Great News! Acorn is “in pig”. Piglets due early March 2014. The next challenge is to get Phoebe in pig ready for piglets for May Half Term. We were invited to go to the South Molton Fat Stock show to see two of Maple’s summer piglets who were being exhibited. My, how they have grown and they are so friendly! We had a lovely time giving them a cuddle whilst chatting to their owner Steve who has done a great job with them. The next outing was to Cobbaton Combat Collection to see our friend pull a Sherman Tank off a low loader with his tractor. This had been loaned for Brad Pitts new film Fury. All went smoothly without the tank rolling into the back of the tractor although Chris was anxiously peering out the back window, open to allow the gun barrel to enter if it caught up with him. We enjoyed our annual sheep drove with our friends as they brought a large part of their flock back from Bishops Tawton along the back lanes. It takes all afternoon but is good fun. Huge laughs watching our son having to chase a breakaway contingent of sheep all the way up Codden Hill to bring them back down again. He makes a great sheep dog. Sheep all back where they needed to be just as the light was fading. Job Done. The pigs were fed in the dark that night! More good news. Maple is pregnant so more piglets due at Easter. Phoebe is now in our sights although with her timings it looks like she is going to clash with Christmas. And Lo! It came to pass that she was being AI’d on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Hopefully conception but not necessarily of the immaculate variety.
We managed to take 4 days out to go to stay with Graeme’s Mum and Dad. A great break being waited on hand and foot and eating far more than was good for us. We had a rota of neighbours looking after the pigs and chickens with a couple of standbys just in case. Everybody really enjoyed themselves and told us that we could go away any time we wanted! We might well take them up on that. We ordered the pig semen for Acorn whilst sat in a carpark in our old home of Sevenoaks. We marvelled at the change in our lifestyle as we would never have imagined sitting outside the Stag Theatre making that phone call in our previous lives! The semen was already waiting for us when we arrived home as our postman recognised the package and new it was important. The joys of living in a small community. Acorn was AI’d largely by guesswork (see October’s Newsletter) and we have to wait the three weeks to see if we were successful. External decorating was the name of the game in November. Sandtex being applied at a great rate using a 30 foot pole with a roller taped to the end to get to the high points. They should make it part of the track and field events at Olympics. A telling combination of pole vaulting, javelin throwing, shot putting and weight lifting. The whole experience being heightened by quality control standing next door to you pointing out the bits that were missed. AI’d Maple in the last week of November again aiming for an Easter litter.
We are finding it almost impossible to AI Acorn for her first farrowing. It is always difficult with a gilt (a pig that has not had a litter yet) knowing just when the right moment occurs. You can see a video of us trying to check if she is ready for some “piggy Luuuv” on our Facebook page. She needs to be AI’d next month so we can have piglets for next March. Keep our fingers crossed! Brackens piglets were weaned, wormed and tagged and they all headed off to their new home on a farm near Shebbear. Managed to fit in a treat of collecting fish and chips from Lynmouth and popping up to Countisbury Hill to eat them followed by a bracing walk. Tavy really loved the excitement of the walk (and fish and chips as always). She had been a little poorly over the previous couple of weeks and it was great to see her back on form again. We had plenty of enthusiastic little helpers during October half term and we always miss them when their holiday comes to an end.
Bracken and her piglets moved back into the field in early September to make space for Maple and her piglets to come back down to the barn ready for weaning, tagging and worming. It really is a juggle moving the pigs around. We are calling it “pig solitaire”. Once weaned, wormed and tagged Maple’s piglets left to go to their new homes. Two went to Oxfordshire, three to a farm near Bristol, two went to a farm near South Molton and two are in South Devon. It is really lovely that the new owners often send us photos and news of how our youngsters are getting on. The field is full of ewes again. They were taken back to their home farm during August to wean the lambs and will stay with us now for a few weeks to eat the last flush of autumn grass growth before heading back to their winter quarters for tupping and lambing. This leaves the field free to rest gently over the winter before the lambs return in March. Collecting firewood continued this month ready for winter 2015. After years of back breaking log splitting with an axe we hired an hydraulic log splitter. Job done much more successfully and quickly without the need of a Radox bath and deep heat afterwards.
Once again, thinking ahead to next year, it is time to sow the spring cabbages, kale and cavolo nero to over winter in the polytunnel for next springs fresh greens to help feed us through the hunger gap (that annoying part of the year when everything stored for winter has been finished and everything else is growing but not ready to eat). Maple’s piglets have found out how to escape from the enclosure outside the barn. As with all small children they think it is great fun and exciting to do but then suddenly realise that they can’t get back to mum and start panicking. It was fantastic to have the help of the children on the feeding run to expertly gather them all up and help plug the holes in the fencing. As Bracken is also farrowing this month we needed to move Maple and her children into the field very quickly, clean and sterilise the farrowing area and whip Bracken down from the field into the barn. Being a bit short of pig huts now with our increasing herd size we are having a building frenzy to produce pig huts that can be moved between the field and wood easily. Bracken farrowed on the 12th August with her piglets. Plum jam making was a major occupation this month ready for lots of yummy things including steamed plum jam puddings in the winter. We stocked up early with straw for the winter collecting the bales directly from our friends field. This is a major feat of planning as everybody is doing the same thing bringing in trailer loads of straw with all equipment being used all the time. We had to book our sons’ help in advance and even that slipped to the late evening with the last load being unloaded in the fading light.
