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…

Hamming it up

Attempting to make our own version of Parma ham

In April, when one of our pigs returned from the abattoir, we decided to try to air dry some hams. We’re hoping they’ll be similar to ‘Parma ham’.

Each of the two hams was salted for several weeks (according to weight), and when ready they were washed and wrapped in muslin.

In the meantime, we made a box with a mesh front, meshed door panel at the back, and 2 hooks in the top. Each wrapped ham was hung on a hook, where they will remain for several months while the air circulates around them in and through the box. At that point, they will be unwrapped and should be ready to eat. Yum!

The box should be outside really, so that the hams are in a draft. Perhaps later in the month we’ll get around to it!

Orphaned

This month we were busy looking after the rejects

April brings lambs for us, as we generally put the ram with the ewes quite late in the year. The rationale is that if the worst of the weather is over, lambs can go outside sooner without danger.

This year, 5 ewes gave us 11 lambs – a mixture of singles, twins, and triplets!

The downside was that for some reason, 5 of the 11 were rejected by their mothers (‘orphaned’). This can be quite difficult for all concerned, not least because they have to be fed several times a day on powdered ewes milk. Expensive, and time-consuming! Then there’s the head butting that takes place once they get the hang of the bottle. After you’ve hand fed 5 lambs you are black and blue!

It was touch and go for one lamb, who we thought we would lose. It wasn’t clear that she’d been orphaned at first, and we found her in a corner of the shed shivering. We brought her inside in a dog cage and placed her next to the range to warm up, and slept with her in our arms.

By the next day, she was much better, and a few days later she went outside into a crate with a hot lamp. Little did we know that she’d soon have 4 friends to join her…

Recovering the polytunnel

Windy weather gives us a break to do the job we had been dreading

Windy weather in early March gave way to a couple of days of fairly still air, and the job we had been dreading for quite a while.

The polytunnel we inherited when we moved in has been in need of a new cover for some time – something neither of us wanted to do (or knew anything about) – but necessity eventually won through!

Having bought the cover (and timbers, bolts, nails, etc) in Feb, and armed with a couple of knowledgeable friends, we finally took the old cover off and removed the rails.

New rails cut and bolted into place, then the beading attached, we were ready for the new cover. With all 4 of us pulling and moving and adjusting it, we drew the polythene fabric over the top and secured it with more beading and nails. Once pulled reasonably tight, we lifted and secured the hoops of the tunnel to tighten it.

Sounds easy, but it took 4 days to do! Little did we know at the time, that this was to be the only 4 days of calm weather for almost the whole of March!

Cover on