Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Presenting Tallulah the Ginger Pig

Having recently turned 28 I've been reminiscing about past birthdays and more particularly past presents. One stands out from the rest - Tallulah the Ginger Pig.

Tallulah is a Tamworth sow, reckoned to be among the truest of indigenous British breeds. She was given to me by my best friend Jonny as a weaner (a young pig that has been weaned from the sow's milk). She was born on the 22 September 2005 of the Abbess Lucky Lass blood line. She is a lovable pig with a very eager personality and is very tame. She loves a good scratch along her bristly spine and is so friendly and careful with me I have no qualms about sitting beside her in her pen to enjoy the last of the summer sun.

She is also an excellent mother - she's raised four litters of piglets, averaging around eight per litter. She always seems to begin birthing in the evening so I am normally up all night prepared to be on hand if help's needed. Some sows become aggressively protective while birthing however Tallulah is very calm and quite happy for me to handle her piglets as they come into the world and to help them to find her milk for the first time.

It is a pleasure and an honour to work with Tallulah, who I've come to know as a funny and intelligent character.
Thanks Jonny :-)

For more about Tamworth pigs, check out The Tamworth Breeder's Club website.

Jim D-H
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Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Introducing Alys...

This is Alys. She is a White Park/Short Horn cross (both breeds are on the RBST watchlist). We tend to keep only pure bred cattle to breed from, rather than crossed breeds, however we have kept her as a breeding cow because her birthday is the same as Mum's (mildly eccentric I know).

She is a friendly cow, loving nothing more than a good feed and a scratch just above her tail. Part of the reason a lot of our cows are so friendly is the time I spent with them when they were growing up. They now all come to call and are so friendly that if you don't know them you might be quite intimidated when they barge past one another to get some attention from you!

The photo was taken at around 9.30 on a Spring morning and what you can not see is her first calf off to the left of the shot. It was born sometime during the night and as with the White Parks cattle in general it seemed to be an easy private birth (they don't tend to like people around during birth so will find a more secluded part of the field and usually birth at night).

To find out more about White Park cattle, visit the White Park Cattle Society's site.

Jim D-H

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Tuesday, 23 September 2008

With a little help from our friends

Over the weekend an old pal came to stay. Unbeknown to him, our arable land was having the final buzz with the combine so we would have to set about collecting our final quota of round bales and lugging 150 of them into and out of the trailer.

Now the friend in question is very proud of the little he does (being 28 and only just learnt how to fry an egg, no joke!!!!). He is also a rather keen architect of high standing. Upon arrival I was relieved to hear that he had come up to take his mind off his rather stressful work. 'What better way of forgetting your city troubles than by getting down and dirty doing a good honest day's labour on the farm' I suggested. This was received with a frown and some light questions about what I had lined up for him. After a few expletives he explained that he was here to help and by jove he would!

Not only did we get all the jobs done, we had time for a lovely pub lunch in Mum & Dad's award-winning local The Pheasant on Saturday, followed by a delightful slow-roasted mutton shoulder (cooked by Annabel (wifey)) on Sunday, when the parents joined us. The weekend was deemed terrific by all. I have just received word that Az can not only still smell pig poo but is still aching from all the work.

Although it's my job and doing it every day of the week can make certain parts sometimes tiresome, it always amazes me how keen friends are to lend a hand and on the whole how much enjoyment they get from doing something a little different. It also helps them work up an appetite for what is inevitably a large and delicious home grown feast, which is the least we can offer in the way of thanks.

Jim D-H

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Monday, 15 September 2008

Toe tips

Ok, so these are old pics (when did you last see a sunny day like this?) but there aren't nearly enough sheep on this blog yet. So here we are, checking sheep's feet last summer.

They need to be checked regularly, to be trimmed and to ensure they don't have any infections like foot rot (nice). So we round them all up (which is another story - the next time we try to herd 15 sheep from a large field into a small pen using a sunny afternoon, five family members, a teenage lurcher, a sausage dog, one long rope and a lot of swearing we'll invite a paying audience), check them all, treat any that need it and let them all back out into the field, grumpier but lighter of foot! The marks you see on their faces is safe spray so we know which ones we've checked.

ps: sheep's feet or sheep feet? hmm... answers on a postcard please.

Juliet D-H

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Sunday, 14 September 2008

Some crackingly good crackling

Hmmm... home-grown pork roast. Wins every time.

Juliet D-H

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"I carried a marrow"

Well actually it wasn't a marrow, it was an overgrown courgette which resembled a small manatee and required eating. Thus I found myself creating stuffed courgette skyscrapers for supper last night. Here's the recipe:

> 1 gigantic courgette (or a marrow will do), sliced to make one slice each, cored & boiled til just tender (turning translucent)
> 1 lb delicious beef mince (we used some from beef raised on the farm, obviously), fried with 1 onion & 2 garlic cloves, half a pint of beef stock, tomato puree, anchovy sauce and whatever interesting herbs and spices you'd usually add to a bolognese.
> a saucepan full of cheese sauce - I make a classic white sauce (melt butter, add flour, mix to a paste, cook til the edges sizzle then slowly stir in dashes milk til you get a gooey sauce) then add plenty of grated strong cheddar.

Place the courgette-marrow pieces on their ends in a baking dish, fill each with mince sauce (just pour any overflow into the dish) then pour the cheese sauce over the top. Add a liberal sprinkling of parmesan and bake in a hot oven (top of the aga so i guess about 250+) for 20mins until the top browns.

We usually have this with boiled potatoes or crusty bread.
Leftovers are fab cold from the fridge, on hot toast or ciabatta.

