Stoned

We have tonnes of work to do

Whilst a lot of the country was suffering under drifts of snow, we too were suffering but it was thanks to mud.

The yard was a disaster zone.  To get to the fields we had to squelch our way through it.  The dogs were covered in it and we were worried about vehicles getting stuck.

In order to fix the problem we got the local quarry to deliver 20 tonnes of gravel and they left it on the track outside.  The only way to get it in, was by shovel and wheelbarrow, then spread it out with a rake.  After a couple of hours the barrow suffered a puncture which put a stop to the work until a new wheel could be obtained.

We were in a bit of hurry to get it done as the scan man, was coming with a trailer load of equipment, to scan the pregnant ewes and goats.  He needed to be able to drive in and out easily, we couldn’t have him getting stuck.

Just in the nick of time, we managed to get most of the yard covered, although there is still plenty more to do.

Thanks to our hard work, the scanning was a great success too.  We were delighted to discover that all but one of our 17 sheep were in lamb and both of the goats that had visited the billy, were in kid, with twins or even triplets.

Merry Christmas from the Croft

We welcome the snow

We’ve had a busy month, packing parcels day and night to ensure they arrive before the big day.  We are looking forward to taking it easy and putting our feet up.

The dogs aren’t interested in lounging around, not when there’s snow outside.  We’ve had a light sprinkling, enough the freeze the mud, thank goodness.

We brought all the lambs indoors for their beauty treatments, ear piercing and feeding up, and then they were off to the mart.  Sorry to see them go as they were a cheeky bunch but a relief to have less mouths to feed over the winter months.

Wishing all our customers and their pets, a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all at the Croft.

 

Billy the kids

The girls pay a visit to a billy

We don’t have our own billy goat and are not keen to keep one as they can be quite unpleasant.  They have a particularly strong odour that permeates everything and some can be stroppy and difficult to handle.

Last year we looked without success for a billy for the older girls and even considered AI.  The process was so complicated, we abandoned it in the end and unfortunately, for the first time in years, we no longer have a regular supply of milk.  That also means no cream, butter or cheese, we are having to to buy it.

This year, we are lucky enough to have access to a handsome young boer.  The two younger girls paid him a visit earlier this month which we can only hope was successful.  Although they look like sisters, Lulu and Betsy are actually aunt and niece.  They are two and half years old but only a few weeks apart in age and although they’ve grown up together, their characters couldn’t be more different.  Lulu on the right whose mother is pure white Lily, is cheeky and full of mischief.  She can also be a bit of a bully to the shy Betsy, whose mother Belinda is also Lily’s mother.

If their visit has paid off, we will be delivering kids in March.

In other news we are wallowing about in mud, thanks to all the rain, and the dogs are permantly plastered in it and tracking it into the house.  Roll on the snow!

Fin has had ups and downs too, and has been a bit of a worry.  We are currently trying Slippery Elm powder in and effort to get his digestive system back on track.  He still enjoys his walk, nevertheless, and we have to watch him constantly to ensure he’s not eating something he shouldn’t!

Watching grass grow

The grass is always greener

It has been an inconvenient few months for us with the three acre field out of action.  We have had to keep the dogs off it, as they like to gallop along at quite a pace kicking up sods in their wake, and Jack likes to dig the odd crater or two.

It’s been tricky finding paddocks without sheep to walk them in but thankfully they are actually quite well acquainted with the geese now and no longer bother to chase them.

After seeding we were left with a dull brown field for weeks until the first shoots starting poking through and at first it was very patchy.  Once we had some rain on it, it got a bit of a spurt on and before too long we had a wispy green covering.

It gradually thickened up and by the beginning of October, started to look rather lush.  Since there had been no dogs in the vicinity the rabbits were running riot, much to Daisy’s delight when she finally got access again!

As soon as we were sure that it was well rooted we let the sheep loose in there to graze before winter comes upon us.  They were over the moon to find such a delicious looking crop at this time of year and we are hoping that it will fatten them up, ready for the mart in a few weeks time.

Next year we are hoping for a bumper hay crop but that will depend on the weather.

Penned

Late summer sunshine provides us with an opportunity

We have had some beautiful weather over the last couple of weeks which has persauded us to do some much needed work outside.  The fencing was beginning to show its age, sagging in places with wobbly posts.  The sheep enjoy scratching their backsides on anything that is static causing damage and also practicing their agility skills and snapping wires

Our long term plan was to have metal gates in the middle of 4 paddocks, giving easy access to each and creating a pen in the centre where we could catch the sheep and carry out any essential maintenance work on them.