We took advantage of the hot dry weather to tackle the reeds that had started to colonise our field. A worthwhile afternoon spent spraying each plant individually with glyphosphate. We wait to see signs of success over the next couple of weeks. We took the decision to have Wi-Fi installed in the cottages and started installation during the month with the help of BT. Maple was moved down to the barn on the 18th July and farrowed her first litter on the 20th July. 9 healthy Oxford Sandy and Black cross Gloucester Old Spot piglets. A great size for her first litter. We were only expecting her to produce 6 or 7. She is being a very good mother and is milking well. As always we are having to think ahead to the oncoming seasons so in the middle of the hottest July fora number of years we were cutting and splitting firewood for the winter after next. Firewood can get you warm in so many ways!
Continuing to reclaim last years pig areas we harrowed the land ready for sowing our further grass and our fodder kale to supplement the pigs winter feed. Lets hope for some good growing weather! We tried to move Maple into a pen on the grass many times for the last part of her pregnancy but each time we took her to her new home and I returned to feed Acorn she was soon seen coming over the brow of the hill to return to her old pen. We gave up in the end and moved Bracken instead who was very appreciative. We decorated The Shippon’s downstairs twin bedroom which is now lovely and fresh and clean.
We were having a concerted effort on re-seeding the field with grass this month to reclaim the areas that had been “pigged” and where we had been undertaking some ground work. Just waiting for the green shoots to appear despite the fact that we are having no rain. We weaned Phoebe’s piglets and she returned to the field pleased to get some grass under her feet and her nose in the mud. We sold all of Phoebe’s girls during this month and the remaining 4 boys are now in the wood having got thoroughly bored of staying in the barn and telling us so by going on hunger strike! Once in the wood they miraculously recovered by tea time. We moved the Easter chicks down to join the girls early in the month and our second batch of chicks hatched out on the 24th May just in time for our May Half Term guests to give them a cuddle. We bought in two little orphan piglets from a neighbouring farm as their mother had too big a litter to be able to feed them all. They are shown here suckling on the milk feeder happily. It has been a few years since having to make up formula baby milk but it all came flooding back to us in a rush!
Great News. Both Maple and Bracken are “in pig”with piglets due in July and August respectively. Regular readers will know that we have been trying to get Bracken in pig since the beginning of the year and it is a great relief that she has finally complied. Obviously all she needed was a good stern talking to with all her options having been laid out in front of her! Our friends lost a fantastic beech tree in their woodland during the floods last year and we have been helping them to clear it. We are now starting to bring the wood up to store it ready for winter 2014. The tree should hopefully re-sprout from the stump with renewed vigour. Although Easter was cold we had great time with the feeding runs as you can see from our pictures on Facebook. The Easter Egg hunts were enjoyed by all. Loads of excited shouts as the clues were found followed by plenty of chocolate munching. The swallows arrived back early this year. As always it lifts the spirits to see them gliding around carving great circles in the sky and prompts us to open up the barns so that they can start making their nests. Our main barn has turned into a nature reserve this year with a myriad of birds nesting in the roof space and the nooks and crannies in the stone walls. A blackbird has even nested on top of a hose hanging inside next door to the piglets.
Phoebe farrowed successfully between 12 noon and 3 o’clock on the 21st March. 10 healthy piglets although two were born simultaneously and one was quite lifeless. Luckily we were on hand and were able to clear its airways and swing it gently by its hind legs to clear the amniotic fluid from its lungs. A good vigorous rub with some straw got it going and it was feeding at the “milk bar” in no time. Great feeling having saved a life. We were a bit worried that Phoebe’s milk was not coming in fast enough and so made up some substitute milk using a recipe given to us by our friends at the local Cornwall Farmers Store. We added all the ingredients gradually and then quite suddenly chemistry took over, the whole lot frothed up and doubled in size. Great hilarity. We offered it to the piglets who were not interested at all (they were getting enough milk after all). Phoebe, however, loved it! Meanwhile we also AI’d Maple (Phoebe’s daughter from last year) and we are hoping she is now in pig with her first litter. We set 12 eggs in the incubator 8 of which hatched on Easter Saturday much to the delight of the children. They have white patches on their wings, white tummies and little white caps on their heads. Very pretty chicks.
We have been doing a lot of re-decorating in The Linhay this month and have ordered some new covers for the settees. This will make The Linhay even more welcoming and homely. The very wet weather this winter took its toll on the felt roofs of the sheds and games room so a great time was spent clambering around on roofs in soft shoes laying new felt. Wickes certainly did very well out of us this month! We can officially say that sperm do not like the snow! Bracken is not in pig and we are all very disappointed. We are now looking frantically for some piglets for May Half Term because Bracken promised her friends who regularly visit her during that holiday that she would have some piglets. One very sad piece of news we have to share with you is that our Black Rock chicken, Noisey, who was our eldest chicken died this month of old age. We inherited her when we came here 8 years ago and she was no spring chicken then having long given up laying eggs as a bad job. We estimate that she must have been at least 12 years old. She is sadly missed because she was such a character and kept the younger chickens in line right up until the end even on arthritic legs.