Juliet D-H

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Out on your Rhea

Mum's gone slightly mad and got herself 5 young Rheas - South American birds, a bit like an ostrich, that apparently love our dry(!) East Anglian climate. They grow to over 5 feet tall and will reputedly fend off the foxes, which have eaten 5 guinea fowl and Othello, the Black Orpington cockerel, in the last 3 weeks. Rheas like to eat young nettles and thistles so we're also hoping that next year we won't have so much strimming and scything to do!

The very friendly Rhea in the photo above has been called Chris (geddit???) but we need some help naming the other four - any suggestions?

The white Rhea is the biggest and the fierce protector of the group:

The other three are all a bit timid so they haven't shown us their individual personalities yet:

Find out more about Rheas on wikipedia by clicking here.

Juliet D-H

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Thursday, 11 September 2008

Harvest Time!

Well here we are again, harvest time… While many may think that this only really affects arable farmers, it is actually one of the busiest times of year on a livestock farm as well, as the harvest has to be stored for the winter feeds and bedding. James is currently clearing the barn in preparation for 160 round bales of straw, which must be collected from the fields.

Now if you have never encountered these ‘round’ bales before then you won’t quite realise what a formidable task this actually is. Each one is over six foot in diameter and about five foot in depth and must be collected from fields up to a half-mile away. As a result both tractors are working full time. The trusty John Deere trawling back and forth with the trailer, while the not so trusty front-loading ‘Jinma’ stacks the bales ready to be picked up. Now this may sound like relatively easy work, however when one considers that the geriatric John Deere has a top speed of about walking pace, and only four bales can be taken at a time, it is actually an extremely time-consuming process.

Thankfully there have been no problems with the ‘Jinma’ yet, although judging by previous form it is only a matter of time. The John Deere on the other hand is a stalwart, although missing a door and a couple of window panes, as well as a having a speedometer that would actually make a good metronome, it is probably one of the sturdiest and most reliable tractors you could hope for.

Once the bales have been finished it will be time to take delivery of the animal feed. This job, while not as time-consuming as the bales, is much worse! Four tonnes of feed must be mixed, bagged and stacked in the barn. The mixing process is relatively easy and is all done in the lorry – a monster of a machine that resembles a cement mixer – however the bags are then filled through a chute and must be carried/dragged into the barn. Each bag, of which there are about 60, probably weighs about 12 stone…and to think there are actually people who pay to go and lift weights at the gym…

Other than these two laborious tasks, life continues as usual on the farm. The village youths have been back to swindle whatever isn’t nailed to the floor. Indeed they were almost rumbled the other day when James caught them red-handed. Sadly, a farmer Jim may be; a sprinter he is not! As a result we continue to seek a solution to this problem. The police have been involved and we have been through various options with them. The more extreme of these options, which had both mine and James’ vote and involved leaving a number of planks with nails hammered through them on the path frequented by these unwanted visitors, was not met with much enthusiasm by the officer who visited the farm; “I didn’t hear that, sir.” I believe was his response!

The piglets are growing up fast now and becoming ever more devious in their attempts to escape from the pens. Indeed I believe James is now seriously considering erecting watchtowers and searchlights in order to keep the little buggers from making a bid for freedom – perhaps they could serve two purposes by keeping the piglets in and the pikeys out!

Charlie D-H

Hay bale image provided by http://www.freefoto.com/

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Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Back to the Farm…

It was not without a certain amount of trepidation that I approached the farm down the driveway after a few weeks away. What back-breaking task would my dearest brother be concocting for me I wondered? The clouds were rolling in ominously and I found myself cursing my luck that, after two weeks spent working in a stuffy office while staring out of the window at a blazing sun, the gods had seen fit to darken my first day back with weather more suited to the Outer Hebrides at this time of year. Anyway, such is life!

It was somewhat fitting then, that I was greeted as I got out of the car by a masked figure clad in a boiler-suit with a suspiciously green tinge to it. My sense of foreboding was increased even further when I realised that this storm-trooper from hell was wielding some sort of long motorised device that looked like it could shred me in a matter of minutes. Oh yes, you guessed it… It's strimming season!

Indeed, James has begun the week attacking the undergrowth like some sort of machete-wielding maniac, and what a difference it has made! I was shocked at how well kept the farm was looking. The area around the pig-pens has been levelled so that one can see right across the farm from the house. This of course is all in preparation for when the cattle are herded into their straw-lined barns for the winter. Before this however, the yards and barns must be mucked out and cleaned. Lucky for us the recent addition of a brand new tractor with a front-loading bucket to our arsenal of somewhat antiquated machinery has made this job infinitely easier… Or so we thought…

Yes the tractor… What a travesty! At the slightest sign of hard work the machine packs up quicker than a footballer in a chess game. The clutch is the latest problem and has left my unfortunate brother with the unenviable task of shovelling several tonnes of manure onto a trailer without mechanical aid!

If that wasn’t enough, we have also had round two of the ‘farm invasion’ by the uncouth youths from the village. Having earlier taken it upon themselves to pinch the lead lining from the roof of one of the barns, they have now stolen a cluster of jerry cans and emptied one of the tanks of diesel on the farm. Let us hope then that they attempt to run their own cars on this stuff, after all it has been rotting at the bottom of that particular tank for nigh on eighty years and I can imagine it having much the same effect on an engine as a pound of sugar in the petrol tank! Every cloud, eh?!

Despite all this doom and gloom, we have struggled through and the farm is in spectacular condition. The piglets are as feisty as ever and we have just about managed to contain them in the pens (this is a greater feat than you may expect; most days we half expect them to have stolen a car and be half way to the airport, such is their artistry in escape!). The cows are grazing happily and the sheep are all healthy and no doubt enjoying the lush grass that the recent rain has brought.

Charlie D-H

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