A round up from a modern farming wife.
I wasn’t brought up in a farming family. Born to London parents who shifted down to Cornwall in 1979 I was dragged up on the moors on a pretty smallholding. I grew up around a menagerie of animals – Chickens, Guinea Pigs, Rabbits, Geese, a ram lamb called Roly and a pot belly pig called Del Boy…. The last two deserve a very special mention, not just because they had names but because they have a story to tell.
Now Roly was my parent’s first attempt at smallholding beyond simple chicken keeping. It seemed like a good idea at the time but Roly was a ram lamb and as cute as little lambs are, they do unfortunately grow. My memories of Roly are of him head-butting me and my sister in the orchard every time we went near him. One day Roly disappeared to live on a farm nearby to live out his days.
Twenty years later, my mum has now confessed that Roly didn’t live out his days on that farm. We ate him that week and she wanted to spare our feelings. I can see why, however me and my sister were just delighted he was gone and the orchard was free for us to roam about in!! And as for Del… Del Boy came from a council house in Plymouth, yes, you read it right, and he came from a house where he lived under the stairs.
They decided to re-home him once he got too big and started stealing meat off the side of the kitchen counter. So Del came to live with us, in a special pigsty that my dad had built for him. I think Del was a little disgruntled at this prospect, especially as he had been a house pig and didn’t take him too long to escape. It turns out mere bricks and mortar isn’t much of an obstacle to a pot belly pig.
He made numerous escapes, despite a healthy and varied diet of food and even managed to make the news on night when he ran away to the other side of the moors and everyone thought he had been abandoned. We got told off and threatened with a fine that time because we ran the risk of contaminating the national herd. Until then, none of us were aware there was a national herd! So unfortunately time was up for Mr Trotter and he met an untimely end at the hands of the local vet. The moral of this story? Don’t take on a house pig!
From those fairly humble beginnings I have a love of two things; chickens and growing my own. In 2007 I officially married into farming and now live on a 250 acre farm in Cornwall. My menagerie now consists of chickens, guinea pigs, a dog, a cat, goldfish and lambs…. So I guess not much has actually changed! My chickens are either ex-commercial layers or older birds who may not lay eggs every day. Unfortunately because of their age and previous lives, I lose quite a few every year but I offer them a home until their end of days and they’ve proven to still be good layers.
It’s nice not to have to buy those pale imitations of eggs from the supermarket. Mine are fresh and bright yellow yolks from their extremely varied diet. Every morning I am greeted by my crowd who eagerly await their morning meal and I can’t help but smile at all their characters. My husband on the other hand will often scowl at my birds because of their overfriendliness… they are well known for coming into the house to raid the cat’s food bowl at any given opportunity. It turns out my husband, who comes home covered in mud, oil and goodness knows what else has a very distinct dislike of chicken poop!
So to keep harmony in our household we shall soon be constructing them a large contained area in our allotment – away from the house in case of any escapees! I’m not sure if my husband gave me an ultimatum between him and the chickens, that I would choose him!
I write in a very sporadic way btw: The end of February and the start of March, sees a very busy time in our farming Calendar. This is the time when we have to clean out the sheds, bed it with straw and move our 100 North Country mules, heavily pregnant ewes in for the start of our lambing season. For what is a relatively short period of time, it is pretty work intensive with round the clock care needed to assist in any deliveries of lambs. Sheep are pretty lousy at giving birth of their own – understandable when you consider that around 90% of our flock will be having twins, or triplets and even with 60 years of experience between the father and son farmers they can still come across tremendously difficult births where sometimes both lamb and ewe don’t survive.
This year has been my initiation into the lambing season. I’ve donned my overalls, got down on my knees and helped pull out a lamb or two. I have a lot of respect for my husband for what he does as it really is a daunting process. Lambs get themselves into all sorts of difficult positions inside the ewe, they’re slippery and hard to grip hold off and they also come with a full set of teeth and a tendency to bite if you’re not careful. Sometimes when the lamb are too slimy to hold onto with your hands, we have to use lambing ropes – a rope with loops at the end that you attach to the legs to pull them out of the ewe. In really difficult births you have to also get the rope around the back of the head too.
My first experience of doing this myself has been this year under the watchful instruction of my husband, and even though I am pretty much a newbie on the lambing scene, no matter how many births you help with there is something amazing in watching the mother lick of the lamb and it taking its first tentative steps in the world. Even after 30 odd years lambing, my husband still gets emotional with every one we save and every one we lose. Life and death are a big part of farming, the cycle of life if you wish.
My two boys aged 2 and 4 have a limited understanding that some animals live and some don’t. They take it in their stride probably more than any adult who has a fully comprehensive understanding of what it means. This year and last we have a few lambs come into the house that haven’t made it. With my boys we have a fed, warmed and cuddled these little souls not destined to last because I can’t bear the thought of them dying outside in the cold. And when the lamb has passed away, my boys have prodded it and gone outside to play while I silently weep over the one I couldn’t save. Silly I know, especially as we laugh about how they come in to die.
This year though my sorrows at losing any lambs has been put side by the 8 bouncy, noisy bundles that I have in our makeshift crèche in the garage. Normally we sell our tame lambs as bottle feeding them 4 times day for 3 months is time consuming, however this year we have invested in a new marvel called the Shepherdess feeder! This wonderful machine has two teats, a warming container for the milk, a thermometer to keep consistent temperature and the ability to feed up to 20 lambs on an ad-lib system.
This takes away the need for bottle feeding, which is a nightmare if you have more than 2 lambs and only one pair of hands! Twice a day I fill up the container and leave the lambs to suck it empty. This reduces the problem we’ve had in the past of lambs bloating on milk and results in a more natural method of feeding. The only trouble I’ve found is that my bigger lambs have been a little bit over keen on the teats and have managed to bite of the ends…. I even replaced them and they did it again, but it still works, so needless to say, they stay.
Till next time my lovelies.xx