At the turn of the year the weather is calming down and normal routines have resumed. The garlic is now in the allotment having spent most of the winter in the fridge for a period of cold which helps the cloves to form. As a Christmas present we were given some money to go out for a Sunday meal. We had the usual marvelous dinner in The Stags Head at Filleigh which is 15 minutes drive away and a quick meal in The Williams Arms at Braunton (not both on the same day or even the same week!). Bracken was due for her AI this month so the pig semen was duly ordered. However then it began to snow which makes the whole process that little bit more interesting. We assured Bracken that we would warm our hands first and whilst hopping from foot to foot with cold we managed to AI her over 2 days with her feeling totally unphased. As usual we now have to wait to see if we were succesful. Part of the farmhouse was built in the 1600’s and there was originally a big porch over the entrance to the Annex. This was removed in the 1980’s leaving just part of the wall adjacent to our kitchen which was unprotected on the top. Years of water have collected inside the wall and gradually this has made its way into our kitchen. So we have had the wall capped with a small roof tile lid which looks very smart. While having this work done we had the steps re-laid at the entrance to The Annex.
Three cheers. Phoebe is pregnant with piglets due 2 weeks before Easter. We spent the few dry days this month desperately cutting and chopping firewood ready to feed our woodburners over the second half of winter. It has been such a wet year that our usual routine of collecting the wood went by the board and we have had to resort to cutting down standing dead wood and green ash to keep us warm (with no central heating downstairs we are utterly dependant on our woodburners). Green ash burns so slowly and puts out fantastic heat and is really the best wood if you are in a panic. Luckily for us the ash trees beside the new orchard had become overgrown and desperately needed a prune to give light to the fruit trees. Unbelievably the chickens are still laying loads of eggs even though they normally stop laying and take a break at this time of year because the days are much shorter. This leads to fevered activity in the kitchen making cakes and lemon curd as there are a limited number of egg sandwiches that you can eat! Following the freak flooding in Devon before Christmas we would like to thank everyone who contacted us to check that we were OK. Mercifully, being high up, all we have had is mud, mud, mud!
We have finally put the finishing touches to the pigs winter quarters which has enabled us to move all the pigs onto concrete during the winter months. It was quite a large project and I am delighted to at last be able to put away the hammer and nails and throw a house warming party for Phoebe and Bracken with lots of waste red cabbages from the plot to celebrate. Before Phoebe moved into her new quarters for winter she was down in the barn for a second AI attempt and her worming injection. Fingers crossed that we are successful this time with piglets due at Easter. Watch this space, we will know over Christmas! It was amazing when we took Bracken across the field from her enclosure to her new winter quarters. She ran ahead of us and walked straight up to her new gate and waited for us to reach her before she walked in. If I had known she was that keen to move house I would have asked her to help me to build it! After all the terrible mud she obviously thought it was a great new home. Talking of mud, the piggles (Phoebe’s summer babies) pen in the wood had become too muddy for them so we moved them down to the barn to be in the warm and dry for the last couple of weeks before the 4 boys go off to the abattoir. There was no way the quad bike and trailer were going to get through the mud into the wood so we had to coax them out into the field rattling a bag of food merrily in the air. They were surprisingly well behaved and two trailer loads later all were tucked up in clean dry straw in the barn while we had a well earned cup of tea.
Another month busy gathering in provisions grown during the summer. We do a good line in pickled red cabbage (red cabbages are not prone to as much slug damage as traditional green varieties here so they are a good crop to grow). The first jars are saved to be ready for eating at Christmas. It makes a lovely accompaniment for cold meats and is fantastic with the pickled onions and chutneys made earlier in the season. We were also collecting what apples we could and sharing them between the freezer and making plenty of apple cakes. We had our latest batch of sausages produced this month in both traditional and gluten free recipes. Absolutely outstanding. The best yet! We had plenty of fun during half term. Our little farmers and their mums helped bring Phoebe down to the barn for her AI and then returned her to her pen in the field. It was great to see a large sow walking along with everybody as if taking her for a walk like a dog. The owls have started to call during the night. Such a lovely, comforting sound.
On the first weekend in September we held a garden open weekend together with our neighbours to raise money for Swimbridge Parish Church. Although the weather was showery on the second day we had a good turnout. It was a good chance to catch up with some of our not so near neighbours locally and have a chat. There were not many of the cakes and goodies that we spent the previous week preparing left after the crowds had departed. We were busy in the polytunnel this month desperately getting seeds sown that would overwinter in the ground ready for salads and cabbages in the late winter, early spring. We had a rare day off and went to visit Dunster which is a fascinating place full of old world charm and not too far a drive away. We took the opportunity of having the most delicious Sunday dinner in one of the hotels. Even though our vegetables and fruit this year have been terribly disappointing we are making big efforts to gather in everything we can find to store as Chutney or just in the freezer to eat during the winter. Our neighbour had some unseasonal lambs being born in the field next door as he had mistakenly left the ram in with the ewes earlier in the year for just a few days. Nature always finds a way!
