chop those down) to find our little grey frizzle silkie who for the last few nights been hell bent on sleeping outdoors. Once she was safe but angry back indoors we could at last head off home.

Another tiring day, but I love the fact we managed to get so much done! 🙂

We know how lucky we are…

It is hard work here at the farm and we NEVER get a day off. We’re out here rain, hail and shine….and as it’s Scotland it’s more likely to be the former! :-/ Sometimes it’s pretty miserable (not for our pampered animals – just us!!!) and for a brief moment you might wish you were snug at home with a glass of wine and a good book! Today was one of those days when we were reminded of how lucky we really are.

First we had a visit from a chap collecting his weaners who “loved our set up” and asked lots of questions…it was only a couple of years ago thyat we were just like him, desperate for any bits of knowledge or experience, some reassurance, some help. We’re always happy to help, and answer any questions – our door/ farm gate is always open and anyone who buys livestock from us are reminded they just need to pick up the phone anytime they have a question. I know of a lot of people who run small courses for aspiring smallholders – it’s something I would love to do, but at the moment I simply don’t have the time or suitable facilities….maybe some day 🙂

Later on we had a visit from a couple of local mums (sisters and their combined 4, 5 or 6  young children – I lost count :-D) who wandered around excitedly squealing at the pigs…the ducks…the chickens…then “you have baby lambs too???” As I called the sheep over to the fence on a false promise of a second breakfast one of the little ones wanted to climb over and get up close and personal with the sheep – he had absolutely no fear of them…some of whom were slightly taller than him 🙂 They thought it was all amazing and said, what we’ve heard from so many before them, that “you’re so lucky….it’s beautiful here…we wish we had something like this…” and it is so true – sometimes we take it for granted that we have the space and freedom to do as we want. We have everything around us we’ve always wanted, enjoy the most delicious home produce and a view money couldn’t buy! We watch as others drive and park at the local Country Park at weekends for their ‘countryside fix’ when we are lucky enough to be surrounded by it every day.

At 9.30pm when tired but happy and all of the animals were settling down for the night we sat together on some bags of feed and looked down the drive while having a well earned cold drink and watching the sun set and the sky turn to a rainbow of pinks, oranges, purples and gold and commented that even the view from our pig’s barn was glorious. Although tired and sore and desperate to get home for something to eat we couldn’t help but delay leaving to savour just sitting there together and pausing to take in what we have achieved. It was a lovely moment 🙂