It was a big job, huge strainers needed to be embedded in the ground to take the weight of the heavy gates and four lines of stock fence had to be either repaired or replaced.  We have no machinery to carry out these jobs so it all had to be done with hand tools and hard work, digging through the clay and bashing in dozens of posts.

On the up side, the dogs enjoyed every minute of it, they spent their days in the fields, sniffing, chasing and searching for rabbits.

It’s now all complete and we are delighted with it.  Just in the nick of time as we are putting the tups in with the ewes and we certainly don’t want any escapees at the moment.

The dogs were more than happy to demonstrate our fantastic new pen.

Polka Dot becomes Patch

A flystrike survivor – not for the squeamish

We were feeling rather pleased with ourselves when we didn’t lose any lambs this year. Just when we thought we were out of the woods one of the boys was hit by flystrike. It was the same lamb that had been rejected by his mother, Geraldine, and had to feed from the goat. He had always been smaller and weaker than the others and therefore vulnerable.

Flystrike is awful. We have seen it once before on a ewe, but it wasn’t as bad as this. Flies lay their eggs on the fleece and the maggots hatch, bury themselves in the sheep’s wool and eventually under the skin, feeding off their flesh. This little boy was badly infected and as we started to clear them from his rear end, they kept moving further up his body. It took us days to rid him of them, every time we thought we’d got it beaten, we found more. Eventually, we put a stop to their migration and then all we had to do was hope he would recover – it can be fatal.

With much TLC from us he did pull through, but there were large areas of bare pink skin all over his back and sides, which we smothered with soothing cream. Now a couple of months later, his fleece is regrowing and he’s almost back to normal, apart from the patchy bits. He is definitely much smaller than the other lambs and probably won’t catch up now. However, he seems happy enough and has a great appetite.

In other news, we have been watching the grass grow and that too is a little patchy!

The stoneage

We find ourselves with a stone circle

We have a 3 acre paddock that produces our hay for overwinter feeding.  We don’t graze the sheep on it until after haymaking and we also use it as a “garden” for the dogs.  They walk around it, chase balls and birds in it, and it gives us plenty of space to try out any new products we may have.

As far as we know the grass in this paddock has been growing undisturbed for at least 30 years and so this year, with our hay crop getting smaller and the quality diminishing, we made the decision to re-seed it.

Although we did consider doing it ourselves for a while, luckily we saw the light and opted to ask for help. We are lucky enough to have a neighbour with all the equipment necessary, and he came in and did it for us.

First of all he had to get rid of all the “stones”. Although only a small sliver had been showing above ground, these stones were more like huge granite rocks and some of them weighed a couple of tonnes!  He spent a long time digging them out and moving them to a huge pile.  There may now be a new mountain range in this part of Scotland, we certainly had enough to make our own stone circle!

Once they were gone he had to plough through a very dense root system, which proved impossible, so he had to resort to an industrial strength rotavator before he could continue.

After rotavation, he ploughed, then out came the discs which broke up all the ground.  All this time he was still discovering more and more stones.

Next came a series of rollers (and yet more stones), followed by the seeder and finally another roller.

It was a long job, expertly done, and one we could never have accomplished on our own, since we didn’t have any of the machinery or knowledge necessary.

All we have to do now is pray for rain and wait for the grass to grow.

In other news, we have had to increase Fin’s medication as although he has improved, he is not healing as we hoped he would.

We have also had a lamb with flystrike.  It was horrendous but we think have managed to save him as he now seems to be recovering.

Say cheese

Our goat’s cheese comes of age

We didn’t manage to find a billy for our girls last year so unfortunately our goat milk supply is dwindling.  However, in times when the white stuff was flowing plentifully, we set out to make our own cheddar.

According to the British Cheese Board, a mild cheddar is typically ready at about 3 months of age; medium matured cheddar at 5 to 6 months; mature cheddar at around 9 months, extra mature at around 15 months and vintage at 18 months or more.

So, a certain amount of patience is required for hard cheesemaking and also a leap of faith.  A cheese will not be tasted for quite some time  which leaves you open for a huge disappointment.  Using the same recipe which was untested, we decided to make a cheese every week for a couple of months.  It took 3-4 days from start to finish per cheese, which included pressing and coating and each one was labelled and stored in the fridge.