Phoebe was delighted when we weaned her boisterous noisy piglets from her and she could get two minutes of peace and quiet up in the field with her mud foot spa and on tap greenery. The piglets, on the other hand, were not very pleased with us at all as this change in their life also involves having their worming injections and their ear tags fitted. The regular visits of the children coming to see them soon cheered them up and their natural inquisitiveness soon took over. We released them into their pen in the wood a few days later where they happily started rooting around in the soil and exploring their new environment. One of the piglets is a very fine looking pig and we plan to register her for breeding in the future. Our problem is that we cannot think of a name for her. Any ideas anyone? The weather was still unusually wet this month but since nearly everyone had their wellies (and we had a few spare pairs for those that didn’t) the enthusiastic children and adults did a great job battling through the elements to help feed the pigs and chickens. The swimming pool was still well used in spite of the wet weather. The children enjoyed hearing the rain rattling on the cover above their heads.
What a month! We have had unbelievable amounts of rain, although hasn’t everybody, at a time when it just isn’t expected and there is so much to do outside. The potatoes have had blight, the garlic started to rot in the ground and we have had to freeze the individual cloves to salvage something from the crop. There are very few apples on the trees, no plums or damsons but we have been blessed with a huge crop of blackcurrants which we are desparately trying to get into the freezer for some fruit for winter puddings and to make into jam. Phoebe has not been able to go into the field because the piglets would probably sink and disappear in the thick gloopy mud. They are all still down in the barn feeling very bored which makes it very difficult when you go into their pen because wellies are so very exciting! As a complete contrast, the last week of July was incredibly hot and every farmer in the area was rushing to cut and gather their silage whilst they could. We were out helping in our tractor. All hands to the pump!
Phoebe’s much awaited piglets arrived on the afternoon of Monday 11th June. A civilised hour for a change! She successfully presented us with seven piglets, four boys and three girls. Well done Phoebe. However on Tuesday morning Phoebe refused to get up and after two visits by the vet she was diagnosed with Mastitis. We were then kept very busy bottle feeding the little piglets while Phoebe’s antibiotics kicked into gear. Mind you it was a good excuse to have some lovely cuddles. With bottle feeding four times a day and once during the night we certainly missed our regular helpers who stay with us at May half term. Thankfully after four days Phoebe’s milk began to flow again and she started to feel better although her piglets were still enjoying a top up of milk with the two weaker ones staying on the bottle for a long time. She wasn’t all that keen though on continuing her course of antibiotic injections which became more entertaining to deliver as she recovered! As the two weaker piglets got stronger they soon let us know that they did not want to be picked up for their bottle feed any longer. Not a word of thanks! Later in the month we managed to decorate the twin bedroom in The Grain Store. We finally worked out the best solution for keeping the chickens safe was to surround their enclosure with electric wire that we use to keep the pigs in. Hopefully it will give errant fox a nasty zap on the nose if he tries to come near them.
Sun at last! It has been really hot with the ground drying and warming up nicely. We are hoping for a good summer. Looking at the trees the oak trees are well ahead of the ash. Hopefully the country rhyme “Oak before Ash, In for a splash. Ash before Oak, in for a soak” will be right this year. We need to press on and get all the veg seedlings in the polytunnel planted out onto the plots and the kale sown in the used pig enclosures. Brackens piglets were sold to Fancys Farm on the Isle of Portland in Dorset early in May again. It was so lovely to be able to keep the whole litter together.Our fox problems have continued and we lost The Gentleman one Saturday morning again whilst we were out and about with all the chickens. This fox has no fear of humans to be able to take chickens whilst we are stood nearby. Three pairs of swallows are nesting in the barn busily gathering mud to make their nests. It is absolutely fascinating to see them swooping down to the ground to lift the mud onto the tops of their beaks. Alas, Thicky is not pregnant. Great disappointment. We will have to find a suitable boar to visit later in the year now for a spring farrowing. It has been so warm that whilst our son was silaging the grass was drying so rapidly on the ground it was more like hay and blocking all the air intakes on the tractors. Both men and machinery were getting very overheated. We took the opportunity of the good weather for a fish and chip treat bought in Lynmouth and devoured on the top of Countisbury Hill whilst watching the ponies grazing.
