An early lambing

Lambing earlier than usual was not the best idea considering the weather

It’s been a very busy month here on the croft.  In the past we have always lambed later in the year when the weather is better (supposedly).  Last year we decided rather rashly to put the tups in earlier than usual and as we had considerably more ewes than normal, we would stagger it over 3 months.

The plan that every four weeks we would have a new bunch lambing went horribly wrong, as did the weather!  With snow and bitter temperatures, we welcomed triplets in the middle of the month, 3 weeks overdue from our predicted date for the first batch.  Less than a week later, lambs from the second batch started to put in an appearance so instead of having plenty of room in the shed to house them all, we rapidly ran out of space.

We had to turf the goats out of their large loose box into a smaller one and hastily build another pen, just 24 hours before it was needed by a new mum!

With space still short, we invested in some sheep gates and quickly set about clearing a space in the hay barn to house the ewes who were getting fatter by the day and eating us out of house and home.

For the time being, everyone has their own little suite but very soon now, the third batch will be starting and we will have to shift them all round again.

As far as the lambing itself is concerned, it has been very tiring. We have been taking turns to watch them throughout the day and the cold nights but not only that, the births themselves have been difficult.  The ewes seem to be delivering huge lambs that are reluctant to come out and we’ve come to the conclusion that we have fed them too well this year.  We also had one ewe prolapse which involved a vet visit and an uncomfortable delivery.  Mother and baby are now doing fine.

Looking forward to it all being over and done with and getting back to having a proper nights sleep.

Give me a hug

We went from knee deep mud to knee deep snow almost overnight and then back to mud again

Last month we mentioned the lack of snow.  We should have kept our mouths shut as this month we have been inundated with it, as has most of the country.

At first it was a relief to swap the thick mud for the lovely clean snow.  However, it didn’t last long as the snow got deeper and it became more and more difficult to feed the animals.

Everything was freezing, the water barrels that served the livestock had a thick layer of ice on top and no sooner had we filled them up, than they were starting to freeze.  Dragging a wheelbarrow full of hay or buckets of feed across a snowy paddock was not much fun either.

However, there were some who were absolutely delighted with the change in the weather, the dogs.

They absolutely loved it.  Fin guzzled it down like ice cream and the two youngsters played in it happily for hours.  They obviously don’t suffer from cold paws like we do.

As the snow started to disappear we were left with treacherous ice which was even more of a feeding challenge.

Now, sadly we are back to mud with a side order of gale force winds!

A brown Christmas

Sadly no white Christmas for us this year

Whilst most of the country has been virtually under water, we too have had our fair share of rain and there have been huge “lakes” in the fields, but thankfully, we have not suffered flooding.

Of course, there is another side effect of all that water – mud.

We have been wading in it for weeks now, although the biggest problem is of course the dogs.

The big ginger Fin isn’t too bad as he doesn’t race around like the other two.  But Daisy, with her fondness for chasing tractors along the hedge line, is usually smothered.  Archie likes to join in the chase, but chases her instead.

It’s got to the point where we long for snow just so that we can have clean dogs.

We’ve developed a sophisticated system for cleaning them after their morning and evening runs, we call it the Dog-o-matic.  Otherwise known as a watering can.

We had the perfect rose fitted on the spout, until someone who will remain nameless, ran over it with his tractor!

Daisy hates the Dog-o-matic and grumbles all the way through her twice daily rinses, Archie puts up with it and conveniently lifts his legs so that you can get to his filthy underbelly, but Fin absolutely loves it and tries to push to the front of the soggy queue.

Here’s hoping we have some decent weather soon so that we can all dry out.

That sinking feeling

Plumbing in the dairy

We have deeds for our croft dating back to 1913.  At one time it was just small stone building that probably housed both the farmer and his livestock but over the years, extensions have been added and not very sympathetically, to make it habitable for a family.  Although there is now plenty of space, it doesn’t flow very well and the utility room, is on the other side of the house to the kitchen.

We use it as a dairy.  It houses the cream separator, butter churn and a small fridge where the goat’s “cheddar” ripens.  The layout was very awkward with the sink being right in the corner so you had to lean over to use it.  We decided to swap it around, a simple sounding job but a big mistake.  In order to save money we decided to replace the old stainless steel sink with an even older Belfast sink that had been sitting in the polytunnel and used for washing veg.