The first one we tasted after 3 months and it wasn’t anything special, rather bland.  After that we tried at 6 months and then 9 months.

They still weren’t very good, nothing like the commercial cheddars, so we lost interest and several of the cheeses have sat untouched in the fridge for over a year.

In fact the one we tried last week was made on 8/10/2012.

There was a little mould on the wax coating but we rubbed it off and cut into it.  The texture was slightly crumbly and it  was much more like you would expect cheddar to be.  Although far from perfect but it was creamy and full of flavour with just a little tang.  Certainly the best we have achieved so far. and I think we can definitely call it vintage!

Hatched

At least something has hatched

Every year our geese sit on a large number of eggs for months on end.  By the time they are finished their bright orange legs are pale from lack of sunlight.  In all these years, not once have they managed to hatch a gosling.  We do have a gander so it’s not as if the eggs aren’t not fertile.

This spring the goose that was rejected by our flock, set herself up in the nesting box in the duck shed.  This was extremely irritating as everytime a duck laid an egg, she would scoop it underneath her.  We much prefer to eat duck eggs to chicken eggs and we have quite a few customers at the farm gate who also enjoy our duck eggs.  For weeks we haven’t been able to get hold of any as she hisses if you try to approach.

It must be well past the 28 days incubation period by now, and since nothing has hatched and she has finally given up.  Unfortunately, the muscovy has now taken over and has a huge pile of duck eggs under her.  Who knows how much longer she will carry on.

In the meantime, we had a blackbird that built a lovely nest in the shed.  It was decorated with green moss and bits of fleece.  Sadly, she did so on top of an electrical socket so we had to move it, otherwise it may have caught alight.  We wasn’t sure if she would return to it in its new location, but she did and pretty soon it contained several small blue eggs.  Less than a fortnight later, we discovered 5 newly hatched chicks.  Within days, their eyes were open, as were their beaks, waiting for worms.  They grew huge very quickly and the nest couldn’t cope.  One fell out and when we tried to return it, all the others leapt out in fright!

We decided to leave them alone to sort themselves out and most days when we went in to milk the goats, one of the youngsters was hopping around with the mother close by.

Perhaps the geese could learn a thing or two from the blackbirds!

The big polytunnel challenge

Growing wild

We are the first to admit that we are not really gardeners but over the years we have learnt a bit about growing vegetables.  Most years the polytunnel keeps us supplied throughout the summer months but we are not quite so good at producing over winter.  Every spring we prepare the ground, adding fertilzer from our extensive muck heap but this year we had a little bit of extra inspiration from the programme, The Big Allotment Challenge.  It made us realise what we could produce if we put our minds and more effort into it.

The spuds are all planted and starting to show through the weedproof membrane and we have dozens of seed trays full of all sorts (none of which are labelled so we will be guessing what they are when they emerge).  At the moment the only things edible are lettuce and herbs.

However there is one plant that pops up year after year with no input from us, the wild garlic.  This year it seems to be the trendy ingredient for a lot of recipes.  Not only does it have a fantastic flavour but it looks very pretty too.  It seems to grow just about everywhere so whilst you are out walking your dogs, see if you can spot some.  It’s even being sold at some farmers markets – they’ll be selling stinging nettles next!  Every year we use it in a variety of ways and freeze it for use later in the year.  One of our favourite recipes is wild garlic pesto, simple to make and delicious with pasta.  Though traditionally made with pine nuts and basil, it can be made with just about any nuts or herbs.

Why not give it a try?

Wild Garlic Pesto

Ingredients

  • 80g wild garlic leaves
  • Couple of sprigs of lemon balm (optional)
  • 50g grana pandano (or parmesan) cheese
  • 50g walnuts
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 50ml sunflower oil
  • 50ml olive oil

Instructions

  1. Wash the wild garlic leaves, lemon balm and dry them carefully
  2. Chop the leaves finely in a food processor or blender
  3. Grate the cheese
  4. Roughly chop the walnuts
  5. Add the cheese, salt and pepper to the wild garlic mix and blend
  6. Add the half of the oil and blend
  7. Add the walnuts and blend
  8. Add the remaining oil and blend
  9. Spoon the mixture into a sterilised jar and top up with olive oil so that the pesto is covered
  10. Store in the fridge until used