During a fun filled Easter with all our cottage guests and their young apprentice farmers we enjoyed the customary Easter Egg Hunt with chocolatey treats. It was so exciting to hear the air filled with the shouts of excited children as they ran around finding all the clues. The chicks have been moved from the kitchen to the Roothouse as they were found flapping around the kitchen. Their eviction notice soon followed! We have been giving great thought to how to bring the old pig areas in the field back into cultivation ready for re-seeding with grass next year. Sheep cannot be grazed on grass grown on a plot previously used by pigs since the soil will have a large copper content which is poisonous to sheep. A barrier crop needs to be grown before the grass can be re-sown. After much discussion and studying of books and seed catalogues we have decided to try to grow Kale. Hopefully we can feed this to the pigs as a treat during the long winter months. Bracken and the piglets were moved to the field on the 15th April and were back down again to the barn a week later after heavy rain over night turned their pen into a muddy lake. We know pigs enjoy mud but there are limits! Great fun was had floundering around in the mud trying to catch super fast, muddy and slippery little piglets. We AI’d Thicky on the 17th and 18th April to hopefully have her farrow in August. We will keep our fingers crossed for the next three weeks to hope that she is in pig and does not return. The end of April was marred by a spate of fox attacks. We are losing a chicken every three days during the mid afternoon right under our noses. It is very distressing and might mean that we have to keep the chickens locked up and deprive us of the pleasure of seeing them wandering around the grounds. The swallows arrived back on the 16th April, only a day earlier than usual. It lifts the spirits to see them gliding around and hearing their cheerful chattering.
Bracken was absolutely delighted to move into the barn once Phoebe was away on holidays and set about making it her home. She was due to farrow on the 13th March but as was her perogative she was 2 days late and farrowed in the early hours of the 16th starting at 11pm the previous night. She had 9 gorgeous piglets and is an excellent mother. We were really pleased that her farrowing went so smoothly after her difficult farrowing last year. Practice makes perfect! A big sigh of relief and some undisturbed nights of sleep at last, for us anyway. We decided to set our own eggs again after the success of our January hatching and popped 17 eggs into the incubator and set the clock. We had to resort to modern techniques as the girls don’t seem to go broody at the right times for us. 21 days later all 17 had hatched which is an amazing 100% success rate which we have not achieved before even with bought in eggs. We took a picture of the proud father (we call him The Gentleman because he is). The chicks are all sat in front of the range at the moment keeping Tavy amused. It is amazing how they instantly know that the drinker contains water. Spring has really arrived now as we have new born lambs in the field barely able to stand as they are only a day old. It is so wonderful to hear them bleating and to see them playing with each other as they get stronger. Whilst working in the wood we inspected one of the resting pig pens and discovered hundreds of tadpoles in a water filled hollow left by Bracken from last year. We now need to keep that topped up with water during this dry spell to make sure they are OK. Phoebe returned home after a lovely time with Alex. Her piglets are due on the 9th June.
We hitched up the trailer, Phoebe merrily walked in, obviously glad at last to be visiting Alex in Cornwall. It was a straight forward journey across the border and when she arrived she walked straight down the lane and into Alex’s pen without hesitation. It was very funny as after they had said hello Phoebe went inside the hut and started to make their bed and was not allowing Alex inside to help. Our friend Beverley (Alex’s mum) told Phoebe “you really don’t have to try to impress him you know”. We took a day off to take Tavy to Putsborough Beach on one of the coldest days of the winter so far. The sand was frozen and sheets of ice lay in the puddles and a massive sheet crossed the whole beach to the sea where the stream had been frozen in its tracks. There were a number of dogs being walked on the beach but none ventured into the water apart from Tavy who plainly has no sense of the cold or more probably just no sense. Tavy, who just lives for a ball to be in her mouth, spent her whole time playing catch amongst the waves. She had no idea that the sea would not leave the ball where she had dropped it and it was very funny to see her frantically searching for the ball after it had drifted back between her legs on the receding waves. Our neighbours rescued a Buzzard which was suffering from bumble foot before Christmas and sent him to the North Devon Animal Ambulance. He returned home at the end of February fully fit and desperate to be free and was released in their garden to return to his normal habitat in the valley. It was heart warming to see him being greeted by the other buzzards as he flew up to soar above Hearson Hill.
Happy New Year everyone. We had a very wet January which has driven us indoors to attack the various decorating jobs. When not painting it seems that we have been spending all our time topping up Bracken and Thicky’s straw which does not last long in the wet weather. It has been made more difficult as the field is so wet we cannot use the tractor, which sinks in the mud, or the quad bike which gently fish tails across the field getting nowhere fast. Back to the old reliable methods of wheel barrow and manpower. Phoebe is still enjoying her 5 star accommodation in the barn and wondering what all the fuss is about. Six chicks hatched on the 8th January and spent their first two weeks in front of the range nice and warm and cheeping merrily. Tavy and the chicks are always fascinated by each other (see middle picture). After ten days, when they get quite adventurous and escape around the kitchen, it is time for them to go into bigger quarters inside the barn under the heat lamp. The remaining cockerels from last year are getting more territorial and we had one incident when two were having a barny which Tavy admirably refereed by getting between them and glaring from one to the other to keep them apart. The cockerels will need to go soon when we release the new chicks into the garden during February or early March and peace will resume. The girlies will be glad to have some peace and quiet from their attentions. Bracken is soldiering on with her pregnancy, the babies being due just before Easter. We are making plans for Phoebe’s move to see her boyfriend in the first week of February in Cornwall. Once Phoebe has vacated the barn we can move Bracken in so that she can put her feet up in the last weeks of her confinement!
