Nellie, our second Dexter calved successfully overnight last week and was also 2 days after my prediction based on the bulls interest last year. Any illusion of accuracy with this on my part is more by luck than judgement if I’m completely honest.
The result was another bull calf (our second this year) that we have named Quinn based on a rather convoluted and unnecessary method for calf naming using the next letters in the alphabet starting from the mothers initial.
Since she has been with us, Nellie has produced Oscar, Primrose and now (the mighty) Quinn. It wasn’t too easy having to work with the “Q” initial but in the end I’m happy with it and the name seems to suit him.
It seemed a good idea at the time since the names would always start with different letters – for example, Daisy has given us Elvis, Frank and now Garry. However, this year we expect Nellie, Daisy and Primrose to all be served by the bull so if we stick with the plan my “Q” dilemma will return next year when Primrose has her first calf!
As for the earlier calving by Daisy this was all completely unaided and apparently free of any complications although we’ve been a bit concerned about actually seeing the new calf suckling on the mother.
This is mostly for our peace of mind because the little guy is obviously doing fine so he must be getting milk, he just never does it when we’re around in the field. Maybe he’s a little shy…
While reviewing the older blog posts in preparation for the recent blog update covering our first 5 years on the smallholding, I realised that the livestock still take up a much larger part of our work than was originally expected. I’d even noted this in a blog post last summer but somehow I’d never managed to deal with this imbalance.
Originally I had expected that growing fruit and vegetables would be an equal part of the work involved and hadn’t thought there’d be quite such a focus on animals. Obviously that is just the result of the decisions taken over time and these were all based on the options available at the time so I can see how we’ve ended up in the current situation.
In an attempt to rectify the balance a little on the blog, here is a quick update on the successes or otherwise with fruit/vegetables for this year (so far)…
Soft Fruit and Top Fruit
While the blackcurrants have been a roaring success, the red currants have usually taken the role of a sacrificial crop. We never lose many blackcurrants to the birds but the redcurrants are always picked clean. I think that this year I’ll make a greater effort to properly net the bushes in the hope that we can at least try some of our own redcurrants.
The fruit trees (apple, plum, pear) continue to make good progress but, during the bad snowfall in March, things must have been tough for the local wildlife. As a result the bark was stripped from most of our fruit trees and I’ve kept my fingers crossed since then in the hope that they’ll pull through.
I left it a bit late last autumn when planting out my red onion sets but despite my failings there is still a decent enough showing in that raised bed. With any luck we should have a usable crop and it’s been a good lesson to learn about the proper planting times for crops going into the ground in autumn
Lambs and seeds
Continuing the general theme of reporting minor disasters, one batch of seed sowing suffered quite badly with an attack of lamb hooves. The “little darlings” pushed their way out an enclosure and over the relatively soft rabbit protection I had in place.
Having just sown some rows of seeds only a few days earlier, I was less than impressed and I plan to use the whole episode to help me get over the difficulties of sending them off to slaughter in due course.
As can be seen in the picture below, there were a few gaps in the rows where carrots and lettuce should be but I’ve now re-seeded them and hopefully we can still make use of the space.
Success comes at a price
To end on a high note, after a couple of failed years trying to grow courgettes, I have finally managed to raise some that didn’t die within a week or so of being planted out. Unfortunately I can already predict the likely outcome when they start producing because I always plant too many and never learn that lesson!
Luckily we quite like courgettes and if necessary can probably find someone who’ll take any spares but if all else fails then the excess can easily go to the pigs and chickens
Having reached the 5th anniversary of our move from suburbia to a North Pennines smallholding, it’s clearly a good time to review the current situation and take stock of our progress so far. Not least of which is where did all those years go!
The first task for me was to look back at my older blog posts from previous anniversaries and they were surprisingly informative. A little naive in places perhaps but that’s to be expected with hindsight and I’m sure that some of my more recent updates will look much same when I review them in the future.
Step by step
Apparently after just one week in our new 15 acre home we were already thinking of options and making plans. However reading that post though again now, some aspects don’t match the actual events so that’s a good illustration of how plans will change as you go along!
The one constant from our initial arrival is the collection of white chickens (breed uncertain) that we agreed to keep on from the previous owners. Although the cockerel has long since gone, the remaining hens still occasionally disappear off in random places to sit on some eggs until we can track them down.
The 2nd anniversary was marked by the dramatic events when the Dexter cattle made their big entrance before eventually settling down. At the time a real low point for me but now I’m not sure I would want to be without the Dexters plus the beef is absolutely amazing!
Around this same time, we also decided to convert one of the stone barns into a 2 bed self catering holiday let and this has turned out to be very popular. There’s a bit more work involved in running this than we might have original expected but it’s still very rewarding and we’ve had a constant stream of lovely guests staying.
Now that the 5 year mark is here you can tell we’re getting more confident or perhaps that should be over-confident.
Despite our carefully thought out plans for managing the workload, we’ve decided to try keeping a few orphan lambs this year but at least these are just for meat with no intention for long-term breeding. This approach was certainly underlined for me when they decided to invade my raised beds and caused all sorts of havoc.
In general this is a nice way to try keeping a different type of animal for a few months but it’s not cheap with milk/feed costs and I’m still not convinced that I’d keep any sheep as a longer term activity.
Assessing our progress
It’s been a huge learning experience and immensely enjoyable most of the time with just the occasional negative moments. Even during the bad times though, I only need to take a wander around our fields and woods or just sit with the animals for a while.
This whole adventure has only been made possible through the help of our neighbours and the many new friends we’ve made since we started this journey. I’d be the first to admit that without that help and support we would not be where we are today.
There are always difficulties associated with having a full-time job along side running a smallholding but that’s not impossible, it’s only hard work and a desire to live that life. The subject of time management is always uppermost in my mind but cutting corners to fit things in would not always suit me You just have to plan out the workload for the time available and keep on going…