We made a draining board from timber that was lying around, along with a wooden stand for the sink.  It looked very rustic, but quite charming.  Our only concession to modern living was the mono-block tap we splashed out on.  There are a lot of milky items to be washed up and the spray would come in handy.

However, once we had ripped everything out and cut pipes, we discovered the ancient plumbing, which is not a standard size.  The local plumbers merchants scratched their heads in disbelief.  The water is pumped from our well which is just outside the window, heated by the Rayburn and then goes into a header tank upstairs.  When we finally managed to connect the old pipes to new, much thinner ones, we were disappointed to find we had no water pressure.  It wasn’t designed for trendy taps.  Another pump would be required to fix that problem.

But if that wasn’t enough, the plughole of the sink is leaking.  We have tried all sorts to fix it, none of which has worked – so far.  The whole fiasco has been ongoing for weeks which means the room is out of action but the most annoying part is that we thought by recycling we would be saving money, whereas the whole debacle has been a false economy.   If we had gone out and bought a spanking new top of the range sink and draining board, we would have been better off!

Boy meets girls

Time to introduce new blood to our little flock

It’s that time of year again when the tup is once again reunited with the ewes in the hope that they will produce a lovely crop of lambs next spring.  This year it’s been more fun than usual – but not for us.

We have to introduce new blood into the flock so our old ram who has a gentle nature, unlike some we’ve had in the past, needs to move on and we have acquired two new boys.  They are only youngsters born earlier this year so as yet unproven.  One is a pure bred Lleyn and the other a Texel Suffolk cross.  Both will be a good match for our girls who are a mix of Lleyn, Suffolk and Cheviot so they are not small beasts.

This year we decided to stagger the lambing as there is not enough room in the shed for all of them at the same time, so we picked the first batch of girls and put the Lleyn tup in.  We had a harness and crayon on him so that we could tell when he’d done his job but since he is not yet fully grown, it was far too big.  We had to remove it as it was hampering his efforts. The next morning we discovered to our horror that the old ram had managed to break through the fence and was busy courting the ewes who were promised to the new boy.  We had quite a job persuading him to leave.

Four weeks later we put the second new tup, the Texel Suffolk cross, in with the remainder of the girls and once again went out the next morning, only to find that he preferred the ones betrothed to the Lleyn and was busy chatting them up.  It was a Monday morning and we had all of the weekend orders to pack but we found ourselves in the field chasing sheep and getting splattered with mud!

With all the wet weather we’ve had, the posts are loose and the fences are barely holding anything in.  We have had to move everything around so there is no danger of beasts escaping.  For the time being they are all where they should be but who knows how long that will last.  Now we have to wait 5 months to see the results of all our efforts and find out if the boys were up to the challenge.

Utterly buttery

Finally, we get to grips with butter making

With two goats in milk, the twice daily routine was taking much longer and was tough on the hands, so when we were given an ancient Alfa Laval milking machine (just like the one on Wartime Farm, if anybody is watching it), we were delighted.  It needed quite a bit of work to restore it to full working order but once it got going, it made our lives so much easier and the goats don’t mind it either.

We have been busy making cheese, ice cream and have finally after many false starts, managed to make butter.  In the past when we’ve tried, we’ve ended up with a solid cream instead of the butterfat separating from the buttermilk.  Therefore, it was an exciting moment when we ended up with our first dish of home made goat’s butter!

Rather than the usual yellow colour we are all familiar with, goat’s butter is pure white but with a sprinkling of salt, it tastes delicious.  It also makes great pastry, even though it’s a little difficult to handle (can’t imagine anyone on the Great British Bake Off using goat’s butter pastry) and of course the buttermilk is perfect in scones or soda bread.

It takes a while to make it.  Firstly the cream needs to be separated from the milk and this needs to be collected for about 3 days before there is enough for a decent amount of butter.  The cream then has to be beaten until it separates and when drained is shaped using the antique butter pats that we bought especially.

Perfect on home made rolls, muffins and crumpets.

Baling out

Disaster strikes when cutting the grass

The last few weeks have been a tense time, constantly watching the weather and being disappointed when day after day we had rain.  And not just a shower, but gallons of the stuff pouring from the clouds.