Exciting news. Bracken is “in pig” with piglets due in March. After a three week wait it is always a relief to find out that the AI worked successfully. December has been very wet and mild. Our wellies are our best friends at the moment. Phoebe is living in the barn at the moment as she always manages to dig up the inside of her hut in the field and in this weather it always ends up with her having an indoor paddling pool. She might be a bit bored and eating anything within reach in the barn, including a hose pipe, but she is in a nice deep bed of dry straw when she goes to bed. We thought we had lost one of the Light Sussex chickens when it came to putting everyone to bed one night. After a thorough search for her we gave up thinking that she had been taken by a fox. The following morning she was waiting outside the chicken pen for breakfast. The same thing happened the following night with her turning up for breakfast as usual. We marked her with a purple dot at breakfast and locked her in. Our cunning plan was to follow her when we let the chickens out later in the morning. However, she had other ideas and had disappeared by the time we came down to let them out. We then didn’t see her for a couple of days and were thinking the worst. Suddenly she re-appeared for dinner one evening. This time we were not going to let her out of our sight and I had to wait until she had finished her dinner when she decided to go back to her hidey-hole. Imagine the sight of a grown man tiptoeing from bush to bush stealthily following a chicken who was ever watchful for danger as she made her way casually back to her nest. She had set up camp on the top of the wall adjacent to The Grain Store. She had to be taken back to safety and on lifting her off the nest there were 15 eggs all nestled cosily underneath her. She was not at all happy at being locked back in with the other chickens. We still have the cockerels from last summer so working on the basis that some of the eggs were fertile we rushed and set up the incubator to wait and see. We wish every one a Happy Christmas and a really good 2012.
We have been getting in the straw for the pigs bedding for the first half of the winter. The barn is now packed to the roof with straw. It is amazing how warm it feels in there when it is full of newly stacked straw. We gathered some sloes from the field hedgerow this year and are treating ourselves to some sloe gin this Christmas. The cockerels are in fine form. Every time we look up at the kitchen window we see one of them on the wall showing off to the rest of the girls. They also enjoy sitting on the bench outside the Annex taking the Autumn sunshine into their feathers. We have planned our farrowing timetable for next year. We AI’d Bracken on the 19th November and assuming we were successful she should farrow in the 3rd week of March so those of you who are here for Easter will be able to meet her piglets. Phoebe is booked in for her trip to Sydney (the boar in Cornwall) for the end of January so hopefully her piglets will be due for the end of May. Thicky is planned for the last farrowing of the year as it will be her first litter and they should be due in July.
We have decided to keep one of Phoebe’s piglets from her last litter. Her name is Thicky. Those of you who have met her since her birth might remember that it took 2 days of constant teaching to get her to suckle. Hence her name. She has grown into a lovely pig with a delightful personality who loves a good cuddle. She is a character though. When she was down in the pen in the yard (we were in the wood bringing her hut down so that she could join Phoebe and Bracken in the field), she leapt over the fencing of the pen and went to visit our friends in the nearby vineyard. A rather startled neighbour trotted her home with no problems and couldn’t believe how friendly she is. We have been working at the entrance of the woods to improve the drainage and raise the path in an attempt to make a less muddy way into the wood. Our first attempts seem to be doing well.
We have been busy in the gardens cutting the hedges and tidying up before winter. Traditionally the start of the new allotment year begins in September and we celebrate this by ordering our garlic cloves for planting in December. Before that we keep them in the bottom of the fridge to make sure that they have a prolonged exposure to cold which helps them to grow into large cloves next summer. Some free time allowed us to explore a new part of Exmoor this month and we walked along a section of the Two Moors Way through some stunning scenery. Tavy thoroughly enjoyed her swim in the river at the half way point. Phoebe and Bracken are now in adjacent pens at the bottom of the field so they can keep each other company during the winter without having the opportunity to have a disagreement which would definitely happen if they shared the same pen. Our neighbour visited Lundy earlier in the summer and we had a fun evening when he showed us his pictures over tea.
Brackens piglets have grown fast and she has provided a lot of milk for them, but it is now time to separate them so she does not lose too much body condition. The piglets have been eating her pig food for the last two weeks so they are ready for weaning now. We brought Bracken and all the piglets down to the barn after great fun trying to round up the piglets who were not very keen to go into the trailer. The following day we walked Bracken up to a new enclosure in the field for a well deserved rest. She does not seem to miss her piglets at all! The piglets all had their worming injections and bright yellow tags fitted to their ears. With the piglets back in the yard there was a lovely background noise of them gently grunting to each other all the time. At the end of the month we sold seven to a community farm in Portland, Dorset and the last three went to a friend in a nearby village. The chicks that hatched at Easter have also grown really fast and they are nearly fully grown. Noisey (our senior chicken) is still keeping the young upstarts in their place even though she is 10 years old.
Bracken started farrowing at 1am on the 9th July when one piglet was born. Two hours later and there was no sign of any more coming out with Bracken straining and stressed. It was time to call the vet! However, when we returned to the barn twenty minutes later after calling the vet out we were relieved to see three little piglets nosing around their mum. Thankfully the rest followed quite quickly giving a total of ten piglets. Well done Bracken. After three weeks we moved them all to a large pen on fresh grass in the field which the piglets found really exciting. The lambs in the field have been weaned and the bulk of the field is having a rest to let the grass recover before the sheepreturn in September for “Tupping”. We had a family trip to The Doone Valley near Lynmouth. It is a lovely area to walk in as you follow the river up the valley full of bird song on to Exmoor.
