Spun

A lesson in spinning leads to a bobbin of yarn

For some time now, we have been intending to make use of a spinning wheel that we bought a year or so ago. We dusted it off and tried it out, but without any idea how to use it properly, we didn’t have much luck.

Then, we attended a local craft open day to see what craft classes were available, and as luck would have it, had the opportunity to try a wheel for a few minutes under instruction.

There is no substitute for practical experience, and with just that short practice, we are now able to use our own wheel, albeit not perfectly. After a while, we had a full bobbin (pictured) of spun wool from the fleeces of our own sheep! Not exactly a jumper’s worth, but you have to start somewhere!

The white stuff

The snow makes life difficult for us but the dogs are thrilled

Did it snow? Did it ever!

Whilst we have seen worse over the last couple of years, it did come as a bit of a surprise. Mind you, the dogs absolutely LOVED it!

With nothing but a light breeze, bright sunshine, several layers of snow over the field, they chased around as though they were floating on air. The canine equivalent of ‘snow angels’ could clearly be seen around the perimeter of the field (their usual route).

In addition to the fun though, there is also a more challenging aspect to the weather. The animals not only need to be fed at the usual times, but also have to have plenty of dry bedding, and it all has to be carried to their pens through the snow. At first, is quite easy, but after a while, we found it quite exhausting!

Thankfully the snow has now passed, and has been replaced by drizzle. The mud is deeper, but we’re used to it, and it’s no less than we expect in Feb. In a couple of months, it will subside as the ground dries up. Hopefully!

Going for goats

We adopt a pair of goats and then have to review our fences

What a start to the new year!

Both of us were suffering with quite severe winter colds, which slowed us down a little, however, as soon as we recovered, we were lucky enough to acquire some new goats from a friend of ours. They are Toggenburg goats, one 4 years old, and the other 8 months, and we hope to get plenty of milk later this year for goats cheese!

It will mean a slight change to the feeding regime (new animals always do), but not a major one. In the most part, they will eat what the sheep do, so no additional feed and feed containers are required at the moment.

Whilst we do a bit more fence work, they are currently living in our shed, with a small outdoor area constructed from 6′ high fence panels (another recent acquisition from another generous friend). That should keep them going for a week or so. Whilst the weather is as wild as it is, we don’t think they will want to be going too far!

Bye bye Billy

Our first homegrown steaks

Finally, after 2 years, it was time to send our bullock Billy to the abattoir. Despite this always being our intention, it is never easy.

After some thorough planning, the whole process went very smoothly and with the minimum of stress for all concerned. Most importantly, for Billy.

The trailer was prepared the day before, the tractor was fuelled, and for a couple of days in advance, Billy had been trained to walk into a pen to make it easier to catch him without having to chase him around.

Despite some appallingly wet weather just a day or so before, Billy did indeed walk calmly into his pen and the trailer was backed over the soft ground without getting stuck. When the gates were all opened, he went straight in.

A week or so later, we collected the meat from our local butcher, and with a toast to Billy, we enjoyed our first homegrown steak with chips! Delicious.

Not so hot houses

Increasing our growing potential

In an effort to boost our vegetable growing area (the polytunnel, whilst huge, seems to fill up really quickly!), we purchased some used greenhouses from a friend of ours.

Borrowing a trailer, we collected them one at a time from a rather steep hillside, and tied them on with baling twine. The glass, most of it intact, we loaded into the car.

Positioning them in the yard, for the time being, we set about clearing some space to set them up. This is the hard bit, and we still have a bit of work to do. Hopefully, they will be ready in time for the next growing season!

Fortification

New gates keep dogs in and strangers out

Now into September, we set about making some improvements to our ‘defences’.

The entrance gates to the yard have been hanging since the day we moved in (two old and rusty pipe gates, very quickly attached to the walls in order to keep the dogs safe), and were never entirely suitable for the purpose.

The biggest problems were that, not only could the dogs put their heads right through the bars when strangers approached, but familiar visitors could and did open them when the dogs were out and about.

After one particular incident, we decided enough was enough. Armed with some reclaimed timber, used gate ‘furniture’, and an in-law, we made two five bar gates to fill the gap. One was 11′ long, and the other, a pedestrian gate, 3′ long.

We covered the front of the gate with windproofing mesh (to keep dogs in and people out), and used a selection of gate bolts to secure them together.

Perfectly level with each other (a feat of luck more than skill), they are much more secure. They don’t open in strong winds like the old ones either. Fantastic!

Polytunnel produce

New cover increases our output, but blight strikes

Our polytunnel has been producing well this year, thanks to some imaginative planting and regular care. We have enjoyed meal after meal of fresh vegetables (to accompany our pork and lamb), and hope it will continue through the colder seasons too.

Our tomato crop started well with some lovely red specimens (we have had problems with pounds of tomatoes staying green and being used for chutney), but unfortunately, our harvest was cut quite short by blight.

Potatoes also suffered, but thankfully not until we had eaten our way through most of them.

The new cover has definitely made a difference to the ambient temperature in the tunnel, and this is almost certainly helping with the increased yield.

A knotty problem

We buy our own baler

The remaining sheep all sheared, we turned our attention to this year’s crop of hay.

We were lucky enough to spot a square baler for sale in the local ads paper, and after an inspection and a quick trial (stationary, feeding straw through manually) all seemed in order. Having sealed the deal we arranged to have it transported to us, but had to reverse our neighbours borrowed tractor onto the low loader to tow it off. Hair raising!

The bad news was that after trying it out again, it wasn’t working properly – the knotters weren’t knotting! After taking a closer look we thought we had identified the cause, and to confirm it one of our neighbours came for a peek. It turns out that they used to own one of the same model (over 30 years ago!), and were familiar with it.

Suitably instructed, we set about the repairs, and within a day our neighbour returned with his tractor for a trial run. Success! Straw in one end, bales out the other.

Feeling confident, we watched the weather closely and arranged to have the grass cut at what later turned out to be the perfect time. What followed was 4 days of scorching weather, and on the fifth day, we produced 250 bales with our baler (and borrowed tractor!).

Blitz (pictured) declared the bales suitable, and went off for a snooze…

Shear hard work

Shearing sheep is harder than it looks

As the weather warms up, it’s sheep shearing time.

Usually, we ask an expert to come round and do it, but this year we thought we’d have a crack at it ourselves. Armed with a set of electric clippers from our indulgent neighbour, we set about the task.

Having rounded up 6 of last years lambs, we managed to manoeuvre them into the shed one by one, positioning them on their backsides (where they can’t move around too easily). Each was clipped in a rather awkward fashion, and then released back into the pack to recover!

The first two seemed to take about an hour each with plenty of resting (us, and the sheep), at which point we decided to retreat and do a bit more research and have a cup of tea! After viewing a couple of online videos of shearing, we decided to have another crack at it. Although the whole sheep+sheers still felt a little alien, we managed to do the other 4 in about 20+ minutes each.

A vast improvement, but exhausting all the same! The others can wait a week or two…