We got off to a bad start when the wheel broke off the tractor when we were cutting the grass.  A neighbour had to winch us out of a very boggy area.

Whenever there was a hint of sunshine we were out there turning the grass and making plans to bale. Time after time we were disappointed when the black clouds moved overhead.  We thought we would never get started and were worried that the grass laying in the field would be ruined.

There have only been a couple of days in the whole of this month when it has been possible to bale any hay and we took full advantage, working late into the night and bringing in the bales by moonlight.

Today we weren’t expecting rain until 4pm so we were working furiously to get the last of it done.  Typically the heavens opened up at 2pm and it was a race against time to get them all loaded onto the trailer and into the dry barn. We can only hope that they were dry enough to prevent rot and spontaneous combustion!

Despite the bad start we have 333 bales to feed the beasts over winter and the problem facing us now is where to put them.

It never rains but it pours

A new roof over our heads

Last year it was the porches, this year the project is the roof of our steading.  The L shaped building is filled to the rafters with “stuff” and since it has been leaking for a very long time we have had to carefully place things out of the way of the drips.  It’s incredible that it hasn’t collapsed before now, especially with the weight of snow we had last year.

Relatives and friends are here on a working “holiday” helping us remove the ancient slates and fit a not quite so beautiful box profile.  We would have loved to replace the slate but in the time we have available, it was just not possible.

As usual the weather is proving a challenge, not only for the roof but also for the hay.  We cut one field last week and almost immediately the rain came down.  We only need mention the word “hay” for black clouds to gather overhead.  A good crop is looking doubtful.

Belinda produced her kids on time and now has two lovely black and white girls – Betsy and Bethany.  They look tiny compared with Lily’s two who are huge now and very naughty.  Out of the two goats, Belinda’s milk is far superior and much creamier than Lily’s which is strange as they are mother and daughter.  As a result of our massive increase in milk production we are now eating vast quantities of homemade ice cream.  Shame we don’t have the weather to go with it!

Fencing is such a chore

Digging for victory

June was filled with fencing.  We had fences to mend, new gates to hang and a brand new length of stock fence to put up.

There were 30 posts that all needed to be banged in with a post punch.  Our neighbour had just finished his fencing and we had watched with envy as he bought in a post bashing machine for a day.  We didn’t have that luxury so, rather than a day, it took a couple of weeks to complete the work doing a few poles every day.

But, before that could be done, holes had to be dug for the huge posts that would act as strainers and take the weight of the new gate.  It was all going well until a foot or so down where all the rocks were hiding out.

Luckily the dogs were on hand to help out.

In other news, we are awaiting the second kidding.  Belinda is due at the end of the month and is looking very well rounded.  Lily’s kids are thriving and will be pleased to welcome new playmates.

Lily delivers

First time mum serves up her kids

According to the goat gestation calendar, Lily was due to kid on 4th May. In reality though, it could have been any time from 28th of April to 8th of May as these dates were 145-155 days from the time she met with the billy.  In fact she met with 2 billy goats, we were hedging our bets.

We moved her out of the pen away from the other goats, particularly Anastasia who is a bit of a thug, into her own personal birthing suite.  She seemed relieved and soon relaxed into her new domain.  We kept a close eye on her, counting down the days until the morning of the first of May when she was acting a little oddly.  By the afternoon we were certain she was in labour and at around 6pm she laid down on her deluxe straw bed, made a noise like someone throwing up and produced 2 tiny kids, easy as pie.

We had just spent weeks ewe watching, seeing them pacing, panting and groaning, thinking any minute they were about to give birth, then spending the night checking them every two hours, only for them to finally lamb at 9am the following morning.  The quick and stress-free birth of the kids was like a breath of fresh air.  We didn’t even need the rubber gloves!

Although very small, they seemed healthy and lively and she was keen to clean them up, which meant hopefully, that she would be a good mother.  Since this was her first time we had no idea how she would take to it.

Strangely, the female kid was black with distinct white markings and pricked ears, the image of one of the beaus that Lily had met with, but the male kid was golden brown with floppy ears and looked eerily like the other billy she had a liaison with on the same day.  Neither took after their pure white mother.  We wondered if it was possible that there could be two different fathers.  I guess we will never know unless they do DNA tests for goats!