We moved Phoebe’s piglets into a new pen in the first week of June so that they could have more undergrowth to play in and eat. They thoroughly enjoyed exploring their new home. They were even seen climbing up slanting tree trunks to see what they could find or maybe they were plucking up the courage to see if pigs can fly! The baby chicks (now more teenagers than babies) were released to free range with the rest of the chickens. They were very bold and were happily seen marching around the orchard within a couple of hours as if they had been doing it for years. Gradually as they got more experience they started to follow us when we went to feed the pigs in the evenings. When we came back down from the woods they were in amongst the sheep having a wonderful time. Great fun trying to get then back down into the garden again. Bracken is now very heavily pregnant and we are keeping a close eye on her expecting piglets in the first week of July. At the end of the month we moved Phoebe’s piglets once again. They are now in a larger enclosed area of the wood that we wanted them to clear of undergrowth.
We spent most of May on the allotments preparing the ground and planting out the vegetables that we have been propagating in the polytunnel for this years summer and winter larder. Everything grows away so strongly in the polytunnel that it is always a race to get it out so it can establish in the ground. Phoebe’s babies have grown so rapidly and we moved them all to a pen in the wood. It was wonderful seeing the piglets digging in the ground for their first time. Phoebe is glad to be on soil rather than on concrete again. Meanwhile the piglets would not give her a minute’s peace and were always swinging on her teats demanding to be fed. Phoebe began to get a bit cross so we decided to wean the piglets away from her when they were 6 weeks old rather than the usual 8 weeks. Both Phoebe and the piglets are now perfectly happy. The piglets enjoyed their increased feed ration and Phoebe is enjoying the peace and quiet and putting weight back on to recover from farrowing. The piglets, who are always adventurous little things, soon discovered the weaknesses in their enclosure and managed to escape quite often. They had a lovely time in the undergrowth of the wood and our guests who were staying here would discover them whilst walking in the woods. They got quite adept at rounding them up and putting them back in the pen for us. At the end of the month we sold 4 piglets to two lovely homes. During May we also moved the chicks down to the spare chicken hut in the main chicken pen as they had outgrown their pen in the Roothouse. They were intrigued by the outside world. All the lambs were drenched this month and the sheep were shorn ready for summer. During the May Half Term our enthusiastic regular young visitors had a wonderful time joining in feeding runs with the animals and socialising the piglets so they got used to human contact.
Bracken did not return to “hogging” on the 2nd April and we are really excited that she is pregnant with the piglets due in the second week of July. Phoebe has been doing a wonderful job at feeding her piglets. They are all growing up very quickly. Everyone that was here during April had a lovely time seeing them play and develop day by day. The eggs hatched on the 15th April and we now have 8 chicks (3 Gold Laced Wyandotes, 3 Light Sussex and 2 Buff Sussex) who spent the first week and a half in our kitchen in front of the range to keep them warm. Once they started to jump out and run around the kitchen it was time to move them into their pen in the Roothouse. All the lambs have grown up so quickly in the field and are now jumping, skipping and dancing while their mums get on with the serious business of eating. We had an Easter Egg hunt here on Easter Sunday morning after the feeding run. It was great to hear the shouts of excited children as they ran around finding the clues. They were all well rewarded with chocolate when they returned.
Phoebe delivered 12 piglets, each with their own unique black and sandy markings, on the 29th March. The smallest piglet was having trouble learning how to stay with one teat to suckle and spent most of her time running up and down Phoebe’s tummy not being able to make up her mind which teat she wanted. We have spent a lot of time with them in the barn teaching her how to feed properly and thankfully she has now at last got the hang of it. We have been aerating the field to try to decompact the soil to encourage improved grass growth and better drainage. The field is now full of sheep and their week old lambs who are starting to gather in gangs and run around and play. Some hatching eggs are in the incubator and all being well should hatch out ready for Easter weekend. We were not able to get Bracken to the boar in Cornwall on time so opted to try artificial insemination for the first time. The semen came in from Northern Ireland and Bracken took it all in her stride very well enjoying her feed while we were busy at the other end. We were far more nervous than she was. It is quite a simple procedure which involves gently screwing a catheter into her cervix to make sure that there is a good seal before pouring in the semen. The cervix of a pig is corkscrew shaped hence the need to screw the catheter in. We are waiting now to see if she returns hogging on the 2nd April. Hopefully, all being well she doesn’t, and piglets will be due early in July.
The broody Light Sussex (now called Dot as we put a purple dot on her back to identify her) is now back to normal and we are waiting for another chicken to go broody so we can leave her to safely look after some eggs when the weather warms up. We have spent most of the month decorating the conservatory and renewing the downstairs cloakroom in The Shippon. Phoebe is looking very pregnant and plans are now under way to get Bracken” in pig” ready for Summer piglets. We popped down to the northern edge of Dartmoor for a day out during the half term week. It was great fun having a picnic and walking up to Yes Tor which is the highest point of Dartmoor that you can see from the Codden Hill road as you approach Lower Hearson Farm.
Phoebe came home during January having thoroughly enjoyed her holiday in Cornwall with Sydney. Her piglets are due on the 30th March. One of our Light Sussex chickens has “gone broody” which means she spends all day sat in her nesting box trying to hatch out any eggs that she can find and making an alarming trilling noise if you go anywhere near her. It is too early and cold to let her hatch fertilised eggs even though she would like to be walking around the Orchard with a line of chicks following her in February. We have to lift her out of the nesting box as often as possible to cool her down to try to get her out of this cycle. Hopefully one of the chickens will go broody in March when we can happily give her some eggs to hatch.
We had a break in the icy weather at the beginning of December which enabled us to send Phoebe down to Cornwall to stay with a boar called Sydney. Hopefully, if all goes well, we should be expecting some “Sydlets” at the beginning of April 2011. The snow has arrived at Lower Hearson Farm making everything look very festive. The chickens, however, do not like the snow and although they venture out during the day we have found ourselves carrying them back to their huts at night.
The cold weather at the end of November heralded the onset of winter proper and the extra work this entails. All the water pipes for the animals froze leading to twice daily rides to the pigs in the woods on the quad bike with a large water container strapped on the back. We were taken to the Stags Head for a Sunday Lunch by visiting relatives this month. A superb meal, as always. We recommend that our guests eat there during their stay as a treat.
October was a beautifully sunny and warm month this year at Lower Hearson Farm which the animals, ourselves and our guests all really appreciated. We have been busy getting in provisions for the coming winter months taking time to make some more chutneys and pickling our red cabbage crop to join our pickled onions ready for Christmas salads. We also enjoyed some wonderful pumpkin soup. The side barn is now full of straw to keep the animals bedded up and warm during the winter. The apple crop has been harvested and is in store and in the freezer as well as having provided a ready supply of Apple Cake throughout the month. Phoebe, Bracken and the piglets have also been enjoying the windfalls very much.
Phoebe and Bracken have been moved to their new pens with brand new huts as we weaned the piglets in the first week of September. Eight of the piglets went to their new homes during the following week and we have kept four little piglets from Phoebe’s litter. They have stayed in their pen in the wood and are having lots of fun playing around the trees and jumping over fallen logs especially when it is feeding time. Their names are Patch, Dot, Woody and Chuckle (2 boys and 2 girls).
The Light Sussex Chicks have grown into their striking adult plumage. They are often to be found in a line eating from the hedgerows. The Ghostie Girlies are in fine form as well often laying eggs with double yolks as a present for us.
In the last week of September we had to say goodbye to all our baby swallows as they flew off on their marathon trip to Africa. We look forward to welcoming them back again next April.
Both Pheobe and Brackens piglets are growing up fast. We have moved Pheobe and her litter back into the wood. Pheobe was so excited to be back in the wood that she was dancing round between the trees. The piglets took to their new home immediately and were running around, happily rooting the soil and covering their noses with mud.
Pheobe gave birth to six little piglets on the 13th July and Bracken had six more piglets on the 15th July. They are all very beautiful. They are both very good mothers and the piglets are such fun to watch as they are growing up. They are now playing chase boisterously charging in and out of the bars of their creep area and around their mother’s feet.
The Light Sussex chicks have at last been given their freedom to roam around the gardens. They are most likely to be seen grazing the grass in the orchard and chasing the occasional insect.
The Light Sussex chicks are now 6 weeks old and have been moved outside into their lovely spacious chicken hut and pen and are enjoying the outdoor life. They are desperate to escape into the gardens with our other laying hens but need to wait until they are a little bit older before they can join them and truly free range.
Pheobe and Bracken are now heavily pregnant. The piglets are due around the 10th of July and the pressure is on to build their farrowing quarters in the barn so they can be down in the farmyard where we can keep an eye on them.
Pheobe and Bracken are now back with us after their holiday and enjoying the fine weather during the early days of their pregnancy. They are certainly more calm now they are pregnant and really enjoy having their tummies rubbed lying on their verandah of straw outside the hut. The piglets are due during the second week of July.
Spring has come to Lower Hearson Farm.
There are fantastic snowdrops in our woodland and the daffodils are waiting to burst into their full glory. The cold weather has kept the primroses very quiet which will mean that there will be a complete carpet of yellow in April.
Our two Oxford Sandy and Black gilts (female pigs who have yet to have their first litter) are now with the Boar at his farm near Taunton. We know that the Boar is a decent young man of good pedigree and even though we kept telling them about their exciting holiday they were very reluctant to be loaded into the trailer. Pheobe decided to jump out of the trailer and have a wander around the garden with us having a fun time trying to coax her back with a trail of food. If the mood is right hopefully they will conceive at the first time of trying and the piglets should be born in late July.
The lambs are coming out into the field now and are starting to jump and skip around and have some fun in the spring sunshine.
We have successfully hatched 15 Light Sussex chicks in our incubator. They spent a week in the kitchen in front of the range. It was time to move them to the Root House when they started escaping from their box and every morning when we came down there were chicks wandering around the kitchen.